Gary Andrews ventures to Ruislip to visit Wealdstone FC in the FA Cup, a club that has produced some of football’s strongest characters.
It’s two hours before kick-off at Wealdstone’s first round FA Cup tie against Colchester United and there’s a mild panic on Twitter: Not only is there a second pitch inspection due but there are also concerns that tickets for the match will soon sell out.
The first panic is common for non-league, the second is a sign of just how Wealdstone is growing as a club. Colchester is hardly a glamour tie – indeed, just two weeks earlier, The Guardian named listed it as one of the UK’s least glamorous football clubs – but the entire stadium complex is a sea of blue and white. Even accounting for the away following, the 2,000 plus who’ve crammed into The Freebets.co.uk Stadium is far in excessive of an average crowd of just under 700.
The fall and rise of Wealdstone FC
Of course, Wealdstone has been here before. Fans of a certain vintage will remember the Stones making history after it was the first side to have an FA Cup tie shown live on the BBC in 1949. The Beeb televised Wealdstone’s victories over Enfield and then, yes, Colchester. The two sides have followed slightly different trajectories since that point with the U’s firmly entrenched as a Football League side, while Wealdstone suffered years of nomadic existence and decline after being forced to sell their Lower Mead ground due to financial difficulties in 1991.
Seventeen years later, the Stones finally found a home at the charming if slightly ramshackle Grosvenor Park after owners Ruislip Manor were forced to leave due to financial issues. One club’s misfortune was another’s salvation and despite apprehensiveness from the players there’s very much a sense that this is Wealdstone’s home.
Reasons to visit Wealdstone FC
Blue and white bedecks the ground, while the sprawling clubhouse is packed to the rafters. With its low beams and wooden floors, it feels like an old village hall. At the very least, with a couple of drapes and some creative decorating, it’s a venue that could easily be transformed into a wedding reception on Don’t Tell The Bride. As it is, Ruislip locals are entertained every Friday by the likes of covers bands ELO Again and Logicaltramp.
Not that Wealdstone are a poor imitation of a club or trading off past glories, although there’s plenty of history with The Stones. Stuart Pearce, Vinnie Jones and Jermaine Beckford have all worn the blue and white and manager Gordon Bartlett has been in the role longer than Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal.
After a high point of doing the non-league double of Conference title and FA Trophy in 1985, Wealdstone’s nomadic existence has seen many years of rebuilding. Stones fans who’ve stuck with the club have hauled themselves to Watford, Enfield and Yeading to follow the team, and while Wealdstone itself may have lost a generation of new supporters, Ruislip seems to have taken to their new tenants and stepping into the ground, it’s apparent that they make an awful lot of noise.
The somewhat piecemeal approach to constructing stands gives Grosvenor Vale a slightly lopsided look, and for today fans are laying claim to whatever standing room they can put their feet on. The ground is so full that there are a number of portaloos to compensate for the fact the bar is shut at half-time, although at least one gentleman takes advantage of an old door in one of the walls to nip outside and relieve himself.
On the pitch, by the time the final whistle goes and Colchester walk away with a 6-2 victory both players and fans alike are in need of relief, although this doesn’t tell the whole story. While Colchester could have easily reached double figures, Wealdstone also gave as good as they got and for a brief period led 2-1 in the first half following some slightly suspect defending from the U’s. Even at 4-2 down, the Stones pushed forward and fashioned chances, but ultimately Colchester’s class on the pitch – especially that of four-goal man-of-the-match Macauley Bonne – and fitness on a very boggy surface, where every squelch was audible from the touchline, was too much for the Conference South side.
You suspect Wealdstone won’t be too disappointed though. With a bumper crowd, not to mention the BBC choosing to present Football Focus from Grosvenor Vale and BT Sport selecting the match for extended highlights, the additional cash will come in very useful for a club that is slowly building a base it can be proud of.
Gary Andrews is a guest writer for Outside Write.
How to visit Wealdstone FC
The Grosvenor Vale ground has a capacity of 3,607 and is a short walk from Ruislip station.