Wealdstone vs Bury Town
4 September 2011 (Non League Day)
Wealdstone 3 Bury Town 1
Ryman Isthmian League, Premier Division
Attendance: 501

Having visited a quintessential non-League ground (Hitchin Town) for last season’s inaugural Non League Day - www.flickr.com/photos/ccpub/sets/72157624778541443/ - I was looking for what might be considered an iconic non-League club for this season’s event, and Wealdstone appeared to tick a number of boxes.

Not only was Wealdstone FC briefly the leading non-League club in England, by virtue of an historic Conference [then the Gola League] and FA Trophy ‘double’ in 1982; it also spawned the likes of Stuart Pearce, Vinnie Jones, and Jermaine Beckford all of whom began their senior careers with the Stones. If that wasn’t enough, add the record of three undefeated Wembley finals; participation in the first televised broadcast of a football match @ Barnet … and the first live FA Cup television broadcasts vs. Edgware Town, and Colchester United in 1949. Finally, factor in a recent history that has seen this once proud club homeless and struggling to survive then you have all the chapters of the archetypal non-League story.

Although Wealdstone’s glory days are part of their comparatively recent history [yes, to those of us of a certain age the 80s seem like only yesterday], the club is much older, originally founded in 1899 before being forced to close just seven years later due to lack of interest, before being reformed in 1908. Up until the outbreak of the Great War the club played on no fewer than eleven different grounds, but 1922 moved into what was to become its spiritual home, Lower Mead.

The ground was secured for the club by Charles Brady, who became Club President in 1921. The 300 seat grandstand was relocated from a defunct club, Summerstown FC and rebuilt on the site in 1928, where it remained until its demolition in the early 1990s. There were also two covered ends: the Emslie End, named after a former Chairman; and the Cinema End, so called because Brady negotiated the sale of that end to a cinema company and used the funds to improve facilities and clear debts. The record attendance at Lower Mead was 13,504 for an FA Amateur Cup tie in 1949. Three of Bob Lilliman’s archive photographs of Lower Mead are included in this set.

In 1991 the ground was controversially sold to Tesco from which the club received very little. Plans to move Wealdstone to Willesdon Stadium came to nothing and the loss of Lower Mead led to a 17 year itinerant existence with ground-shares at Watford, Yeading, Edgware Town and Northwood, with the club losing huge amounts of money during the two seasons at Watford.

A desire to secure a new permanent home within the London Borough of Harrow looked as though it might finally come to fruition when a suitable site was found at the Prince Edward Playing Fields in Canons Park, a facility which had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Planning permission for a new stadium with substantial community amenities was attained, and partial funding given from the national lottery. Construction began in 2003, but the project was hindered by various financial problems and the building work was halted completely in 2004, when the private company paying the builders went into liquidation. Slow progress was made in sourcing alternative funding, but it was hoped that the stadium would be still be completed and opened in 2007.

However in early 2008, the club issued a press release stating that the Club had acquired a majority shareholding in Ruislip Manor Sports and Social Club, the sports club that owns the lease to the Grosvenor Vale stadium, then used by Ruislip Manor FC and also by Wealdstone’s Youth Team.

With the ground share agreement at Northwood coming to an end and no specific finish date in sight for the club’s Prince Edward Playing Field development, the Stones decided to take on a short lease at ‘The Vale’ and develop it as their new home ground. Even so, the future still remains uncertain with the likelihood that within the next ten years the club will have had to find itself a new ground. The Prince Edward Playing Fields remain an option, but at least The Vale has provided the club with an important buffer that will allow it to plan ahead.

Non League Day brought fancied Bury Town, with 12 goals from their opening four matches to The Vale, and without a win so far the visitors from Suffolk looked likely to pose a stiff challenge for the Stones. In fact it was the home side that had by far the better of the first half yet still found itself a goal down, with salt rubbed into the wounds by virtue of the fact that Bury had already been reduced to ten men by the time the ball hit the back of the net. Wealdstone upped the tempo after the interval however, and deservedly ran out comfortable winners in the end, with MOM Kieran Knight grabbing a brace.

A official attendance of 501 was Wealdstone’s best of the season so far, with a number of supporters of Premier League and Championship clubs taking advantage of the NLD offer. A quartet of Watford season ticket holders I spoke to after the final whistle said they had enjoyed their afternoon of non-League football and professed to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of football on offer. Hopefully, they and others will return.

The official Non League Day website: www.nonleagueday.co.uk/
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