Goal-den era for former keeper John Royton man remembers day he played at Wembley

THEY say memories fade with the passage of time but that is not the case for John Fitton, Mossley’s last line of defence in their Wembley appearance of 1980.

Four decades on and the recollections of the Lilywhites’ FA Trophy final against Dagenham are just as vivid as on the day for the 69-year-old from Royton.

And John puts that down to the advice from former Skelmersdale team-mate Tony Webber, who had previously played at Wembley for Morecambe.

“I asked Tony what to do and he told me to remember every minute and not to look ahead. That stuck in my mind,” he said.

They were halcyon days for Mossley who where those days one of the top non-league teams of that era.

Five days before the trophy final, John recalled the Lilywhites retaining their Northern Premier League title following a goalless draw at Kendal side Netherfield.

Mossley would have become founder members of the National League, which was made up of the top teams in the NPL and Southern League, but for their Seel Park ground not meeting the requirements.

Two days after clinching the title, Mossley began their final build up when they travelled to their base near Watford.

“We went to Wembley on the Wednesday to have a look around and go on to the pitch,” John added.

They trained on the Thursday and Friday on public playing fields opposite the hotel, changing at the hotel where comedian Jim Davidson was also staying.

“We saw him around the hotel, but he has no idea who we were,” he said.John, a retired teacher, shared a room with centre half John Salter and recalled team-mate the late Vinny Garmory being the prankster.

“Vinny was the clown and he let me in on a secret that he would call our room purporting to being Alan Thompson, a sports reporter on the nationals, and conducted an interview which had me creased with laughter,” he said.

John also recalled Salter spotting a flower seller opposite the hotel on the morning of the match and coming back with a bunch.

“All the players then went out as wives and girlfriends travelled down on the day and after the game were staying for a reception at the hotel.”

The players briefly saw their loved ones on the Saturday morning before leaving for the game.

As the team bus was on the M1 slip road a 39-seater coach carrying John’s family and friends pulled up.

John said: “They were all waving, but I didn’t want to say they were my family because manager Bob Murphy was a stickler and I thought he would want me focusing on the game.

“He remarked they were all waving and I told him they were my family and relatives.

“To my surprise, he said go to the back of the coach and wave to them which put me at ease and made me realise it was an occasion to enjoy and savour.”John was pleased with his performance, even though Mossley lost 2-1 in front of an army of 10,000 fans.

He said: “Fortunately it was one of my better games. If I have played to that standard all the time, maybe I would have played at a higher level.

“Everything went right – I made a couple of early saves and took some crosses which wasn’t a brilliant part of my game.”

Mossley lost to goals from George Duck and Chris Maycock and, sandwiched in-between was an equaliser from Ian Smith.

“I still remember their winner, a looping header near the end, and thinking I had been beaten by a couple of birds,” mused John.

After the game the players, wife and girlfriends returned to the hotel for dinner with speeches and presentations before returning home on Sunday and an open top bus parade around the town.

Granada Television made a special programme ‘Mossley Goes To Wembley’ on the Monday which is now available in three parts on YouTube.

John said: “Mossley managed to get some CDs of the programme and I gave one to each of my kids.

“Another time at home my son pleaded with me not to put in on again.”

John described playing at Wembley – only showpiece games took place there 40 years ago – as the highlight of his career.

He added the only thing that comes near to it was making his first-team debut for Oldham Athletic, the team he had supported from being a boy, as an 18-year-old amateur.

John, whose parents had a farm in Middleton, played senior football aged 14 for Chadderton’s fourth team aged 14 with games on Clayton Playing Fields as he recalled barely being able to reach the crossbar.

He was spotted by Latics playing for a successful Middleton Boys who beat Liverpool en route to the Lancashire schools’ final.

John played his first ‘A’ team game for Latics aged 15 and made his first-team debut in September 1969 in a 1-1 draw at Crewe with England World Cup winner Ray Wilson a team-mate.

He made his first home appearance one week later in a 1-1 draw against Darlington and the following midweek played in a 3-2 home defeat by Wrexham.

“That was it and I never played another league game, though there were two games in the Lancashire Senior Cup,” he said.

John began studying at Alsager College for his teaching qualification at that time returning to play for the reserves in the North West Floodlit League.

The college insisted students played for their team and did not take kindly to John choosing Latics over them.

For his final two years at Alsager, John had to turn out for the college team in the Mid Cheshire League.

After qualifying as a teacher, John remained on Latics’ books and had one year on loan at Skelmersdale who were managed by former Boundary Park player Alan Spence.

He was released and had six weeks in the reserves at Rochdale but they did not have to funds to sign him.

However, Dale manager Walter Joyce contacted Bob Murphy who signed him for Mossley where he was first choice goalkeeper for seven seasons making 349 appearances, a club record for a goalkeeper.

He won two NPL titles and was runner-up once as well as winning the NPL Cup and appearing at Wembley.

John, aware his football commitments were holding back his teaching career, left Mossley in 1981 for Chadderton where he was not required to train.

But a bad back restricted his appearances for the Broadway club and his playing days were effectively over aged 31, though he later played a few games for Bluebell in the Oldham Sunday League.

John later managed the Oldham schools’ Under-15 team and they were asked to supply six ball boys when Latics played Nottingham Forest in the 1990 final of the Littlewoods Cup.

John was forced to retire from teaching on health grounds aged 40 and today he lives on Royley Park Estate.

Reflecting, he said: “I supported Latics as a kid and walked from Healds Green across Clayton Playing Fields to the ground.

“It was always a dream to play for them, something I never thought would happen. I couldn’t believe it when it did.

“It is only when I look back, I think I did alright and a lot of lads didn’t achieve what I did.”

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