Not just a season defining weekend (part XI), but eight days that could have killed off Stones chances of the title and put a serious dent in the play-off hopes too .
The start of a run of eight away games in nine, and none easy, not even on paper, as few games at this level or come to that at this stage of the season ever are, Wealdstone would need to perform as well if not better than in recent games and certainly with more consistency than they have shown this season.
Last weekend saw Stones yet again one step from Wembley. Not in a Cup competition this time, but playing at Budweiser-ville, Wembley FC against tenants Hendon. Very much the poor relations in the environment that earlier this season was a key element in destroying the aura of the FA Cup for some, as the landlord’s sponsors, purveyors worldwide of an insipid and primarily tasteless beer decided to sign a plethora of ageing footballers to represent their team in what was the world’s premier domestic cup.
Multiple press orgasms, a win, a draw and a defeat later, the networks and newspapers alike faded away having given the paymaster more advertising than he could possibly have wished for. Followed immediately by the veterans – who in the eyes of most had done little more than take the silver dollar at the cost of their character and reputations, crawling back into the dark recesses where ex-pros live, no doubt to add a tale or two of their exploits on the After Dinner circuit. Now, without looking, can any of you tell me any of Wembley FC’s results since their FA Cup exit?
So to Hendon.
Much as fans from both sides would struggle to say it out loud in company, there is a lot of empathy and grudging respect between the two clubs who have been foes since 1910 when Wealdstone first played Hampstead Town. ‘The Greens’ subsequently dropped ‘Town’ before, with name changes to rival those of Wealdstone in the formative years, the club became Golders Green (1933) and then Hendon post WW2.
Now fan-owned since losing their Claremont Road ground to property development (no matter which way you cut the facts, site development was the cause of the demise, much as Wealdstone had sponsors around 1990 whose major input was to sell the ground and bugger off with the money…)
Hendon struggle to garner the support that their history deserves at Vale Farm, much as Wealdstone did at Watford and Yeading. Sadly, Hendon had less to start with, their crowds having dropped off dramatically over the last ten years or so, and the paltry following this season is likely to be spread even more thinly next, when they relocate to that other local footballing hotbed of South Harrow, the current occupants struggling to fill a couple of 140 buses with the terrace faithful.
Far from the sixties amateur heyday when matches between the Stones and the Greens regularly attracted crowds in excess of 4000, this latest foray mustered merely 400-odd to the shadow of Wembley’s arch, and the majority of those were adorned in Royal Blue.
A look at the results over the years shows that in the most part, the records are not dissimilar in matches played at Wealdstone. Stones have the greater record of league success at their hosts, Hendon’s last win recorded on Christmas Day 1969, though the matches are always tight affairs. This season was anticipated to be no different as, after a shaky start, Hendon were the form team having won eight of their preceding ten matches to rise swiftly to upper mid table, harbouring feint play-off hopes at best, but having cast the shadow of relegation deep into the background.
As it turned out, Hendon had the better of the play and possibly the better chances on a bumpy pitch, but there was a greater resolve around the Stones backline and the match finished as it had started, 0-0. Against (on the day) a stronger team and with other results going in their favour, that must be considered a point won rather than two lost and Hendon will have to wait until at least the 45th year to see if they can slay the ghost of a home league win against Wealdstone.
Stones sights firmly set on play-offs, promotion and beyond will hope that it’s a longer wait that that.Tuesday evening’s delights featured the asphalt monolith – and a stationary one at that – the M25 en route to the shadows of a decaying refinery. Not the most pleasant of outlooks and a visit to another club that perennially struggle to ignite a flame within the local population, East Thurrock United, who of course don’t play in Thurrock, while Thurrock ply their trade in Purfleet. It must be an Essex / East London thing, as Grays play in Barking, Barking are now defunct, Romford play at Aveley and even West Ham play in East Ham. Perhaps as a result of the blitz, the names were changed to confuse any invading Germans?
First coming across their glowing opponents in 1995-96, Wealdstone found Rookery Hill an accommodating place to play recording three wins and a draw in the first four visits, but the last three encounters have brought two defeats and a draw, the hosts having the upper hand. It looked set, after a difficult journey, to be another tough night.
It was tight, it was tense, but as it panned out, it was pretty straightforward. Stones recorded a 2-0 win to close the gap on pace-setters Whit£hawk and put some breathing space between themselves and the chasing pack, this time Dean and Parker the providers.
What was more impressive and more important was Stones solidity as they limited their hosts to nothing more than half chances. It wasn’t outright dominance but it was very professional and very controlled – and it nicely set the scene for a massive game with the Met at Imber Court on Saturday.
East Thurrock, like Hendon had struggled for home fans to spur on their charges, but both mustered far more than were likely to be in evidence at Imber Court. It’s once excellent surface looking a little tattered, the whole aura of the place is what you might expect of any environment where you are hosted by the Police. It all seems a bit stark and a bit soulless.
It also seems that the beer prices go up whenever Stones visit too, no doubt as the rozzers try and recoup yet more of our hard-earned to help pay for the team. Maybe, just maybe if they dropped the prices a little they’d encourage one or two off duty souls to venture down and – I can’t say add their support as at present there isn’t any of note – maybe they could start some…
On the field it was going to be a battle against another strong if not overly physical side, on the terraces there was a polite smattering of applause for the home side who ran out to ‘I fought the law’ and much irony and humour from the Stones faithful as they counted the ONE fan behind the goal at the other end.
The match was much as expected, the referee who only a few weeks ago sent off Michael Alaile was not as he allowed a number of physical assaults to go unchallenged, then decided to stop the game for more innocuous offences, which some might say was in line with the raison d’etre of the homesters…
It took a strike from Tom Pett to settle the affair, an important goal from twelve yards midway through the half, but this was no smash and grab, Stones were worthy winners (though it is unlikely that the home match report will say the same) and with Whit£hawk drawing in Suffolk, the scene is nicely set for next week’s showdown at The Enclosed ground.
Wealdstone will travel in numbers and the home Chairman will give away free tickets in the town as the Hawks are yet another club that fail to entice the locals through the door despite their league leaders very much holding destiny in their own hands.
Whit£hawk are seven points in front of second placed Wealdstone, though Stones have two games in hand. Another solid performance and a return to form for the strikers could once again be season defining. A point and the battles continue as each side will try to attain the overall victory, a defeat will surely consign Stones to the play-offs at best. Let battle commence.
Where will I be? Bloody working….
All images are courtesy of Steve Foster/Wealdstone FC.