Claremont Road's last day.
"SATURDAY 20th SEPTEMBER
Greensnet Forum: The Inane Drivel Guide to... Wealdstone.
OO ARE YA?
“If you head north from central Harrow, past Tesco’s, you’ll get to a neighbourhood that may seem a little dodgy... The high street is quite budget oriented, and your neighbours might have a bit more character...”
Thus speaks the “Life in Harrow” website. Guess where it’s describing?
The first 100 yards of Wealdstone High Street is a sight to behold... provided you see it by car, your central locking is in working order, you drive reasonably fast and you don’t make eye-contact with anybody.
Attractions include three bookies and an “amusement arcade” – for those who don’t like being distracted by sporting events whilst losing their dole money; two kebab shops, two Cheapo Chicken takeaways and, for the gourmets of the locality, a McDonald’s. The large Irish pub on the left, recently called the Sam Maguire, is boarded up – the Wealdstone drinker preferring to take his Buckfast or White Lightning in traditional al fresco style, on a bench.
“Small town in Harrow” doesn’t do Wealdstone’s status justice. Far from being a small town, Wealdstone hardly exists in any official capacity. Most people in Harrow would rather it didn’t exist at all.
It’s not exactly Tobago to Harrow’s Trinidad. A luxury item like Tobago’s Dwight Yorke would have got fewer starts at Wealdstone than Josh Cooper. It’s more a United Kingdom deal. Harrow is Britain and Wealdstone is Northern Ireland: a mentally-retarded relative you’d rather not take responsibility for, rather not be associated with and rather not mention, but feel duty bound to have cared for in a home... preferably on the other side of a stretch of hazardous briny.
If I could double the size of my gut and halve my IQ, I’d feel quite at home on the frequent occasions when I walk a Staffordshire bull terrier around Byron Recreation Ground which, like Harrow Leisure Centre, is in Wealdstone.
Facilities for “The Community” are extensive. The cheap cyst-infested chicken takeaways are open at hours that suit the many local drug-dealers and muggers, the bookies all have plenty of fruit machines (stuff cerebral things like studying form for the gee-gees) and there are ample alleyways and doorways set back for people to piss in – a Wealdstone cultural tradition. Thanks to green funding by the council, bike thieves have been given a large cycle rack outside Harrow & Wealdstone Station, from which they often select the choicest bicycles, wheels, saddles and lights.
Banks on Wealdstone High Street have their cash machines in lobbies, accessible only by swiping a bank card through a scanner. Swiping bank cards is popular in Wealdstone.
Native culture is allowed to flourish, as the local constabulary do not often open their High Street station to the public. I can’t say I blame them.
The place is named after... er... a stone. The Weald Stone. This ancient monolith, possessing magical powers, was found by a local publican in the late 1990s. In his cellar. Honest, guv! Discovery of the stone received much publicity and increased tourist figures to... errmm ...one. Russell “Mr. Middlesex” Grant (Is there anyone with a less appropriate nickname?) paid a flying visit for the cameras and sensibly scarpered sharpish. The pub changed its name from The Red Lion to The Weald Stone Inn.
Anyhow, both pub and stone – and the local Waitrose – are half a mile north of the nick, in Harrow Weald, which, in common with some parts of Hackney, is a far more pleasant and upmarket area than Wealdstone High Street.
As Wealdstone does not really exist, it’s difficult to find notable natives. Of the many luminaries born in Harrow, it comes as a disappointment to find that such likely reprobates as DCI Gene Hunt (I’m sure actor Philip Glenister’s a nice bloke in real life), Peter André, Kate “fucking” Nash – who, in common with most girls from Wealdstone, looks 35 when she’s actually 19 – and disgraced referee Clive White are not from Wealdstone... or so they claim. Ian Dury was allegedly born there, but was so ashamed of the fact that he always claimed to be born in Upminster.
Caravan Compatibility Co-Efficient: 7.8
Wealdstone have by no means as illustrious a history as some might expect.
An Athenian League title in 1952; one FA Amateur Cup in 1966, winning the final against a Hendon team who’d scored eight goals against them in two Isthmian League wins that term; a Southern League regional pot in 1974; a Southern League semi-title in 1982, when there was no overall champion. Then there was 1984/85. Orwell warned us about that.
Wealdstone’s great claim to fame is their “Non-League Double” in 1984/85. Never was a title less deserved. No 22-team division in English professional football has ever been won with an inferior record. Under “three for a win,” the Stones would have got 70pts. As a comparison, last season was the first since play-offs were introduced in the Ryman Premier where 70pts was good enough for even a top-five place! Bath City would have won under “three for a win”; Nuneaton Borough would have won under “two for a win”. The method of awarding 2pts for a home win and 3pts for a road victory, rather than encouraging away teams to attack, rewarded Arsenalesque tactics. The Stones, unsurprisingly, were best equipped to profit.
Like Fascism, the experimental points system had its merits; like Hitler’s over-enthusiasm, Wealdstone’s triumph meant the system was not extended and, like Fascism, its potential revival is not a topic discussed in polite society.
Having one-nilled Kettering for the second time in a fortnight to take the title in Northamptonshire, Stones passed up an immediate opportunity to let North London fans see their heroes, taking such pride in their status that they sent out the ressies for the final league game at Barnet and lost 7-0. They admittedly put in a worthy display to beat Boston United 2-1 in the FA Trophy final five days later.
