Wealdstone 3 Concord Rangers 1

Saturday 28th April 2012
Wealdstone 3 Concord Rangers 1
Ryman League Premier Division
At: The Vale, Grosvenor Vale, Ruislip
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £10; Programme: £2 (60 pages)
Weather: rain
Attendance: 770
Duration: first-half: 46:68; second-half: 49:20

Wealdstone confirmed their place in the Ryman League Premier Division play-offs with a 3-1 win over mid-table Concord Rangers. They took the lead after just 21 seconds but conceded an equaliser and were perhaps fortunate to remain on level terms at the interval. However, encouraged by excellent vocal support, Wealdstone scored twice in the second half without reply to earn a play-off semi-final at Lowestoft Town on Wednesday evening.

From a football point of view, I can’t remember a late April like this one. Normally the only problems I’ve had have been caused by traffic jams and certainly not the weather – apart from a Stafford Rangers game called off at Kidderminster during the 1990s postponed shortly before kick-off due to a waterlogged pitch.

When I decided on today’s trip earlier in the week, I honestly expected no problems with ‘plan A’ let alone having to resort to ‘plan E’ or was it ‘plan F’ which led to an unexpected return visit to Grosvenor Vale some 15 or so years after I was last at the ground. If I’d have known in advance what an enjoyable afternoon I would have, then Wealdstone v Concord Rangers would have been ‘plan A’!

I spent time at Victoria Station phoning various clubs. Some on my shortlist of ‘new grounds’ didn’t answer the phone which I took as bad news, some numbers I had were incorrect and one game I was told was postponed. Then I decided to phone Wealdstone and got the ‘game on’ I needed; the helpful lady I spoke to refreshed my memory on the nearest tube stations – Ruislip or Ruislip Manor on the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines – and gave me directions.

As I hadn’t planned to watch this game, I wasn’t familiar with the league table and hadn’t done my homework on previous visits to the ground or games involving Wealdstone I’d seen. Walking from Ruislip Manor station, I fondly remembered Monday night games at the ground watching Ruislip Manor when a chap called ‘Victor’ was secretary and programme editor. I also remembered seeing Wealdstone play home games at Lower Mead Station and also at Watford’s Vicarage Road. Stafford unexpectedly won a game at Wealdstone 3-2 in a midweek end of season game at Lower Mead. Oh, as well, I couldn't forget the supporters game been Stafford and SFC Wealdstone at Barnes Road in 1987 which I produced a programme for!

Back home I found I’d seen five previous Ruislip Manor home games (1990, 1992 twice, 1994 and 1996) and additionally seen Wealdstone play a home game at Yeading in 1994, as well twice at Lower Mead Stadium in 1986 and 1998 and once Vicarage Road in 1991. That win I remembered was on 1st May 1986 when Bob Mountain, Peter Carr and Martin Hanchard scored for Stafford in a 3-2 victory for the Rangers.

Wealdstone played their first game at The Vale in 2008, a venue around four miles south-west of the old Lower Mead Stadium. Through the turnstiles, the pitch ran widthways to the left. The first thing I noticed was cover on all four sides of the ground with a substantial seated stand positioned on the far touchline straddling the half-way line. Behind the near goal were the club shop, changing rooms and tea bar, raised covered standing as well as a white board providing team changes. Down the near touch line were more seats, an area of covered standing by the near corner known as ‘Brian Collins Corner’ and open terracing at the far end. Behind the far goal was an area of covered standing and additional open terracing.

As mentioned, I wasn’t familiar with the up-to-date league table but, while reading the programme (what an impressive 60-page publication), I quickly realised the significance of the game I’d chosen. Six wins and two draws from their last eight games had propelled Wealdstone (4th position with 72 points from 41 games) into the play-off zone. They just needed to avoid defeat against Concord Rangers (13th position 57 points from 41 games) to extend their season with a play-off semi-final at either AFC Hornchurch or Lowestoft Town.

Wealdstone (in blue and white) got the game underway attacking the far end in the first half and got a dream start by taking the lead after just 21 seconds. Scott Fitzgerald’s left-wing cross rebounded kindly off the far post to Alex Dyer who fired home from the edge of the area via the hand of Concord goalkeeper Nicky Eyre. This was the perfect start for the home side to settle any nerves amongst players and fans.

However, Concord (in all yellow) got back on level terms in the 12th minute. Karl Beckford played a free-kick forward into the area where defender Steve King sent a looping header from the edge of the area past Ashlee Jones.

