Touring With The Stones: Going Techno

Whitehawk FC's Enclosed Ground in a panoramic view

Back in the nineteen’s, for the most part if you missed a match you’d catch up with the results on TV or the radio, or in a Pink ‘un or, at amateur or subsequently non-league level, you might have to wait until the local rag appeared on Tuesday or Thursday and then it was often a line or two tucked away on an inside back page, result carefully crafted into a sentence or two yet with a better than fair chance that the goalscorers were wrong.

Things tended to improve in the early part of each New Year as a run of good results would see your pride and joy nestling in the upper reaches of the league table with a chance of some silverware or better still battling on against the odds in a major cup competition, each bringing with it the additional column inches that young supporters craved, each studiously cut out and glued on to the greying page of a Scrap Book.

No matter what eventually transpired, by April, your heroes would be once again consigned to the inside pages as the Cricket season arrived in all it’s summery splendor. Local leagues that occupied the weekend afternoon of hundreds of potential readers obviously considered a more attractive marketing proposition in those days of black and white and local newspapers that charged for the honour of telling you that Mrs Dobbs’ cat was stuck up a tree just a page or two before the one liner recording that in a tight end of season game Wealdstone had beaten whoever five – four and the scorers were Bodfish (2), Norman and Lindsay…

Summer came and the glued up pages were randomly selected and flicked through – not only those from the immediate preceding season, but those in many cases in a number of volumes collated since your short trousers were still almost as long as your legs. Each season probably containing a picture or two yet again cut from the newspaper alongside the pre-pubescent juvenile crafting of a hand written league table (almost guaranteed to show a crossing out or two) and maybe even a comment or a hand written title…

What you may well ask has all this rhetoric to do with the mighty Stones?

Well, not for the first time, I found myself unable to travel to Whitehawk for the Stones’ visit on Saturday. Despite the anticipated pleasure of a Friday night on the lash in Brighton or the slightly more demure early Saturday departure to the same destination by train, I had to work. Not for me the glorious recanting of a few pints pre-match in the Cricketers, I was once again glued to a PC screen crafting yet another momentous tome that had to be issued to my client on Monday.

Nowadays however, there is Community Radio and t’interweb. All very 21st Century.

There I sat from about 8am typing away quite happily on one PC with a second screen keeping me lightly amused as the Twitterati on @Wealdstone_FC informed all and sundry of their precise mode of transport and whereabouts post breakfast and their departure to the south coast. There is no doubt it was a big game and in the way that as a five or six year old boy I had watched countless FA Cup Final It’s a Knockouts or Question of Sport (actually I always preferred Quizball on ITV) I was set for a day reading Twitter and listening into the new Harrow Community Radio sports broadcast, promising live updates from the game.

I took a break from work and duly ‘followed’ a couple of feeds from Whitehawk FC adding the sporadic responses from the home side to the ever growing flood emanating from Stones, be they travelling on the Supporter’s Club Double Decker, train or car. There were Stones travelling from Edinburgh, Weston-Super-Mare, North, South, East and West London, the Midlands, Sheffield – all over. The comments were aimed at encouragement for the Stones players, (yet another group well represented on t’interweb as they too tweeted from their coach en-route), and many of the comments were discussing the apparent funding of the hosts as well as their ground development. Two topics close to Stones’ hearts, having none of the first and been denied a promotion by the second in recent years.

As kick off approached, the massed ranks of Wealdstone fans duly progress from the Marina and Brighton’s other hostelries to quite literally the outskirts of the town and the Enclosed Ground – and its one open turnstile. It all made for an interesting time line as kick off approached, teams tweeted, songs tweeted there was more than a passing concern at the building site aspects of the ground, and with deadline day approaching, whether or not the home side will get a sufficient grading to allow them to remain in the Ryman Premier, let alone progress upwards – should they be successful – to the Conference South. Who am I to pre-judge the suits that will make these decisions? Suffice to say that viewing the pictures posted last Saturday, there is far more remaining to be done at Whitehawk than there was at the White Lion Ground when the grading committee denied Wealdstone the progress they had earned.

