Wealdstone v Staines Town
Grosvenor Vale / Conference South / 6th December 2014
“You want some?”
This phrase has been repeated, both through various forms of social media and verbally, like some sort of ubiquitous sitcom catchphrase. The origins of this catchphrase? The now infamous ‘Wealdstone Raider’. For those who may have been living under a rock for the past 18 months, the Raider became a YouTube phenomena when a short video was recorded of him abusing the football club Whitehawk FC from the sidelines of their ground, whilst watching his beloved Wealdstone FC. When one Hawks fan was brave enough to approach the diminutive character, The Raider then turned his attentions to this one Whitehawk fan by repeatedly asking did he “want some”. The video has had over 3.5 million views and has seen The Wealdstone Raider, real name Gordon Hill, go viral with various parodies, music videos featuring him and t-shirts with his catchphrase brandished across them. Gordon is even making a bid to overshadow X-Factor and Band Aid this Christmas, as there are several campaigns for a dance remix of his now iconic rant to soar up the chart and become this year’s Christmas number one. One beer-wielding, cigarette-smoking, loud-mouth football fan had put Wealdstone on the map for a whole new generation.
The name of Wealdstone had first cropped up for me years before. Swansea fans Sean Cronin and Paul Edwards, both based in London these days, had suggested to me years ago that I visit Wealdstone FC on one of my expeditions to the ‘Big Smoke’. Plus, Sean actually plays in defence for the London club too. Repeated delaying of my visit to north-west London ensued before I finally decided that I was going to head there on a Saturday afternoon in early December – the day before the mighty Swans were to play at West Ham. A weekend of football awaited in London.
I arrived into London shortly after 9am and headed towards New Cross in south-east London to drop off my bag at Dai’s house; London-dwelling Dai (or Dave as he is now known in London, where he works on Talksport’s Breakfast Show) had kindly agreed to accommodate me for the weekend. Bag dropped off and then it was back the way I had come and onwards to Ruislip – the north London suburb where Wealdstone FC now reside.
The clock was ticking towards midday as we alighted at Ruislip Manor station. Conveniently, for those venturing to Wealdstone’s Grosvenor Vale ground there are plenty of train stations nearby. However, we opted for Ruislip Manor station as I was aware, having read ahead, that there was a Wetherspoons directly opposite the station. I’ve noticed that quite a few groundhoppers like to ‘tick off’ Spoons pubs alongside their ground collection and I’m starting to think that I am heading into this hobby too, as I rarely seem to miss out a town’s local Wetherspoons on my travels these days. This particular branch of Wetherspoons, J.J. Moons, was a particular nice one too, although slightly on the small side compared to most Spoons.
Me and Dai both went to Afon Taf High School in Troedyrhiw in the heart of the Merthyr valley and somehow our conversation turned to discussing the colourful cast of teachers we had over the years. Now being a teacher myself in Salford, I did begin to wonder if in 10 years time some of my students would be sat in the pub talking about ‘that Welsh teacher’ they had. Reminiscing and a few beers drunk and then it was off down the road towards Grosvenor Vale – of course, via one more pub stop too.
“This is a typical London boozer,” was our reaction on entering Hennesseys pub on the main street in Ruislip. The place was a rather dingy affair, but the beer was cheap and there were plenty of widescreen TVs scattered around the place meaning we could watch the early kickoff on TV between Newcastle and Chelsea.
I had done a lot of rallying for people to come to Wealdstone on this Saturday afternoon in early December and two of our party met up with us as we enjoyed our beers in Hennessey’s. Travelling down from Norfolk to join us on this Saturday afternoon was Jack ‘Talk Norwich City’ Reeve and Ben AKA ‘Fake Gibbo’ ( I’ve not seen my usual groundhopping buddy Joe ‘Gibbo’ Gibbons in a while, so Ben has earned himself the nickname of ‘Fake Gibbo’), making their second Lost Boyos appearance after they accompanied me at Peterborough’s London Road home in October. Extra marks to Jack for turning up in a flat cap too.
With Google Maps apps in hand, we began to navigate the streets of Ruislip in search of Grosvenor Vale. Amongst the suburban streets we spotted floodlights towering overhead, although the entrance to the ground was far from obvious. It was only the sight of a couple of people in hi-vis jackets at the end of a road that led to us spotting the entrance.
