Winstanley Walkers reach National Final double
Winstanley Walkers did themselves and the north west proud in the National Finals, with the over-50s and over-70s both reaching the final of their respective competitions at Lilleshall.
After battling their way through five matches over a three-month period to claim the WFA North West Cup, the over-50s team faced seven other regional winners split into group stages.
Game one saw Winstanley get off to a steady yet unconvincing start with a 1-0 win against Woodnesborough, with goalkeeper Craig Daintry producing some quality saves before twinkle-toes Tony Powell sealed victory with a mazy run and a good finish.
Boston were amongst the favourites for the tournament and put up a real fight in a thrilling second game, but Winstanley's prolific marksman Dave Woosey produced a sharp turn and clinical finish to win it, with some more heroic goalkeeping, this time from young Darren Evans, seeing them home.
Winstanley were confirmed as group winners at this point, so manager Steve Anderton decided to shuffle his pack and make the most of his strong squad bringing in the classy Mark Fishwick and defensive powerhouse Pete Hampson.
Godelming were the opponents in game three and Woosey scored again with an absolute thunderbolt following some quick thinking by the midfield general Shaun Rotherham, although a late equaliser spoiled the 100 per cent record.
Reigning champions Weston-super-Mare were next up in a much-anticipated semi-final clash, which was settled when Rotherham and Powell combined brilliantly in the middle of the park to release Mark Glover, who calmly drew the goalkeeper before slotting the ball into the net.
That set up a mouth-watering final against Forest Vets, who had ex-Nottingham Forest striker Nigel Jemson in their side.
The final itself had everything apart from goals, which meant a dreaded penalty shoot-out, during which Winstanley goalkeeper Daintry saved two spot-kicks, only to be adjudged to have stepped off his line.
Penalties were missed, saved, retaken and scored in a tense battle, that was eventually settled by the ex-pro Jemson.
“To lose in the final on penalties was tough to take," said manager Steve Anderton.
"But I’m incredibly proud of all the players who gave everything they possibly could.
"We have a great squad with many unsung heroes, people like the selfless Brian Lewis, who always puts team glory before his personal aspirations.
"They can be very proud of their achievements this season and can hold their heads high.
"We will stick together and look to go one better next year!"
Meanwhile, the over-70s were drawn in a tough group alongside Notts Bramcote, Bicester Fossils, Mansfield Senior Reds, Barnet and Exeter.
A goal from stalwart John Anderson gave Winstanley a 1-0 victory in game one versus Notts Bramcote,which was followed by two more single-goal victories over Bicester Fossils and Mansfield Senior Reds, with England international Alan Brown and midfield dynamo Joe McKeever respectively on the mark.
With qualification all-but secure, manager James Callaway rested a few of his players including his inspirational captain and defensive warrior Tommy Ryan for the match against Barnet which finished goalless.
The final group game produced yet another 1-0 victory against Exeter, with McKeever again the matchwinner ably supported by the evergreen Billy Rotherham, the imperious Geoff Robinson and the versatile and energetic Dave Cairns.
The quarter-finals saw a showdown against the much-fancied AFC Bournemouth, but another winner from the inspirational McKeever gave Winstanley a narrow victory and set up a mouth-watering semi-final derby against Bolton.
Winstanley's cause wasn't helped when McKeever was controversially shown a blue card, meaning two minutes in the sin-bin, for an act that manager Callaway later described as 'totally out of character'.
But with time running out, captain Ryan and the no-nonsense Anderson combined beautifully to set up Keith Clandon, who coolly dispatched the ball high into the roof of the net for a dramatic winner.
Reigning champions Norwich were the opposition in the final, with Winstanley still yet to concede a goal due to some heroic goalkeeping from an inspired and agile Roger Kirby.
The game was end to end with both sides playing some great football, and turned on its head within a chaotic 30 seconds which saw Norwich score what proved to be a controversial winner and Anderson blue-carded for his protests.
Winstanley through the kitchen sink at Norwich and when Anderson returned they created many chances but to no avail, with the Norwich goalkeeper in fine form.
"I can only say the team totally mesmerised me with the standard of football they played and the lads were outstanding during the whole tournament," said manager Callaway.
"I have nothing but admiration for my players, some of the football they played was exquisite and they have done our club and the north west proud.
"We enjoyed the experience, and the message from us is let’s go again next year where our aim is to go one better and win the trophy."