Automatic promotion from the Conference wasn’t voted through until the Football League’s AGM the following year. Thank God! When it came, it was designed to cull impoverished, financially troubled clubs in grim northern holes, whilst allowing thrusting, ambitious and prudently-run outfits, from areas Herr Thatchler hadn’t laid waste, to attain Football League status.
Prudently-run outfits like the three most recent Conference Champions: ... er... Wealdstone... um... Maidstone and...Ahem!... Enfield.
The Football League does have some great ideas at times.
The wrath of God soon descended, casting the sinners into the wilderness. From the time they turned pro, Wealdstone’s financial excesses suggested they ought to have been sponsored by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which was suspiciously founded at about that time. In the early 1970s, some players were trousering £20 per week – more than many full-time workers earned.
By the mid-80s, the club’s Lower Mead ground resembled the dead Yank, condemned to walk the earth in “An American Werewolf in London”. Every time you saw it, it had decayed significantly and another piece had fallen off. Never mind. Shirley Porter, a lady who could have taught the BCCI a thing or two about finances, rode to the rescue. She bought the ground and put a nice new Tesco on the site – a boon for the many Stones fans who can’t afford to shop in Waitrose or are too lazy to waddle up the hill to get there.
Wealdstone’s BCCI-type accounting meant they saw little of the money from the sale. Lawyers and the Inland Revenue saw lots of it. Watford FC saw more. Wealdstone shrewdly bought 50% of the Vicarage Road lease... but didn’t pay much attention to the small print.
Stones survived a spell at Yeading (The Good Lord himself would have been hard pushed to reply, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” if he’d been tempted after 40 days in Yeading), a long tenancy at Edgware, a shorter one at Northwood, voluntary demotion from Southern League One to Isthmian Three... and a shadowy 1990s proposal by a certain Victor Green to buy the club and relocate to Claremont Road.
Fair play to them. Lesser clubs, most clubs in fact, would have gone under. Just as cockroaches would survive nuclear Armageddon, Wealdstone have survived their exile. (In point of fact, the cockroach myth is bullshit. They wouldn’t survive any significant atomic strike. Plenty of lower forms of life – probably including a fair few Wealdstone fans, particularly those who dine at High Street chicken joints – are far more resistant to radiation than cockroaches.)
They’ve climbed up from Isthmian Three, gaining consecutive promotions in the late 90s, winning a Premier Division place with a penalty shoot-out win over Dulwich Hamlet, then clinging-on only by goals scored to relegate Cheshunt in their first year back and surviving an unjustified one-year transfer to the Southern Premier. Tenacious little so-and-sos, aren’t they?
The club shrewdly purchased Ruislip Manor last season – the chairman has the same surname as a well-known lawyer, so I’m sure they studied the small print on the deeds closely – and, on the very best traditional eugenic principles, humanely put Ruislip out of their misery. Now in a ground of their own for the first time in almost two decades, they may possibly be less cantankerous and unpleasant than usual... though I wouldn’t bet on it.
Remember that scene in “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”? Tuco, sitting on a horse, hands tied, noose around neck, looks bored as the sheriff ploughs his way through the list of “Guilty” verdicts.
You have the picture.
This lot used to have a fanzine entitled “Long Ball Down the Middle” and made Arsenal under Mee, Howe or Graham look as graceful as Olga Korbut skipping around an exercise mat.
Arguably their most serious crime is allowing Vincent “I’d be proud to represent my country but Wales will do” Jones on to a semi-pro football field. “Jones the Rent”, as he’s been known in The Valleys since his alleged antics in the judge’s chambers before his air rage “trial”, took his photo opportunity well, coming off the bench to instigate a televised mass-brawl in an FA Cup tie at Reading. An Ing-Ger-Lund legend was spawned.
Jousting for supremacy on the rap-sheet is the fact that Russell “Mr. Middlesex” Grant is Club Patron.
In their first stint as an Isthmian club, between 1964 and 1971, they obviously faced Hendon fourteen times in league matches How many of those games did they win? None. Five draws and nine defeats. Yet they still nicked that FA Amateur Cup decider.
Then there’s Stuart Pearce.
Oh, and they were once a nursery club for Chelsea.
Not much of a change in personnel over the summer and little change in fortune. Gary Burrell’s the most notable close-season signing – back after a spell at Heybridge and a short stay at St. Albans. Keita Karamoko has sadly departed. Just the one win has been gained so far in nine games this term, an extraordinary 4-0 victory over Sutton in which all four goals were scored by defenders in the second half. They appear to have ditched the Bristol Rovers shirts.
Anyone we know playing?
Sean Thomas will be in goal. Alan Massey will line-up in defence. André DeLisser and Dean Papali, who once poked his nose in briefly at Claremont Road, may play some part.
Who do you boo?
Anyone in a blue and white kit will do. However, booing Wealdstone players is often unnecessary. Their fans tend to do it themselves, should the team not live up to the exemplary high standards all Wealdstone residents, especially supporters, exhibit in all walks of life.
AT HENDON THEY BET...
Uncle Rupert is again first to go up and he has Hendon at 6/5, the Stones at 13/8 and the draw at 5/2. Wealdstone are 100/1 and Hendon 150/1 for the title.
