“It was absolutely unbelievable,” says Brian ‘Billy’ Williams, his face breaking into a wistful smile. “The power of football...” 

As player, manager, chairman and the very lifeblood of Penrith AFC, there is little that Williams has not seen or experienced at the Northern League club. One day, though, will always resonate more than the rest. 

It is 40 years now since the weekend in 1981 when Chester, of the Third Division, were the visitors in the FA Cup first round. Penrith’s small Southend Road ground was packed like never before as the home team pulled off one of Cumbria's great cup upsets.

Geoff Fell’s second-half goal earned a 1-0 win which remains the heady high point in the town’s 127-year football history. Two weeks ago, some of the players gathered at Frenchfield Park, the ground that replaced Southend Road as Penrith's home in 2009, to reminisce. 

“When I speak to these lads, 40 years later, what comes across is a sense of belonging,” says Williams, who was manager that day in '81. “It’s much more than just a game or an industry.

"The number of people who’ve moved away from Penrith, but get in touch to say they were there, is unbelievable. Everyone has their own stories, whether they were playing, watching, or running on the pitch. 

“Lads come to me now and say, ‘That was the best time of my life’. It’s very special.” 


Williams was mowing the pitch at Frenchfield Park when I arrived to meet him, still tending to the club that besotted him as a child. “I was born in Cheltenham, but when I was two my mother and father split up, and I was brought back to Penrith,” he says. “Where Wetherspoons is now, there were 12 houses, and in those days you could just walk straight across to the ground. There was no wall around it, and every Saturday it felt like it was heaving. I was four or five and thought, ‘This is bloody magical’.” 

Southend Road may not have been heaving in the fullest sense, but it enraptured Williams, who was an able young footballer. “They used to have a tournament there every year, run by the East Lakes Football Association,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep for a week thinking I was gonna play on that pitch.” 

He joined Carlisle United at 15 and played for their reserves for three seasons. Later he moved to Darlington, before coming home. After playing for Penrith he became the club’s manager at 28; after a falling out with the chairman, he went to run Kendal, but was asked to come back a few years later. 

He did so alongside a coaching accomplice who was both well-known and well-connected in Cumbria. “When Bill Shankly was manager at Carlisle, Willie Gill worked on the railway and used to go training with Shankly to keep himself right. They were big mates.

"Willie was another Scotsman, and a hard-liner. Great bloke. He knew every local player that was about. I thought, ‘This is the type of guy I want alongside me’. Willie was instrumental in getting one or two players down here – some players who I felt could have gone on and been professionals in their own right.” 

The Penrith team that started 1981/2 was a positive combination of local-league hopefuls, ex-pros and focused characters. As Williams reels off the names it is as though he is back in the changing room at Southend Road, going around them one by one.

News and Star: The Penrith team, plus manager Brian Williams (left) and coach Willie Gill (right), in 1981 that achieved a famous FA Cup victory over ChesterThe Penrith team, plus manager Brian Williams (left) and coach Willie Gill (right), in 1981 that achieved a famous FA Cup victory over Chester

“Goalkeeper – Mike McMullen. I’d seen him play for Egremont, and I travelled to Maryport one night in the middle of winter to see if I could sign him. I was in one of those old sheepskin coats, trying to look like a manager, and I met him at this pub: the Ship Inn. He came out in a vest. He was fearless, hard as nails.

“Ian Wilson, right full-back. Hull City wanted to take him but he wouldn’t go; he’d just got married and what have you. He was one of the first lads at our level who could operate up and down the pitch in that position.

“Keith Glover played left full-back. He could look after himself and had a magic left foot. He was just a boy then. Always looked as though he was gonna get caught, but he had time and presence – ‘I know what I’m doing’. 

“Laurie Coulthard, an Annan lad, wasn’t really a commanding centre-half - but he was a footballer. We played out from the back, a bit before our time. He didn’t expect to be made captain, but I saw something in him. He did things properly. If you were training at 7pm, he’d be first there. Standards. 

