Forty years ago, Bangor City were the Northern Premier League’s sole representative in the Anglo-Italian tournament which pitted six of the leading non-league sides against Italian Serie C opponents.
Two matches on home soil in March 1978 would be followed by a further two matches in Italy during the summer, with the winners of each group (divided into British and Italian clubs) meeting in the final.
The competition had its roots in the former Inter-Cities Fairs Cup before the Anglo-Italian Cup was inaugurated in 1970 as a way of generating income for the extended close season caused by the World Cup in Mexico.
A professional tournament in its earliest stages, Swindon Town were the first winners, followed by Blackpool in 1971, then Roma and Newcastle United in 1972 and 1973 respectively, the competition went into limbo from 1973 until its revival as a semi-professional tournament in 1976.
Wimbledon and Monza were the first finalists with the Italians going unbeaten throughout the tournament and beating the Dons 1-0 to lift the trophy on 19 June 1976. Southern Premier League giants Bath City would reach the final the following season only to lose 0-3 to Lecco in the final.
Amongst the Italian teams appearing in the first two seasons of the competition were future Serie A clubs Udinese, Benevento, Bari, Cremonese and Parma.
For the 1978 tournament, Bangor City would be the first Welsh club to enter the competition, while the other British teams were the previous season’s finalists Bath City, along with fellow Southern League clubs, Maidstone United, Minehead United, Nuneaton Borough and Wealdstone.
The Italian contingent comprised three teams from the north in Udinese, Treviso and Reggiana, with Arezzo hailing from eastern Tuscany, Paganese from the province of Salerno in Campania, with Calabrian outfit Reggina being the southern most club geographically.
The opening set of fixtures took place on Wednesday, 22 March 1978, with the Citizens hosting Reggiana at Farrar Road. Founded in 1919, the Italians were members of the country’s top flight up until the 1930’s, before experiencing a chequered period flitting in and out of the second tier during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
In more recent times, the club once again attained Serie A status intermittently during the 1990’s with Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel a prominent name in their line-up. The club is now owned by former LA Dodgers and New York Mets baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.
As it turned out, City would romp home by a 5-1 scoreline against Reggiana as the British clubs took the upper hand in the first round of matches. Stuart Mason opened the scoring in the ninth minute as he hammered home a Pat Olney corner kick. Steve Hipwell added City's second in the 33rd minute before Reggiana defender Bogani handled inside the penalty area and Tony Broadhead duly converted the spot kick for a 3-0 lead.
Substitute Gasperini made an instant impact as he pulled a goal back for the Italians on the hour mark only for Broadhead to score with another penalty just seven minutes later. City's leading marksman duly completed his hat-trick in the 76th minute when he netted his third from a Bill Telford assist.
Bath City would also score five (without reply) against Arezzo, while Wealdstone beat Paganese 4-2, with Nuneaton beating City’s next opponents Treviso by 2-0 and Minehead getting the better of Reggina in a 1-0 win. The only British side not to win were Maidstone United, who were held 1-1 by the formidable Udinese.
City’s second match in the competition was scheduled for Saturday, 25 March, with Treviso the visitors to Farrar Road. The Italian club hailing from the Veneto region in the north east of the country were founded in 1909, and had been in the Italian third tier (Serie C) since the 1971/72 season.
They had finished third in the division in 1976/77, three points behind Udinese and seven points behind promoted club Cremonese. Midway through the 1977/78 campaign, Treviso sat in fifth place, eight points behind leaders Udinese.
The match marked a special day in the history of Bangor City for another reason. Guesting for the Citizens on that day forty years ago was none other than Manchester United and England icon Sir Bobby Charlton!
The prospect of the world famous younger Charlton brother donning a Bangor City shirt had been the main topic of conversation for City fans for several weeks leading up to the match.
However, it wasn’t Sir Bobby’s first visit to Bangor as he’d starred for Manchester United (George Best et al) in a 1969 Investiture Match against a Wales XI in front of a 10,000 capacity crowd at Farrar Road.
