#WFC1982 – Martin Patching & Dunstable Town FC

Southern League, Premier Division
Dunstable Town v St Neots Town
Thursday, 1st January 2015, 3pm
Creasey Park
Entrance £10, Programme £2
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 21 miles, Attendance 205
I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to score a truly memorable goal; one of such magnitude that a club’s history could be benchmarked by it. In reality I’ve been wondering this all my life but, a certain crapness on my part have prevented any such dreams becoming reality.
By the end of May 1983 – six years into my Vicarage Road life – I could picture just three goals of such importance. Actually I could recall ten but, seven of those were scored against Southampton and listing them all might seem like labouring the point.
Magnificent seven aside; Blissett’s second at Old Trafford in 1978 showed us Hornets that no team was invincible. Jenkins’ second against of a magical brace against Wrexham caused a premature pitch invasion and sent us to the promised land. And then there is Martin Patching’s…
“I’ve got it on video” Patching proudly explained, continuing “and still laugh about it. What would Hansen and Lawrenson make of their own defending, on Match Of The Day now…”
Growing up in Rotherham – representing his county and featuring for the England School Boys alongside Kenny Sansom – Martin had drawn early interest from many of the notable teams but, only one club truly held the right allure for him.
Though he held strong ties to his local club; Patching had become a Wolves fan by default, when his parents had asked his older brother “Which kit should we get him?”
Whilst this initially caused selection headaches for his school PE teacher, then Wolves’ manager Bill McGarry brought Patching into the first team fold early on and, gave him his debut before his seventeenth birthday. Enjoying helping the Molineux side to promotion in his first full season; Martin would become a regular under both McGarry and his successor Sammy Chung however by 1979, huge changes were happening in the West Midlands.
The stadium plans, financial difficulties and boardroom wrangling, left Martin on the fringe of the first team. Dissatisfied with this role, he put in a transfer request late in 1979. This resulted in him selling up and moving south.
Spectacularly scoring on his debut in Preston; two months later, Patching was back at Molineux helping his new club Watford to a 3-0 FA Cup win, on the square area of grass which he admitted had “regularly caused Wolves players to over hit passes to the wings.”
Playing as an almost ever present – scoring four more, including one of the Southampton seven – his run of form came to an abrupt halt on 13th September 1980, in the 13th minute of a match against Preston, a team then in 13th place… so legend has it.
The simultaneous sound of rupturing both his cruciate and knee ligament was “like the crack out of a shotgun” Martin told me. “It wasn’t a bad break, I just turned badly.” philosophically adding “It was just one of those things.”
Six weeks in plaster followed by four weeks of rest; for Patching to come back from this he had to “train daily, harder than anyone else.” Ten months later – away to Wimbledon in the Combination – the same thing happened again. This tragic repeat kept him out of the first team throughout the entire ’81-’82 season.
Driven to recovery by both his love of the game and dogged determination, at the time Martin couldn’t have been aware that he had just ten professional league games left ahead of him due to the injury.
Recounting those final few games – where competition for place was fierce – a more mature and mellow Martin can now skip comfortably between considered analyst and comical raconteur. “When I arrived, it was to eventually replace Dennis Booth; by 1983, we had an abundance of midfielders. Coming back from injury, it was tough to get the needed run in the side.”
Having played twice on the Malaysian tour and twice in early League Trophy ties, it was October 1982 before he was fully selected again, covering for the injured Pat Rice. “He was ‘fit’ again a week later.” Martin offered “Personally I think Pat thought ‘Tony Morley, at Villa Park, I don’t fancy that!’” Just twelve months later, Patching had retired from the professional game altogether.
The injury scars had left him “performing three-point turns on the pitch”. Sensing the end was nigh, Patching began making plans for his exit long before his infamous Liverpool comeback game.
Despite a month on loan at Northampton, believing he’d not be offered another contract, Martin moved into both “the pub game” and with it the Red Lion in Potten End. Then, a month after his final Watford game, despite being disillusioned with football, Martin joined the Hemel Hempstead Spinners, a Sunday league outfit, who hung out at his pub.
The (ex-pro running a pub) takings were so good for the brewery that after six months, they “gave” him The Bull in Bovingdon. Still upset at being out of the game at such a young age, when Watford played in the Cup Final – in the days when pubs shut at 2.30pm – Patching spurned any opportunity to watch the match and instead went for a walk with his dogs. It would take a neighbouring landlord to lure Martin into any kind of return to the sport.
In similar circumstances – former Yorkshire cricketer and Middlesbrough football player – Alan Ramage ran the Royal Oak, also in Bovingdon. He also managed Dunstable Town. “Behind the scenes, they liked a big name at the club.” Although not quite the Astle, Best or Currie of old, Martin told me “Alan fitted this mould.”