“There was Ronnie Carruthers, a very small defender but he knew what he was doing. We had Keith Sawyers in midfield, a ball-playing lad who’d come from Carlisle United. Allan Carruthers was the only guy I ever paid money for – £750 from Kendal, and he was worth it. Nicky Gash was a little grafter, up and down the park. 

“Geoff Simpson on the right: absolute flying machine. Willie Armstrong was a tremendously skilful player on the left. Felly [Geoff Fell] could knock the goals in. Other lads in the squad could play. We had a good mixture.” 

Keith Glover was one of the younger members of this hopeful set. At 19 he had just graduated from Sunday football with Cumberland Star and Distington. 

“Penrith was a case of going up a gear,” he says. “A few lads from Workington were asked to go there, but in the end only me and Michael McMullen did.” The two players had been to primary school together, and Glover was an ambitious young defender. 

“My grandad was the one who kept me on the straight and narrow,” he adds. “If he felt my eye wasn’t on the ball, he’d let me know. He would always clean my boots, though, without fail.” He points to a photo of Penrith v Chester on my laptop, where he appears in the background. “There they are. My old Puma Kings.” 

Glover would leave his mother’s home in Salterbeck in Workington and pick up McMullen in his Ford Cortina, and when they arrived at Penrith they found themselves among a squad that included those of professional pedigree such as Geoff Fell, whose contemporaries at Carlisle United had included Peter Beardsley.

“I’d made my peace with coming out of the pro game by then,” says Fell. “A couple of clubs rang me up, and Swindon tried to persuade me, but I’d made my mind up that football wasn’t something I was going to be able to be good enough at to make enough money.

“I would be 21, and it was just a question of choosing the right non-league team. Blyth Spartans had come off two massive FA Cup runs, and in the non-league world they were a team you’d want to listen to if they came for you. I went there, but the travelling started getting me down, and I wasn’t playing that well. They decided a local lad was a better fit for what they wanted, and Penrith, at the time, was an easy choice for me to make when I came back to Cumbria.

“It was a great club. Loads of helpers would give their time to run it and there was a real family-type atmosphere. A proper, non-league club.” 

Fell remembers training both in Penrith, at Southend Road, at Carlisle, and also being put through gruelling runs through Gelt Woods near Brampton by Willie Gill. “His philosophy was that if you were fit, you would win games in the last 10-15 minutes, and that’s exactly what we used to do.”

Penrith started the 1981/2 Northern League season in good league form - and scythed their way through the FA Cup. They beat Rossendale United in the first qualifying round, accounted for Chorley in the second, edged past Droylsden in the third, and then a 1-0 win over Northwich Victoria saw them excitingly into the first round proper. 

“We were actually hoping we might get Carlisle United, because I was that confident in our team that we might have beaten them,” laughs Williams.

In the event it was not Carlisle but a different Third Division team that came out of the hat. Williams and the players heard the draw on the radio, as they trained at the Sheepmount in Carlisle.

“We were delighted we were at home,” Williams says, contemplating Chester. “I knew our players wouldn’t be fazed by playing anybody. I knew they could handle themselves.” 

“We had that camaraderie," adds Keith Glover. "We had a laugh together and if any of us got into trouble, we were all in. But when it came to the serious side of it, we got fired in. We all thought highly of each other.” 

Geoff Fell agrees. “I don’t think we were cocky, but because of the run we’d been on, and the fact we all gelled as a team, we were very confident. Chester were struggling near the bottom of their league. We felt we had a great chance of going through – especially with home field advantage.” 


Southend Road was a traditional ground, which would normally house a few hundred on Penrith’s good days. “I used to love taking training sessions there and hearing the church bells," Williams says. "You could see the lights of the houses round about you. You felt right in the heart of the town.

“It wasn’t an easy place to come to. We’d made it into a bit of a fortress. Anybody that came knew they were in for a bit of a difficult game.” 

Glover and Fell also think of the old place with fondness. “There was a bit of a slope on it, and when it rained it got a bit boggy,” Glover says. “But it was a good la’al ground. The volunteers in the town kept it tidy.” 

Fell adds: “It wasn’t open – it was all enclosed, which made it feel like a proper ground. And we always used to try and play down the slope in the second half.”

