The 1981/82 season was notable for two major achievements for Temple Fortune. Firstly, it marked the First Xl's debut in the M(S)FL Premier Division. Secondly, the Club enjoyed its most successful season to date in cup football, reaching the Southern Area Final of the Peter Morrison Trophy.
Realistically, success for Temple Fortune during season 1981/82 would simply be survival. Too many good Premier teams, like Athletico Neasden, Brixton, Huntsman and Marshside, were thought to be superior opposition on paper. So, for Fortune to achieve both survival and a Cup Final appearance meant that this particular season must rank as one of the Club's best. Not that anyone could have predicted either feat being accomplished by the beginning of December. By that time, Temple Fortune had a Premier Division record of played 9, won 1, drawn 0 and lost 8, with only two points. Rock bottom and surely hopelessly heading for a quick return to Division One.
The season had begun with an unlucky defeat against Marshside in Fortune's inaugural Premier Division fixture. Gary Hyams scored the Club's opening goal in the top notch for a 1-0 half-time lead but an equaliser and late winner robbed the Firsts of a deserved point. Successive defeats soon followed, including a forfeited match against Brixton when the League's Management Committee denied Temple Fortune a postponement requested well before the season began due to a player's wedding.
However, Temple Fortune did break the losing sequence in a cup tie against Gants Hill Ivri Maccabi. Due to finishing in a high position in Division One the season before, the Club were invited to compete in the prestigious AJY-M(S)FL Invitation Trophy, a competition run jointly by both leagues involving their top eight teams, making a total entry of 16. A week after losing to Gants Hill in an abandoned league match - erroneously stopped short by an over-reacting referee due to alleged misconduct which was not proven at a subsequent hearing - Temple Fortune exacted ample revenge with a thrilling 5-4 victory in extra time. Gary Hyams scored a hat-trick and the result was considered a major shock in Maccabi football, though not to be the only one produced by Temple Fortune in 1981/82!
The worst Premier Division defeat came in the very next game against struggling Bar Kochba at Kitchener Road, Walthamstow. Carrying on the good football from the Gant Hill tie, the First Xl looked to be finally heading to their first league win by leading 4-1 at half-time; amazingly and rather inexplicably, Temple Fortune collapsed to a really morale-sapping 4-7 defeat. Thankfully, a victory soon was achieved in league match number seven. Huntsman were beaten 4-3 in a see-saw battle at West Hendon Playing Fields. But the satisfaction was short-lived as Ashlodge, by no means one of the better sides in the Premier, thumped Fortune 9-1. So December came with Temple Fortune still firmly rooted to the bottom and looking like relegation certainties.
Apart from the gloomy league situation, the Club faced more controversy by being thrown out of the AJY-M(S)FL Invitation Trophy. Drawn against AJY side Radom in the quarter-final, Temple Fortune refused to play the tie in the afternoon. Radom were given the choice of kick-off time as the home team and after much deliberation won the game by default. After a spell of bad weather, the season resumed with much better luck and improved performances. A draw against Athletico Neasden was followed by a splendid 5-3 revenge win over Ashlodge. Then, having jumped above Regents Park Rangers (the team that had inflicted Temple Fortune's only league defeat in 1980/81), the First Xl beat them twice in a crucial double-header at Hampstead Heath, the excellent Gary Hyams shining decisively.
The amazing revival continued with two more wins, making it five Premier games in succession. The earlier losses against both Bar Kochba and Marshside were avenged, 2-1 and 2-0 respectively. The success over BK was particularly impressive because Temple Fortune were forced to field several Second Team players due to unavailability. The remainder of the season was mainly filled by cup ties but by the time Gants Hill won the final league fixture in April, Temple Fortune had completed a remarkable recovery, and with it survival in the Premier Division for another season.
The second half of the First Team's epic '81/82 story brought excellent runs in both cup competitions. Having reached the Peter Morrison Trophy semi-final a year earlier, narrowly losing to eventual winners MAL, Temple Fortune went one better in dramatic style. After seeing off lower opposition in Grasshoppers Hendon and Shirehall, Fortune again met AJY Clayhall Alandra who must have relished the chance of revenge after being knocked out in the same quarter-final stage during season 1980-81. In a very even encounter, the First Xl led 1-0 before conceding a goal just before the end of normal time. The Clayhall goalkeeper, limping badly from injury, joined the mass of players inside Fortune's penalty area for a corner in the last minute. He dramatically headed the equaliser and the match finished 1-1! Extra time did not resolve the tie but, thanks to the superb goalkeeping of Paul Squires, Temple Fortune eventually won on penalties.
In the semi-final, Temple Fortune were drawn to play Kenton of the Hendon & District League, just like MAL a year before. Holders MAL themselves had to play Marshside in the other semi, and the Jewish Chronicle confidently predicted a Kenton v MAL Final in their preview. Given absolutely no chance, Temple Fortune defied all the odds by beating 'mighty' Kenton 2-1 which Chairman Nigel Kyte described at the time as "like Lincoln beating Liverpool in the FA Cup."
It was a phenomenal result, arguably Temple Fortune's finest hour since formation! Gary Hyams scored the two vital goals and the First Xl defended superbly to keep out the opposition, growing more and more desperate as the minutes ticked by. Every Kenton attack looked like being the breakthrough they strived for, followed by the inevitable glut of goals. A match like that - a quality Hendon & District League side versus a struggling M(S)FL Premier team should have been a formality of say, three or four nil. But the Temple Fortune team of 1981/82, excellently captained by Steve Bourne, pulled out all the stops to produce an astonishing giantkilling result.
Sadly, Temple Fortune were unable to match that great performance in the Southern Area Final, surprisingly against Marshside, who also produced a big shock by beating MAL. So much for the JC's prediction! On the day, Fortune just could not get going; it was as if every player had given absolutely everything in the semi and there was nothing left for the Final. Marshside scored early on and, rarely threatened for the remainder of the game, cruised to a comfortable 4-0 win. Even the great Gary Hyams, one of the best ever players for TF and the main match-winner during 1981/82, looked completely subdued. After so much expectancy, the PMT Southern Area Final was a massive let-down and looking back it was a great shame that Temple Fortune failed to perform on the day.
In the Cyril Anekstein Cup, Temple Fortune reached the quarter-final where they again met Marshside. Played at Hackney Marshes, Fortune were leading 2-1 with fifteen minutes to go before the referee gave a very controversial penalty decision which was dubious to say the least. Marshside's slice of luck was accepted and they went on to win 3-2 late on, a crushing blow to a Temple Fortune side which deserved to reach the last four of the CA Cup for the first time.
Gary Hyams was named M(S)FL Footballer of the Year, the League's top award, and took the Club's Player of the Year title too. Just for good measure, Gary finished leading goalscorer, collecting his third trophy for the season. He also won League representative honours. What an evenful season 1981/82 had been! A Cup Final, two quarter-finals, survival in the Premier Division and the League's outstanding player!