The fight for the 1979/80 Sussex County League title, the 55th season in the competition’s history, involved two teams at opposite ends of the league table. On the one hand, we have Southwick who were very much on the up, and hadn’t finished outside of the top six in the last 10 years, winning the county league four years before in 1975 and had been runner-up three times in 71, 77, and the previous season, when they had lost out to Peacehaven & Telscombe by four points.
By contrast, in that same ten years Chichester City’s time in the top six ended after a runner-up spot in 1970, 3rd place in 1972 and a title win in 1973. From then on, the highest they would achieve was 11th place, and the previous season had won a relegation fight by winning seven and drawing three of their last ten games, to finish 12th.
For a betting person, the odds would have heavily favoured Southwick to win the title easily. They had a team full of Sussex FA representatives, and one of the most prolific goal scorers in the Sussex County League at that time Mick Edmonds, whereas City would be viewed again as relegation candidates, or thereabouts.
In pre-season Richie Reynolds continued working on the formation that had work so well avoiding relegation the season before.
“Having just returned from Holland I introduced a European system where we played a short passing game from the back. I banned our goalkeepers from kicking long, I played Neil O’Boyle as a sweeper behind Duncan Clough and we immediately became very tight at the back.
“We played with two wingers. Both Dave Egleton and Gary Wheatcroft played on the touchline when we had possession, and they tucked in to give us 4 across the middle when we lost possession. Greg Brown sat in the middle to allow me the freedom to support our two strikers Gary James and Terry Vick, we started to dominate teams and confidence was very quick in coming. Gary Wheatcroft, I got through my connection with Southampton Manager John Mortimer
“I played in midfield with Greg Brown, and I used to say to Greg play the ball in behind the defence for Gary James and Terry Vick to chase, they did a lot of work I’ll give them that and scored a lot of goals, they did really well. It surprised me actually because when I first came in, I didn’t think Terry could kick a ball, and I thought what have we got here, but in that first game at East Grinstead he was brilliant.
We didn’t have a great start, with some mixed results, but started to get things going”.
Striker Terry Vick remembers things starting to go their way,
“We still had the same squad of players and we didn’t start that well, I felt we were just missing something. In the first five games we had two wins, two defeats and a draw. Richie then drafted in a few players from the Portsmouth area, Nick Sillence, Gary Ashton, Gary Wheatcroft, and that just pieced us together and we went on a run.
After the first five games, we won most of the games we played, and also did well in the cups. We just had a great team spirit; we had the right balance. We also scored a lot of goals, Gary James and I got 21 and 20, and Richie got 13 so that helped.
After ten games, Southwick were top of the league with 9 wins and a draw. but at the ten-game mark, City had recovered to seven wins, 2 defeats, and a draw
A feature of the season as a whole, was the amount of cup games both sides had to play. City played 14 times in various cup ties including five games in three rounds in the FA Vase (including three games needed to defeat Swathling), Southwick played 18 cup games including 4 rounds in the Vase. This may have been the difference between the sides as City had finished all their cup games by January, unlike Southwick who didn’t finish their games until they were defeated by Hastings Town in the RUR Charity cup in mid-April.
Defender Neal Holder played 10 games, and as a substitute for a lot of the games, found it a fantastic learning experience,
“When City won the league in 1980, I was only 18, and I thought this is how football is going to be from now on, of course it wasn’t. If you look at that side we had a fantastic mix of youth and experience, we had Dave Egleton and myself at 18, Greg Brown was 20, Terry Vick and Gary James weren’t much older If they were at all, then you had the more experienced player like Richie Reynolds, Duncan Clough, Tony Grundy and Alan Hunt. We had a great team spirit and there were no cliques, we had a few drinkers nothing stupid, but that was how football was in those days, we had a strong bond and you could go and talk to anyone. Also, when the older Guys suggested we tried things a certain way, we always listened to their advice.