News and Star: Fans congregate behind the goal at Southend Road to watch Penrith take on ChesterFans congregate behind the goal at Southend Road to watch Penrith take on Chester

Chester had started their Third Division season well, but small crowds and the financial pinch had rendered 1981/2 an increasingly difficult one. Their small squad included Steve Ludlam, the ex-Carlisle midfielder, with other players including Welsh goalkeeper Grenville Millington and the former Liverpool defender Trevor Storton.

“Alan Oakes was their manager, the ex-Manchester City player,” Williams says. “I remember him coming to watch one of our games and saying to me, ‘We’re gonna have our work cut out against you.' ‘I know you are,’ I said. 

“I went to watch them play at Bolton Wanderers. I thought at the time, 'We can take these’. They were Third Division, but I was confident we could do something down their left-hand side with Geoff Simpson’s pace.”

Williams says he tried to keep the build-up “low-key” but this was not made easy by the fact local and national media outlets had taken an interest in the Cumbrian town and their newly aspiring football team.

“BBC and ITV came to training sessions,” he says. “They interviewed me and a few of the players, asked them what they did for a living, that sort of thing.’” 

On the day of the game, the players met at the ground before walking into Penrith for a pre-match meal. Williams remembers the venue as the Two Lions pub, owned by a club director. Glover thinks it was the George Hotel, while Fell recalls a different place. The haze of time may have made this detail vague, but all those involved cannot forget the anticipation as they congregated.

“It had become our regular routine, to meet and have our meal together,” Fell says. “We were on such a good run it was a case of, ‘Let’s keep doing what we’re doing’. I vividly remember us being in there and having scrambled egg on toast, beans on toast. We talked about the game, how we were going to play. Then we walked to the ground.”

The image of Penrith’s tracksuited players marching back from their hostelry, through the autumn mist in a busy, excited town and to the scene of battle adds to the romance of the FA Cup. “Oh aye, there was a real buzz about the place,” Glover says. 

As they arrived back at Southend Road, the sense of occasion was ever more intense. “You would have thought you were real superheroes,” says Williams, recalling the welcome from fans. “The place was heaving. I think that played a tremendous part in it. 

“When you get the power of the crowd behind you in a small ground like that, it gives you another yard. It’s like gladiators in a ring. Pros don’t like that. They like to think they’re in control and can do it at their own pace.” 

Fell admits he had never seen Penrith’s ground so busy. “It was absolutely packed to the gunnels. It looked like it was overflowing.” 

“Kids were approaching us, wanting autographs,” Glover adds. “I wasn’t expecting that. ‘Is this for real, like?’”

Williams remembers giving his team-talk before the game and there being “kids on the roof, banging on the window.” Glover, the young left-back, felt a flutter of nerves, but knew those would settle once he was across the whitewash. Fell says Williams’ team-talk was clear and positive.

News and Star: First-half action from the Chester game at Southend RoadFirst-half action from the Chester game at Southend Road

“Billy just wanted to fill you full of confidence. He wasn’t a tactical kind of genius or anything like that, but what he did he did very well. He would talk very calmly, tell you what he wanted you to do. He wasn’t up there one minute and down there the next. He didn’t really lose his rag. He was perfect for that set-up and that team, which was full of very confident and mature players.

"We had a way of playing that was probably a few years ahead," Fell adds. "It was probably more accident than design. But it worked for us. I don’t think we had any reports about how Chester played, and we didn’t talk particularly about tactics – just how we were gonna approach it, what our little set-pieces were, that kind of thing."

Williams, in the main, sought to fill his players with thoughts of a stunning victory as the 2.15pm kick-off approached, and little Penrith's hour of opportunity was at hand. “The way I went about it was to say, ‘You all know your own abilities. You all know that, one to one, you’re as good if not better than these. With this lot that’s going on today [the crowd, the atmosphere], they won’t ******* live with you’.” 


Entry was £1.50 and, officially there were about 2,700 people crammed inside Southend Road - though in reality probably more. “When we came out of the changing rooms, we could even see young lads had climbed on the top of the stand,” Glover says.

