Dunston UTS FC Club Legends
In this interview we have the genuine pleasure of talking to long serving Club Secretary, former player and one of the original pioneers of the club - Mr Billy Montague.
Billy Montague epitomises everything that makes non league football so fantastic; without question Monty has played a fundamental role in the growth and development of the club, having dedicated a lifetimes worth of hard work and sacrifice to Dunston UTS FC. There is no doubt that without him, and many others from Dunston's rightfully highly respected committee, the club would not be where it is today.
He has diligently served as Club Secretary since the formation of the club back in 1975 and as a player achieved a trophy laden career during the clubs early years. A true Gentleman, immaculate in his appearance and rarely seen without his mysterious briefcase, "Monty" is without question a genuine Club Legend.
Pictured above - The Legend himself, Mr Billy Montague.
Going back to what I would imagine either feels like yesterday, or many moons ago, you were part of a group of work mates who decided to set up a football club. Who was involved in the initial creation of the club and what did they want to achieve in those early years?
Around 1973, John Thompson and a group of his fellow employees at the print works of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Team Valley, Gateshead got together to form a Football Section. A thriving Sports & Social Club funded the team who played at the excellent Civil Service Sports Ground at Longbenton, Newcastle (now the Newcastle United Training Complex). Initially playing friendly matches, it wasn’t long before it was decided it was time to join a League and take things a little more seriously. Some of the original members who didn’t wish to play on a regular basis were replaced by more experienced players from outside of the Organisation. The team joined the Newcastle City Amateur League in 1975 and embarked upon the long journey that has continued until the present day.
Above - Back in the days playing out of Dunston Park as Whickham Sports FC.
In those first few seasons, who were some of the great players you played alongside?
John Thompson took on the role of Team Manager as well as playing at centre-half. He assembled some excellent players for the standard of that first League and it wasn’t long before the team was achieving some great results. Players such as Brian Jordan, Ray Joynson, Charlie Gordon and John Hall were all outstanding when I joined the Club from the old Newcastle Blue Star in 1975.
How would you describe yourself as a player back in your day?
I was never the greatest of players but I always took pride in being one of the fittest and took over duties overseeing the physical training sessions and also the job that nobody else wanted, that of Secretary!
The role of Secretary is a position you’ve fulfilled with distinction since day one and you’ve been a major driving force behind the progression of the Club. Back in those formative years what were some of the key developments that helped to push the club onwards?
It seemed that it was time to move on from being a works outfit and the Club progressed to The Northern Amateur League under the name of Whickham Sports. The home ground was moved to Dunston Park and an influx of better players saw immediate success at the new level. Players such as goalkeeper Mickey Storey, defenders Malcolm Dellow, Mickey Robson, Paul Dixon, Ian McPherson, Mickey Hughes and Alan Stott, midfielders Mickey Wilson, Mickey Porteous and goal machine Paul King stood out as more silverware came season after season. As the team got progressively stronger.
John Thompson and myself played less and less and concentrated on running the side. John always had the ambition of a Dunston team playing in the prestigious Northern League and he was determined to achieve his dream. From the very beginning, we set out to run a Club that maintained high standards on the field and also in the way we conducted ourselves as a Club. We not only persuaded some talented players to join but ensured that they were good characters who would uphold the high standards of behaviour. We always had a good laugh together but worked hard on the players’ fitness level in training, usually twice a week.
The highly respected Tommy Cooney (pictured below, back row far left) was approached to take over the Team Manager’s role and John Thompson took on the job of Chairman alongside ex-player Billy Hope who agreed to look after the duties of Treasurer. Tommy Cooney proved to be the catalyst for rapid improvement as his football connections brought even more good players to the squad and his expertise as an Architect inspired the Management Committee to consider the acquisition of our own Ground in Dunston.
The Club went from strength to strength with promotion to the Northern Combination League where the progress on the pitch continued. Moves were afoot to agree a lease of the land where our present Stadium now stands and the assistance of many local Council Officials was invaluable in progressing our applications for Planning Permission and Grant Funding. This was a long and drawn out procedure and the Club set about securing the Sponsorship of the Federation Brewery to ensure that it had the financial clout to guarantee their side of the bargain should Grant Aid be forthcoming from the Sports Council and several other sources.
The driving forces on the Committee were Tommy Cooney, Alan Stott, Terry Wood, Peter Quigley, Frank Rankin and Malcolm James. Their determination eventually succeeded on all fronts and a new era began to open up for the Club. Tommy Cooney’s plans for the new changing rooms were approved and work on the new Ground commenced. The Committee members worked on any tasks that they could assist with and Terry Wood provided his expertise in the Electrical Industry to oversee the installation of the floodlights.
With our own Ground becoming a reality, it was now up to the team to come up with the goods on the pitch. They did their bit in style, doing the Northern Combination League and Cup double, and the Club made a successful bid to join the Wearside League for the 1987-88 Season. After four successful seasons in which silverware was secured in each, two as Champions, it was decided that the time was right to apply to join the Northern League.
The Club had obviously put everything in place to achieve its ambition. What was that move up to The Northern League like for everybody involved?
A nervous journey to Whitby by most of the members of our Management Committee to attend the AGM of the Northern League in June 1991 ended in relief when we were accepted as Members and John Thompson’s dream had been realised!
