As you work your way down the leagues, further and further away from the world of cash and wags, there comes a level at which the teams really aren’t doing much you couldn’t do yourself (well, maybe not any more, but 10 years ago… maybe…). They just do it more consistently and have bothered to get fit.
Welton Rovers v Verwood Town in the FA Vase was a game approaching that level, but happily not quite reaching it. Notionally, these teams are at the same level of the “pyramid” though I’ve often wondered how good a guide that really is. If there are more strong teams in a particular area then their bit of the pyramid is going to be stronger. These sides are only about an hour and a half apart (which on Somerset and Dorset roads is only around 50 miles) but the contrast between them was huge.
This was part of my ongoing quest to find a new non-league team to spend my Saturdays with, having moved 200 miles out to the West Country, leaving behind my regular Ridgeons League heroes. Welton are now my most local team. I was hoping for a more spiritual experience than I had enjoyed previously at Paulton Rovers who are a few miles further away and play at Zamaretto level, in a rather pragmatic (but effective) way.
Being a lapsed Ipswich Town season ticket holder, it would have been easy to fall for Paulton had they won their televised tie against Norwich in the Third Round last year. But they got face-raped 7-0. Worse still, all the locals still wear commemorative shirts telling the world how awestruck they are at having mixed with a team and fans which some of us know to be worthy of nothing but utter disdain. With all that in mind, I had high hopes for Welton and the excitement of a Vase tie seemed like the ideal reason to pay my first visit.
The ground ticked all the boxes. The initial conundrum was where to park given that the car park was directly behind one of the goals. Straight behind the goal seemed safest bet, but my poor car would still have been at serious risk from looping deflections from corners. I ended up at the back of the car park where the chances of being hit seemed lower, but the risks if it happened were probably higher given that it would need an enormous hoof (or a Royle as I used to call it) to reach that far. I suppose that, on cold November night, I could sit in the car and watch the match, but that would rather defeat the object of going. And would be a waste of the football shaped pocket warmers my Mum bought me last Christmas.
I was surprised to find people actually sitting in the main stand, which I had assumed (from a distance) to be off limits for safety reasons. The wooden benches actually sloped at such an angle that you could let go of a coconut shy ball (the ones hacked out from lumps of wood until just about round enough to throw) at one end, and it wouldn’t stop accelerating until it flew off the other. Worryingly, that was purely down to the state of the structure rather than because the ground it was built on sloped.
I went with the intention of getting behind Welton, and with an open mind as to adopting them as my local side. That quickly went out of the window though. The sign warning of asbestos behind the semi-derelict stand was a good deal more threatening than the Welton attack. Verwood on the other hand scored with minutes gone, and played all the football despite the best efforts of an Ian Holloway look-a-like manager screaming “Early!” at any player receiving the ball within punting distance of the Welton box. Happily, the players largely ignored his hollering and played some decent stuff. Equally the manager ignored my hollering; “let them play football gaffer”. I’m probably lucky he didn’t tell me to fuck off.
I wanted to like Welton. I want to fall in love with a nice local team, but they have made it very hard. Even with the incentive of progression in the FA Vase, they were limp and unimpressive.
Verwood could and should have had two more before half time. An effective young centre forward by the name of Haskell was out-jumping and outrunning the Welton defenders at will. The goals eventually came in the second half. First a neat hooked volley after the ball was headed thuddingly back across the box from a corner, and then a classic breakaway against tired and demoralised opponents in the last few minutes.
It shouldn’t be hard to love a team who actually have a player they call “chopper”. But he turned out to be a skinny ginger teenager.
Can they turn it round and win my affections? I don’t know, but its going to be tough when I’ve already applauded their opposition and felt rankled by the partisan locals whining and bitching about blatantly correct refereeing decisions. Ground which is level enough to play football on is at a premium in hilly Welton. I hope its not wasted on Welton Rovers.