Concord could have gone in front three minutes later. Tony Stokes got the better of Wes Parker on the left bye-line and pulled the ball to unmarked Harry Elmes who couldn’t keep his left-foot shot down from six-yards out.

Nicknamed the ‘Beach Boys’, the visitors continued to pose problems for Wealdstone right up to the half-time whistle.

Before kick-off I’d purchased a couple of badges, including one marking Wealdstone’s recent FA Trophy Semi Final against Newport County. Reading the programme at half-time, I realised that the badge seller was Toby Jackson, a name I remember from the past. From time to time I like to flick through my old copies of the Groundhopper magazine and enjoyed his articles on Wealdstone and badge collecting. The ‘chap called Victor’ I mentioned earlier was also profiled in today’s programme.

Also during half-time I wondered what was happening at the games involving the two sides who could stop Wealdstone finishing in the play-off zone should Concord win my match. Fifth-placed Bury Town were at already-relegated Tooting and Mitcham United while sixth-placed Lewes were at home to Harrow Borough.

It was certainly a packed half-time for me, with a walk to see a lengthy tea-bar queue and I had time to check my goalden goal ticket. It read ’72 30’ so no chance of winning top prize for the time of the first goal but still in contention for the last goal consolation prize.

Attacking down the slope in the second half, a more threatening Wealdstone side regained the lead six minutes after the restart. Dyer found Richard Jolly on the edge of the area to the left of the ‘D’ and he hit a low right-foot shot into the bottom-left corner of the net.

The home side kept up the pressure and Jolly latched on to a pass from Lee Chappell and saw his low shot kept out by Eyre’s boot.

However, with a slender 2-1 lead to defend, Jones produced a couple of decent saves to first deny Stokes and then from Sherwin Stanley.

Wealdstone needed a third goal and I needed it to be timed at 73 minutes and 30 seconds. That time passed but the Stones settled their nerves even more with a vital third goal scored in the 77th minute. Jolly, on the right, played a low diagonal ball towards the far left post which Fitzgerald sidefooted home.

It now didn’t matter to Wealdstone what was happening to Bury Town and Lewes.

I’d noticed that the Concord players had a sponsor’s name on the back of their shirts just below the collar (in the spot where the player’s name would go), something which the PA announcer had also spotted. So when the visitors made their third and final chance, the announcer said something to the effect that ‘ASPECT’ was replacing ‘ASPECT’!

Jones produced another diving save in stoppage time to keep out an angled shot from Stokes which flashed across the face of goal.

Fans celebrated at full-time. Alex Dyer was named Man of the Match and the attendance of 770 was the biggest of the season for a league game at The Vale.

Before travelling back home from London Euston via Pizza Express on the Strand there was time to take a first look at the Emirates Stadium, admittedly just the exterior, around five minutes walk from Holloway Road tube station.

As a postscript, my first choice game was played as was the back up close by. I’m pleased neither club answered the phone to tell me their game was on as I really enjoyed this one at The Vale! The last time I saw a league game in England with a larger attendance was at AFC Telford United in December 2010.

Wealdstone (blue/white/blue): 1. Ashlee Jones, 2. Scott McCubbin, 3. Alan Massey, 4. Wes Parker (capt), 5. Sean Cronin, 6. Alex Dyer, 7. Kurtney Brooks, 8. Chris O’Leary, 9. Scott Fitzgerald, 10. Richard Jolly, 11. Tom Pett. Subs: 12. Peter Dean, 14. Lee Chappell (for Pett, 63), 15. Connor Smith (for O’Leary, 81), 16. James Mulley (not used), 17. Tommie Hoban (not used).

Concord Rangers (yellow/yellow/yellow): 1. Nicky Eyre, 2. Ashley Miller, 3. Arthur Lee, 4. Karl Beckford, 5. Steve King, 6. Lee White, 7. Kurt Robinson, 8. Nicky Cowley (capt), 9. Reece Harris, 10. Harry Elmes, 11. Tony Stokes. Subs: 12. Ben Bowditch (for Cowley, 80), 14. Sammy Knott (for Robinson, 88), 15. Sherwin Stanley (for Harris, 66), 16. –, 17. James Dudley (not used).

Referee: John O’Brien.
Assistants: John Ryan and Roger Wells.

1-0 Alex Dyer (1)
1-1 Steve King (12)
2-1 Richard Jolly (51)
3-1 Scott Fitzgerald (77)

Wealdstone: Sean Cronin (YC, 19), Alan Massey (YC, 34), Chris O’Leary (YC, 69)
Concord: Kurt Robinson (YC, 66)