50 years on from the great Vention victory
The former players of Vention United will have a spring in their step this week as they reflect on the club’s greatest achievement.
It was 50 years ago that the team from New Invention in Willenhall proved to be the best Sunday League side in the country.
The Bloxwich Combination outfit lifted the FA National Sunday Cup thanks to a hard-fought victory over Essex-based Ubique United in the final at Corby Town’s ground.
Vention were used to tasting success on the local scene, where they were a dominant force, and made their mark on their second entry into the prestigious amateur competition.
Prolific striker Ted Duckhouse bagged the only goal of the game to etch Vention’s name into the history books.
But their journey to success was far from smooth. In fact, there was spot of bother on the road when four members of the side were involved in a car crash that forced their second-round clash away to Stoke Works to be postponed.
One of the club’s founder members, Dave Fletcher, recalls the incident and admits the side thought their cup exploits were going to be ended by the Bromsgrove-based side for the second year in succession.
“We had entered the competition for the first time in the 1968/69 season and Stoke Works beat us in the second round,” he said.
“After beating Red Lion Amateur 2-0 in the first round the following year, we were drawn away to Stoke and on the way to the game there was quite a significant car crash.
“One of our cars, carrying four players, was involved in a real bad smash, so the game was called off on that day.
“We went back two weeks later and we had to field three reserves, good players but not as the same ilk as the ones we lost, and we didn’t fancy our chances.
“But they played like their lives depended on it and helped us get a 2-2 draw. Then we won 5-2 in the replay at home when we had all our players back.”
Victories at home to Keeley Rovers (2-1)
and Bedford Strollers (1-0) secured a semi-final encounter with Roman United at Cambridge City’s ground.
The sides battled out a goalless draw, but it was Vention who came out on top, 2-1, in the replay at Banbury to book their shot at glory.
The cup run generated plenty of interest with Vention attracting sizeable crowds for their home ties, which took place at Blakenhall FC’s ground.
“I used to collect the money on the gate and we had some decent crowds watching us at Blakenall, 500-plus was no problem for those cup matches,” added Fletcher, now 73 and living in Essington.
“A lot of other players who played in the Bloxwich League would come to watch. The cup run generated quite a buzz.”
Awaiting them in the final were Ubique, who were viewed as overwhelming favourites to lift the cup for the second time having triumphed in 1966.
The boys from Essex were a formidable outfit, packed with players from the Isthmian League and also including England amateur international Paddy Betson, an FA Amateur Cup winner with Enfield.
The final itself was at times a ‘backs to the wall’ contest for Vention, with their defence and goalkeeper Bernard Hughes ensuring that Ubique did not breach their goal.
And with the rearguard standing firm, Hednesford striker Duckhouse, who had posed a threat to the Ubique defence, settled the contest in Vention’s favour. But the celebrations didn’t, initially, quite go as you would have imagined.
“We hadn’t taken anything with us at all to celebrate,” recalls Fletcher, who was cheering the side on from the sidelines.
“Ubique then sent in three bottles of champagne from their dressing room so we could celebrate our victory.”
But the national success did come at a cost for Vention, as Fletcher explains.
“In those days there must have been 12, 13 or 14 divisions in the Bloxwich Combination Sunday section,” he said.
“We were in the top division and we didn’t have it all our own way because there were some damn good teams. But we very successful, we won a few cups and a few league titles.
“Our more experienced players had played together for Hednesford, Blakenall and Stratford Town, so at least four or five of them knew each other quite well.
“We had a nice mixture of experienced players and some very good young players.
“In those days we didn’t pay any of our players. We didn’t give them a penny. The best they got out of us was a pint at The Gate after the game.
“But we played a lot of teams who paid their players what we called ‘boot money’.
“And the year after we won the National Cup, we probably lost at least five of our better players for ‘boot money’.
“It was sad, really. We still continued as Vention United and recruited some decent players, but it was never going to be the same again after that.
“I don’t think anything could live up to that triumph.”
A planned reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the club’s most famous triumph was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Fletcher is determined to arrange a get-together as soon as possible.
“The big reunion was planned for last weekend, but the virus forced the cancellation of that,” he added.
“Some of us still meet up at the Duke of Cambridge in Short Heath and we have been doing that, off and on, for about 18 months.
“We can get our hands on maybe seven of the players, but sadly four of them are no longer with us.
“But once the pubs are open again and social gathering opens up, then we will have a reunion. There were a lot of people who were very close to the club who travelled all over the country to watch and I’m sure they would like to come along, too.
“We will definitely rearrange it.”