Richard Sutcliffe: Village life takes on delirious twist at the home of football

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North Ferriby United’s previous visit to Wembley 18 years ago ended in a 3-0 defeat. But few will remember that day now, reports Richard Sutcliffe.

A LITTLE over 30 years ago, Wrexham claimed arguably their greatest scalp when European giants Porto were beaten over two legs in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Ferriby's players celebrate.

Ferriby's players celebrate.

North Ferriby United, in contrast, were being knocked out of the FA Cup in the first qualifying round on the very night that the Red Dragons claimed what proved ultimately to be a crucial first leg lead against the Portuguese club.

The Villagers were still in Northern Counties East Division One North at the time, having had to turn down promotion a couple of years earlier due to the facilities at their Church Road ground not being up to standard.

Only a handful of the estimated 4,500-strong travelling army of fans who invaded north London yesterday can surely have also witnessed that Cup replay exit to Winsford United.

However, what those hugely contrasting fortunes of September 19, 1984 vividly illustrate is the tremendous gulf that North Ferriby had bridged just to be on the same Wembley pitch as Wrexham, never mind actually go on to lift the Trophy as Billy Heath’s side so magnificently did.

That realisation was why the visitors from East Yorkshire were so determined to enjoy their big day out in the capital.

As was to be expected ahead of what proved to be a day to savour, supporters began arriving early on Olympic Way in the north London drizzle.

The ticket touts that had been waiting at the foot of the steps leading to Wembley Park underground station on Friday night ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania may have been absent.

But there was no doubting that this was a big deal to those supporters who had travelled south from the White Rose county.

Photographs were taken, souvenir programmes snapped up and scarves held proudly aloft to announce that North Ferriby United were back at Wembley after an 18-year absence.

The club’s previous visit in the FA Vase had ended in a 3-0 defeat to Whitby but that did little to spoil the enjoyment of a day that is still talked about fondly in the East Riding.

Ahead of the return to the rebuilt home of English football, the big question was whether the Villagers would fare any better.than the class of ’97.

They did, of course. And remarkably so, after a truly pulsating final that saw Welsh voices crowing after seeing their side take a two-goal lead.

Those cheers then turned to jeers for Wrexham at the end, a stark contrast to the unrestrained scenes of joy breaking out among the green and white clad fans housed mainly along the tunnel side of Wembley.

North Ferriby’s comeback from two goals down to lead 3-2 was the stuff of dreams, not least because things like that just don’t seem to happen in modern-day football.

On resources, of course, they shouldn’t. Wrexham, a member of the Football League for more than eight decades, are full-time and boast an annual turnover more than six times that of their opponents yesterday.

They were also backed by a larger number of supporters, though perhaps the best example of the huge gulf between the two finalists came via the pages of the matchday programme.

Ryan Kendall, the substitute destined to make such a big impact on proceedings, was asked about the stoppage-time equaliser that prevented North Ferriby being knocked out at home in the first round by Boston United.

His reply laid bare the difficulties that come with being a part-time team that trains just twice a week, or once if there is a Tuesday night game to play.

“No-one really celebrated,” said the striker. “A lot of the boys were going to have to take time off work to get there on a Tuesday night for the replay.

“I scored and everyone was fuming in the changing room. Everyone’s thanking me now, but they certainly weren’t back in December.”

As well they might, of course, as no-one sporting green and white yesterday – be they players, club officials or fans – will ever forget the dramatic events of March 29, 2015 and how the team from a village of less than 4,000 residents conquered Wembley.