“I sat on the bench a lot, at a time when teams didn’t use subs. But I made 10 appearances that season, I think I had the most assists for a substitute, usually as cover for Duncan Clough. I remember, If after 20 minutes things weren’t going well for the team Richie would say Noddy go and get stretched, so I would go and run up and down the line then the team would score and I’d sit down again. At the end of the season the team got a bonus based on appearances made and I received a tenner, but that didn’t bother me, I was just happy to win the league”.
As the season came to a climax Terry Vick recalls those games,
“Towards the end of the season we lost 1-0 away at Burgess Hill, they were the only side that season to beat us twice. I know a few of the lads in the side from my Sussex Youth days, and they were telling me that we would never catch Southwick now, and I said not necessarily, if we can keep winning.
“We carried on and kept winning, we had a great win at Arundel, Duncan Clough got sent off when it was 1-1, we were really upset that it was very harsh and we upped the performance 4 gears after that and won 3-1. We beat Portfield on Easter Monday 4-1, which was nice! Next we had a Monday night game against Horsham YMCA at Oaklands Park, and I remember it was really gloomy and this was in the days before floodlights, and I didn’t wear contact lenses then, so I’m sure I couldn’t see half the things going on around me. Gary James popped up with the winner in the last minute, rounding the keeper and slotting into an empty net.
“We then had 2 games left, Shoreham away on the Saturday, and Southwick away on the Tuesday. On Saturday we stupidly were talking about what we would do when we won the league that day, where we would go out, because if we won, we would win the league, and it would make the Southwick game academic.
“But Shoreham had been playing well at the time and I know we went 1-0 down early on, and we didn’t play that well. Then near the end we came back into it, and Richie scored an equalizer with a header. The last piece of action from the game involved a cross from the left and I got my head on it and it was heading for the top corner, when Shoreham’s keeper Chris Porter tipped it round the post. We couldn’t believe it, we just stood there with our hands-on top of our head starring at each other in disbelief.
“So, we had to go to Southwick on the Tuesday night, they needed to win as they were 2 points behind with a better goal difference, and a draw was good enough for us”.
Midfielder Greg Brown, “we played it on a Tuesday night under the floodlights on the 6th May, the crowd was 1250 which was probably the biggest gate we had played in front of. I played at right back instead of my customary midfield position, probably due to injury”.
Former Chairman, and City Stalwart Trevor Wallis was also at the game,
“I remember standing at the Southwick end, and watching the action from afar, which was mostly in the City half, it was like a siege in the City goal mouth. It was a credit to the team’s defensive resilience that they soaked up everything that was thrown at them.
Left back Tony Grundy is convinced the teams togetherness helped them deal with the pressure and kept them winning,
“We had a good mix of experience and young players, and also we all liked each other, I know that sounds obvious, but a lot of teams don’t like each other and that impacts on the performance, but we mixed socially and in the team and again that was very much down to Richie management style.
“When we reached the latter games and the pressure starts to build, because you start to realize that it’s possible to win the league, we handled the pressure well and kept winning, in fact we had won 8 and drawn 3 of the last 10 games prior to going to the pressure cooker last game at Southwick”.
He also remembered the team’s morale was high,
“We were certainly up for the scrap. It was a large crowd and we did get a lot of mind games stuff from the crowd. But for me personally, I didn’t mind that, I think playing games in the north-west help me with the comments and just concentrated on playing the game and getting stuck in. I remember the Southwick game being really tough, and nobody taking any prisoners because there was so much at stake”.
Richie Reynolds insists he didn’t have to do anything differently in the dressing room for that game, it was business as usual,
“There was no inspirational team talk needed because my players knew what was required and gentle encouragement at half time to reassure was all that was needed. The talking which was needed to win this title was bellowed out a few weeks earlier at Steyning when we were hammered 5-2.
“It was after this game that I told these players they would win the title. For the first and last time this team went into a game too overconfident. They soon came back down to earth and didn’t lose again.
