Welling up the table

The debate about the status of the Conference Premier has been raging for many years.  Take a look at the league at the moment and you cannot fail to notice some very familiar names.  Cambridge United were once a few minutes away from the top-level of English football and after what seems like years in the Non-League, are now leading the pack in the Skrill Premier.  Not far behind them are fellow Football League exiles Grimsby Town, Luton Town, Kidderminster Harriers and Barnet.  All of these clubs could essentially slot straight back into the world of the SkyBet, or whatever it is called, League tomorrow, competing on and off the pitch.

Take a look at the average attendances in the league so far this season and the best eleven supported teams are all ex-League teams.  In fact all of these apart from Halifax Town have a higher average attendance than Accrington Stanley, Dagenham & Redbridge and Morecambe (all of who were until recently, Non League sides).  But there are a couple of new names appearing towards the top of the table.  Alan Devonshire’s Braintree Town are punching well above their weight in 4th place, surviving on crowds of around a thousand.  Salisbury City and Nuneaton Town are new-boys in the league but both have relatively good catchment areas, free from the distractions of bigger sides.

10635884434_1e8b74840d_bAnd then there is Welling United.  Sitting in ninth place in the league, just one win off fourth place, the Wings are enjoying life back in the top-level of Non-League football.  Whilst they have been here before, from 1986 to 2000, the world of Non-League football has moved on, so their achievements in winning the Conference South last season was remarkable to say the least. I say that based on some local knowledge.  Living just 4 miles away I have been a regular visitor at Park View Road over the years.  Earlier this year I was at the top of the table clash with Chelmsford City.   Whilst Welling were demolishing a fellow title-contender on the pitch, off it were collection buckets encouraging fans to “dig deep” for Jamie Day’s, the player-manager’s budget.  A year on from play-off final defeat away to Dartford, Welling won the Conference South and took their place with professional clubs who had tasted victory at Wembley when they were Football League sides.  With average attendances of just over 800, few expected anything more than a season-long fight with relegation.  Instead, impressive form at Park View Road has seen them already find their feet in an ultra-competitive league. Continue reading

Welling continue to spread their Wings

Good Friday.  A day for some chores, DIY and then some football.  That’s what we are supposed to do, right?  And what better way to top off a morning of painting window ledges and door frames than a trip to table topping Welling United.  Four miles is all that separates Park View Road and TBIR Towers and as I spend most of my life building a massive carbon footprint by flying around the world I thought I would do my bit for the future of the planet by getting on my bike and cycling.

Top of the table Welling United versus play off chasing Chelmsford City.  Could the Wings take a massive step towards life in the Blue Square Bet Premier, or would Chelmsford make a late dash for the end of season lottery?  A picture tells a thousand words so here is the story of a very chilly afternoon in South East London/Kent.

Welling United 3 Chelmsford CIty 0 – Park View Road – Friday 29th March 2013

Still not sure they will win the league? Betting on Football is always difficult and to have some chance of making profit you have to do your homework very well. There are sites like tfbets.co.uk that can really help you on football betting. They have tips from experts and also a selection of the best free bets deals from leading bookmakers.  Even the bookies in the know will stop taking bets on the Wings very soon though.

The Darts hit the bullseye of promotion after 26 years of hurt

I’ve never really hidden my admiration for the progress Dartford have made on and off the pitch in the past few seasons.  Just a year or so ago I waxed lyrical about my upbringing just down the road from Watling Street and my afternoons spent running around the terraces here..  Back in “the day” they were one of the top Non League teams in England, along with the likes of Wealdstone, Altrincham and Weymouth.  In an age when there wasn’t any automatic promotion to the Football League, the top non league clubs had to apply for election to the League each season and hope that the Football League Chairman were satisfied with the contents of the “envelopes”.  Consequently only seven clubs were elected into the league by this method, the last being 1978.