The Stones outmuscled Hendon five months ago, ending the Greens’ season prematurely, but they might be feeling the effects of an extra-time FA Cup loss in midweek.
A 2-0 win for Hendon.
Selma’s café on Kilburn High Road.
I half expect Tex Ritter, singing “Do Not Forsake Me”, to waft over the airwaves on the radio. Everyone knows that Frankie Laine sang the theme tune at the start of “High Noon”... but he didn’t. With the hands of the clock ticking towards mid-day, Charlie Mapes, a Kilburn lad, who still lives locally, comes in for breakfast. With him is his pal Will – Will Viner, not Will Kane – a goalkeeper who’s been training with the club, and a quite tasty bird. (I mean there’s a quite tasty bird accompanying Charlie & Will; not that Will’s a quite tasty bird. Even at weekends, though he does dye his hair) It appears that Hendon’s High Noon moment has passed.
Gary McCann called the players together after training on Thursday night and informed them that the padlocks would be going on the ground, the clubhouse and the Brent Cross Banqueting Centre at 6 p.m. on Saturday. That’s today. The Arbiter Group informed Graham Etchell and Simon Lawrence at lunchtime on Thursday that the Claremont Road operation will cease to exist this evening.
To say I’m relieved is a bit of an understatement. I do not have to decide whether to attempt to talk the lemmings out of their Gaderene Swine impression. I was confident I could manage it, but I was still unsure whether it was really any of my business to try and I wasn’t looking forward to the task. I was looking forward even less to attempting to dissuade David Bedford from his Reverend Jimmy Jones inclinations and was far from confident of success on that score. However relieved I might be, I’m also more than a little stunned.
Charlie has a relatively light breakfast of eggs, beans and chips. He doesn’t appear too concerned at the ground closure. I’m surprised at that. As a local lad, he can almost walk up to Claremont Road for training and I’d have thought that would have been one of the attractions of coming back to Hendon. The prospect of having to drive elsewhere after work can’t be attractive. Charlie drives for a living, but I suppose most professional drivers probably don’t mind driving out of hours. Me? I will walk or get public transport almost anywhere, in preference to being on the road when I don’t have to be on the road.
Charlie doesn’t seem the type of bloke who lets things get him down very often and, in spite of results so far, he’s upbeat about things at the Club in general. I’m a bit too shocked to discuss the ground closure and Charlie’s keen to discuss other things. “Were you at Canvey? That was unreal. That must have been painful for you lot behind the goal.” It can’t have been too pleasant for him when he hit the post in the last minute either. He still can’t get over the strength of the wind or the fact that Hendon didn’t score.
Training apparently went well on Thursday night. The forwards did a shooting practice session and Will, who’d have been in goal for some of it, was impressed. There was a new forward named Harry Hunt with the squad. He’s been at Welwyn Garden City, which is hardly a recommendation. However, Charlie knows him from Hemel and he fancies the kid’s chances of making the grade. He allegedly buried a high percentage of his shots on Thursday. He’s signed-on and may even start this afternoon.
Breakfast scoffed, Charlie announces that he fancies a crack at the dogs and toddles over the road to do battle with Mr. William Hill.
Apart from Simon and possibly Steve, nobody arriving at Claremont Road and not wearing a Hendon FC tracksuit has any idea that this is the end. Even Bomber and Jacs, who were at training on Thursday, turn up in blissful ignorance. There don’t even appear to be any fans who’ve heard a rumour.
Standing in the car park with a pint, in glorious sunshine, I inform several of those arriving of the situation. Most of the few I talk to, almost all long-time fans, though not all in the “never miss a game” category, seem to be of the opinion that the game is up if we resign from the Ryman League. Of those I talk to at any length, Steve Lytton – sometime Sky TV announcer, master of ceremonies, journo and a long-time close friend of Simon – is the fan most convinced that having to leave the Ryman Premier mid-season will be the end of the road, though he concedes that the number of civilised, middle-class Hertfordshire towns represented in the Spartan South Midlands Premier would make that a pleasant competition in which to participate on sunny afternoons like today.
Going through the turnstiles, I confirm to Cardew the Cad that this will be the final game at Claremont Road. This is obviously not the real Cardew the Cad, otherwise known as the late Cardew Robinson, but one of Wealdstone’s most avid fans, who uses the alias on various messageboards. Though the real Cardew Robinson was a well-known Arsenal supporter, he was also a Wealdstone fan and he often attended games at the long-gone Lower Mead.
I don’t think he believes me. Wealdstone’s visit here at the end of April was reckoned by many to be the likely final game. The last home match of the 05/06 season, when AFC Golgafrinchan were the visitors, saw numerous souvenirs on sale that were festooned with “Farewell, Claremont Road”, while the closing match of the previous campaign, against St. Albans, was widely thought likely to be the ground’s swansong at the time.
Hendon fans don’t like Wealdstone. Even Hendon fans who are old enough to be my parents don’t like Wealdstone. Suggestions that the Wealdstone supporters’ behavioural tendencies are a recent development are dismissed by old timers. “I remember them throwing three-penny bits at us in 1967 and fighting in the clubhouse over the price of a pale ale.”
