October 26 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, May 3, 2014
It was 20 years ago next week that Diss enjoyed their FA Vase glory. GAVIN CANEY takes a trip down memory lane with Town’s cup-winning boss.
Diss played nine games on their way to the club’s biggest day in London. It was a long road to the home of football, as Bill Punton recalls.
“We drew our first game at Tring in the second round and we had a replay at home the following week. There was a good crowd. But what I remember most is their manager dropped their centre-forward. He lost his temper and punched the manager. All of the players came rushing out of the dressing room to break it up.
“At the end of the game they wouldn’t let him (the player) back on the bus. It was quite comical really. I’d had them watched before the game and I had all of the teams we played watched. I always did. I had a very good scout in Gordan Smart and he gave me some excellent reports on the teams we were playing.
“By the time we played against them I knew how they were set up, who their danger men were, and if I would have to play differently. We had them sussed out and it was like a goal start to us in every game.
“We won 2-1 at Ford United in the third round and there was nearly a big punch-up after the game. We scored, then they scored, and their bench were so aggressive. Shouting and swearing at us. It was a windy day and the ball went through to Paul Warne as the match went on and it held up. But he cracked it in. After the game, I refused to let the players go into the clubhouse. If they had of done, there’d have been a battle.
“In the fourth round at Torpoint (Cornwall) we had a hell of a journey. We had to do an overnighter and the bus got broken into and our strip got knicked. We had to borrow a Plymouth Argyle kit. We had two or three injuries that day but I wasn’t bothered. I had 17 or 18 players, and they could all come in and do a job.
“It was comfortable and I think we got into their heads. They had windows in their dressing room and we went and warmed up and played some five-a-side in front of them. I told the lads not to tackle and we zipped the ball around. When the game started, they sat back and we attacked them.
“We played King’s Lynn at home in the fifth round and their fans nearly ruined the place. The police had to come out and some fans entered the field. As for the game, Paul Gibbs scored a rocket shot from 30 yards. It was a great victory as they were in the Southern League and we were underdogs.
“From that day I think the players started to believe we could do it. We were a good side. I get out to a lot of local football now, when I’m not at Norwich, and I don’t think anyone else will get to the final or win it. Too many kids now would rather play on a computer than get out and play football.
“We beat Tiverton Town 1-0 in the quarter-final and I think we were pretty lucky to get through that day. We were under so much pressure. After the game – they had six bottles of champagne with them which they were going to open if they won – their captain came and gave them to us which was a nice gesture. He made a speech in the bar and wished us all the best for the rest of the competition and said he hoped we’d beat Taunton if we met them. They’d lost to them the previous year and they are big rivals. It’s like the equivalent of Ipswich versus Norwich.
“In the semi-final, we beat Atherton Laburnum Rovers 3-1 in the first leg at home and we deserved to win. But we went up there and it was horrendous. They started kicking the walls of the dressing room and they started shouting ‘we’re going to kick you off the park’. And they tried pretty hard.
“We went 1-0 down and then 2-0. So we were lucky to get away, especially in terms of being unscathed. I thought we, and our fans, were really in trouble.
“The replay was played at Rugby and one of their midfielders, Humphreys I think his name was, was suspended. He could play. He was aggressive, he’d get stuck in. We went 1-0 down, just like we did in the final, but went on to win 2-1.”
When an authoritative man like Bill Punton talks – people listen.
That big deep Scottish accent that bellows from the Ormiston-born success story is enough to grab anyone’s attention. It’s probably why he’s become a big hit analysing the area’s non-league football scene on the radio. And it’s certainly why he’ll forever be remembered as one of Norfolk’s greatest managers, at any level, of all time.
For what Punton didn’t achieve professionally off the pitch, like he did on it – in terms of featuring at the highest level – he will always be known as a hero. Twenty-one years of dedicated managerial service to Great Yarmouth Town was a monumental achievement. But guiding little Diss to a memorable FA Vase triumph in 1994 was enough to earn him a whole market town’s respect for the rest of his days and beyond.
Now, aged 79, it’s still easy to see how the former Norwich City winger made sure he left his mark on the beautiful game. William Hamilton, as he’s officially known, breathes football. And that’s what set him aside from the very start. Especially as a manager. His reputation had been earned by playing for Newcastle United, Southend United, the Canaries – where he scored in the 1962 League Cup final victory over Rochdale – Sheffield United and Scunthorpe. So it was no wonder he commanded respect in the dressing room – whatever he did.
The Scot said: “When I was first at Yarmouth the players were paid in pay packets. I wasn’t having that. I put a £10 note in everyone’s hand so it could be seen what people were getting. I went to Diss and I scrapped their wages straight away.
“I said: ‘Everyone gets the same, including me and my assistant. We’re going to be paid the same as you’. And it worked a treat. There was no ill feeling. Some of the higher-paid players didn’t like it and left. But that wasn’t a bad thing. We all got paid the same and it was great for team spirit and things like that. I had 28 years as a manager and I paid everyone the same at each club.”
The former pro, who has been inducted into Norwich’s Hall of Fame, had done well in the Vase with Yarmouth to increase his growing reputation as a fine player-turned-manager. Footballers knew that Punton had been some player so they could trust his opinion. He was one of them. And they soon realised he was a cracking manager too. A run to the last eight of one of the part-time game’s glamour competitions had left Diss realising their ‘Tangerine Dream’ of reaching Wembley was achievable.
Twenty years ago on Wednesday, those hopes became a reality. It was a surprise to many, but not the man at the helm of the Eastern Counties League club.
The Diss Town legend said: “The belief grew through our run but I was always confident. I had a very, very good team. Five players went on to play in the Football League. I’ll always remember the build-up before our final, and of course the day and celebrations.
“A film was made about it which was fantastic. It really was. It was the biggest occasion. We stayed in the best hotel. The players had a nice meal. We let the cameras come in the dressing room.
“It felt like the whole of Diss had come to cheer us on. I think every pub sent a coach-load of supporters. It was a great turnout. But I wasn’t nervous. I was confident we’d have beaten any team at that level. We had a good squad and I could make substitutions, and changed our style, and not make us weaker – which I had to do for the final 10 minutes.”
In an enthralling end-to-end encounter, the Tangerines were 1-0 down to Taunton until Paul Gibbs – who Punton describes as “such a confident little chap, I knew he wouldn’t miss” – banged home a dramatic injury-time penalty. Fellow Norwich legend Peter Mendham scored the winner in extra-time to seal a heart-stopping comeback.
“I always told Peter to stay on the edge of the box,” laughed the man who lives in Little Plumstead, near Blofield, and looks after Norwich sponsors on matchdays at Carrow Road.
“He could hit a ball so well with both feet. For some reason this time he disobeyed me. He had run into the box and when the ball came to him he headed it against the bar and them hammered it in. It was amazing. I’ve never been so pleased that Pete ignored me.”
To this day, even Punton admits he still doesn’t know why Mendham charged into the danger area. But almost two decades later he’s remains so happy that on that day someone, for once, ignored his wise words.