Dartford came close to making the step from the Non Leagues to the Football League on a number of occasions, the last one was in 1974 after they won the Southern League, and reached the final of the FA Trophy.  Ten years later, after the formation of the Football Alliance (basically now the Blue Square Bet Premier), they finished third, the highest place they have finished in their history.  Since then it was a tale of woe that saw them penniless and homeless in a space of a few years.  A nomadic existence followed at places like Erith, Thurrock and Gravesend before a local council with a vision stepped in, finding them a home back in the town. Continue reading

CHatham AVerage they aren’t

In my misspent youth I was a frequent visitor to the Medway towns. Being just a few stops down the line on the train meant there was ample opportunity to hop on and off the train to avoid the conductor in the “toast rack” trains that used to be common in the 1980’s. For some it was easier to everything in Chatham and Gillingham. Easier to buy beer from the off licence, easier to buy 10-packs of Marlboro’s and easier to get lovebites off the girls. Perhaps coming from Longfield was deemed “exotic” to the local girls but whatever it was, a swig of Diamond White and a quick drag on a cigarette and they were putty in our hands.

“One of many suggested ‘origins’ for the word ‘Chav’ was that it is an abbreviation of ‘Chatham Average’, alluding to a public perception of a segment of Chatham residents as tracksuit-wearing, gold hoop-earringed common people with a penchant for hard drinking, recreational drug use, and aggressive and anti-social behaviour. The word ‘chav’ was retroactively deemed an acronym for ‘Council House And Violent’. “Chav Culture” was first evident from a website about “Chatham Girls” which received a huge amount of media interest.” Not my words but those of Wikipedia. It certainly rang true. Continue reading

A local team supported by local people…

Hands up who really goes to watch their local team?  Genuinely local, not just “close” by.  I would say less than 1% of football fans actually regularly watch a game at their local stadium.  Look at West Ham for instance.  A core of their support comes from Dagenham, where of course their local team would be Dagenham & Redbridge.  Yet they head over to Upton Park rather than walking down Victoria Road.  Liverpool and Everton, on the other hand draw most of their regular support from the local community despite the fact that they are global brands.  However, it does take a special type of fan to become a regular at non-league level.  A fan who can see through the crap football, crap stadium, crap food and drink and crap people in charge of their clubs deserves a medal.  But there is a growing trend in support for these clubs and almost all of it is fuelled by local fans.

I live in SE9, almost on the border of London and Kent.  If I draw a line at the Blue Square level of the football pyramid my local teams (as the car drives) are Bromley FC – 5.2 miles (although as the crow flies this is only 3 miles), Charlton Athletic 3.7 miles, Millwall 5.9 miles and Welling United 2.7 miles.  So my local team is Welling United.  Well you may be surprised to know that I was a regular at Park View Road for two seasons a few years ago, with West Ham playing away on the days when they were at home.  I grew to appreciate my Saturday afternoons at PVR, watching the likes of Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford (They did try to get Tony Banks down so that they could do a photo of the alternative Genesis) under the management of ex-Manchester United full back Paul Parker.

Facilities were basic, but the crowd were loyal.  I even had the pleasure on a couple of occasions of writing the official match report for the programme, such was my influence on club affairs.  And then it all stopped.  Primarily because West Ham’s games were always on the same day. but also because GiMP had decided to give the programme editing a kick into touch.  Our desertion co-incided with the club’s wilderness years, as the club fell down the newly formed Blue Square South league, flirting with relegation to the Rymans league.  Whilst the club are relatively young (only formed in 1963) they had actually played at the Conference level for a number of years and this would have been a reversal in fortunes for them.

The club were actually formed essentially by a Sugar Daddy.  Syd Hobbins, ex-Charlton Athletic goalkeeper formed a club for his son’s Graham and Barrie who have gone on to form a true one family dynasty.  Barrie Hobbins is still at the club today, fulfilling the role of  Kit Manager, Head Groundsman and Club Secretary as well as being a general miserable chap, wandering around the ground as if he had all of the cares in the world.  The club played in number local youth leagues before they progressed through the non-leagues, gaining promotion to the Southern League in 1981.  Five years later they were promoted to the Football Conference, the highest level they have played at.  Whilst they never set the Conference alight they did keep a position in the league for nearly fifteen years.  In 2000 they were relegated for the only time in their forty five year history, and eventually finishing in the top half of the Southern Premier League to gain a place in the Conference South when the leagues were restructured in 2004.

Last season under Andy Ford the club looked for some time if they would make the final play off shake up but a final position of 7th was just two spots off a chance at the Conference again.  They did inflict a rare home defeat on AFC Wimbledon late in the season, and this was a high point along with the goals of Charlie Sheringham (son of Teddy) who scored 19 goals.

