The Non-League 100: Wealdstone 1984-85, the first double winners

IN an age when former Football League clubs proliferate the top division of non-league, it is often forgotten that the first non-league team to perform the hallowed “double” of National League and FA Trophy was a relatively humble outfit from the Middlesex conurbation, Wealdstone.

Wealdstone, the club that nurtured the talents of players like Stuart Pearce and Vinnie Jones, were beneficiaries of a novel points system introduced by the Gola League (Conference/National League) in 1983 of three points for an away win, two for a home victory. If the conventional system had been applied to 1984-85, Wealdstone would have finished third, behind Bath City and Nuneaton. But as it was, 12 away wins gave the Stones an advantage over their rivals, even though they also lost a dozen games on the way.

Brian Hall had fashioned a hard-working team that had its share of characters. The skipper was Paul Bowgett, a swashbuckling figure who was adept at penalty-taking. Most of the team had experienced some form of involvement with a Football League club – goalkeeper Bob Iles and defender Steve Perkins had both been with Chelsea, Brian Greenaway started with Fulham, Mark Graves had played 34 league games with Plymouth Argyle and Robin Wainwright had played at Millwall and Luton Town. The Cordice brothers, Neil and Alan, had been involved with Northampton Town and Norwich City respectively.

The team that would make history in 1985 was largely built around the side that won the Southern League in 1982. When they arrived in the Gola League, they were remarkably consistent, finishing third in 1982-83 and fourth a year later. Like many teams in the London area, they were not especially well supported in terms of numbers, but they had a very passionate following. In their first season after promotion, they were averaging 828 per game at Lower mead, but this fell by 20% in 1983-84 and went up to 826 in their double year.

They started the season well, unbeaten in their first nine games before losing to Boston United. They experienced a bad patch in October/November before finding their form again by December, beating close rivals Altrincham 1-0 at Lower Mead before a 1,000 crowd.

The FA Trophy got underway with the Stones disposing of Harlow Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Welling United. With cup commitments and the weather, Wealdstone went from early January to the first week in March without playing a Gola League game, but five consecutive wins in March really underlined their league title credentials. Back to the Trophy, once Frickley Athletic were beaten in the quarter-finals, Wealdstone faced Enfield over two legs. They pulled off a sensational 2-0 away win in the first leg thanks to goals from Andy Graham and Neil Cordice and despite losing the second leg by a single goal at Lower Mead, they went through to the final at Wembley to face Boston United.

The title race was a close-run affair, but a five-game run, including impressive away wins at Kidderminster and Kettering – the deciding goal scored by Andy Graham – was enough to give Hall’s men a four-point advantage over second-placed Nuneaton in the final analysis. The Stones ended the season with a 7-0 defeat at Barnet as Wealdstone prepared for the second stage of their pursuit of an unprecedented haul of trophies.

At Wembley, Graham, a somewhat unorthodox striker, scored after just two minutes, receiving the ball from a corner and sending an overhead kick past Boston keeper Kevin Blackwell. After Dennis Byatt missed a penalty, another corner led to a second goal, headed home by Lee Holmes. Boston pulled a goal back in the 50thminute from Chris Cook, but Wealdstone hung on to clinch the double.

Sadly, the club declined after the spectacular success of 1984-85 and in 1988, they were relegated from non-league football’s top flight. It was not long before they had lost their home ground and became something of a nomadic club. Fortunately, the club retained its loyal support during some difficult times. The heroes of 1985 have never been forgotten.

 

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