Our first season in the Northern League Second Division was a slight disappointment when we narrowly missed out on promotion but this was rectified the following season when we romped home to finish as Champions. We were now in with the “big boys” and our playing budget was way below many of our rivals. We gave a good account of ourselves in the following seasons, but were never in with a real chance of winning the Championship until we lifted the Trophy in 2004 and 2005. We reached the Final of the League Cup on eight occasions and came out on top in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2018. The Cleator Cup was won in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2019. Our final year in the Northern League in 2018-19 saw us lift the Title by a magnificent 17 points and compulsory promotion resulted in us joining the Northern Premier League for the 2019-2020 Season.
The Club had suffered a financial body-blow in 2007 when Main Sponsor Federation Brewery was taken over by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries who decided to withdraw all financial support. A very lean time followed but through careful fiscal management by Chairman Malcolm James and Treasurer Frank Rankin, the Club survived and cut its cloth accordingly.
Having achieved what the club had over that time, there was obviously a desire and an ambition to take the club further. When The Federation Brewery closed this must have been worrying time for all involved.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our loyal supporters who stuck by us and the understanding of our Team Management and Playing Squad who ensured that we got by. The wonderful continued support of Sponsors like Dunston Van & Truck Hire, Astley Signs, Callerton Kitchens and a host of other Companies and friends kept the Club afloat until a major boost arrived in 2009. That boost came in the form of a gentleman named Shaun Sadler who ran a Company named UTS Engineering. Shaun had already provided generous sponsorship of our players’ casual garments like Tracksuits and Polo Shirts but he intimated that he could probably do a little more for the Club. Little did we know that he would become our splendid Main Sponsor and that he would propel us to new heights.
We were able to embark upon a steady improvement which culminated in a visit to Wembley Stadium in May 2012 to compete in the Final of the FA Vase. The greatest day in the Club’s history was made possible by the unbelievable support of Shaun Sadler and UTS Engineering and we celebrated together after winning the Final by two goals to nil against West Auckland Town.
Pictured below - Billy Montague (far left) with his fellow committee men at Wembley Stadium.
Starting out in those early years as a works outfit back in the 1970’s to an FA Vase Victory at Wembley Stadium, that’s a phenomenal achievement. What do you feel has been key to the successes of The Club?
In those early days, John Thompson, myself and the likes of Alan Stott, Paul Dixon, Ian McPherson, Billy Hope, Malcolm James and Frank Rankin who are still on the Committee, could not have imagined that the Club would reach this pinnacle in football from such a humble beginning.
The secret of the success at the Club is continuity and that has been achieved through the involvement of generally good people on the Management Committee. That in turn has also brought about selection of excellent Team Management including John Thompson, Tommy Cooney, Peter Quigley, Alan Stott, Perry Briggs, Bobby Scaife, Billy Irwin and Chris Swailes.
They in turn assembled some first-class players who generally (but not always) were an improvement on their predecessors, but were nearly always good characters. If they weren’t, they didn’t last long!
In the forty-odd years I have been involved with the Club we must have signed nearly 1000 players and I can honestly say that only a handful of them have been “bad apples” and none of those stayed with us long. They either didn’t buy into the Club philosophy of “The Team Comes First” or maybe the first question they asked was “How much money do I get?”.
Pictured above Monty alongside fellow Committee Men Michael Urwin (centre) and fellow "Club Legend" Alan Stott
During your time you’ve obviously watched every player at the club. Who have been your favourites and why?
Over the years we have had some brilliant players at the Club and it would be so hard to pick out my favourites. Fergal Harkin (pictured below) would be one that stands out – brilliant player and a real gentleman. Any of the FA Vase Winning Squad, brilliant to a man, all for the Club and each other – maybe not individually but as a proper team who would run through a brick wall for each other. For me, they sum up what Dunston FC and non-league football is all about.
What have been some of your most memorable games over the years?
My favourite game would probably be the FA Vase Quarter-Final Tie away to Peterborough Northern Star when we came through by 4-3 after extra-time. We were behind in a pulsating game before grabbing a late equaliser through Ben Cattanach to force the extra half-hour. The game could have gone either way but it was that man Andy Bulford who sent us through with the clincher. The locals were friendly and hospitable and the hosts were magnanimous in defeat and wished us well, unlike the Semi-Final losers Staveley Miners Welfare who were bitter and twisted on a day that was spoiled by bad sportsmanship and animosity. Not enjoyable – apart from the result!
Above - Monty coming to terms with The Northern Premier League North West Division as somehow finds himself stuck behind a caged fence away to Droylsden.
How would you like to see the club progress over the next decade?
When this Covid nightmare comes to an end, I hope that the Club can make progress once more and become an established and respected Northern Premier League Outfit. I would love to achieve promotion to the Premier Division in the near future. I also hope that more of our local Clubs come up to the NPL so that we are not so isolated geographically. I hate all the travelling to away games! Marske United as our local Derby? It doesn’t seem right somehow!
Images courtesy of Kelvin Shell at Beauty Time Photography, Ken Fitzpatrick and Dunston UTS FC Archives.
Dunston UTS FC are proudly sponsored by UTS Engineering Ltd