Photo gallery: Winner Punton was born to be a leader of men
- Credit: Archant
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.
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.'
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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.