Capped 106 times for England, scoring 49 goals - a record that stood until Wayne Rooney’s late penalty against Switzerland in a Euro 2016 qualifier in September 2015. Ironically it was Rooney that also broke Charlton’s Manchester United goalscoring record with his 250th strike against Stoke City in January 2017.
A survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, Sir Bobby went on to make over 600 Football League appearances for the Red Devils, collecting a European Cup winners medal in 1968, along with three First Division champions medals, one FA Cup title, and most famously a World Cup winners medal in 1966 with England in four Finals appearances.
As for the match itself, City battled through the rain and hail on a treacherous surface to a 2-1 victory. Bangor pressed in the early stages and were unlucky not to take the lead through Bill Telford’s diving header. However, it was the Italians who drew first blood as Stefanelli turned in a free kick from De Poli.
The equaliser arrived in the 20th minute as Steve Hipwell headed home a Stuart Mason cross and then the crowd erupted just three minutes later as Charlton unleashed a trademark 20-yard piledriver from Broadhead’s pass to make the score 2-1.
The result ensured that City were well positioned in second place behind leaders Bath City (by virtue of goal difference only) in the table of British clubs. Bath had beaten one of City’s future opponents Paganese by a 2-0 margin at Twerton Park. Also tied on six points alongside Bath and Bangor were Minehead following their 3-1 win over Arezzo.
The only other British club to win in the second round of fixtures was Maidstone United, who beat another of City’s prospective opponents Reggina by 3-0 at their London Road ground. Less fortunate were Nuneaton Borough who drew 1-1 with Reggiana, while Londoners Wealdstone went down 0-1 to Udinese at the Lower Mead Stadium.
Bobby Charlton wasn’t the only attraction at Farrar Road as the club also hosted a series of special events to celebrate the Italian Week. On Monday, 20 March, the football club, in conjunction with Bangor Round Table, also hosted a Sportsman’s Dinner at the Castle Hotel. Guest of Honour at the Dinner was none other than Sir Bobby’s elder brother Jack Charlton.
The former Leeds United and England centre half was in his first season as manager of then Third Division Sheffield Wednesday, following an initial four-year spell at the helm of Middlesbrough. Bottom of the table when Charlton took over at Hillsborough, he would guide the Owls to mid-table safety by season’s end although Wednesday were humbled in the FA Cup by City’s Northern Premier League rivals Wigan Athletic.
Another famous name to appear at the Sportsman’s Dinner was the “Gentle Giant” John Charles. One of the greatest players ever to wear a Wales shirt, Charles was equally adept as either a centre back or centre forward and achieved legendary status with Leeds United (in two spells) and Italian giants Juventus.
A British record transfer fee of £65,000 in 1957 saw Charles became one of the first British players to make the move overseas and he finished his debut season for Juve as Serie A’s top scorer with 28 goals.
During five seasons in Turin, Charles would score a phenomenal 108 goals from 155 appearances, and he was dubbed “Il Gigante Buono” by the Italians due to his size and sense of fair play – incredibly, he was never cautioned or sent off in his entire career!
Following their Italian escapade, City would return to Northern Premier League action in a weekend double header which saw the Citizens host Netherfield at Farrar Road on the Saturday before making the 480 mile round-trip to Gateshead the following afternoon!
A lethargic first half display against the Cumbrian outfit was put aside as City produced an exhilarating performance in the second 45 minutes to sweep aside their opponents by 4-0. Within two minutes of the restart player-coach Stuart Mason set Bangor on their way with a left foot finish from a Tony Broadhead assist.
On 55 minutes, Broadhead was again the supplier as John McClelland swept home from an angle on the left for City’s second. Just two minutes later and student pharmacist Gwyn Peris Jones steered in a low hard cross from player-manager Dave Elliott for the third goal.
Substitute John Hughes stabbed home City’s fourth goal in the 72nd minute from a glorious McClelland through ball, despite only having taken the field some 60 seconds earlier.
BANGOR CITY: 1 Mike Craven, 2 Dewi Atherton, 3 Phil Lunn, 4 Dave Elliott, 5 John McClelland, 6 Jim Smith, 7 Mel Jones, 8 Tony Broadhead, 9 Bill Telford, 10 Stuart Mason, 11 G.P.Jones, Sub: John Hughes.
