Dawlish's draught of cup joy

Mike Rowbottom watches the finalists in the Carlsberg Pub Cup revel in the Wembley experience
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Tony Bowker, a legend in his own social club, stepped up to the penalty spot at Wembley shortly after 2pm yesterday and drove the ball high into the net where Eric Cantona had scored the previous day.

In so doing, the 36-year-old roofer secured his team - Dawlish Town Sports and Social Club - the first Carlsberg Pub Cup, 4-2 on a penalty shoot- out. And as he wheeled away in heavy-legged, socks-rolled-down triumph - on the same celebratory route the Frenchman had taken less than 24 hours earlier - one end of the stadium erupted in triumph.

If the volume of the celebration did not approach that which marked Monsieur Cantona's effort, the joy for the 500 or so West Country supporters who had made the long journey was the same.

Amid the waving green and white banners in the Dawlish end, Bowker's five-year-old son, Stuart, seemed momentarily unable to take in what all the excitement was about. "Your Dad's just scored the winning goal!" someone shouted to him. Stuart remained unperturbed by this news, but his reaction was not shared by any of the Dawlish fans, or the players, who streamed over towards them with arms aloft.

It was fitting that Bowker should have scored the goal which left Dawlish pre-eminent among the 400 teams who had entered this FA-backed competition last summer.

As the team's joint-manager, he had been instrumental in bringing in a new batch of players when the club had been in danger of collapsing through lack of funds three years ago.

What made the moment absurdly sweet was the fact that it was also Bowker's birthday yesterday. "Scoring the winning goal at Wembley on your birthday, you can't really beat that, can you?" he said. "It's like something out of Roy of the Rovers."

Dawlish and their Wembley opponents, Grimethorpe Miners Welfare Club from Barnsley, had made their way through county, regional and national rounds before winning their semi-finals at Anfield.

The reflections of Grimethorpe's centre-back, Phil Dunstone, on the Anfield experience featured in a television advert run by the sponsors before the final - "There's an air of reverence at Anfield and in the tunnel your teeth are jangling."

If Anfield was jangly, Wembley was wobbly, particularly as the penalty shoot-out took its dramatic course after the teams had finished goalless after an hour.

The decision to play only 60 minutes had been taken on the basis that pub players would be unable to last the distance on pitches that were bigger than they had experienced before. But neither team yesterday looked unequal to the task, and in truth, we were not looking at two teams who had rolled up to play after a bellyful of beer and curry the previous night.

Dawlish are in the Great Mills Western League First Division, and Grimethorpe members of the Central Midlands League. There was, too, a hint of a League connection: Grimethorpe's manager, Stuart Barrowclough, had played for Newcastle United in the 1976 League Cup final, and two of his squad had previously played for Barnsley.

Nevertheless, the closest most of the players had got to League clubs was trial periods in their youth. The Dawlish goalkeeper, Jamie Day, who had trials with Exeter City, was given the man of the match award after rounding off a sound display by saving the first two Grimethorpe attempts in the shoot-out.

Day nearly didn't play: his elder brother, Justin, had suffered a serious fall on Tuesday and it was only after he had checked his condition in hospital that the keeper had felt able to take part.

For Vicki Dunston, the wife of Dawlish centre-back Martin, last night's planned dinner-dance at the Waldorf Hotel promised to mark the perfect end to a perfect day.

"I can't wait," she said. "It didn't matter to me what the score was. They have all played at Wembley, and many professional players can't say that."

Sitting next to her, Beverley Tooze, wife of the Dawlish captain, Martin, held one end of an enormous banner which her husband had made himself in his professional capacity as a signwriter. At the other end of it was a long-time Dawlish supporter, Alison Barrett, who had a little difficulty accustoming herself to Wembley's open spaces. "It was a bit hard to see," she said. "Normally we are right by the pitch, two feet away."

They may not have had access to the main dressing-room reserved for Clitheroe and Brigg Town, contestants of the FA Vase which followed, but both pub finalists experienced the Wembley rituals which have eluded, and always will elude, the vast majority of this country's footballers.

For Roy Bolt, the Dawlish vice president and a social club committee member for 44 years, yesterday represented something to treasure. "This," he said, "was once in a lifetime."