Saturday epitomised everything that I love about Non-League Football. The team spirit, the banter, the football and the aftermath. Everything about it was absolutely fantastic.
Of course what I am referring to is Saturday’s top of the table clash, away at top of the League Whitehawk. By far the biggest game of the season, whoever won this battle would take a massive step towards securing automatic promotion to the Conference South. The day started early with the team coach departing Grosvenor Vale, the home of Wealdstone, at 10.30am. Now you know it’s a big game when the coach is leaving early to stop for a pre-match meal en route. After all, that’s the sort of thing that only happens to those highly pampered professionals! And naturally, not all was as it seemed. An hour into the trip Gordon called down the coach to the lads that we would be stopping in five minutes for our pre-match meal. So five minutes later, with every one suitably looking forward to a nice healthy plate of scrambled eggs on toast, we pulled into a service station equipped only with a Little Chef. I for one didn’t even know Little Chef still existed. But it soon dawned on us that in true Non-League style, our pre-match meal would actually be a fry up in a service station just off the M23! Not quite the posh hotel we had been expecting. So 30 minutes later, with the boys nicely stuffed with bacon, egg and sausage we set of on the final leg of our day out to Whitehawk.
The Wealdstone coach about to leave for Whitehawk.
The lads on the coach were also particularly buoyant as not only were we on the way to a massive game, but also to one of the most anticipated night of the year: a team night out! With Whitehawk based in Brighton it was too good an opportunity to miss. The hotels were booked and tables ordered in nightclubs, Wealdstone were hitting Brighton!
Brooksy enjoys a pre-match nap in preparation for the game. Or perhaps the oncoming night out?
Much has been made of Whitehawk, and in particular its ground so I for one was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. And quite simply it is a shambles. An absolute embarrassment to the League, and I think I am being kind! I won’t dwell on the subject for too long, but you may remember one of my previous posts talking about rich owners taking over clubs with a short term project to get them promoted? Well if you ever want to see that scenario in action, get yourself along to Whitehawk as it is summed up perfectly in a lovely little nutshell. Two temporary stands have been erected at each end of the ground, which wouldn’t look out of place in a war zone, in the hope they pass League regulations if they are promoted. But if I am honest there is more chance of the moon falling out of the sky than this happening. While the chairman’s short term plans are currently working with the team sitting top of the League, I would put a lot of money (that I don’t have) on them being in administration within 10 years.
Whitehawks embarrassing effort at building a new stand.
Now onto the game. I won’t talk about it in too much detail (you will see why later) but what I will say is that it was a proper Non-league game. Good quality, committed and high tempo football from both sides, as each looked to take a stranglehold on the promotion race. Whitehawk took the lead through a scrappy goal in the first half, before our very own Frank Lampard scored a fantastic second half equaliser: take a bow Mr Alex Dyer. After this, both teams had chances but neither could strike the decisive blow and the game finished 1-1. In the changing room after the game there was a mixture of emotions. On one hand satisfaction at taking a point away from the home of the League leaders, but also disappointment at not being able to steal all three points. One thing is for sure though, and that is that the League is still very much up for grabs promising an electric final 10 games!
Lee Chappell lets the referee know exactly what he thinks of his decision to book him.
However, this is where Non-League Football comes into its own as the fun is not over once the final whistle blows. Rather than board the coach equipped with pasta and a protein shake, the boys all headed straight to the bar to grab the best recovery available to any sportsman, an ice cold pint! With everyone aware of the oncoming night out for the team, the club even pooled together and brought all the lads a drink. Only in Non-League! A special mention must also be made to our fans that travelled down to Whitehawk to support us. a staggering 250 made the trip down to the coast which is an absolutely sensational effort. Most clubs at this level struggle to get that at home games let alone long away trips. I can honestly say that your support is appreciated massively by all the boys and it really does help!
Wealdstone fans in full voice:
So after an early rise, a breakfast at Little Chef, a shambolic ground, an excelent game of football, a good result, a fair share of laughs and a couple of pints, the day was done and the night had begun! A fantastic outing for all involved and a proper day of Non-league football, the sort of day that you just can not enjoy as a professional.
I will not talk in any detail about the night out, but what I will say is that it was really, really fun!
Below is a selection of video interviews filmed by myself before and after the Whitehawk game, talking about the match in far more detail. Also please have a look at my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathannorth/ for some more behind the scenes snaps. I hope you enjoy them!
Before the game
Chris and Sean talk about the upcoming game…. and the night out. A fine example of what makes Non-League such a special place:
Brooksy decides he doesn’t want to be interviewed at the final second so Chaps discusses his new yellow boots and predict some bold score lines:
Here are the highlights of Saturdays game, including Alex Dyer’s spectacular equaliser:
After the game
Gordon Bartlett reveals his disappointment not to win all three points, but insists automatic promotion is still well within grasp:
Scott McCubbin pays a special tribute to the Wealdstone faithful:
Rikki Banks doesn’t really know what to say about the game: