by | Nov 8, 2023

Did you know that it is 20 years since the Rams last progressed beyond round two of the FA Vase?  Yes, it is true.  And the victory is something of Rammy legend as it came at the expense of Fleetwood Town.

Yes, the one and same ‘Cod Army’, the one and same Fleetwood Town that are now playing in League One.  The same Fleetwood Town, previously known as Fleetwood Freeport, that the Rams had only beaten twice in 12 previous attempts in the NWCFL going back to 1999.

The Rams had beaten Abbey Hey in the first qualifying round then dumped Shotton Comrades in the second 5-1, before trekking up to Crook Town in County Durham and returned 3-2 victors in the first round proper thanks to goals from Glyn Barker, Ged Walsh and Iain Dyson to set up the clash at Fleetwood.

And it was a managerless Rams, under the caretaker charge of player-boss Walsh following Andy Grimshaw’s resignation at the start of November 2003, who were in decent form with five wins from their last seven games that headed to the Fylde coast, although Walsh, certainly interested in the role, had ruled himself out of the running for the full-time position.

It was always going to be tough game with Fleetwood, sitting fourth in NWCFL Division One, having won seven of their previous eight games, only losing 3-1 at home to Salford City!

This game, on the same day as the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, had some similarities with the Rams holding on after fighting for two late equalisers.  Matt Swailes hit the first with three minutes left of normal time to make the final score 1-1.

Fleetwood regained the lead in extra time before Chris Clarke hit back in the last minute of the additional 30 minutes to make it 2-2 and ensure the game would return to the Riverside on the following Tuesday night.

Just 120 spectators saw quite a spectacle as Swailes was the hero on the night!

The Lancashire Telegraph reported that “not only did the Rams go against the odds but they also produced some stunning football.”

Early chances from Iain Dyson and Danny Heys marked the Rams’ intentions although Rammy keeper Paul Eatock did make one meaningful save following an effort from Kevin Barnes.

The Rams took the lead on 13 minutes following excellent work from Dyson, powering his way through a static defence and despite his shot being parried, Heys looped the ball over the stranded keeper.

The pressure from the home side was relentless with Fleetwood’s keeper Banks keeping the scoreline respectable for the visitors.

It wasn’t long until the Rams doubled their lead as, on 23 minutes.  A stunning cross from Gareth Gardiner was poked home at the second time of asking by Matt Swailes.

Just before the interval, Fleetwood were handed a lifeline when Lee Catlow hit a stunning volley past Eatock into the bottom corner but it didn’t deter the Rams and the two goal cushion was restored on the stroke of half-time when another Gardiner break saw him fire the ball across the face of goal and Swailes was there again to slot his second and the game remained 3-1 in the Rams favour as they recorded the famous victory.

And they booked their place in round three for the first – and as it happens – still the only time, only to be defeated 2-1 by the now defunct Nottinghamshire-based Northern Counties East Division One side Gedling Town on 13 December 2003, giving newly appointed manager Vince Overson his first defeat.

Might we return to those heights once again – our visitors from Scunthorpe, Bottesford Town stand in the way.