So why was I coming back?  Well faced with the choice of Ice Age 3 or cutting the grass I chose neither.  Danny and Cynical Dave (see the EFW team website) also faced a similar dilemma judging by their keenest to come down to the London Borough of Bexley on a dreary July day.  Our plan was a few beers along the cultural hub of Park View Road, following the Route Of Wings (Wings is the nickname of the club) as they marched to this pre-season friendly.  Not one to frequent Welling ( I have been there twice actually – once when I was cracking on to a lovely young lady I worked with in Lloyds Bank back in 1990, and once for Lolly’s birthday party three years – neither of which got me the apple pie I wanted) I tried to find a decent pub to start our session in.  I went onto mecca for drinkers – Beer In The Evening website. Thirteen pubs were listed – good start, but the average score was just 4 out of 10 and didn’t exactly fill me with anticipation.  The reviews of The Guy, the pub next to the ground included such platitudes as “place is shocking…..i too recommend you avoid………” and “Without the worst pub in the world not safe bad people etc etc a definite to avoid at all cost also big drug problem and locals looking for a fight at anytime of day or night – stay clear”.

Gillingham were the visitors for the second pre-season friendly at Park View Road (called as such because it forms the north border of the lovely Danson Park).  Every year the club welcome Charlton Athletic in early July.  As a sign of the times this fixture had moved from a all ticket capacity affair to become a pay on the gate with room for plenty inside as the Addicks had slipped down the league.  The club still stuck to sensible ticket prices, charging Adults just a tenner for entry for this one, and on a very pleasant Saturday afternoon, Danny, cynical Dave and myself wandered along the centre of South East London culture in Welling looking for some fans we could chat to.  And we found none.  We did find pints of Ruddles County in the Nags Head at just £1.90 a pint which was a nice surprise and stayed there until near kick off, enjoying the England batsmen’s humiliation of the aussie attack at Lords.

In the ground the club bar was where the Gills fans who had travelled had taken up camp.  A few hundred of them had driven up the A2, brimming with confidence for their forthcoming season in League One, and a chance to play some decent local games this season.  League One has turned into a bit of the southern with two thirds of the teams playing south of Milton Keynes and the Gills were looking forward to Charlton Athletic amongst others.

Welling United 2 Gillingham 0 – Park View Road – Saturday 18th July 2009

Park View Road 2

Park View Road 2

If truth be told (and it always is on TBIR) it was a classic pre-season game.  Very little skill, players a bit wary to try something different for fear of the wrath of the managers and a few surprise performances.  Welling decided to play in white, which was a bit of a surprise considering their normal Red didn’t clash with either Gillingham’s normal blue or the yellow they wore here.  In an obvious commercial/marketing ploy they switched to a new blue shirt at half time.  It would have been a good idea if they were trying to promote their new kit(s) if they actually opened the club shop to sell them!

Welling deserved their win.  Charlie Mitten in goal made some excellent saves, looking a very confident keeper and in midfield Sanchez Ming (brilliant name – should be half Mexican/half Chinese but wasn’t!) was busy and scored the opening goal, taking his chance with confidence after ex-Southend keeper Simon Royce could only parry a shot into his path.  Their second, with five minutes to go came from an excellent run by Jake Hobbs who outpaced the defence and slotted home from a tight angle.

It was hard to see what either manager could take from the game.  Welling must be confident going into the Blue Square South season but with big spending Dover coming up, and Woking and Lewes sure to be focused on bouncing back to the Premier it may be that they need to aim for the Playoffs again.  Gillingham on the other had will need to start the season strongly.  Division One this season will be tough with the three teams who dropped down from the Championship in Norwich, Charlton and Southampton sure to be pushing hard as well as Leeds United desperate to end their two year exile from the Championship (and five from the Premier League!).

The three of us wandered off, trying to find a pub with Sky in.  The Nags Head was closed for a private function, “Infernos” was closed (permanently by the look of it – shame as I wanted to revisit the seat where I had so much luck all those years ago) so we ended up having one opposite in the Plough, with its 1970’s TV showing the golf – a very retro pub indeed.  But full of local people doing local things.  Shame they didn’t realise they had a local club down the road to support.