There have been a few incidents in recent years, usually involving Hendon fans receiving the odd blow. The atmosphere at one game, played at Northwood, where Wealdstone were billeted at the time, was apparently particularly bad-tempered and there were allegations of some of the younger supporters taking a cuffing. I especially remember that match because I wasn’t there. I got shafted with a late job to Peckham, gunned the bike impressively down there and back through the middle of town, but then got stuck on a stationary A40. Once I was sure I was going to miss the first fifteen minutes, I gave up, swung around and went home. Hendon won 5-4.
Losing at home to Wealdstone on the final day of last season was irksome in the extreme. Sitting fifth in the table, a win would have secured a play-off place and a crack at Staines in the semi-final. Hendon had won at Staines just a week earlier. Even though I’m as fervently against play-offs as anyone I know, I’d have fancied a play-off place. Mind you, with the Trust about to take over the Club’s finances, not being in the play-offs might have been a blessing. A campaign in Conference South would have been a huge drain on resources. Many players probably wouldn’t have fancied being at the ground for 10 a.m. every second Saturday to board a coach for Dorchester, Worcester or Weston-super-Mare, and they’d be even less keen on doing it on a wage budget at the lower end of the Ryman Premier scale.
I feel like slagging something off, so, as I’ve mentioned the darned things, let’s take arbitrary aim at the play-offs, shall we?
Play-offs brilliantly encapsulate, in one bite-sized chunk, all that’s wrong with football in particular and society in general. The play-offs are a potent cocktail of greed and stupidity: the two most common ingredients in the ills of modern England.
Just how greedy and stupid, not to mention unfair, was exemplified by Conference chairmen and the FA back in the summer of 2001. Back then, there was only one promotion place to the Football League available, though negotiations for a second place were at an advanced stage. The proposal could, admittedly, have been seen as a part of the brinkmanship that often accompanies diplomacy, but the chairmen voted to introduce a promotion play-off.
With a “one-up, one-down” system in place.
The Conference Champions would not be promoted after forty-two games, but would have to go into a standard four-team tournament with the clubs finishing second, third and fourth. I found it staggering that the ballot amongst Conference clubs was twenty votes in favour and only two against.
The proposal provoked outrage, not least at Soho Square. With their usual overbearing arrogance and mind-buggering stupidity, the FA brought the jackboot down and refused to sanction the scheme. How exactly the FA could do that, given that the proposal had been overwhelmingly approved, in a constitutionally valid vote, prior to the start of the season, was a matter for the Soho Square legal department. Given that the FA heartily endorsed the principle of “clean slate” play-offs – between teams that had proved to be of vastly different merit in either a forty-two or forty-six game season – Soho Square would have had to unearth an exceptionally gifted team of lawyers if they were to persuade a judge that such a tournament would be against the interests of the game in the Conference context.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint – negotiations to grant the Conference a second promotion place were soon concluded, meaning the FA didn’t get laughed out of court.
I’m sure we’d agree that the case highlighted a certain level of inconsistency in the FA’s attitude.
I’m not in favour of play-offs in any sporting competition that sees the participants play a full round robin set of fixtures against each other. Under such circumstances, the individual or team with the best record has clearly proved superior to all rival competitors. That’s good enough for me. Give them the spoils. Bad luck or poor officiating will usually even themselves out over a full round robin campaign. All too frequently, that doesn’t happen in a one-off match.
If play-offs involve clubs from different divisions or different leagues, then I’m prepared to listen to arguments in favour. However, if a competition can’t stand on the merits of the principle of the best side winning over an equitable, agreed schedule, then that competition deserves to fall. If it needs the “romance” or “excitement” of allowing inferior teams a chance to capture the laurels – in artificially contrived circumstances and at the expense of a team that has proved itself superior over such a schedule – then it might as well hand over the responsibility for organisation to Camelot. Or Christopher Walken.
Whether they involve teams finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth or the top four in the standings, play-offs are for losers. They exist only to keep losers interested: by giving them hope that they might gain something which should not rightfully be theirs.
It’s easy to see this if one questions fans about the play-offs. The vast majority of fans support them in their present form. The answers as to why they support them never vary from the following two:
“It makes the end of season more exciting. There’s more chance that my club will have something to play for in the final weeks of the campaign because there are more teams in the promotion race for longer.”
“It keeps fans coming through the turnstiles and increases revenue.”
The two statements are true enough, but to say they are the reasons most fans support the play-offs is utter crap.
Almost all fans are sufficiently deluded to have genuinely convinced themselves that those are indeed the reasons they like play-offs. However, the fact that everybody believes something doesn’t make it true. Particularly if the people believing it are English. The lengths to which human beings can delude themselves never cease to amaze me. They always do things for the good of someone else, not out of either greed or stupidity and definitely not out of self-interest. Any evidence of their own charitable nature and any beneficial impact upon the needy is seized upon and talked-up. The genuine motivation is ignored to the point where they not only disregard it entirely, but to such an extent that they never even consider its existence.
If the “maintaining interest” and “raising revenue” arguments are the reasons for the existence and popularity of the play-offs, then answer me this:
Why do they only have play-offs at the top of the table?
Yes, I know the Football League play-offs initially featured one club from the higher division and three from the lower section, as play-offs in Scotland do now. However, the play-offs were brought-in as a measure to reduce the top flight in England from twenty-two clubs to twenty, without having to revert to a “two-up” system for a couple of seasons. Similar schemes apply in a number of continental leagues, but it’s not the same thing as the current system. In that original schedule, the one club facing relegation from the higher division was not having its superior record to the teams that finished immediately above it – a record posted over either forty-two or forty games – disregarded.
