Welton Rovers 1 Gillingham Town 1Tuesday 3rd May, Western League Premier Division
Day two of the great Daz and Tom west country groundhop marathon took us to the Somerset town of Midsomer Norton and the home of already-relegated Welton Rovers: West Clewes.
Sitting second from bottom of the table (ahead of only Winterbourne United who resigned from the league), Welton entered this match having gained a paltry 17 points from the season, sending them straight back down to the First Division from whence they came the season prior. Dorset's Gillingham Town meanwhile find themselves a respectable but unspectacular 9th.
We managed to get to the ground in time to listen to the PA man rattle off his end-of-season thanks for the efforts of the club's intrepid volunteers, including a
ball boy ball man who had been in the position for 36 (thirty six) years.
West Clewes is an absolutely cracking ground, surrounded by rolling green Somerset countryside and squat stone cottages that billowed woodsmoke from their chimney's out into the warm evening air, it's a fine example of what gems you can find in the Western League if you venture out of the cities. It has been the base of operations for the Rovers since their inception in 1887. During this time it also served as the headquarters of the local Miner's Welfare from 1923 until 1975 when the last of the coal mines were closed.
Next to the clubhouse there are two temporary-looking metal stands; the smaller for sheltered standing and wheelchair users, the larger housing about 150 fold-down seats. These are a recent addition, replacing the original wooden seating. Further down on the same side of the pitch there is an ancient-looking stone terrace, which is uncovered, covered in moss and crumbling but apparently well-loved by the Welton faithful.
A unique feature of West Clewes is the vast amount of children's play equipment dotted around the ground. In fact, a set of that newfangled aerobic play equipment is located directly behind the terrace. Their location and the fact that all the equipment is painted green leads me to believe that this is what the Welton players use during weekday training, followed by a rousing game of pogs for team bonding.
Welton looked the most likely to score during the opening moments of the match. Their number 11, who looked like he might be a winger being tried as a striker, produced a lot of good touches and runs but struggled in front of goal. Their efforts were eventually rewarded in the 20th minute when Peck burst down the right wing and passed low to Dunn who bundled it over the line from close range. There was much rejoicing from the green army, including one bloke watching from his car who began frantically tooting his horn in approval.
It looked like the Gillingham players were expecting a whistle to be blown for offside, as they seemed to give up chase when the ball was crossed to Dunn. I didn't think it was but frankly they should know better than to expect correct calls to be made at this level. The referee was decent however, a lot less fussy than some I've seen in the Western League and played the advantage well on many occasions.
For a while it was difficult to see why Welton were so low in the table based on this performance. Then a moment occurred right in front of us where a Welton player took possession and entered a stalemate with a Gills player. The Welton player decided to rectify this by attempting the weakest lob ever over the Gills player's head, which duly cost him possession. Attempting to be needlessly clever snuffed out many chances for Welton and I found them quite a frustrating side to watch as they did do a lot of things right. One of the home players, who we referred to as Čech due to his protective head gear, was everywhere and cut out several of Town's more threatening attacks.
During the half, we went into the clubhouse so Daz could buy a scarf. He wasn't tempted by the official Welton Rovers Teddy Bears™ however. We were served at the bar by an eccentric couple with matching blonde mullets. The man saw my camera and struck a pose like a World War II pin-up, sadly I was too surprised to react quick enough for a shot but the guy was clearly a legend.
Gillingham Town came out strong during the second half, managing to pull their minds away from upcoming weeks in Magaluf. They looked sure to score early on when a forward who was facing away from goal got the ball in the box and passed to a nearby forward-facing team-mate but the shot that followed was a weak one and the keeper held on to it easily. Daz and I were stood in front of some radio commentators during the second half who were reporting live into a microphone. Their best moment came when Welton's number 11 absolutely skied a shot from distance, prompting these two leading lights of the airwaves to comment "Well that's gone well wide. Could've been a sensational goal though."
The previously mentioned veteran ball boy was called into action for the first time during the second half when a ball bounced slowly out of play and over the low wall into the car park. I'm not sure what happened exactly but it looked like he unsuccessfully tried to control the wayward sphere with his feet, resulting in an embarrassing tumble to the floor. What was initially quite funny became concerning two minutes later when a small crowd had gathered around him and the commentary duo began to remark on the fact that he hadn't returned to his post. Fortunately moments later a thumbs up from the ground indicated he was okay and sure enough he was soon back on his feet and munching a banana. A doff of the Partizan Bristle cap to that man.
Despite a decent shift from the home team to keep themselves ahead for the majority of the game, it all fell apart in the 71st minute when they gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box, which a Gills player launched softly over the wall for the keeper to collect then immediately fumble into his own goal. This is probably why Welton are on 17 points.
Disappointing result for the home side notwithstanding, I really enjoyed our visit to Welton Rovers. You can tell just by being there that West Clewes is a ground with a lot of history. When you add some local characters, a decent bar and some nice countryside, there's not a lot more you can ask for in a Western League ground. Hopefully they'll bounce back from this disappointing season.