Barnstaple Town's title win was the miracle of Mill Road
JOHN CLARKE recalled the Barnstaple Town title-winning season of 1979-80 as "the miracle of all miracles".
"Nobody gave us a chance of winning it and it was just a dream that it happened," said John, a former committee member and long-time supporter of the club.
"We were just tucked in third place and we kept picking up points.
"Bournemouth and Weston-super-Mare blew it over the Easter period and Town came up on the outside.
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"For me, and a lot of people involved with the club, it was an up-and-down season and it had a good ending."
Even in the closing weeks, with the team playing so well, there was uncertainty off the field.
"For whatever reason, the club announced Richard Gray was going to be the manager for the following season with three games to go," said John. "I thought, 'My God, we have blown it'."
John travelled to the final game against bogey side Bridport more in hope than expectation.
"We never had a good result at Bridport and I thought, 'Dare I go?'" he said.
"We needed two points – as it was for a win in those days – a draw wasn't good enough because Bournemouth had a better goal difference."
An early strike from Paul Hillier settled the nerves and John Neale clinched the 2-0 win in front of a large crowd at St Mary's Field.
John still has a programme from the Bridport game autographed by every member of the Barnstaple squad.
"Of course, at the end of the season, the final twist was that all the players left," said John.
"Directly after the game, before they had chance to apply the talc and deodorant, the bulk of the squad made it clear to the club committee they would be joining former boss Brian Perks at Bideford.
"I think Trevor Burnell, Ian Pope, Mark Creek, Dave Brown and Dave Blanche were the only ones there at the start of the following season."
From the Western League premier division in 1979-80, only Barnstaple, Bridport, Keynsham Town and Welton Rovers remain as league members.
Today, despite them being bottom of the premier division, John is optimistic Barum are building for the future at Mill Road under new chairman Warren Crossley.
"That was the last major trophy that we ever won, so it's time we picked something up again," he said.
"I'd like to see the club turn around. Off the field, I think it is happening. On the field, this season is going to be difficult.
"Personally, I'm resigned to the fact we will go down but we have been down before and bounced back."
John Clarke's book celebrating 100 years of Barnstaple Town from 1906 to 2006 is still available. To order a copy, call him on 01271 374055.