Although they don’t like to admit it, Wealdstone should be among the favourites for promotion from the Ryman Premier Division in 2013-14. At the end of last season, they lost in the play-offs to johnny-cum-lately side Concord Rangers, the second year running they had failed at that stage.
Unlike some clubs, Wealdstone are not the sort of outfit that takes the knee-jerk reaction to misfortune. Manager Gordon Bartlett is, after all, starting
his 19th season at the helm, which has given him a special status at the club and with its fans. The usually ebullient figure of Bartlett – a manager who knows what it’s like to win major one-offs (the FA Vase with Yeading), admits to being down when the Stones lost the play-offs. “Who motivates the motivator?,” he asks. “But you move on and when you start working with the players, that motivates you.”
Bartlett’s a popular figure – especially when he wins – and he’s seen some tougher times at a club that can speak knowledgeably about the dangers of ground relocation. Wealdstone are enjoying a period of stability after a nomadic existence following their departure from the now demolished Lower Mead in 1991. The Stones ground-shared for 17 seasons, including spells with Watford, Yeading, Edgware and Northwood. The future is far from secure, however, as they have only a short-term lease at their current home in Ruislip.
The club has a very loyal and passionate fanbase – “a fantastic bunch” according to Bartlett – that has followed the Stones around Middlesex and into Hertfordshire over the years just to watch home games. “They played their part in ensuring the move to Ruislip was a success – they all mucked in,” he says. The way they have retained their support in the face of so much uncertainty, and a proud history that includes the first non-league double (1984-85), marks Wealdstone as a special club.
As well as the fans, Wealdstone seem to have got it right elsewhere. Unlike some clubs, they don’t have a shortage of willing bodies but they don’t have the sort of “large investor” that will benefit some of the Stones’ Ryman Premier stablemates in 2013-14. Which means that like many clubs who (sensibly) cut their cloth accordingly, they can lose valuable players to others with pocketfuls of cash. In the summer of 2013, the Stones lost two such players in Lee Chappell and Chris O’Leary to St.Albans City. And they also said farewell to the excellent Richard Jolly, who retired after a marathon 60-game campaign.
In his place, Bartlett has signed a young striker who netted 81 goals last season. He’s just 22, but in the past two seasons, Lewis Putnam of Oxhey Jets has been non-league football’s most prolific goalscorer. It’s a two-step promotion for the gangly Putnam, but on the evidence of his second half display against Southern League Premier Division side Hitchin Town, Bartlett may have secured a player of rich promise. “I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far,” he said. He may not score 81 this time around, but Putnam and his devastating left foot will be something to watch out for this season.
Equally important to the Stones’ campaign could be midfielder Adam Martin, who joined from Slough Town and ended a six-year chase by Bartlett for a player that started out with Wealdstone. The 24 year-old scored the only goal in Wealdstone’s 1-0 win at Hitchin – a result that didn’t provide an accurate reflection in the difference between the two teams.
Wealdstone will be worth keeping an eye on in 2013-14 and with a little improvement on last season, Bartlett could well be starting his 20th term at the club in the Conference South. That should “motivate the motivator” in August.