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.


The Non-League 100: The London Caledonians

London Caly 4MOST PEOPLE associate the strict amateur code with clubs like Corinthian and Casuals, but there were a host of other clubs who lived by the ideals and philosophies that gave birth to leagues like the Isthmian, Athenian and Spartan Leagues.

One such club provided a haven for Scots based in the south of England – the London Caledonians. The club dated back to 1886 and given Scotland’s early impact on professional football, as witnessed at Preston North End- a team built around Scots, it is no surprise that they were influential in amateur circles.

London Caledonians were renowned for playing “pretty” football – they were the precise words of a Victorian programme. They were also good travellers, becoming one of the first clubs to play abroad when they visited Paris to play Le Club Francais – French champions in 1895-06 – in 1898. They undertook a series of tours to continental Europe in the years that followed, including Holland and Belgium.

london caly 3Among the talented players to turn out for Caley in those days was Thomas Fitchie, who played – as an amateur – for Woolwich Arsenal, Fulham and Tottenham. Fitchie was to win four caps for Scotland while with Arsenal and Queens Park.

Caley, as they were known, exploited passing football to outplay their opponents. When the club became one of the first to be admitted to the newly-formed Isthmian League in 1905, they won the competition at the first attempt. They won seven of their 10 fixtures, finishing ahead of fellow Londoners Clapton. They won the league despite losing their star player, Willie Porter, to Chelsea during the campaign. The following season, London Caledonians visited Stamford Bridge as part of the deal and beat the Pensioners 1-0, such was the strength of their side.

Some of the leading amateur players of the age were eager to put on the club’s distinctive hooped jersey. Goalkeeper R.G. Brebner, who played in both the 1908 and 1912 Olympics for Great Britain, appeared briefly for them, while also playing for Huddersfield Town, Chelsea and the Northern Nomads, another amateur institution.

London Caledonians didn’t retain their title in 1906-07, but a year later, they topped the table once more, edging out Clapton by a single point. But between 1911-12 and 1913-14, they won the title three times in a row, losing just five games in that period. One fixture in May 1912 deserves special mention, however – Caley meeting the rest of the league in a benefit game for the Titanic Fund.

london caly 2The club closed down during the first world war, but when football resumed, they were back in the Isthmian League. In 1923, the club achieved national eminence when it won the FA Amateur Cup. They reached the final by beating Slough (10-2), R.A.M.C of Aldershot, Summerstown and Ilford, before meeting St.Albans at Luton in the semi-final. An own goal and a strike by inside left May were enough to beat the Saints 2-0. Their opponents in the final, played at Crystal Palace, were Evesham Town.

Irish international Andy Sloan opened the scoring for Caley after 13 minutes. Belfast-born Sloan won one full cap and a handful of amateur caps for Ireland. He was a player who could light up a match with his pace and determination. He was also a prolific goalscorer for Caley. Evesham levelled just before half-time, but in the 77th minute, Jack McCubbin scored the winner to take the cup back to Tufnell Park.

The Amateur Cup winning side also included the Gates brothers, Basil and Eric, the former who represented Great Britain in the Olympics in 1920.

Caley went very close to reaching the final again, reaching the semi-finals in 1923-24 but lost after three games to Erith & Belvedere. A year later, they won the last of their Isthmian titles.

The club went into something of a decline just before the second world war and didn’t return when hostilities ceased. Their time, like both the Casuals and Corinthian, had passed. But they left behind some great memories of an age when playing the game for game’s sake was certainly more relevant than it is today.