This is part two of the Mark Burke Chronicles. The first part covered the early part of Mark’s career and how Mark arrived at Top Field. This second part concentrates on the 1985/86 season which saw Mark start his long and distinguished career playing for Hitchin Town. Mark still has the copy of the letter from secretary Cyril Buck inviting him to join pre-season training in July 1985 with it being countersigned by manager Alan West (no emails or texts in those days, all done by the Royal Mail). Pre-season saw a match against a strong Watford team that were in the old First Division and managed by Graham Taylor.
The first competitive match of the season was in the Herts Charity Cup at St Albans. Mark was selected to play as a central midfielder! alongside Ian Lindsay. The starting line up included seven players that had played for the reserves and Hitchin won 2-1 which set them up for a run all the way to the Final at the end of the season.
The first league game followed on the next Saturday with a trip to Bognor Regis who had done well the previous season so it was a shock result that Hitchin won 2-0 with goals from Mick Every and Steve Miller who would form a winning centre back partnership with Mark in years to come.
Mark well remembers the journey home which was dominated by the antics of club legend Paul Giggle who provided a one man show with joke after joke. I shared countless coach trips with Giggsy and I can only say that he really was a one off and had a unique personality.
Mark said the Bognor result had the players feeling very confident for the season ahead. A 2-2 draw with Hendon was followed by a 1-1 draw with newly promoted Farnborough but Mark was ‘’rested’’ for this game. At just 18 years old Mark was not too surprised and as a manager himself he likes to bring young players in and out of the team as he considers this the best way to develop them.
Hitchin then beat reigning champions Sutton 2-1 and again Mark did not make the squad – in those days there were only 12 players in a squad as there was only one substitute allowed at that time.
A draw at Haverhill Rovers in the FA Cup led to a Top Field replay which was also drawn but Mark was not in either squad. He would return to the team at centre back as Steve Fountain was injured for the following game with Windsor and Eton which was lost 2-1. Included in the Windsor team was Richard Hill who went on to manage Stevenage.
There then followed a second replay with Haverhill—at that time there were unlimited replays in the FA Cup another difference to modern day football. Included in the Haverhill team was a young Richard Wilkins who would cross swords with Mark in future seasons as he played in the Hereford FA Cup games (and was the player sent off at Hitchin in the replay) but he was to get his revenge when he was manager of Needham Market when they won 7 – 1 a couple of seasons ago.
Mark remembers travelling to Sandy Lane the home of Tooting and Mitcham only to suffer disappointment when Alan West opted to leave him out as Steve Fountain returned. He remembers Ozzy Bayram being a real handful as we lost 1-0l.
He returned in midfield against Bishop’s Stortford but was dropped to the bench for the FA Cup game with VS Rugby and missed out on the squad for the replay as Paul Giggle was brought back. Hitchin lost 3-1 ending their FA Cup exploits for the season.
The following week Mark returned to the team for his first taste of the FA Trophy when we played Dunstable. It was a game in which unusually he wore the number nine shirt. Included in the Dunstable team were two brothers of more famous siblings—Paul Currie brother of former Leeds, QPR and England player Tony and Dave Regis brother of the legendary Cyrille Regis who had played against Hitchin himself in his old Hayes days. Hitchin lost 2-1.
The East Anglian Cup against Stotfold followed with Hitchin winning 6 nil and it featured Mark’s first ever goal – a curled shot from the corner of the penalty area as he was again pushed back into a midfield role.
Defeats followed against Billericay and Met Police before Mark suffered a bad injury in a draw away at Walthamstow. He would miss the next fifteen games before returning to the side at home to Bognor Regis playing at right back, a position he kept against Harrow before moving back to central defence in a 5-1 win at Berkhamsted in the Wallspan Floodlit Cup.
Mark well remembers the game at Yeovil at their original sloping ground at Huish Park. There seemed to be posters for the game throughout the town and the attendance was 1,770 in a season when hardly any other game attracted even 300. So it was a new experience with a big atmosphere. Hitchin took the lead through a Steve Fountain penalty only for Yeovil to equalise a minute later. The Canaries would eventually lose 3-1 but it was a valiant performance. The Yeovil team included a young Alan Pardew who had just arrived from Dulwich Hamlet and went on to play for Crystal Palace and Charlton before embarking on a successful managerial career, Tom Ritchie who had played for Bristol City in the old First Division was up front with John McGinley on the wing. Full back John Woodward was given a torrid time by McGinley and spent the journey home cursing him but he should not have fretted too much as McGinley went on to play for Bolton and Scotland! Incidentally because of the notorious slope of the Yeovil pitch Mark wore one boot with studs and one moulded boot to get better balance!
The Yeovil game was followed by five successive defeats before a 3-3 draw with Epsom where Alan West scored two penalties after Robbie O’Keefe who had arrived on loan from Wealdstone twice clipped his own ankles according to Mark.