Exactly the same arguments used to justify “clean slate” play-offs at the top of a league would apply if “clean slate” play-offs took place at the bottom as well, wouldn’t they?
So why not have them at the bottom?
Visualise the excitement. Imagine the tension.
In the FA Premier League, the bottom two clubs would be relegated. The clubs finishing in the positions from fifteenth to eighteenth would play-off to decide the final relegation place. I remember putting these points to some Barnet fans of my acquaintance a few years back. We were on the way to a play-off game against Shrewsbury. Hereford had finished second in the Conference that season: between seventeen and twenty-one points clear of the other three teams in that particular play-off tournament. They went out to Aldershot in the semi-final, having had a player harshly red-carded after little more than twenty minutes of the first leg. I recall that the positions in the Premier League table at the time, with probably a couple of rounds of games still to play, would have meant a relegation play-off semi-final line-up of Leeds v. Everton and Manchester City v. Spurs. Tasty.
Semi-final ties for relegation play-offs would be over two legs. The winners of the semi-finals would head to Magaluf; the losers would have to play on – in a play-off final with a difference. A final that really would be for losers. A final in which the defeated club could kiss all that Premier League money – all £60m per season of it, or whatever sum it is now – a tearful “Goodbye”. Even if they’d finished fifteenth.
Imagine the black market ticket prices for such a fixture. Imagine the atmosphere. (I’m sure Her Majesty’s Metropolitan Filth would have no difficulty in imagining the atmosphere.)
Perhaps Uncle Rupert might like to make the final a best-of-three job. One match at each of the two clubs’ stadiums and a potential decider at Shit-Hole-on-Circ. Perhaps we could have penalty shoot-outs to decide drawn games in the best-of-three series.
Under such circumstances, players and managers might even have some inkling of an idea what the much-used word “pressure” means to a single mum with three kids, living on a sink estate and trying to keep the bailiffs from the door.
Just think of the revenue from pay-per-view subscribers.
Do you fancy some of that for your club, should they finish sixth from bottom of their division next term?
No. I didn’t think you would.
Words like “unfair” would spring to mind, wouldn’t they?
So cut the crap on play-offs being about keeping an interest until the end of the season.
They’re not even about generating short-term revenue increases. Any extra revenue will swiftly find its way into the pockets of players... or agents.
Play-offs are purely about greed. Not the variety of greed that is often exhibited by intelligent men, some of whom might occasionally – very occasionally – attain positions of power within the game. Play-offs are about the type of greed that is enshrined in the fable of the dog with the bone. You know the one: he saw his reflection in a lake and tried to grab what he thought was another bone, from what he thought was another dog. He dropped his bone into the water and ended up with nothing.
A man can be greedy and get away with it, provided he isn’t stupid.
A man who is stupid can enjoy a happy life, provided he isn’t greedy.
But one can’t generally get away with being both greedy and stupid.
Too many people in football fall into both categories.
Confidence tricksters have long made a living from such people.
The play-offs demonstrate the mentality of the buffoon in the Bunco Booth. Or of the habitual player of the National Lottery’s scratchcards. Or of the idiot shovelling banknotes into a FOBT machine in a turf accountant’s premises somewhere near you.
In their present form, the play-offs feature three sides that are competing to gain something that they clearly do not deserve and only one club that is attempting to hold on to something it has earned legitimately; by honest endeavour.
In other words, there is a seventy-five percent chance that a club reaching the play-offs will be in with an opportunity of getting something for nothing. There is only a twenty-five percent chance that any given club in the play-offs will face the prospect of being robbed of something to which it should have a right. To the average imbecile on the terraces or in the boardroom, those look attractive odds. Fuck fair play.
Play-offs for relegation would see those odds reversed. Clubs would have a three-in-four chance of being the innocent man in the condemned cell, facing the prospect of the gallows. The odds about being the guilty death row convict, waiting anxiously for an unmerited pardon, would be 3/1 against.
Not quite so attractive, is it?
Regardless of interest and short-term revenue.
In the long term, the interests of the game can only be harmed by allowing inferior teams to gain promotion at the expense of superior ones.
Play-offs are an abomination. There is no such thing as a free drink. There is no such thing as “something for nothing.”
They should be scrapped immediately.
At the moment, it’s Claremont Road that’s about to be scrapped.
For the auditorium’s final performance, Hendon show three changes from the team that took the field at Royston. Richard Wilmot is back in goal, James Bent replaces the presumably injured Sam Byfield on the left wing and new signing Harry Hunt comes in at centre-forward for Kayan Kalipha.
The unfortunate Joe Welch has been released. The Club’s going through its keepers this season like Fred West went through his kids, but there’s presumably only room for one understudy now that Dickie’s back. Rumour suggests Joe’s gone to Ryman One North outfit Cheshunt, where I believe he had a run out in pre-season. Good luck to him. Some aspects of his game are quite impressive and he ought to get another chance at a higher level.
On a warm afternoon, it’s not a riveting start to the game. Wealdstone line-up 3-5-2 and a couple of five-man midfields cancel each other out. The players do the basics well and there’s nothing more than the odd tame or speculative shot in the opening exchanges.