“It felt like 10,000,” laughs Fell. “I clearly remember a silhouette of a guy on the far side, with a tripod camera, who must have been from one of the news organisations. And all around him were so many people."

As the early stages unfolded it was, says Williams, anything but the cup cliché of the non-league side booting the higher-ranked visitors off their game. “If anything it was the other way round,” the manager says. “You could see Chester getting frustrated and angry. They were in something they couldn’t control. 

News and Star: First-half action as Penrith attack ChesterFirst-half action as Penrith attack Chester

“The noise was unbelievable. Everyone was right on top of you. I could hardly get my instructions out. You couldn’t hear a thing. They were baying. ‘Take his head off,’ that sort of thing.” 

Fell adds: “Every time we went on the attack, the crowd was with us. Whether that had any effect on any of the Chester players I don’t know. But once they realised we were a team that could knock it around, and weren’t gonna be an easy walkover, you could see their confidence wane.” 

Glover and his fellow defenders helped set the initial tone. “I can mind getting into a few tackles, holding our own for the first half,” he says. “We got stuck into them, didn’t let them play, closed them down. That’s what Brian wanted us to do. And we played a bit of football ourselves.

“Nine times out of 10 we tried to get Simmy on it, because he was that quick – get him up against the full-back. He was on the right with Wilbo, who was a bit like Kyle Walker in the way he would get up and down. I had Willie Armstrong in front of me and he pulled all the tricks. We knocked it about together, and sometimes I overlapped him and knocked it; swung a left foot and swung it in.” 

Penrith indeed held their own and, though Chester had plenty of first-half play, the Football League visitors failed to create serious chances. Fell went close to a goal for the minnows shortly before the break.

“At half-time,” Glover says, “Brian was just saying, ‘You can do it…we can win this!’” 


Geoff Fell is now studying a sequence of black-and-white photos on my laptop. They are the most familiar of the lot.

“I’ve never, ever seen it on film,” he says. “But you play it over in your mind so many times.”

Fell points to a figure on the right for Penrith, in a snap of a 64th-minute move which sees the home team attacking down the Southend Road slope. “I remember a ball being played down the wing there to Geoff Simpson. Willie Armstrong went to the front post, and that’s exactly where Simmy put the ball.” 

News and Star: Willie Armstrong challenges the Chester keeper for Geoff Simpson's crossWillie Armstrong challenges the Chester keeper for Geoff Simpson's cross

His finger now moves onto the next image, to the figure of Armstrong, who is in close proximity to Chester keeper Millington. “Willie got the touch, and the keeper who had committed to that front post with Willie saved it. The ball came out to about the penalty spot...and that’s where I was.” 

The next photo shows a blond-haired Fell launching into a shot. “The lads will tell you I didn’t do much running back,” he smiles. “I did all my work in the 18 yard box!

"I remember not even thinking about it. It was there to hit, and I hit it. It came quicker than I expected, I took it a bit higher than I wanted and, if I’m 100 per cent honest, I didn’t hit it sweet. I hit it just on the top of my boot and slightly on the bottom of my shin.

News and Star: Geoff Fell rifles home the famous goalGeoff Fell rifles home the famous goal

“Instead of it going straight, it had a bit of curve on it. They had a lad on the post - their full-back who had gone back - and it spun by him. If I’d hit it sweet, who knows what would have happened – it might have hit him. But it just had enough curve and whip on it…and it went into the side of the net. The feeling…unbelievable.” 

Southend Road was aflame. Supporters spilled onto the pitch.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Fell chuckles. “I remember the roar, and thinking, ‘How do I celebrate this?’ I think I ran up the pitch towards the rest of the lads. It was just a massive adrenaline rush. I felt absolutely fantastic.” 

“The whole thing went crazy,” Williams adds. “How Geoff got it in the net with all the bodies in there, God only knows. And it was absolute mayhem. How do you keep the crowd off the pitch? No chance. I think the game was held up for five or six minutes until they got everybody off again.”

Penrith, remarkably, were in front.

“And that was it," Glover says. "We just shut the door up.” 

They had the best part of half-an-hour to convert their remarkable lead into victory, but Williams is adamant this predicament did not see anxiety descend. “I actually thought, ‘If we get one, we’ll get more’." 