And there he was. Casually smoking a cigarette as we walked through the gates of the ground was the man of the moment himself: The Wealdstone Raider. With little hesitation, I stepped up to ask could we have a photo with him (“I’m sure you get this all the time these days…” was my sheepish opening line) and he was more than happy too. In fact, the Raider was indeed a very pleasant man and unlike the pugnacious, inebriated chap who appears in the infamous video. Despite 4 of us hassling him for photos, he was in no rush and chatted to us for a few minutes, as well as Dai getting him to record a little snippet for Talksport. He seemed very humble about his rise to fame and he was in very good spirits on this Saturday afternoon. As we all frantically uploaded our prized photos with the Raider onto Facebook and Twitter, we thought we’d better leave him be and we headed into the clubhouse for some more beer.
Awesome. The only word to describe the clubhouse at Grosvenor Vale. You will not find many better than Wealdstone’s offering with its 3 bars and spacious main room. It is now clear to me why so many fans roll up at Wealdstone FC en route to Wembley for pre-Cup Final gatherings. Clearly, many had arrived early to watch the Newcastle v Chelsea game on TV and I would recommend to anyone visiting to get to the club early to spend a bit of time in the bar. Very friendly locals too.
There was to be a strong Swansea City presence at the club today, as firstly Paul turned up, then Sean of Wealdstone FC, who was providing me with a pass to get into the game for free today (very much appreciated!) and finally, now blog regular, Huw was the last Swansea fan to join our party. 4 Jacks (plus Norwich fan Jack) at Wealdstone FC today, not to mention that today’s visiting team was Staines Town, who are nicknamed The Swans.
Kick-off was now almost upon us and so we headed into the ground ready for today’s Conference South fixture.
Wealdstone FC have been a nomadic sort of club over the past few decades. The club had played at Lower Mead stadium, in Wealdstone itself, for much of the club’s history. The 70s and 80s saw particular success for the club as they won Southern League titles in the 70s, before going on to win the Conference in 1985; this was still in the final years of electing clubs into the Football League and so the club remained in non-league, as they did not make the cut thanks to Lower Mead not being up to standard. That season in 1984/85 would see the club become the first club to do the non-league double of the league title and FA Trophy victory. However, disaster was to strike.
The title-winning squad, including everyone’s favourite hardman Vinnie Jones, slowly disbanded and the club eventually were eventually relegated to the second tier of the Conference. Controversially, their Lower Mead ground was sold to make room for a new Tesco and the club then spent the best part of 20 years sharing with Watford at Vicarage Road for two years, Yeading for Two years and then Edgare Town for a decade. Finally, the club shared for 3 seasons with Northwood Town from 2005.
In 2008 it emerged that Wealdstone would move to Grosvenor Vale, at the time the home of Ruislip Manor. A lot of investment was pumped into the site so that the ground was up to the ground grading for the club’s season in the Isthmian League Premier Division. They succeeded. Since then the club has seen the ground improve and attendances rise with it. Last season saw the Stones claim the Isthmian League Premier Division title and thus they now find themselves back in the Conference South this season.
The ground itself is a hodgepodge of different stands and structures. Down the one side of the pitch nearest the entrance is a small, sheltered seating area, which leads into an opening standing area behind the dugouts. This side of the ground also accommodates the food vans and a cabin housing the club shop. On the opposite side of the ground is another seating stand level on the halfway line, whilst behind each goal you can find two sheltered standing terraces: the Bulla Stand and Couch Corner stand. It is next to the Couch Corner stand that you can find undoubtedly the most unusual accessory within the ground: a large gun turret tower (which I sadly didn’t photograph for some reason). The turret was once used in World War II to protect the area from German bombing, especially with the RAF’s Northolt Aerodrome being so nearby.
The teams emerged onto the pitch with Wealdstone in blue and Staines in yellow for this clash of the two Middlesex clubs. No Sean in the starting XI today, as he had cracked his ribs the week before, meaning he was confined to our company in the stand instead. As well as the usual prematch niceties, the two teams also posed for one big group photo as part of the FA’s ‘Football Remembers’ initiative commemorating the impromptu Christmas Day truce 100 years ago on the battlefields of Belgium.
We perched ourselves just ahead of the electronic scoreboard as the game got underway. The early dominance was with the home team and it was unsurprising to see them take an early. A cross across the box saw midfielder Daniel Brown stretch to turn the ball past the Staines keeper.
It should have been 2-0 moments later, as some excellent work from Scott McGleish, who some may remember from his time at clubs like Wycombe, Leyton Orient and Colchester amongst others, setup Brown again, only for him to fire his free shot into the legs of the away goalie.
By now, I had decided to go and explore the ground a bit more, as the game settled down a bit. Staines slowly got themselves going in the game without really testing Jonathan North in the Stones’ goal. I was particularly keen to see the pink-clad North play today, as there was a bit of hype surrounding the young Welshman in his teen years when he began to feature in goals for the Welsh youth teams, as well as playing for Watford a few times; I’m not sure what has caused him to sink to this level, but he’s still only 23 so plenty of time yet for him to climb back up the leagues.