“I didn’t change the way we played as I was always committed to playing our 4-4-2 which suited the players we had. I thought we should have won the game.
“Quite a lot of the game was in our half, but the defence held on. Then with ten minutes left I gave away a penalty. It was never a penalty, I often wondered if the referee ever had a good night’s sleep after that, VAR should have been there!”
Tony Grundy still cannot believe the penalty was given,
“It was 0-0 with 10 minutes to go and we conceded a penalty which I thought was very harsh. But whatever we thought the referee wasn’t going to change his mind, and the Southwick forward Mick Edmonds, who was the League’s top scorer with 30 goals, and already had a goal disallowed in the first half, which I have to say looked good to me, lined up to take it.
“I remember he hit it left-footed so hard that it hit the inside of the post and went out for a throw on the other side. None of us had time to move for the kick, but after that it made us more determined to see the game though and win the league”.
Trevor Wallis also remembers the kick,
Then came the defining moment, a late penalty and my heart sunk. The kick was to be taken by Mick Edmonds, he had one goal disallowed earlier, so I thought it’s not our night. He took the kick and drove it hard into the corner, but it came back of the post! He hit it so hard, I could plainly hear the ping of the post at the opposite end as if he had taken it at my end”.
Terry Vick explains how Richie drummed into them the art of timewasting in the corners,
“From then on, we took it in to the corners to waste a bit of time, which was something we never did before Richie arrived. He kept shouting to me “Terry! Take it in the corners!”, and I remember getting kicked and being roughed up a bit, so much so my legs were black and blue! The whistle blew and we basically hugged the nearest white shirt, it was great but a little anticlimactic because it was at Southwick and not at home in front of our supporters although we did have quite a lot of supporters in the 1200 crowd that night.
Greg Brown thought the title was City’s after the penalty miss,
“After Mick Edmonds missed that kick, I have to be honest, I thought our name must be on the trophy. We had a bit of luck, but we defended as a unit and got the job done”. We then had to endure a tense five extra minutes before the Referee blew for full time and the celebrations could start. We then received the coveted Sussex County League Trophy and our medals from John O’Hara, this was the fifth time Chichester City had won the trophy.
“I got a £32 win bonus for winning the league, which in today’s money is worth £134, although that didn’t matter to me because winning the league for my home club was enough for me. I think Richie asked the cash-strapped committee to reward us for our efforts quite forcefully and they paid out!”
Terry Vick feels that season was his best,
“The title season was definitely the pinnacle for me, although I would win other things, nothing was as good as that”.
Tony Grundy thought his title winning days were over, but Chichester City proved him wrong,
“I had won championships in the North-west, but by the time I came to Chichester I thought those times had passed me by, so to win the title with City was absolutely brilliant, also I was part of the club committee, so I knew what it meant to the players and the people behind the scenes as well.
“We were very happy with the achievement, we had the second best defensive record only conceding 30 goals (Southwick had the best defence with 25 goals) but we were also top scorers in the league with 66 goals most of which were scored by Terry Vick and Gary James (41 goals). The team also had the ability to score at key times, which helped us grind out games when we needed to”.
Richie Reynolds was equally proud of the team’s achievement,
“I was very proud of our achievements at Chi in particular winning 7 and drawing 3 of the last ten games to keep a team who had just lost the last 9 from being relegated, and also very proud at winning the title, especially as we did it with the same group of players that were struggling so much prior to my arrival! Also, we only lost 4 games in 40 matches!”
The debate about the amount of cup games Southwick played is probably irrelevant. Overall, the fact is that Chichester City were more consistent when it mattered, after City’s last defeat away at Burgess Hill, they did not lose again in their last 12 games, (9 wins, and 3 draws), whereas Southwick’s last 12 games produced 5 wins, 6 draws, and 3 defeats. City also had some luck along the way, with late goals that either saved a point or snatched both.