The former players remember Chester applying pressure, but not the siege one might expect from a Football League club bidding to avert embarrassment. 

“I always had this feeling that if we scored, we’d win the game,” Fell says. “And I can remember Nicky Gash nearly getting a second. He got up at the back post with nobody near him – great header, but it just went over the bar. I thought, ‘That was a great chance to finish them off’. But I don't remember any moment when my heart was in my mouth. We defended very well. We had a great back four and a great keeper as well. I don’t think they were a threat to us, hardly at all.”

Glover remembers playing his part in some old-school defending towards the end. “They did throw a lot at us, like. But our goalkeeper, Michael, pulled off a few good saves. And even when we were under the cosh, we tried to play a bit of football to get out. Mind you, there was a long boot now and again, ‘If in doubt, put it out,’ as they say...” 

A further encroachment, by some of the 400 travelling Chester fans, held things up before the end – but the final whistle, confirming Penrith’s 1-0 victory, detonated more bedlam. Supporters flooded Southend Road’s muddy surface, and flocked to the home players. 

News and Star: Geoff Fell, centre, and team-mates at full-time as fans pour onto the pitchGeoff Fell, centre, and team-mates at full-time as fans pour onto the pitch

“You couldn’t move,” Williams says. “It was a fair job to get back to the dressing room.” 

Fell, the goalscoring hero, was smothered more than most – and not just by jubilant Penrith folk. “I was accosted, coming off the field, by a Chester journalist, who was after blood. He was asking, ‘What did you think of Chester?’ I’m thinking, ‘You’re not gonna plaster my name all over the paper with a quote from me dissing them’.” 

Glover was less accustomed to media approaches. “The press were coming up, wanting comments from us. I was just like, ‘I played a game of football, eh’! The Carlisle lads, Felly and Keith Sawyers, had a better idea of how to speak to reporters. But it was still a big thing for them too.”

Chester’s Steve Ludlam magnanimously approached his former Carlisle colleague Fell with his congratulations, while visiting boss Oakes confided to Williams that he now feared the sack. Scorer and manager supped champagne as they posed for photos when back inside. The entire team then ended up in the bath. “The changing room was mayhem,” Williams says. “It was a rough and ready place.” 

“Some photographers and reporters came in, and we were all messing about,” grins Fell. “It was just fantastic. The best feeling for me was knowing it had been no fluke - we had deserved to beat this Football League team.

News and Star: Manager Brian 'Billy' Williams and matchwinner Geoff Fell celebrate in the changing roomManager Brian 'Billy' Williams and matchwinner Geoff Fell celebrate in the changing room

"Then you got all the silly headlines the next week. In one of the papers somebody had written ‘Shap Fell, Scafell…and now there’s Geoff Fell’. The lads absolutely slaughtered me.”

When the team eventually left Southend Road, they got changed and headed for Carlisle – to the Pagoda nightclub, and also the Twisted Wheel. “Aye, we had a few bevvies,” Glover says. “But we all went together, stuck together.”

“All these people were coming up and congratulating us,” Fell adds. “Everybody knew what we’d done. We had a sort of celebrity status for the evening.” 

Glover and McMullan, the Workington duo, returned to Penrith at the end of a lively night, a director having paid to put them up in the George Hotel. Brian Williams, meanwhile, was preparing for a 4am rise, since he ran a newspaper shop in the town, and the Sunday papers could not be delayed even for an FA Cup hero about to enter a new world of notoriety. They were, it is probably safe to say, worth reading.


In 1981 Jim Rosenthal was 34, a young television journalist fronting On The Ball, the ITV football magazine programme; a forerunner to 'Saint and Greavsie' in a period before soccer on Saturday lunchtimes became a more recognisable viewing staple. 

Four decades on, the well-known broadcaster says he has thumbed through his diaries before we speak. “I found it!” he says. “A note in November 1981; ‘Claim Penrith expenses’.” 

That note reminded Rosenthal of the day he and a camera team had observed the surprise first round result from a Cumbrian football backwater and set off up the country.