A view of the dugouts at Whitehawk's Enclosed Ground

A very traditional form of terrace at Whitehawk

Whichever way the decision goes, it will start an angry series of comments on both sides. They are “a club that has invested heavily in the team”; A fine opening gambit for those that believe the football is more important than the facilities at this level whilst on the other side of the (in Whitehawk’s case, golden) coin, those that believe all non-league clubs should play in massive empty stadiums with a capacity in excess of 3000, five turnstiles, cover for 500 (yada yada yada). Even the most one-eyed must see that much of the requirement is excessive, and the odd chance of a third round FA Cup tie at home against one of the big boys probably won’t happen often enough in the average lifetime to justify the expense, but rules is rules and we’ve found ourselves on the wrong end of them often enough to wish, in the spirit of fair play at least, that rules is the same for everyone…

There is an element of jealousy here. Would Wealdstone like some of the money? Yes. Would Wealdstone like some more money to develop their ground? Yes. Would Wealdstone like to be top of the table? Yes. Would Wealdstone like to be able to pay Whitehawk’s playing budget? Yes. Would Wealdstone like to see the ground grading fail? Yes, if it meant Stones took the promotion place.

Otherwise, let the willie-waving continue.

Our ground meets the current grading and there are plans that would allow it to meet the next step up if required. I have no doubt that the Board, Supporter’s Club and more outgoing of the supporters will cajole and hustle even the most reluctant of the Stones support in their fundraising to achieve the improbable (if not impossible) once again should the promotion dream become a reality. Oh yes – and once the fans have paid to get the ground up to standard, the hat will soon be passed around again to pay for the team. Not to pay them a rise or pay inflated wages for the division above, just to pay them at all! That is the reality and that is what’s expected, there being no end to the ambition at Wealdstone, whereas for the Hawks, there just seems to be a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.

The whistle blew, the game started and the Match of the Day between the Ryman Premier’s top two got underway. Stones started brightly and created the first opening, a cross that a six foot two Richard Jolly might have just got a toe on the end of, but it was the home side that threatened most in the first half hour – though strangely Twitter was a bit quiet on the fact, at least from the Wealdstone perspective – and indeed the home side took the lead midway through the half, the ball stabbed home from the melee following a corner. Stones had a chance to equalize almost on half time when Peter Dean’s shot was beaten away, but the half time summary was very much Stones had got what they deserved up to that point.

The second half was an entirely different matter, as Stones came out of the gate quickest and rarely gave their hosts time or possession, forcing them back at every opportunity. Twitter was alight with the prospect of an equalizer as O’Leary and Parker went close and Chappell saw a free kick blocked before, midway through the second period, Stones equalized when Alex Dyer picked up the ball 20 yards out, cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable drive from the edge of the box.

Nathan Webb of Wealdstone being closely marked by two Whitehawk defenders

Nathan Webb tries to outwit his markers

It looked like Stones would go on to win the game, but a flurry of bookings and sendings off (read the match reports on either club website!) seemed to indicate that the Referee actually wanted the starring role, and despite phenomenal volume of support that all but overpowered the efforts of Nick DuGard to update the listeners on Harrow Community Radio, there were no more goals and the points were shared.

The pendulum of potential Champions probably swung a little further in Whitehawk’s favour with the draw, but Stones with two games in hand still sit just seven points behind. One slip may be enough to overcome the deficit but both clubs have some tough fixtures ahead. This week Stones visit struggling Thurrock – struggling to get matches completed as they have seven games in hand on many of their relegation rivals – before hosting their one home game in ten against Concord Rangers next Saturday. Concord along with Lowestoft are the two teams that have sufficient games in hand to be right in the thick of the title race over forthcoming weeks. All Wealdstone can do is their best, and with just a little bit of luck…

A couple of things I learned on Saturday as technology kept me up to date with the game:

I copied and printed the Twitter timeline from around 11am on Saturday to about 7pm. Eight hours. TWENTY NINE pages of tweets – a scrap book in itself.

The live game on Harrow Community Radio was H*rrow B*ro v Lowestoft. The home side went 3-1 up before the match finished 3-3. The two commentators were quite good but atmosphere? It really was Earlsmorgue though the home side’s second goal was at least met with a smattering of applause.

Scrap Books. I’ve just dug out a couple of old ones of mine and one from Wealdstone for the first season at Lower Mead (1922) that I’m lucky enough to own. I don’t know about technology and t’interweb; for me, that yellowing paper evokes far more in the way of memories than looking at a PC screen…long live the Scrapbook.

Our gratitude goes to Steve Foster & Wealdstone FC for the use of the images on this post. See more from the Wealdstone gallery here.

About Roge Slater

Roge Slater is a long time fan, former secretary and board member, not to mention published historian of Wealdstone FC. He knows a thing or two...