Fifteen minutes in, Richard Wilmot comes out to near his penalty spot to deal with a back-pass. He sclaffs his clearance and hits a blue shirt, possibly David Hicks, but he makes thirty yards and there’s no imminent danger. A quick pass outside finds Mark Boyce in space. Boyce takes one touch, two paces forward and unleashes a pile-driver from twenty-five yards. Wilmot, still off his line, makes a spectacular arcing leap but can only wave at the ball as it speeds past and flies just under his crossbar. One-nil.
Things immediately liven up. Within a minute, Lubo Guentchev puts over a good cross from the right but Jamie Busby heads wide at the far post. Beefy Stones striker Ben Clarke has a tame shot at one end; keeper Luke Woods pouches a tame Craig Vargas header at the other.
Wealdstone almost increase their advantage after twenty-five minutes. As usual, wingback Lee Chappell’s prodigious hurls of the ball cause Hendon problems. A long throw from the right gives Ryan Ashe a sight of goal, after Stephen Hughes nods the ball on. Eight yards out, Ashe catches the shot well but the charging Wilmot parries at close range and the rebound comes back to Ashe a bit more rapidly than he might have liked. He scuffs his second effort tamely wide.
Hendon manage a good spell. Another Lubo cross from the right, another Busby header. This one a glancing, diving effort that goes wide of the far post. A jinking Lubo run ends with a fierce drive from about eight yards out striking a defender. The rebound falls to Mark Kirby, who also sees his shot charged down. The ball again comes back to the Hendon skipper, whose second poke is stopped just about on the line by a combination of a defender and a grateful Woods, who clings on tightly.
Stones win their first corner a minute before the break, but Ben Clarke fires a poorly-struck shot well over the bar. Back up the clubhouse end, James Burgess picks out Woods with a speculative thirty-yarder and Wealdstone march off well-pleased with a one-goal lead from an interesting but slightly pedestrian forty-five minutes.
Hendon start the second half brightly. James Bent finds himself in space in the inside-left channel, ten yards out and maybe ten yards outside the post. Not the greatest of angles but he blazes wildly over when he might have expected to hit the target. Just a minute later, Bent races on to a through ball on the other side of the box. The ball seems to skip away from him just when he looked to have got to it and a stretch of the right leg produces only a scuffed flick at Woods from around six yards out.
In spite of having a couple of gorillas up front, Wealdstone have knocked the ball about quite nicely by their usual standards. They revert to more traditional tactics with considerable success just five minutes after the interval. A sixty-yard hoof, a headed flick across the box from just outside the D and a thumping, first-time half-volley from about fifteen yards that flies across Wilmot and inside his right stick. Ryan Ashe the scorer. Two-nil. The members of the Hendon Orange Order are displeased. The lead vocalist is close to spontaneous combustion.
Three minutes later, it’s all over bar the shouting. Ashe goes through on the right but has only Clarke to aim at in the middle. Well outside the posts, he appears to be attempting a repeat of his effort three minutes earlier. He leathers a shot for the far corner. Wilmot commences a dive, the unfortunate Marc Leach sticks out a leg and deflects the ball past the wrong-footed keeper and inside the near post. Ouch! Leach looks crestfallen. Two weeks on the spin! Three-nil.
Wealdstone fans refer to Hendon as “mongs” for some obscure reason and Leachy gets a few comments of that variety. Perhaps the “Kick It Out!” parasites might like to rule on whether “mong” is a racist term... if they’re not too busy counting the fans’ money in their overpaid pockets.
Hendon are rocking momentarily and Chappell fires a howitzer narrowly wide. At the other end, Harry Hunt, who’s shown a lot of promise but is becoming frustrated, shoots wide for Hendon. Wealdstone understandably look to shut up shop at this point. Hendon huff and puff and, to be fair, get an unusually high percentage of their shots on target, but Maltese U-21 keeper Woods has a good afternoon. He does scuff a clearance straight to Bent, though. Bent makes straight for him and strikes his shot well, but Woods stands up impressively and parries the ball to safety. Two minutes later, a twenty-five yard free-kick from Charlie Mapes curls around the wall but Woods falls quickly to his left to palm the ball away.
Stones defender James Gray collects a booking for a meaty challenge; Mapes puts the resulting free-kick well over the bar. Dave Diedhiou and Danny Dyer replace James Burgess and Marc Leach, who walks off in a manner reminiscent of a condemned man on the way to the scaffold.
Wealdstone hold on with some comfort for a while, until another Hendon flurry with fifteen minutes to play. Dyer fires in a shot from the D that Woods can’t hold, but the keeper recovers before the hovering Diedhiou can pounce. Hendon pull a goal back when a typically patient move almost ends with Lubo being painfully patient inside the box. However, with the home fans screaming in frustration, Lubo passes the ball to Diedhiou, who smashes it high into the net from eight yards.
Five minutes later, Hendon could – and possibly should – have had a second. Another patient move sees a crossfield pass hit a stretching Stones defender and cannon off him at a ninety-degree angle – straight to Diedhiou, who’s sauntering back from a position well beyond the last blue shirt. The linesman flags immediately, though whether Diedhiou should have been given offside, as Hendon did not pass the ball forward and the blue shirt had made a deliberate attempt to play the ball, is highly questionable. In on the keeper, Diedhiou squares the ball to Lubo, who tucks it away neatly into the gaping net. The referee blows the whistle and awards the Stones a free-kick. He gives the offside decision not against Big Dave but against Lubo, which is patently ridiculous.