News and Star: Jim Rosenthal, who visited Penrith in 1981 to report on their FA Cup fairytaleJim Rosenthal, who visited Penrith in 1981 to report on their FA Cup fairytale

“We were always looking to do something different, as opposed to the mainstream stories,” Rosenthal says. “We had recently done one in Selkirk, when they had got beat 20-0 and I asked to interview their goalkeeper. I’d asked him, ‘How would you describe yourself as a goalkeeper?’, and he said, ‘Nae great...’ 

“We were always looking for a slightly different thing. That’s why Penrith fitted the bill perfectly. In fairness, on a nationwide football programme, there aren’t many times someone will say, ‘What about doing Penrith?’”

Brian Williams remembers the TV crew coming to his newsagents the morning after the cup tie. Penrith’s manager had initially worked for Cumbrian Newspapers before buying his own outlet. 

“The morning Jim Rosenthal came, it felt like everybody in the town was coming in," he says. "At times it got a bit too much – they weren't coming in to buy anything, they just wanted to talk football. Word had got round that the cameras were there, and outside there were maybe 200 people. I had to close the shop in the end.” 

Rosenthal did his interviews and crafted the story of Penrith’s big day. “On FA Cup weekends, in towns the size of Penrith, there is always a special buzz,” he says. “And the big thing from a TV point of view is that, on occasions like that, you are made so welcome. People say, ‘What can we do for you?’, as opposed to, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t park here’ and so on. 

“We travelled up with smiles on our faces, knowing we weren’t going to have to kick people’s doors down to talk to them. From a purely selfish point of view, stories like Penrith were great to work on and be part of.

“The FA Cup, in the early 80s, was still a big, big competition. Put simply, Penrith was a good FA Cup story and we wanted to do it properly. Telling that story was part of my TV education.” 

As the team awaited news of their second round prize, meanwhile, Williams’ heroes returned to their day jobs.

“I was working for a local company, selling photocopiers,” Geoff Fell says. “The week after the Penrith game, we had an appointment to go to Kirkby Thore. My boss came with me and was going around this office saying to people, ‘Do you know who this is? He scored the goal against Chester!’ I was so embarrassed.”

There was further magazine and newspaper interest as that week unfolded, and Penrith eventually learned their second-round opponents. 

“Brian phoned us up,” Glover says. “He told us, ‘We’re going to Doncaster.’” 

The Yorkshire side were another Third Division club. “We wanted another home game,” Fell says, “so there was a bit of disappointment not to get one. I think we knew Doncaster was going to be a different kettle of fish.” 

“I still thought we could put on a show,” Williams insists. 


Doncaster Rovers, who had beaten Mansfield in round one, were managed by the Leeds United great, Billy Bremner. Terry Cooper, the former Leeds and England left-back, was in their side, while their line was led by the robust and well-travelled Alan Warboys.

“I went to watch them,” says Williams, “and Bremner knew I was there. He called me into his office for a drink. He’d had a glass of whisky, I think. I more or less said, ‘We’re gonna give you a game, you know’. Good naturedly, he told me where to go…” 

The tie was on December 12. Penrith fans prepared to travel in large numbers to Belle Vue, with scores of supporters’ coaches booked up, while the squad headed to Bawtry, on the outskirts of Doncaster, the evening before.

“We had a problem in that Mike McMullen, our goalkeeper, had got injured," Williams says, "so I fetched Marshall Monkhouse in. The biggest problem I had with him was he wouldn’t take the slightest notice of what you were saying.

“I had all the players locked up in bed by 10.30pm, and I’m sat downstairs with the directors, feeling pretty settled and satisfied. There was this swing door in this hotel at Bawtry and at about 1am it flies open – and in walks Marshall Monkhouse. ‘You made a mistake, boss…you put me on the ground floor…’” 

The maverick, 37-year-old Monkhouse would go on to distinguish himself at Doncaster, but first Penrith had harsh conditions to deal with. A week of wintry weather had preceded the second round tie. “On the Saturday morning we went to a local park to do a bit of a warm-up,” Fell says, “and it was like packed ice – snow on top of ice. We were thinking, ‘No way is this game gonna be on’. But we got the message that the referee had said, ‘Game on’.”

