Some of Preston’s finest amateur footballers from years gone by will be reminiscing about the good old days next week.
‘A Golden Football Gathering’ will take place on Friday at the Ale Emporium, in Fylde Road.
Initially organised as a 50th-year reunion for the players who took part in the Catholic Junior Cup final in 1965 at Deepdale, the event has been expanded to include any player from around that era to the present day.
The celebratory evening has been organised by Wilf Riley, who has been a prominent figure – both on and off the pitch – in local football circles over the past half-century.
He was a member of the winning team of the ’65 cup final, helping English Martyrs Juniors defeat St Joseph’s Juniors B 6-1.
“The idea of the reunion came about a couple of years ago when a picture of the Martyrs team appeared in the retro page of the LEP,” Riley said.
“It prompted one of the lads Michael Dillon to get in touch and say we need to get a reunion organised.
“We’re all aged 67 or 68 now – we were 17 when we played in the final.
“By the balance of probability three or four of the players who played in the match are probably deceased.
“Michael said if we don’t do it soon we will only have enough for a five-a-side game.”
Riley still remembers the final vividly.
A lifelong Preston North End fan, it was a dream come true for him to be afforded the opportunity of playing on the hallowed turf of Deepdale.
He also remembers the match because St Joseph’s solitary goalscorer was Micky Burns -– a striker who went on to enjoy a long and successful career as a professional footballer.
The Preston-born star scored 116 career goals in spells at Blackpool, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough.
But he was not able to prevent St Joseph’s losing to the mighty Martyrs.
“Sadly for St Josephs they were well beaten and Micky Burns scored their only goal,” Riley recalls.
“He went on to have a professional career with Newcastle and Blackpool.
“I did not score, but I was named man of the match.
“I spoke to Micky two weeks ago and invited him to the get-together but unfortunately he will be in Spain, so can’t attend.
“But it was great to play at Deepdale – I have been a North End fan since the 1950s.
“I used to go and watch Sir Tom in those days.
“Deepdale was like our Wembley – we had been used to playing on two-foot of mud on Moor Park!
“My mate Dennis Higgins has still got the cutting from the final and will be bringing it along to the reunion.”
Another prominent member of the Martyrs team was Peter Crossley, who later became an actor and appeared as ‘Colin Burton’ in the hit television series Prisoner Cell Block H.
“One lad we are trying to track down is Peter,” Riley said. “He was our captain.
“Peter was a teacher by profession but then became an actor and played a ‘baddie’ in Prisoner Cell Block H.”
Although the origins of the reunion centre around the ’65 cup final, Riley has decided to open it up to all amateur players, from before, around and beyond that era.
Even present-day players are welcome to attend.
“I know individual clubs have held reunions, but I think this is the first time that a whole league has had one. I’ve created a monster.
“I just thought that if we left it just open for players who played in the final, then only a few of us and our contemporaries would attend.
“It’s open to anybody really. I’m expecting there to be more older lads than younger lads, but I know a few sons of some of the lads are turning up.”
Riley has spent a lifetime involved in the sport and has only just recently stepped down from the committee of the Preston and District Football League.
He was also the co-ordinator of the Guildhall Cup – a prestigious competition open to amateur clubs in the area.
“I have only just retired from the District League – I did 12 years with them.
“I have always been involved in football – that’s my interest.
“I played for years and I was affectionately known as the ‘maestro’ when I played,” Riley said with a chuckle.
“I was an inside-left who liked to get on the ball and I could score a few too.
“Once I stopped playing at the age of 35 or 36, I started refereeing and did that for a number of years.”
Riley’s first club was Greenbank Celtic, where he played for several years, before making the switch to Dryden United.
It is where Riley believes he and his team-mates achieved their own unique place in the history of football. .
The 67-year-old football stalwart is convinced Dryden United was the first ever amateur football club in the world to attract a sponsor.
Fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken, who opened its first ever outlet in the UK in Fishergate, Preston, in the mid-1960s, bought the club a new strip and eventually Dryden changed its name to KFC.
“This is arguable and there is no way of clarifying it, but we think Dryden United was the first sponsored team in the world,” Riley said.
“We got sponsored by KFC and that all came about because as history tells you, the KFC in Fishergate was the first one to open in the UK in 1965 by Colonel Sanders himself, the man with the white beard and white suit.
“One of the lads Jimmy Finch, who has sadly passed away, married into the family who owned the KFC franchise on Fishergate and he managed to get us a sponsored strip.
“Having a sponsor on your shirt was unheard of in the 1970s, so we think we were world pioneers.”
Unfortunately for Riley and his team-mates, KFC’s funding only stretched to a sponsored strip and did not include a fried chicken dinner post-final whistle!
Another prominent amateur team of Preston’s past who have declared their intention to attend next Friday are former players of Ribbleton Methodist Avenue FC, who used to play in the Churches League.
They famously defeated the all-conquering Heskin in 1975 in the final of the prestigious Hunt Cup.
“The Hunt Cup was a competition for all the league winners around the area –so Ribbleton became the champion of champions in effect,” said Riley.
“Heskin won the competition five times between 1972 and 1977.”
The event on Friday starts at 6pm and is being sponsored by Red Rose Blinds.
Former players are asked to bring any old photos, news cuttings or memorabilia.
Later on in the evening, guests will be able to watch England take on Estonia on TV and hotpot will be served.
All proceeds from the event will go to St Catherine’s Hospice. Tickets are priced at £5, including supper.
For more information, contact Wilf Riley on 01772 336257.