Half-time: Wealdstone FC 1 – 0 Staines Town.
The half was finishing just as I completed my lap of the place and I found myself by the Bulla Stand with Jack of Fake Gibbo. The half-time interval was spent looking for a place selling Wealdstone FC merchandise as Fake Gibbo wanted to add to his collection of scarves. We were oblivious to the fact that we had been standing by the club shop during the first half, so we found the place just as the second half was about to get underway. The club shop may not be the largest you’ll ever see, but by golly was it plentiful with a whole host of Stones’ stuff.
Now that Fake Gibbo had his scarf proudly tied around his neck (£10 though), we headed to the Couch Corner stand for the second half – the end which the home team would be attacking in the final 45 minutes.
The home team were poor in possession in the second half and probably should have been punished by the Swans on a few occasions. However, it was to be the man in black who would aid the Stones, as he played a large part in quashing the away team’s efforts.
In the 73rd minute, it appeared that referee Michael George had given Chris M’Boungou a second yellow card and subsequent red card for punching the ball away, yet the culprit was the ‘un-booked’ Stephane Ngamvoulou. The decision incensed Staines manager Marcus Gayle (who looked as imposing in the dugout as he did during his years playing for Wimbledon and Watford) and it was unsurprising to see his rage earn him a dismissal from the bench.
Two sending offs was not enough for Staines though, as soon the ref was showing a red to Bajram Pashaj for his tackle on North. Admittedly, the tackle on the keeper was slightly late, yet a red card was laughable. Nine men and no manager on the touchline for Staines. However, the away team seemed to battle on with a huge feeling of injustice clearly egging them on and they could have easily embarrassed Wealdstone as they scrapped for a late equaliser.
A few freekicks in dangerous areas and a couple of half chances fell the way of the Swans, but the Stones’ held on for a valuable three points in their bid to stay in the Conference South this season. The final whistle sounded with a particularly large moon glowing brightly amongst an orange sky over Grosvenor Vale.
Full-time: Wealdstone FC 1 – 0 Staines Town.
Our post match chat and analysis took place back in the main room of the clubhouse with most of us agreeing that Wealdstone’s win was as ugly a win as we would probably see this season. It was to prove to be a bad weekend for Swans with Staines having a particularly frustrating day here, as well as Swansea City letting us down the next day with a poor performance and 3-1 loss to West Ham at the Boleyn Ground (never call it Upton Park, as one West Ham fan made it very clear to me recently).
Sean had disappeared for a few minutes only to return to tell us that he had been chatting to the Raider in the next room. Of course, we decided to join him.
Jack and Fake Gibbo shot off to make their train back east to Norfolk, whilst I chatted away with the two Gordons: Gordon ‘The Wealdstone Raider’ Hill and long-serving Stones manager Gordon Bartlett; amazingly, Bartlett has managed the club since 1995!
More photos were taken (I’ve never seen Huw so delighted in his life, as he posed for his photo alongside the Raider) and I then asked would the Raider be up for doing a little soundbite recording for our Swansea podcast, The JackCast, which he happily obliged to doing:
“I’m Gordon Hill, AKA The Wealdstone Raider. You are listening to The JackCast. You want some, I’ll give it to you.”
That will definitely be the opening to this week’s podcast!
Post-recording, having dubbed him a legend, The Raider seized me and Sean, also a teacher, and made it very clear to us: “You’re the legends. You’re the inspirational ones.” When you are drinking in a non-league clubhouse with the Wealdstone Raider telling you that you are ‘inspirational’ you know your Saturday has gone well.
More beer was consumed, but as the London night grew chillier, we decided to call it a night and head back into the heart of London.
I actually got separated from Dai whilst tube-hopping through the underground, which wasn’t too clever considering I was staying with him. However, Dai clearly knows me well enough, as he headed to the pub directly opposite New Cross station knowing full well that on walking out of station that I’d be drawn to going in there. He was right, as I found him drinking within.
A few more beers in another New Cross-based pub and it was time to head back to Dai’s and draw the day to an end.
Wealdstone is a brilliant club complimented by a good, interesting ground. Clearly, after a couple of decades of anguish, this is a club very much on the rise and I really hope their resurgence up the leagues continues. And I promise you that I’m not just saying this because the Wealdstone Raider threatened or intimidated me in any way.
Highlights: plenty of stations near the ground, decent Wetherspoons in Ruislip, brilliant clubhouse at the ground, great ground, meeting the Wealdstone Raider.
Low Points: a few too many red cards for my liking.
See all the photos of my day at Wealdstone FC here.