Glover says Penrith had tried out rubber-soled boots as they contemplated a hard surface at Doncaster, but Fell says the home side were still much better prepared. “They trotted out in state-of-the-art pimpled boots. They weren’t sliding about at all – and we were like Bambi on ice.

“Brian might have been thinking the conditions would be a great leveller, but that was taken away the minute they came out with those boots on."

Williams still fancied Penrith’s chances if he could get the speedy Simpson up against the veteran Cooper, but the Northern League side, for their efforts, could not get enough of a foothold. Penrith gamely kept Doncaster at bay for 36 minutes before the dangerous Warboys headed Doncaster into the lead. The classy Cooper then set up Alan Little for another. 

News and Star: Our report of Penrith's second round tie at Doncaster RoversOur report of Penrith's second round tie at Doncaster Rovers

It was another step up for a young defender like Keith Glover – and also bruising. “Doncaster had a corner near half-time, and I went up with Warboys,” he recalls. “He tried to flick it on – and broke my nose. There was blood everywhere. I went off and my nose was out a bit at the top. Folk were saying, ‘You’ll need to go to hospital’, but their physio came in and said, ‘Put your head against that wall’, which I did, and he got his knuckle and tapped it back in, and put a big plaster over it. And that was me back out for the second half!” 

Glover continued, before later being replaced by striker Mike Skelton. Monkhouse made several valiant saves, but Penrith could not mount a comeback and Warboys added a late Doncaster third. “It was a massive pitch, and sometimes we were chasing shadows,” Glover says. “But we had a go."

Penrith left the pitch beaten 3-0, but with pride intact. Particular praise was reserved for keeper Monkhouse and the resilient captain Coulthard, but there had been regrettably few opportunities for such as Fell to emulate the magic of Chester. 

“I think it was a massive disappointment that we hadn’t been able to play on a level playing field,” the striker says. “I’d have much preferred to have played them on a normal day. We’d have given a much better account of ourselves.  

“I’m not saying we would have beaten them, but it would have been a more interesting encounter.” 

Glover remembers the managers, Williams and Bremner, engaging in some verbal sparring on the touchline, but afterwards the football legend at the Doncaster helm was generous towards Penrith’s players. “Bremner came in and shook all our hands, wished us well,” says the defender.

“We gave it our all,” reflects Williams. “None of those lads let the side down. They were proper lads.”

The end of Penrith’s cup run meant Chester was left alone as the club’s greatest victory. This remained the case even as they reached the first round again in 1983, pushing a Hull City side hard before going down 2-0, and also in 1984, losing 9-0 to Burnley.

“What happened in 1981 did signal a few years of big games for a small club,” Williams says. There were, he adds, disagreements over the running of the club and how much players were being paid, and the upshot of instability was that, come the Burnley tie, very few of the side that had upended Chester remained. 

Keith Glover moved on to Workington Reds, where he rose from the reserves to become such a dependable first-team defender that he earned a testimonial in 1995. Geoff Fell and others moved to Gretna, later returning for another stint with the Bonny Blues before heading to Carlisle City. Penrith's greatest team separated almost as quickly as it had formed.


The decades passed. One member of the team, Ronnie Carruthers, has since died, while the other boys of 1981 are, by and large, now in their 60s and 70s. As local lads, certain bonds remain intact. Geoff Fell, who retired from his career with a cigarette company a couple of years ago, is part of a regular golfing group with Ian Wilson, Allan Carruthers, Keith Sawyers and Willie Armstrong.

They still rib him, he says, about the post-Chester headlines, including a magazine piece which wrongly credited Fell with a desire to leave his salesman gig behind and return to the pro game, headed: ‘Geoff Fell – goals for sale’.” 

News and Star: Geoff Fell, pictured at home near Carlisle in 2021Geoff Fell, pictured at home near Carlisle in 2021

“I still see Gashy – he’s involved with walking football a bit,” Fell adds. “There’s a racing day I go to every year and Skelly [Mike Skelton] is always there, and we have a reminisce. There’s one or two of that team I haven’t seen for years. But it’s fantastic to be close to so many of them still.

