Thursday, 26 June 2014

Wandsworth Athletic – the third gold star

A triumphant return to Rocks Lane 

Thursday 4th February 2010 was the day of Wandsworth Athletic’s first league title. An enthralling, epic victory over BRNO Athletic – surely the greatest game in the club’s history – secured a maiden gold star on the white jersey. Just over four years and four months later, a third star can now be stitched above the club crest. Wandsworth’s designer (and number 13) Matt C Stokes has some work to do…

Yet many would have doubted the need for Stokes to dust off his pencil any time in the foreseeable future. For Wandsworth have been down and out in recent times. After the pinnacle of 2010, when a second league title was added later in the year after Wandsworth went unbeaten all season, form has slowly but surely slipped away. 2011 saw an impressive showing during a European debut in Valencia, but the good times soon dried up. 2012 was arguably the nadir in Wandsworth history, as the club struggled with injuries, player availability and form.

After one particularly wretched season at Rocks Lane, a major decision was taken in early 2013, with the club removed from its home in SW13 and beginning competition in the less fashionable, lower standard Raynes Park setting. At times in this cold, damp and hostile environment some must have seriously questioned what the future held. But a promotion and league victory in September 2013 began a slow journey back upwards, and now in June 2014 redemption is finally complete. Wandsworth are back in the big time.

At the first time of asking back home, Wandsworth won the league title. There may no longer be the fierce, bitter rivals – no BRNO Athletic, no Magic Monkeys FC, no Number 4 Kings – but a championship medal at Rocks Lane is something to be savoured. And it marks a wonderful return to success for the South West London club. Wandsworth have dragged themselves off the canvas, beat the count and returned with a knockout blow. Their opponents made the deadly mistake of letting their guard down.

When the campaign begun, even the most optimistic of Wandsworth followers would not have dreamt of a league title. But a well-fought, hard-earned opening win was a sign of things to come. Looking back now, that 8-6 victory over a well organised and experienced opponent was more significant than anyone would have imagined.

A comfortable win against a young Sheen Lane Royals side followed, but a lack of shape and structure were an indication that everything wasn’t rosy. And sure enough, the following week saw the low point of the season; an 11-5 defeat to the team that would become Wandsworth’s title rivals, Glipton Giants. In truth it was a poor performance all round – slow, passive and incoherent. There was clearly work to be done.

Wandsworth showed what you need for a league title though – character – and responded with a good win next. Another victory the following week, albeit far less polished against the league’s whipping boys, made it four wins out of five. Wandsworth were sitting ominously in second place, breathing down Glipton’s neck.

With the business end of the season looming, Wandsworth then secured an absolutely key victory, coming out on top in a 12-11 blockbuster. Leading comfortably early on, the players succumbed to an unfortunate Wandsworth trademark of easing off the gas and losing concentration. Suddenly Wandsworth were 10-9 down deep into proceedings, but a resounding late surge with goals from Frank Pearce and Zaid ‘Shrubba’ Shoubber secured three points. Pearce and Shoubber were both fine examples of the collective squad effort that proved so important – stepping up when needed and providing vital contributions.

Another three points followed and all of sudden the season hindered on a huge title showdown. Wandsworth’s winning steak had seen them climb to the top of the table, but with three games remaining it was time for the return encounter with Glipton – just two points adrift. Winner really was likely to take all.

What followed was a colossal fixture between the league’s leading sides. While the game may not quite have compared to that wondrous finale against BRNO Athletic all those years ago, it was a fittingly tense and close battle. Wandsworth, as history shows they often do in big games, started strongly, charging into an early lead and stamping their authority on the game. The predator, Andy Michel, was hungry and led from the front with early strikes, while Liam ‘Lahm’ O’Brien fired home two utterly unstoppable hits. The experienced spine of Wandsworth’s side stepped up to be counted, with Matt Snelling sharp and commanding between the sticks and Ben ‘Romeo’ Lewis full of energy and composed passing. Joe ‘Don’ Hancock linked play and ran hard, while a mention must go to Dave Skinns too. Skinns was severely under the weather pre kick-off but he wasn’t going to miss this and battled hard through illness.

Wandsworth’s good start was soon undone though, with the opposition’s organisation and experience coming to the fore. All of a sudden it was 6-5 to Glipton, and the title was slipping away. But Wandsworth showed the character that had been present all season and simply refused to be beaten. A powerful burst saw a brilliant revival, and three goals from James Platt meant the score ended 8-6.

The title was mathematically obtained the following week after a cancelled fixture – not the way Wandsworth wanted to secure the silverware, but an emphatic 18-3 final day victory meant the winner’s medals were collected in style.

After some difficult recent times, Wandsworth’s return to the summit of the amateur game in South West London is surprising, remarkable and above all, very welcome. There was a notable shift up in gear from the whole squad to meet the superior standards at Rocks Lane, and a mention should go to Snelling, O’Brien and Skinns for being ever present. Wandsworth will now hope it’s not four more years until Matt C Stokes can sketch out another gold star…

End of season statistics

Played: 10
Won: 9
Drawn: 0
Lost: 1

For: 104
Against: 58


Matt Snelling
Liam O’Brien
Dave Skinns
Ben Lewis
Joe Hancock
Andy Michel
James Platt
20 (1 pen)
Zaid Shoubber
Alex Platt
Frank Pearce
Simon Hazelby

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