Rather than surround the referee in Arsenal / Argentina style for a mass chest-jostling session, Hendon go to whinge at the ref in singles and pairs. This allows easy identification and both Bent and Mapes are booked for their protests.
Kayan Kalipha comes on for Bent with five minutes to play, Boyce picks-up a booking, winger Nick Salapatas arrives for Clarke.
Salapatas soon sets off on a trademark surge down the left flank. From a disadvantageous angle, he hits a low drive that beats Wilmot’s dive towards his near post, cannons back off the upright and is swept home by Stephen Hughes. If truth be told, Dickie looked a bit slow getting down. Four-one is harsh.
Diedhiou, given onside when he looks anything but, goes through on Woods but blasts his shot straight at the keeper from eight yards. Kalipha whistles a shot over.
Twenty-six plays thirteen in Hendon’s favour was the goal attempts statistic, but Wealdstone, putting in a disciplined and unusually polished performance, fully deserved the points.
Hendon sloped off a well-beaten and downtrodden-looking team.
This was not a fitting farewell to the ground and an attendance of 280 is shockingly low for a derby on a sunny afternoon. Wealdstone must have brought a hundred.
Result: Hendon 1 (Diedhiou 78), Wealdstone 4 (Boyce 15, Ashe 50, Leach o.g. 53, Hughes 90).
Team: Richard Wilmot, Kevin Maclaren, Craig Vargas, Marc Leach, Mark Kirby, Jamie Busby, Lubo Guentchev, James Burgess, Harry Hunt, Charlie Mapes, James Bent. Subs – Danny Dyer, Dave Diedhiou, Kayan Kalipha.
The Trust Board convenes in the Banqueting Suite for a post-match emergency meeting. Press Officer David Ballheimer is summoned and instructed not to mention in any report that this was the final game at Claremont Road. I’d have thought it might be a bit late for that, but he apparently had no five o’clock deadlines.
There are several reasons for the Secret Squirrel job. Foremost amongst them is the unfortunate situation that the Ryman League is probably still unaware that Hendon Football Club’s Claremont Road home will cease to exist as a football ground and watering hole some time within the next hour. Finding out via the press is not likely to be a situation they’d view positively.
Club officials were informed of Andrew Landesberg’s decision to close the ground only on Thursday afternoon. Bar staff were informed that they were little more than forty-eight hours from joining the dole queue at the same time, though they’d known for a while that it was coming and probably sooner rather than later. Mr. Landesberg told Graham and Simon that he’d sent a letter to the Ryman League, informing the League of his decision to close the ground.
I’m sure these things have to be officially put in writing, but were the phone networks, fax lines and Internet all down at the time?
Nobody’s seen a copy of the letter. Nobody seems to have an idea of exactly what it said. Nobody knows whether the stamp on the envelope was first class or second class. Nobody knows if it was taken to a post box before the last collection or afterwards.
Neither Simon nor Graham have had a phonecall from the Ryman League. David Bedford is out of the country, but we assume he hasn’t had a phonecall either. Mr. Bedford confirms this when he interrupts proceedings by ringing Graham on his mobile to ask the score. It seems a fair assumption that the Ryman League has yet to learn of the closure of the ground. All those present are asked not to publicise the situation with regard to Claremont Road having passed on, being no more, ceased to be, gone to meet its maker, a stiff, bereft of life, resting in peace, an ex-stadium.
The other excellent reason for not announcing that today was to be Claremont Road’s swansong is the unfortunate situation that all the Club’s property is still in the ground. An unoccupied stadium, offices and clubhouse would be inviting targets for the natives of the Clitterhouse Estate. The trophy cabinet has been emptied and the contents put into safe keeping, but everything else is still on site. We need volunteers to come in tomorrow and blitz the place. We need cars. We also need volunteers to store a hell of a lot of stuff.
I don’t have a car and I don’t have anywhere to stash any stuff, but I’m available to walk up in the morning to clear the gear.
We are to convene at around nine tomorrow morning.
Back out we go. Last orders have been called at the clubhouse bar for the very last time. The clubhouse is the only boozer on the manor and a lot of locals with no interest in football use it, though not enough of them to make it a going concern. They’ll certainly wonder what’s going on when they find it closed this evening. A number of fans are having a kickabout on the pitch. They’re also having a contest to see who can do the best impression of the Orange Order’s lead vocalist. Liam probably just about shades it. Several volunteer to help out tomorrow morning.
It has to be said that this is all extremely convenient.
I mean, come on! How bad is the whiff from this?
The Trust is extremely upset about the Ryman League Politburo’s almost certain decision to make the Club remain at Claremont Road until the end of the season, because the Trust doesn’t want to pay the bills that go with playing in a decrepit stadium. Suddenly, just days before the crucial meeting to decide the Club’s fate, the decrepit stadium is removed from the equation. Claremont Road does a Jimmy Hoffa. As if by magic, it vanishes. Under circumstances rather more suspicious than those in which the Teamsters’ boss disappeared. Conveniently, the big, bad ground owner puts the padlocks on the gates. The communication announcing the closure of the ground to the authorities is conveniently posted at an hour ensuring that it doesn’t arrive until the deed has been carried out, so The Powers That Be cannot attempt intervention, counselling or mediation. It’s reminiscent of the Japs declaring war on the Yanks with their planes already zeroing-in on Pearl Harbour.
