Far from justifying their pre-season status as favourites for the County League title, Lancing displayed inconsistent form all season and finished only seventh. Yet cup success made up for that and Lancing finished the season capturing the RUR Cup to gain their first major honour.
Cup excitement started early, with an FA Cup clash against Lewes at Culver Road. Lewes, of course, had gone through the previous season unbeaten in County League matches and were now trying their luck in the Athenian League. Lancing paraded two new men from the previous season in full-back Frank Tribe, from Falmer and striker Tony Lowndes, a very recent signing from Lewes, for whom he had already played during a season that was only a fortnight old. But there was no place for another summer signing, John Cager.
Lowndes, in fact, missed two early chances and for a long time it seemed that they were suffering from an inferiority complex, such was the reputation of Lewes. Ken Baker gave the visitors a 49th minute lead and it was the 70th minute before Peter Cull chipped home a free kick to give Lancing the self confidence they needed. Within a minute Brian Griffin had put them in front and near the end Paul Steele, who had been tightly marked, got away for the first time to seal a memorable victory. The next opponents were Charlshalton and although Lancing had much the better of the game, with Cull, Griffin, Stan Francis and Mick Connelly all in tremendous form, they could not find the net and Carshalton went home fortunate to win 2-0.
Soon it was time for the first qualifying round of the Amateur Cup and Lancing had little trouble in beating a poor Shoreham side. Another summer newcomer, 18 year old Dave Barcock, who had had trials with Bournemouth, impressed in only his second game and scored in the 3-0 win. Bognor provided equally feeble opposition in the next round and were trounced 5-1, four goals coming in the first 15 minutes even though Paul Steele was visibily struggling to recapture the form that had brought him 28 goals in the previous season.
The third qualifying round brought a visit from Eastbourne United, from Division 2 of the Athenian League but a highly rated side who were fresh from a 4-1 win over Premier Division Worthing. Their chief threat came from two lively wingers, one of whom, Barry Salvage, would soon join Fulham. On this day, though, Roy Smith and Peter Brown allowed the wide men no scope at all and Lancing had the game well in hand before Salvage managed to score with three minutes left. By then, Brian Griffin, Derek Cheal and Phil Cooper had netted the goals which made sure of a place in the final qualifying round for the first time since the Brighton League days 18 years earlier.
A week after that triumph, Lancing suffered a 6-0 defeat at Bexhill which ended their Senior Cup challenge at the first hurdle, Bexhill were to take the County League title. The next game could not have done too much for confidence, either. In the the league, Lancing once again set about poor Bognor but having been 5-0 up with 10 minutes left, they were very lucky to take both points as Bognor pulled back to 5-4.
Horsham's finishing proved less dynamic on November 27th. Their former amateur international centre forward Mick Browning missed chance after chance and young Barock became man of the hour with the goals that gave Lancing a 2-1 win and put them in the competition proper for the first time. The visit of mighty Kingstonian attracted 1,543 fans to Culver Road but the match was something of an anti-climax. An experimental 4-3-3 formation failed to trouble the Londoners who cruised home by 3-0 and might have had many more.
That left the RUR Cup as the last hope for honours. Again Shoreham were the first opponents and again they were beaten 3-0, poor Johnny O'Neill conceding an own goal against his former club, not for the first time. Indeed, he always seemed very generous to Lancing, conceding more than one penalty in the club's meetings over the years. The next match was against old rivals Wigmore and after a waterlogged Culver Road pitch had brought a week's postponement, Peter Near netted twice in an easy 3-1 win. The semi-final was an altogether different prospect.
Chichester were having an exceptional year. When the teams met at Culver Road on April 9th, Chichester were fresh from a 5-2 win over Worthing in the Senior Cup semi-finals and were expected to waltz home with the County League title...though, as it turned out, they collapsed in the last few weeks and were pipped on goal average. On this day, though, they were no match for Lancing, who finished superbly to win a good match 4-1. Ian Page had a fine game in goal, having returned from trials with Rotherham. He was not signed by the league club but early next season, they did snap up another Lancing 'keeper, 15 year old Roy Tunks, then in the youth side, who was to go on to a lengthy career in the big time.
The RUR final was played over two legs, and Lancing took a firm grip on the trophy by winning the first match at Rye, 2-1. Cager and Cull hit the woodwork before Rye took a 6th minute lead but sharper Lancing finishing in the second half brought goals from Ian Frith and Cull. The line up: Page, Smith, Mockford, Francis, Cull, Williams, Wakeham, Cager, Near, Frith, Griffin.
The second leg was at Lancing on May 21st, with Paul Steele taking Nears place, the only change in the Lancing line-up. Steele, in fact, was quickly in action, his 5th minute shot rebounding from the Rye 'keeper for Griffin to score. Five minutes later Griffin pounced again, this time after Frith had hit a post. Then, in the 20th minute, Steele floated home a wind-assisted shot from a wide angle, 3-0 it was, 5-1 on aggregate and that was the way it finished. Sadly, the great side was to break up during the following summer.
What of the league? Inconsistency was the keynote right from opening day, when Lancing lost 3-1 at home to Rye. They bounced back with a 5-1 win at Whitehawk four days later after being very lucky to be on terms, 1-1 at half time. John Cager scored his first goal for the club on the next Saturday, in a hard earned 2-0 home win over Littlehampton. But that was followed by a 1-1 home draw with Shoreham, who, as already related, were a poor side. The fact that both sides were wearing worn out old shirts was blamed for a bad game.
A convincing win at Bognor followed but then came a 1-1 draw at Rye, Griffin equalising with ten minutes left. Lowndes was not impressing in the centre forward role and indeed it was a position that was not satisfactorily filled all season. Lowndes did score a week later but two late goals meant a 3-1 defeat at Southwick, who were widely criticised for their off-side tactics. Despite the goal, Lowndes was not seen again in the first team. The return match two weeks later was something of a kicking battle, with Lancing by no means blameless, though their reward was a 1-0 win, Barcock the scorer. Then a 3-1 defeat at Seaford finishing again the problem, ended any lingering title hopes.
The next league game was the remarkable 5-4 win over Bognor already mentioned and if that was not enough, East Grinstead came back from a 3-0 deficit to make it 3-3, two of their goals coming from Terry Warwick, a recent signing from Wigmore. But Lancing did manage to win that one, Barcock again netting the decisive goal. Two 3-1 defeats against Chichester sandwiched wins against Arundel(6-0, with a hat-trick for Barcock) and Wigmore. Another defeat, another win and then three successive defeats. All the time, of course, the cup excitement was continuing but there was no hiding the fact that league form was far below expectations.
A return to form brought a 2-0 win over Bexhill, even without the injured Cull and Brown and Steele, who were at a wedding. Worth remembering too, that the Amateur Cup run was achieved without the inspirational presence of Cull, who as a former professional was ineligible.
The return at Bexhill a week later was a poor game, the home side winning 2-1 and then Lancing crashed 5-1 at Sidley, beaten, as much as anything by a heavy pitch, the type of ground on which Lancing rarely prospered. Just to prove their inconsistency, Lancing hit 13 goals in their next three games, winning 5-1 at home to Selsey and 4-0 at Wigmore on either side of the RUR semi-final.
Cup runs had meant a pile-up of fixtures and Lancing found themselves playing at home to Whitehawk and away at Shoreham and Littlehampton in the space of five days. Fine goalkeeping by Page was a feature of all three games, which all finished 1-0, two wins and one defeat. The last two league games summed up the campaign, a 3-1 loss at Haywards Heath, admittedly with a depleted side and a 4-1 home win over Sidley, thanks to a brilliant second half display.