Life in the Tropic of Wealdstone
Posted on August 17, 2016
AS THAT TV series about Salford revealed, a non-league club is a little world of its own. Behind its “metroland” neighbourhood in Ruislip, Wealdstone is no different. It’s an institution that has come back, not quite from the dead, but certainly from a nomadic existence that would have killed off some outfits. To have returned from a very uncertain future suggests that there was plenty of heart and soul in the club and you only need visit the them at their adopted home of Grosvenor Vale to see they are not only alive and kicking, but actually flourishing.
I have to admit that Wealdstone played a part in igniting my interest in non-league football in the mid-1980s. I worked with Andrew Lane, now a board member at the club but back in the 1980s, a fan on the terrace. When I first met Andrew, I was amazed that people could actually have a passion for a non-league football club. He invited me to Lower Mead and at the end of 1984-85, I was at Wembley with him as the club won the FA Trophy, securing the “double”. From thereon, I watched Grays Athletic and later became involved with Hitchin Town. But it started with that trip to Wealdstone in 1984-85.
Now Andrew is on the “inside” at Wealdstone and, like all good clubmen, he was manning the turnstiles as we arrived at the ground. It’s a stadium that is typical suburban non-league and looks just about adequate for the step two level that Wealdstone currently play at. It looks as though they have found their resting place, so once the next lease is settled, the club will surely upgrade the facilities. As it stands, it’s a pleasant place to watch football, plenty of character and quite a few characters occupying the terraces.
And increasing numbers are watching Wealdstone’s football these days. In 2011, the Stones were averaging 440 people per game, last season, this had gone up to 669. Interestingly, in the club’s programme, Sudhir Rawal spoke about the growing interest in non-league football inside the M25 at clubs like Dulwich, Clapton, Enfield and added that Wealdstone should speak to people at these clubs about supporter engagement. But, reassuringly, he added: “We are not going to become some left-wing, hippy dippy trendy football club.” Wealdstone’s fans might not be political, but they have something of a reputation for being vocal and occasionally raucous. I crossed paths with a group of them in St. Albans last season and they were loud and keen to let people know who they were following.
By the sounds of it, some people were not prepared to go to Whitehawk for the next away trip. Rawal added: “Next week we travel to the People’s Republic of East Brighton, with no doubt some of our travelling fans taking to wearing hard hats after the events of last season.” I later learned there was some history.
Judging by some of the comments I heard in the ground, Wealdstone have been a bit more liberal with their budget this season. As well as some new players, they have a new chairman in Peter Marsden who was previously with Accrington Stanley. He has been vocal about his desire to “drive success” at the club.
With extra expenditure comes greater expectation, but on the face of it, Wealdstone have got a good chance of a decent campaign. Their two games before Margate arrived had both ended in 2-2 draws – at Dartford on the opening day and at home to St. Albans.
Gordon Bartlett is still manager of the Stones and is in his 21st year in charge. He was dressed for the weather in bench garb, but his opposite number, Nikki Bull looked decidedly uncomfortable in his best man’s suit. After nine minutes, Bull’s afternoon got worse as Elliot Benyon opening the scoring for the home side. It was his third goal in as many games.
Margate tried to get back in the game, urged on by the shrill encouragement from behind the goal. After half an hour, though, Wealdstone doubled their lead when new signing Omar Koroma netted after some nice approach work.
Margate had a good spell after the interval and Jonathan North pulled off an excellent save from Elliott Buchanan. They also went close through Manny Parry with a header.
Wealdstone were good value for their lead and one player who caught the eye was midfielder Danny Green, who foraged away in the middle of the park and linked up well with the front men.
After dominating for long periods, Wealdstone had to endure a nervy finish after Marcel Barrington pulled a goal back for Margate in the last minute. It should have been more comfortable than 2-1.
As we walked out of the ground, with Stones fans rejoicing at another three points, we caught a glimpse of the famous Wealdstone Raider, the fellow who has become something of a cult in non-league football and beyond. On the strength of Wealdstone’s start to 2016-17, he may have something to sing about this season.