NETHERFIELD: 1 Monkhouse, 2 Holme, 3 Guest, 4 Carruthers, 5 Tomlinson, 6 Cowperthwaite, 7 Westgarth, 8 Handley, 9 Wicks, 10 Burgess, 11 Banks, Sub: Williams.
Referee: M.J.Heath (Stoke-on-Trent). Attendance: 744.
On the Sunday, the previous day’s exertions and the long journey seemed to carry no ill effects as the Citizens came away from the International Athletics Stadium, Gateshead, with a 2-1 win – their seventh consecutive victory in all competitions.
Despite a backlog of fixtures, Bangor remained within touching distance of NPL leaders Boston United, Northwich Victoria, and Wigan Athletic. City’s resources would be seriously stretched however as they embarked on a staggering total of ten fixtures in April with four of those arriving within the first seven days.
Wednesday, 5 April, saw Workington make the midweek journey to Bangor – over 200 miles each way for the Cumbrians. The former Football League club were making their first ever visit to Farrar Road having failed to gain re-election to the old Fourth Division after finishing rock bottom in the previous two seasons.
Members since 1951, the Reds were replaced by Wimbledon of the Southern Premier League. Amongst Workington’s most notable former managers was a certain Bill Shankly who was in charge at Borough Park in the mid-Fifties just four years before he would become a legend on Merseyside with Liverpool.
Two first half goals would settle City nerves as they were often frustrated by Workington’s reliance on the offside trap. Early chances fell to Phil Lunn, Derek Hughes and Dave Elliott before the latter put Workington centre back John Salter under enough pressure to turn into his own net after 27 minutes.
Bill Telford curled an effort from distance inches over the woodwork on the half hour before finding the target six minutes later. A third Bangor goal duly arrived ten minutes into the second half as John Hughes netted with a clever flick from Elliott’s quickly taken free kick.
With the result beyond doubt, the Citizens were guilty of easing off in the closing stages and allowed Workington a late consolation through Barry Donaghy after 80 minutes as the match ended 3-1 in Bangor’s favour.
BANGOR CITY: 1 Craven, 2 Atherton, 3 Lunn, 4 Elliott, 5 McClelland, 6 G.P.Jones, 7 Smith, 8 Hughes, 9 Telford, 10 Mason, 11 Derek Hughes, Sub: M.Jones.
WORKINGTON: 1 Bedford, 2 Johnston, 3 Wallace, 4 Lenc, 5 Salter, 6 Brown, 7 Crelling, 8 Wilson, 9 Endean, 10 Donaghy, 11 Hodgson, Sub: Gilmore.
Referee: J.J.Cunningham (Preston). Attendance: 936.
A trip to Morecambe on the Saturday saw the Citizens extend their winning streak to nine matches as they returned from Christie Park with a 1-0 win under their belts.
The victory at Morecambe was only the third time in eleven visits that City had returned from the Lancashire coast with maximum points, and maintained Elliott’s belief that Bangor had a realistic chance of catching NPL leaders Boston and Wigan.
Elliott’s biggest concern was the threat of sustaining injuries to key players given the number of fixtures that City had to get through. Jim Smith had suffered a nasty ankle injury at Christie Park but winger Pat Olney was one of the stars of that City performance on his return to action after a three match suspension, with leading scorer Tony Broadhead also midway through a similar ban.
Article by Kevin Owen (Bangor City FC Media)
The article first featured in Saturday's official Matchday Programme The Citizen, part of a continuous look back at City's 1977/78 season. The next instalment will include a conclusion to the Citizens quest for English Football League status as they chased the Northern Premier League title and also reports on the two-legged Welsh Cup Final against Third Division champions Wrexham.
Photo: John McClelland (facing camera) with (from left to right) Mike Craven (1), Bill Telford (9), Pat Olney (7) & Tony Broadhead (8). Trainer Len Davies, Bangor City's goalkeeper against Napoli in 1962, can be seen in the background (right).
PHOTO GALLERY [click here]
Updated 10:50 - 5 Apr 2018 by Kevin Owen