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Now not run on such ostentatious lines; the new Dunstable Town FC can at least boast truly fantastic new facilities at Creasey Park. These give them a foundation in which to build; the envy of most semi-pro clubs. Going into my visit they also boasted the levelled headed experience of Ben Herd as captain.
Four former Blues regulars lined up for St Neots – under very overcast skies – for a game which offered supporters a very niggly spectacle throughout. For Dunstable, there had been some nice passing moves in the first half, particularly down the right, but the final ball was always sadly missing.
150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (68)150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (88)150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (78)150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (94)150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (116)
“It was always going to be a scrappy game” one club official declared to me, over a much need hot beverage.  After the interval however Dunstable were made to pay for not being more consistent in their play.
Ryan Frater put one over his old team before Herd quickly equalised. The parity however was not long lived. Two quick goals – from another old boy, Nathan Frater, and a superb strike from Drew Roberts – put the game well beyond any hope of a comeback.
It wasn’t the ending the locals had hoped for but, in foundations now being laid at the club, there is still great hope for this club. Driving back home I wondered of Dunstable’s rise from their troubles and thought of those Martin Patching had survived.
When I asked why he’d gone back to football, Patching chuckled honestly “You can’t get enough of it, can you.” Retirement he admits would, in hindsight, have been best for his knee but, football was the game he loved and still loved; the sport he wanted to succeed in. “I didn’t want to be average. I wanted the full twelve years at the top, not six.”
Initially going to Dunstable had eased the blow of retirement. “It wasn’t a run of the mill club. I enjoyed my time there.” He spoke calmly, tellingly adding “I felt among others; nearlies and has-beens.”

150101 SLPD Dunstable Town v St Neots (14)

Though Martin understandably went through a period of “Why me?” in his twenties, he’s since calmed from that stance. Like all the adversities that have befallen him, especially the thankfully successfully tumour removal in 2009, through a combination of good fortune and determination, none have beaten him in the long run. He’s now “back home in Rotherham” and “still going to games”.
Talking to him, Martin clearly loves his football as much now as he always did. Of course Patching would still have liked more games at the top but what he has developed over time, is a true appreciation of the opportunity he had. He’s now “proud as punch” of both his own memorabilia and – though something he’s had much impact on – the development of his son’s career.
Martin once had a theory, that if he kicked a ball to his then very young son and he picked it up, football wouldn’t be the sport for him. Cauley however, kicked it straight back, again and again, with both feet… Describing this, it wasn’t hard to imagine that Martin would one day want Cauley (now with tonight’s visitors Fulham) to score one of history’s truly magnificent goals too.
Back in 1983, on a day when Luther’s goal gave him The Golden Boot; the Watford Observer summarised, “In the 39th minute the story of the match became a fairy tale with Blissett winning possession in the centre circle and threading the ball through the straight line of the Liverpool defenders into the path of Patching. As the midfield man broke into a gallop and raced clear, Grobbelaar came but was beaten by a clinical, rising, curling drive, which would have been another contender for the goal of the season.”
Final score: Dunstable Town 1-3 St Neots Town
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.
150101 Martin Patching programme (1)   150101 Martin Patching programme (2)
This entry was posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, Southern League and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to #WFC1982 – Martin Patching & Dunstable Town FC

  1. Just found this article, very good btw. Any ideas what issue of the Watford programme it appeared in. As a Dunstable Town, and former/lapsed Watford fan, would love to get a copy. Would also be great to see if we can reproduce it in our programme. Will put our programme editor in touch, if OK with you. Kind regards, Richard Scott.

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