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Blues at Wembley: The FA Trophy victory 40 years ago that put Bishop's Stortford into football's history books

It wasn't one Blues team's day at Wembley on Saturday, but on this weekend in 1981 the famous stadium did belong to another Blues side – from Bishop's Stortford.

Sunday (May 16) marks the 40th anniversary of arguably Bishop's Stortford FC's greatest achievement: winning the FA Trophy.

And while for both winners Leicester City and runners-up Chelsea Saturday's Emirates FA Cup final was their sixth tie in a competition that, for them, started with the third round in January, Stortford's Wembley appearance was their 13th tie in a marathon FA Trophy contest that for them had got under way the previous September.

The Bishop's Stortford and Sutton United team line-ups and their respective roads to Wembley (47080220)
The Bishop's Stortford and Sutton United team line-ups and their respective roads to Wembley (47080220)

The Blues' campaign started in the preliminary round and was followed by three qualifying round ties before they joined the competition proper, which consisted of eight ties in five rounds, including two replays and a two-legged semi-final against Dartford.

Managed by Trevor Harvey, they scored 25 goals on the road to Wembley, with six each from Terry Sullivan and Joe Simmonds, and four from former Arsenal legend John Radford, a member of the 1970-71 Double-winning Gunners side.

The final was a showdown between two Isthmian League sides. Sutton United had finished fifth in the Premier League while the Blues had won the Division One title, one rung below the south London club. Coincidentally, Blues' only other league title since then was in the 1993-94 season, when they again won Division One of the Isthmian League and Sutton again finished fifth in the Premier Division.

The Blues 1980-81 (47083514)
The Blues 1980-81 (47083514)

Accounts of the game suggest it was not one that wowed the 22,578 crowd – and the man who proved to be Stortford's last-minute match winner should not have even started the match.

Terry Sullivan, who had scored the goal that earned the Blues a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first leg at Southern League Dartford, also scored in the 2-1 second-leg win at Stortford's old Rhodes Avenue ground – but was also sent off.

He was given a two-week ban, but the FA leniently allowed his suspension to come into effect at the start of the following season, enabling Sullivan to play.

The Blues had slightly the better of the first half, with Mike Mitchell showing off his skills on the left wing. Too often attacks broke down in packed penalty areas, with only two efforts from Radford and a diving header troubling the Sutton keeper.

Match programme and ticket stub for the 1981 FA Trophy final (47080222)
Match programme and ticket stub for the 1981 FA Trophy final (47080222)

The second half was not much better. Sutton missed the best chance of the game when Graham Dennis delayed on a golden chance and Micky Stephens' follow-up shot was saved by Blues keeper Terry Moore.

Referrring to the fact that the previous Saturday Spurs and Manchester City had drawn 1-1 in the FA Cup final – before the north London side won the thrilling Wembley replay 3-2 thanks to Ricky Villa's 'Wembley Goal of the Century' – Tony Roche of the Sunday Mirror wrote at the time: "But it looked odds on that yet another Wembley final this season would drag into extra time, until Sullivan produced that last-minute 'Thank you' to the FA.

"Sullivan fastened onto Tony Rains's headed clearance, burst through on the right and crashed an unstoppable shot high into the net."

Picture of the Blues with the FA Trophy at Wembley (47080224)
Picture of the Blues with the FA Trophy at Wembley (47080224)

The win secured the amateur "double" for Bishop's Stortford that season. Blues became the first club ever to win both the FA Trophy and the FA Amateur Cup, having become the last ever club to win the latter cup in the 1973-74 season, beating Ilford 4-1 in front of over 30,000 spectators at Wembley.

By virtue of the record-breaking length of their road to Wembley in 1980-81 and their progress to the quarter-finals of the following year's competition, Blues still hold the record for the longest unbeaten run in the FA Trophy, which stands at 17.

The Blues' assistant manager for the Trophy final was Martin Smith, who had scored their winner – and the last ever goal – in the FA Amateur Cup. Keeper Moore was the only man to play in both finals.

Sutton United exacted their revenge six months later, knocking the Blues out of the 1981-82 FA Cup by winning a first-round replay 2-1 after a 2-2 draw at Rhodes Avenue.

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