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Tuesday 26th February 2019 ko 19.45

Hellenic League Division One East

WALLINGFORD TOWN 2 (Williams 81 Silkstone 90) Silkstone missed penalty 90

ABINGDON TOWN 2 (James 40 Smith 51)

Att 45

Entry & Programme £5

If you’re from my part of the world a trip to Wally is one of life’s pleasures, even down to childhood trips passing by here and seeing the sign for adjacent Crowmarsh Gifford “amended” to Crowmarsh McGiffordish- don’t ask me why, I don’t know either! Wallingford is a pretty market town in that part of North Berkshire than since 1974 is now in Oxfordshire. The town was one of the last Royalist bastions to fall at the end of the English Civil War, with Oliver Cromwell taking revenge for their resistance by having the castle slighted in 1652

It’s well-to-do place with a Waitrose that I will forever associate with my late mother. During her final few weeks fighting Alzheimer’s disease she was staying in Wallingford hospital and developed a liking for their orange squash, and was consuming a bottle of the stuff a day. The staff eventually knew me by name!

Of course Wallingford Town and their predecessors AFC Wallingford and I go back a fair while. The club gained no little fame by finishing second in the 2002-3 Combined Counties League with the newly formed AFC Wimbledon one place behind them. But can you remember who won the league that season? The answer is beyond the photos!

It was a sad coincidence that Wallingford’s fall from grace happened roughly when I got to know them better. In 2008 they finished bottom of the Hellenic Premier, but rather than take relegation to Division One East, they opted to drop a further division to the North Berkshire League Division One.

We visited them on the very first North Berkshire League hop in 2011 and found a club friendly to a fault, and who staged beautifully for us, but were clearly down on their luck. I remember leaving Hithercroft elated on how well the day had gone, but was worried as to how Wally would manage to keep going.

The hop visited again in 2015 and just about everything had changed. There was a new committee and Hithercroft had been spruced up. The “Wally Bus” made all the headlines, but it was the partial conversion of the stand that was the more significant alteration. Many of Wallingford’s problems have been due to the uneasy relationship the club has with the rugby club next door.

The club gets no revenue from the clubhouse next door, and so having their own bar and tea hut gives the club a handy revenue stream. The Wally bus went with the departure of chairman Richard Prunier, but his replacement Simon Cowlard and I have a little shared history.

Easily the proudest moment of my footballing life was being asked to present the trophies at the 2015 North Berkshire League Cup Final. The game saw Wally’s reserves beat Faringdon “A” and on the occasion of it being Simon’s final ever game as a player I presented him with the trophy. We’ve kept in contact ever since, and yes I really ought to watch Wally more.

With my North Berks committeeman hat on, I’ll admit to having mixed feelings when the club returned to the Hellenic in 2017. It was lovely to have them in our league and they were good friends to the hop too, who could forget Wally’s Steve Eatwell being knocked out cold at Burghclere in 2016?

But it was time for them to return, the NBFL had helped them rebuild and they’ll continue to grow and thrive under Simon’s leadership. On that basis it was lovely to see this game, the first under Wally’s new LED floodlights. If the mark of a club on the rise is a different ground improvement every time I visit, then Wally are clearly going places.

It was a delicious coincidence that the opposition was Abingdon Town, not least because they were the opposition at the “Wally Bus” game, it was a tasty local derby and that I’d contrived to see the final ever game of the old Abingdon Town. They failed to re-appear for the start of the 2016-17 season, and with the subsequent untimely death of chairman Tom Larman it looked like football “Over the bridge” had finally ceased after 146 years. Fortunately the club was revived in the Hellenic League Division Two for 2017-2018, and were elevated for this season.

It’s been a turbulent season for Abingdon Town, they’re second-from-bottom of the table, and a measure how troubled they were that the teamsheet that got handed to the referee had entirely different names to that printed on the back of the programme!

So, of we eliminate the principle that I jinx every single friendly club I visit this looked on paper like a fairly straightforward home win. It really, really didn’t work out that way though- for 80 minutes the visitors were the better side, scoring twice, and having a third chalked off for a marginal offside. Fortunately for Wally the visitors ran out of steam completely and Silkstone’s quick reactions smashing home his blocked penalty in stoppage time gained Wally a point that looked barely plausible 10 minutes earlier.

It wasn’t an evening to draw any parallels from what went on on the pitch with what’s happening off of it. It was an evening to see a fine club, under fine management, who’ve managed to see off the problems that bedeviled their past. The Hellenic League’s Division One East won’t be the limit of their ambitions nor should it be, and with Simon and his band of helpers behind it all just keep an eye on Wally’s continued progress. As the chairman himself would put it….

Up the Wally!”

 

Withdean 2000 were the champions that season. Shockingly by 2004 they’d folded.

 

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