By Chris Woods
Brought recently to a higher profile outside the non league football world by Internet meme sensation the ‘Wealdstone Raider’, Wealdstone FC are the largest non-league club in West London and are steeped in history and tradition. Currently playing in the Vanarama National League South they were the first club to win the ‘Non-League double’ in 1985 winning the National League Premier (then the Gola League) and FA Trophy. The club also has a proud tradition of bringing through quality young footballers with the Stones being the first club of Stuart Pearce and Vinnie Jones, and, more recently, Jermaine Beckford. Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett enters his 23rd season in charge, making the 61-year-old the longest-serving gaffer in the country.
The Stones are currently situated in Ruislip, a large town in the West London suburbs, with their Grosvenor Vale stadium located near the high streets of Ruislip and Ruislip Manor that offer plenty of pre-match watering holes, the ground also has excellent facilities of its own with Ruislip Social Club located on-site.
New chairman Peter Marsden, formally the supremo of Accrington Stanley FC, believes the club has major growth potential in the local area with no non-league clubs nearby matching the Stones history, passionate fan base and community involvement.
Wealdstone Football Club as we know it today was founded at the beginning of the 1899/1900 season joining the Willesden & District League, the club then went defunct for 2 years in 1906 after a lack of interest from players and fans before taking its place once more in the Willesden & District League in 1908/09. Following World War I, Wealdstone entered the London League and the Middlesex Senior League. A new ground called Lower Mead, situated between Harrow and Wealdstone town centres was ready for the 1922/23 season the club spent their first six seasons at Lower Mead in the Spartan League before joining the Athenian League.
In October 1946 the club was involved in the first ever televised football match, the BBC showing part of their league match at Barnet. The club won the Athenian League just once and left for the Isthmian League in 1964, two years later they beat fellow Isthmian’s Hendon 3-1 in the FA Amateur Cup final in front of a crowd of 45,000 at Wembley Stadium.
The 70’s saw Wealdstone establish themselves in the Non-League hierarchy. They joined the Southern League and turned professional in 1971; winning the Southern League First Division South in 1973/74. The 1977/78 season saw the club’s best ever FA Cup run with giant killings of Football League sides Hereford United and Reading, before succumbing to First Division (now Premier League) QPR in the Third Round. That season also saw the Stones play in Europe in the 1978 Anglo-Italian Cup.
The 1984/85 season was to be the Club’s most successful when they became the first of only three clubs to achieve the ‘Non-League double’, winning the Football Conference and FA Trophy in the same season. Sadly from that the club hit a sharp decline, suffering two relegations and almost going out of existence, having to sell their historic Lower Mead home to stay afloat. Then to salt the wounds, the company handling the sale of Lower Mead went into liquidation and, after lengthy court proceedings, the club received only a fraction of the sum Tesco’s had paid for the ground. A long period of ground-sharing then followed first at Watford’s Vicarage Road Stadium before a stint at Yeading FC and then a long stay at Edgware Town’s White Lion Ground where the club stayed from 1995 to 2005, that period also saw the club leave the Southern League and re-join the Isthmian League going from the Third Division to Premier Division between 1998 and 2004.
The club began three difficult seasons at Northwood FC’s Chestnut Avenue ground in 2005/06, flirting with relegation in both the Isthmian Premier and Southern Premier leagues. They re-joined the Isthmian Premier in 2007/08 and in January of that season the club had the opportunity to take over the Grosvenor Vale site by a sadly debt ridden Ruislip Manor FC. A consortium of senior members of Wealdstone FC acquired a majority shareholding in Ruislip Manor Sports and Social Club, the sports club that owned the lease to the football stadium and associated facilities across the 12 acre site and from the 2008/09 season Wealdstone once again had a ground and clubhouse they could call their own.
Their new home at The Vale sparked an immediate upturn in Wealdstone’s fortunes on and off the pitch with crowds rising significantly season by season to now average near 800.
The summer of 2016 saw Chairman Peter Marsden (who grew up in Harrow) bring in new investment and impetus with former St Albans City chairman Nick Archer joining him as Vice-Chair. Gordon Bartlett had a summer overhaul of players with several established and experienced non-league names joining the playing squad. But ultimately the mass-overhaul of players brought some teething problems as well as a defensive injury crisis that produced a string of bad results. The club did however have two good runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy; they lost to then National League Premier leaders Dagenham & Redbridge in the 4th Qualifying Round of the Cup but saw off National League South champions Maidenhead United and National League Premier Southport in the Trophy before a 4-1 defeat at home to Brackley Town in the 3rd Round. The Brackley result proved to be a turning point as the Stones were defeated just twice in their final 22 games of the season taking them from 14th to narrowly missing the play-offs in 8th and also to the Middlesex Senior and Charity Cup finals.
This season is the Stones third in the National League South and with much of last season’s playing squad retained the minimum expectation is to improve on last season’s final position, which under new league rules this season, would guarantee a play-off place.
Wealdstone boast one of the cheapest Adult Season Tickets in the league at £149. Matchday admission is priced at £13 Adults, £9 Concessions, £3 U18s and U14s can enter The Vale for free. Concessionary rates apply to any season ticket holder at a Premier League or Football League club as well as students, OAPs and serving members of the armed forces, just remember to bring your ID! The club has one of the best matchday programmes in non-league and also has catering facilities and a hugely well stocked club shop called the ‘WFC Megastore’ located inside the ground.