“The Chester game is what we always remember, and it means an awful lot to have been part of such a memorable day for Penrith; the club and the town itself. But it isn’t necessarily the thing that keeps us together. It was more that era in general - that season was so much fun. The camaraderie, the banter, was fantastic. It still is. It gave you friends for life.”

Keith Glover says that team also set him up for the career he had always hoped for with his home-town club back in Workington. “I learned a lot, especially from the Carlisle United lads,” he says. “How to take it easy, slow it down, no fancy stuff. For me, just coming out of Sunday League as a young boy, it was a massive experience.” 

News and Star: Keith Glover, pictured at home in SeatonKeith Glover, pictured at home in Seaton

Glover adds that, other than winning a cup with Workington, helping Penrith beat Chester is his most prized football memory. “At the time, you didn’t realise you were part of something special,” he says. “But further down the line, you think, ‘Aye, I played in the FA Cup there’. I say it to my own lads, now…” 

He pauses, mid-flow, and moves a hand to his reddening right eye. “I’m filling up here, man."


Penrith continued playing at Southend Road until 2009, at which point the ground was sold as part of the New Squares development in the town. The football club moved to a new, purpose-built ground at the more remote Frenchfield Park, while a supermarket was constructed on the land where Chester were felled.

“Ah, that’s a dagger through my heart, hearing that,” exclaims Jim Rosenthal when I inform him that Southend Road is no more. “Regardless, I’m going to put Penrith on my bucket list as a place to visit again. That game in 1981 has got to be the biggest day in Penrith’s history. I’m proud I’ve got a little connection to it.” 

News and Star: A supermarket now stands on the former site of the Southend Road groundA supermarket now stands on the former site of the Southend Road ground

A small sandstone plaque, denoting Penrith AFC’s entry into the Northern League in 1948, made it from Southend Road to Frenchfield Park; the original site offers just memories amid the grocery aisles. “You know something,” Williams says, “I walked into Sainsbury's the other day and I was trying to picture exactly where the centre spot was.

“I reckon I’ve got it. It’s just where Customer Services is. Where Geoff scored…that’s the longest aisle away, towards Argos. The Leisure Centre is 50 yards away from the other goal.” 

This season, Penrith exited the FA Cup on August 7, beaten 2-1 in the extra preliminary round by Guisborough Town. They sit 16th in Northern League Division One and remain optimistic of progress under a new manager, the former Preston and Jamaica star Chris Humphrey, who has just led them to successive victories in a tough division.

Williams is as proud of, and devoted to, their fortunes as he was when a wide-eyed schoolboy - or a focused manager who gave the town its day of all days, 40 years ago.

“It’s a little club, but it’s got a great history," he says, looking at cuttings on Frenchfield Park's office wall, which include mention of Chester. "It might not mean a lot to other people, but it means a lot to me to know that people like Keith Glover know who I am and had good times with us.

“That sort of thing, you can’t buy. Forty years later somebody can come here and say, ‘We had some special times, Billy’. There’s not many people can do that.”

News and Star: Brian 'Billy' Williams, now Penrith AFC chairman, stands in front of a display at Frenchfield Park which commemorates the Chester game in 1981Brian 'Billy' Williams, now Penrith AFC chairman, stands in front of a display at Frenchfield Park which commemorates the Chester game in 1981

Williams touches upon even more profound feelings as our reminiscing eases to an end.

“When I first got involved in the club, I became aware of this lad’s mother or grandmother who had landed at the ground with this letter," he says. "It was from one of the Penrith players who served in the First World War. He wrote, ‘Oh, to pull that shirt on again…’ 

“He died in France four days after he wrote that. That’s the sort of thing I kept in my mind. I’ve often wondered how proud that lad would have been that day against Chester, if he’d been able to be there as a spectator.

“That’s what all those times are about. The club’s 127 years old and you don’t know whether it’ll have a day like that again. But if you keep working hard, you never know.

"Forty years on, the most important thing to me is it gives a lot of people pride, and a sense of belonging. We all want that in our lives, don’t we?”