I suppose it beats the usual method of achieving the same result.
“Just an Evening Standard, please, Mr. Patel.”
“Would you like any whisky with that?”
“Er, no, thanks.”
“Would you like to play the lottery?”
“No thank... errr... ooh... hang on a tick. Yeah. Yeah, I will actually. I’ll take the biggest can you’ve got and fill it up on the way out. OK?”
“Certainly, sir. Anything else?”
“Umm, yeah – a box of Swan Vestas as well, please.”
It’s been done before and it will be done again.
Provided there were no winos or copulating comprehensive kids in the stand at the time, things that do occur occasionally, I wouldn’t have thought the local nick would be allocating a huge number of CID officers to an arson investigation in the vicinity of the Clitterhouse Estate. Come to think of it, I’m not sure they’d consider the demise of winos or chav sprogs much of a loss either.
Was this a set up?
Looking at it from the outside, one would, on balance, have to be inclined towards believing it was. One last favour towards Hendon Football Club by The Arbiter Group.
Several things admittedly point the other way. Not giving the Ryman League Politburo a chance to poke its oar in can be seen as an expedient and sensible tactic, if this really was a set up. However, there probably wasn’t a lot they could have done to circumvent the situation, even if Andrew Landesberg had been willing to meet them. The lack of a high-profile funeral has cost the Club money. Publicising this afternoon’s game as the stadium’s final fixture would probably have attracted a hundred morbid souls from the groundhopping fraternity and earned the Club £1,000 or so in extra revenue. With the Banqueting Suite now off limits, the Trust is going to have to find a venue for the EGM at short notice and pay to hire it.
I’m not sure I can see either Simon or Graham pulling a stunt like this, but I suppose it could have been Mr. Landesberg’s idea.
Overall, the elimination of the ground from the equation is too convenient for the balance of probability to lean towards a verdict of serendipity.
Still, it leaves the Ryman League Politburo with a fairly simple choice on Thursday afternoon. The Combined Counties League won’t be having an emergency meeting to review the Wembley groundsharing proposal. Unless the CCL relents, Mr. Turvey & Co. either let Hendon play games at venues on an ad hoc basis until a temporary base can be established or they throw Hendon out of the league."
Right! Back to the world of the living.
It's an interesting manuscript. I never seriously considered publishing it, as it would've caused a few ructions if it came to the attention of Planet Football's mainstream idolaters. I wouldn't even post the more opinionated bits on here. I couldn't justify shelling £3,000 to get it printed, simply in order to take some abuse.
If the Chinese aren't quite ready to take over Europe yet - something I'd welcome - it's almost a duty for Europeans who believe in Enlightenment values to fire as many pot-shots as they can at Equalitist idiocy.
Millionaire soccer players, in Western countries, compulsorily "Taking the Knee" in support of an "internal minority" that isn't amongst the top-200 in any objective list of most persecuted "internal minorities" that are on the business end of various government jackboots around the world!
Leave me out!
If Yanks want to "Take the Knee" in support of what they view as their nation's most underprivileged "minority" ("Native Americans" might give them an argument), then more power to them... but I can't see what business it is of citizens of other countries, who all ignore the plight of literally hundreds of ethnic, cultural & theological groups that suffer far more dee-scree-mee-nay-shun than the People Who Annoy Randy Marsh in the Good Ol' US of A have to "endure".
If the Irish want to "Take the Knee" in solidarity with their nation's most downtrodden group - "Travellers" - fair play to them... but I won't be holding my breath for that to happen... any more than I'll be holding my breath for a Knacker to be elected prime minister, appointed head of the armed forces, or even win seat in parliament. (In a country so "tolerant" that an ethnically Indian homosexual temporarily relinquished the prime ministerial throne only last spring.)
Ditto the population of Bucharest if they were to support the "Roma Community" in their neck of the woods. Again, I'm not holding my breath.
If I were Sacha Baron Cohen or Chris Morris, I'd have a "Batty Bwoys Matter!" movement up and running on social media platforms and I'd be contacting all these Anglo-Jamaican cretins on the "social justice" bandwagon to drum-up support for it. And I'd be recording the phonecalls for publication!
Soccer players supporting social justice!
Where is next year's World Cup being played?
Presumably North Korea wasn't available.
The conscripted workforce that might have built World Cup stadiums in North Korea would almost certainly have been living & working under better conditions than those still labouring on stadiums for next year's jamboree in Arabia... if only because Kim Jong-Un is better at PR than the Al-Thanis.
Someone ought to start a campaign to have soccer players boycott the FIFA / Al-Thani showcase... but boycotting the World Cup would cost the players some money; not a huge percentage of their income, but some... unlike "Taking the Knee."
One would have to unearth a letter that called for Adam Johnson to be executed as a paedophile - signed by Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Rose West, Ian Watkins, Roman Polanski, Jerry Lee Lewis & Bill Wyman - to match that level of hypocrisy.
Anyhoo, should it see the light of day, it's your book, not mine. I wouldn't want anything to do with any income it makes - in the unlikely event that it makes any. Profits made by construction companies building the 2022 World Cup stadia are more easily morally defensible and less ethically repugnant than any profits made from any activity connected with the cesspit that is Planet Football.
I'll let you know.
Edited by AlanAinsworth at 14:35:52 on 10th January 2021
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