22 Days in May – Vase Final memories
22 Days in May – Vase Final memories

For the latest in our “22 Days in May” series commemorating the 20th anniversary of Deal Town’s historic FA Vase win against Chippenham Town, we’ve caught up with the two Radio Kent commentators that baking Saturday afternoon in North West London.

Our very own Mike Green and Alex Rice bring us their memories of that never to be forgotten historic afternoon under the Twin Towers.

Mike Green – Doesn’t seem possible that it will soon be 20 years since that
fabulous day at Wembley does it Alex?  But before we remember the day
itself, how much of the side’s run in do you actually remember – or
even for that matter their season as a whole???

Alex Rice – We’re not spoilt with footballing success in Kent so a good cup run would always get the Radio Kent sports team excited. I remember Deal and Ramsgate both being in the Vase quarter finals and it was probably at that stage that we really started thinking of Wembley. I had been lucky enough to cover Thanet Wanderers when they won rugby’s equivalent trophy at Twickenham a few years earlier, so I really believed another famous win was possible. There’s something extra special about a non-league cup run because it’s often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all those involved. So, when Deal won the first leg of their semi-final 2-0 at Newcastle Town, there was great excitement. Although at this stage I didn’t know we would be commentating on the final if Deal got there!

MG – I’d forgotten that Ramsgate had the run that year too…  but I shouldn’t have as Jimmy Ward was our summariser in Deal’s second leg.  Although I’d been lucky enough to cover most of the Gills’ away games that season – including the 5-0 win at Burnley; what a day that was – I was still surprised when I was asked to commentate with Matt Davison on the second leg. 

Deal as you say won the first game 2-0 and I remember that the goal that they got in the second leg was a fluke that calmed so many nerves!!! What about that post match interview with Tommy in floods of tears “we’re going to Wembley Mike” he blubbered adding “we’re going to win the League!” and I’ve still got the picture to prove it… Then of course came the call to the Final and an “unexpected” pairing that would link us together…

AR – Ah yes, Gillingham winning 5-0 at Burnley. How things have changed in the last 20 years! And of course, it was the Gills’ fine form that season that meant we got to commentate on the Vase final at Wembley. Normally, Radio Kent’s late, great commentator Neil Bell would have been there, but he was following the Gills instead, as they had a chance to clinch automatic promotion to the Championship that day. Sadly, they didn’t – they lost at Wrexham – but Deal’s success more than made up for that disappointment (especially as the Gills went up via the play-offs a few weeks later).

MG – That as they say is another story… But what a day we had at Wembley starting with the journey from Chatham in the dear “Radio Kent Peugeot” – the 106!!! Remember we had the honour of having dear old Paul James with us meaning we actually had to be at Wembley before 10.00 in the morning???

AR – We shared a lot of journeys in that Peugeot 106! This was definitely the first time we had driven it to Wembley though and as you say we had an early start. Having Paul James there to present his show was another reminder that this was no ordinary match – it was a big occasion not just for Deal but for the whole county, and Radio Kent reflected that. I should add that I’m certain PJ didn’t arrive in a car like ours!

MG – Oh yes – I seem to remember it was a rather large car that I still can’t afford to buy!!! I recall though also leaving aforementioned vehicle someway behind us on the M1! Can you remember your first impression when they showed us to the commentary position? Or should I say “box” as it reminded me of the old conservatory at my Mum and Dad’s??? And what about the “wonderful” seating that we had???

AR – Ha! Well we don’t want to shatter people’s illusions, but this was the old Wembley before its’ facelift and our commentary box was looking very tired. I remember finding some foam to make the seats more comfortable and of course there was also the anxious testing of the kit to make sure everything worked. Fortunately, it did! We were a long way from the pitch too of course which was not something we were used to. So, my early impressions were probably hugely different to those of the players when they first walked on to the Wembley pitch. But still, we were at Wembley and it felt like a special place.

MG – And it was so hot too!!! I know talking to some of those involved for this series, they all said how unbearably hot it was which could of course explain why it wasn’t the greatest game. Apart from poor Dave Monteith being carried off early on and the last couple of minutes, I can’t remember too much of the game, can you?

AR – I’m glad it’s not just me! It wasn’t a classic and I remember asking you more and more questions as the game went on and being grateful that you can talk so much! But the last few minutes more than made up for that….

MG – Do you want to start the line or should I?

AR – You do it!

MG – Oh OK then! “As we enter the heart-break zone of the last two minutes, Marshall’s away down the right for Deal. He’s past one man, he’s past another; he pulls the ball back; it’s fallen to Roly Graham; ROLY GRAHAM HAS WON THE FA VASE FOR DEAL TOWN” …or words to that effect! Have you come down yet as you know something, I don’t honestly think I have!

AR – I think I described it as one of the greatest goals Wembley has ever seen! I still stand by that though; it was a great move and such a memorable finish from Roly Graham. It was at the far end from us but in a way, we had the perfect view of it because we could see the move developing and could spot Roly sprinting into space at the edge of the area. His finish was Roy of the Rovers stuff and yes, we all got very excited!

MG – How I kept going to the final whistle I do not know! I’ll always remember desperately wanting you to take over the commentary, but you didn’t! And when Terry (Martin) began to lead the Deal boys up the thirty nine steps to receive the trophy – I remember dear old Trevor – our engineer in Chatham who kept us on air – coolly saying down our headphones “Keep going Greenie, keep going!” and so I did until the trophy was safely being waved around which is when you, thankfully, took control as I think I was out of superlatives as well as almost losing my voice!!!

AR – I didn’t want to interrupt you in full flow, Greenie! You and I had worked together on a lot of matches and I knew you were the right man to see Deal home. Plus, I had to save my voice for the post-match interviews! With news of Gills’ defeat coming in, all eyes were on Deal now. Of course, the Gills would have their winning moment at Wembley a few weeks later but that’s another story. I moved to BBC TV Sport in London a few weeks after this match and was lucky enough to work on some major events, including the 2012 Olympics and the 2006 World Cup. But I still rate this as one of my career highlights. It was a very special day. 

MG – Indeed it was Riceman – but tell me, can you remember why we didn’t go to the post-match celebrations, because I can’t!!!

One thing as a sort of postscript is that I remember going to the start of the Vase defence at the Charles Ground at the start of the following season. It was a very surreal day as all of the Vase squad had left and the club was under “new-ownership” – all very sad indeed that they weren’t able to build on the great success of that balmy day under the Twin Towers…

Next time, the spotlight falls on one of the most popular defenders ever to wear the Gillingham blue who played a significant part in both of the club’s Play Off campaigns as we talk to Barry Ashby…