A five game unbeaten spell was followed by a spell to the end of the season with just one win from eight games and Hitchin finished seventeenth in the league.
The 1-1 draw with Croydon on the last day of the season saw John Woodward score his only Hitchin goal in his last appearance and Mark well remembers his exaggerated celebrations as he ran off to the corner flag almost as a signal to the end of his career.
The Herts Charity Cup final saw a defeat on penalties at Boreham Wood which included current QPR manager Mark Warburton in their squad.
Looking back on the season Mark said there was a very good atmosphere among the players and there was a real family feel about the club. Alan West the manager was very well respected by the players but Mark felt it was a very tough job for him to be player manager.
When Westy was playing Mark felt that sometimes his passes were not properly read by his team mates as he was on a level above having played professionally for over 15 years at Burnley, Luton and Millwall.
Steve Gear was his player assistant manager also known as ‘Pud’. He was a local lad who was very good in the air despite resembling a dwarf!
The squad featured groups of players with the Bedford Boys —Tony Luff, Ian Kavanagh, Stuart Harding Paul Grant and Ian Lindsay—and Luton Lads—Steve Fountain, Dave Taylor, Steve Miller, John Woodward, Lee Payne, Kevin and Mark Thomas and there was good banter between these two groups. Stevenage based players were Mick Every, Andy Paine, Ronnie Lawson and Colin Cardines while Hitchin based players were Steve Gear, Paul Giggle, John Hawkins, Michael Green, Steve Young and Nicky Holloway with Rory Gleeson and Dave McDermott based elsewhere.
Throughout the season there were cameo appearances from Danny Quyane and Warren Spink who were trialling with Luton Town at the same time and from loan players Trevor Parker (Barnet), Robbie O’Keefe (Wealdstone) and John Neal (Dagenham).
Player nicknames were generally less creative than now with most based on the players’ names—Luffy, Linno, Giggsy, Painey etc. Mark does remember Rory Gleeson being called Timber (he was very tall and once when he fell over one player shouted ‘’timber’’), Nicky Holloway was called Morph (resemblance to the children’s TV character), David Taylor was Tinker and Stuart Harding was Pugwash (resemblance to captain Pugwash the cartoon character).
Off the field Mark compared the enthusiastic volunteers and officials of 1985/86 to the 2019/20 version. Cyril Buck was secretary and Mark remembers how he always wore a blazer with the club badge with a shirt and club tie with his hair always immaculate. He got his two children Chris and Tina, and his grandchild Joanne involved in the club.
Gerald Lincoln was the chairman and would attend matches with his wife Bernadette and I was treasurer.
The Programme editor and the club reporter on the matches at this time was another stalwart in the form of Don Birdsey yet another pipe smoker amongst the band of volunteers. He was very knowledgeable and an expert on all things statistically Hitchin Town.
Reg Brown was the dressing room attendant. An ex Japanese P.O.W Reg was a real character and Mark remembers how he would always be telling jokes before the matches and then mocking the players after a defeat. Reg would come into the changing room to sweep up, smoking his pipe and he would say ‘I can’t believe you have just lost to that lot, they have just left behind 3 wooden legs, two artificial hands with goalkeeper gloves on, 4 glass eyes and 2 hearing aids!’
Mick Walker was the physio and virtually lived in the physio room as he also acted as groundsman alongside Ken Hoffman. Mick had a stove set up in the physio room and would often be found cooking bacon and eggs before a match.
On match days and at training he was assisted by Harry Wright and Colin Bell from Stevenage in his physio duties.
Ivy Cole led the catering team with Vera Chapman and Doll Cole. Mark recalls after matches both sets of teams and officials would go into the hall in the clubhouse and sit in two rows of tables opposite each other and the ladies would serve them a hot meal, usually Bangers & Mash. The Hitchin players those days wore jackets and ties rather than tracksuits.
He remembers the real china cups you had your tea or Bovril in from Windy Corner especially when was not playing but peering through the gaps in the terrace. Denis Chapman as ever was always on call with his pipe in his hand and words of wisdom.
The clubhouse was in the hands of Steve Nye and Eileen Wilson who reminded him of Dot Cotton.
Among those who socialised in the social club were the Donnelly, Shambrook and Springett families while Mark also mentioned one Mick Docking as well as the late Alan Sexton as regulars at the bar in 1985/86.
Also to show how nothing has changed Mark well recalls hearing one voice in the crowd at Top Field above all others offering “constructive” criticism and witty put downs – none other than Keith Farr who I am pleased to say is still doing the same 35 years later!
Mark and myself hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane and even if it was before your time I hope you still gained a flavour of Hitchin Town in the 1980’s.
The next instalment will continue to look at the Alan West years and move on to when Jimmy Holmes and Doug Parkin took the hot seat. Because plenty of research is needed the Mark Burke Chronicles will probably appear every two weeks.
BY ROY IZZARD