Welling United may have endured some difficult times over the past couple of seasons but the first time that we met the Wings they were flying and the Saints returned home from Park View Road very much the sinners.
Formed in 1963 as a youth team, the north Kent club enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks after starting in the Eltham & District Sunday League. The club then played in the Reserve team section of the Metropolitan London League. As a senior club, they enjoyed successful spells as members of the Spartan League, Athenian League, Southern League and, in 1986, the Conference League. It was a spectacular charge up the non-league ladder. During this run the club also moved home, switching from Butterfly Lane to Park View Road in 1977.
Park View Road had been used as a sports ground since the 1920s, Welling United moved in a year after the demise of the previous occupants, Bexley United.
It was at Park View Road that the first meeting between Welling United and St Albans City took place on 20th December 1986, in the 1st Round of the F.A. Trophy. Although that was the date of our first game against the Wings, we had twice previously played at that ground against Erith & Belvedere (March 1964 and December 1967).
Welling and ourselves had both made a poor start to the 1986-87 season. We had played 19 Isthmian League Premier Division games and sat just one place off the foot of the table. Welling had played two games more than us but were faring even less well and looked up from the very bottom of the G.M. Vauxhall Conference table.
Graham Hobbins’ side were acclimatising to their first season in the Conference having stormed to the Southern League title the previous season, some 23 points clear of runners up Chelmsford City. The Wings also lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the first of three times in 1986. They had two renowned goal scorers leading their attack in the form of Gary Abbott and Terry Robbins. Former Spurs youngster Robbins had joined Welling from Crawley Town for £8,000 earlier in the season and went on to become the Wings all-time top marksman.
Welling warmed up for the Trophy game with a 3-0 win over Runcorn (Robbins 2, Abbott pen). It was their first league success in ten outings and closed the gap on the side closest to them in the table, Gateshead, to two points.
City’s league form was hardly likely to cause Welling too many sleepless nights although we had not conceded a single goal in the three qualifying rounds. After a 4-0 win at home to Banbury United we won 3-0 away to Chesham United and 2-0 at Alvechurch. Also, the two games prior to heading for Kent resulted in a 10-0 Wallspan Floodlight Cup win over Ampthill Town and a 4-0 drubbing of Windsor & Eton at Clarence Park in the league. The Ampthill game saw Steve Oliver become the first Saint to score a hat-trick after coming on as a substitute.
John Mitchell as manager. Two promotions had been won during his first three seasons but after a poor start to life in the Premier Division – after a 12-year absence – he was rebuilding the side to cope with the demands of playing at a higher level. Mitch even felt confident enough to predict, “I think we’ll beat them down there.”We were in our fourth season with
Well, ‘beat them down there,’ did not go quite to plan with Abbott scoring twice to put the Wings in a commanding position at half time. His second goal was from the penalty spot after City defender Alan Paradise had pulled off a spectacular one-handed save. Paras’ was not booked for that offence but was a minute into the second half. It was a half during which City capitulated.
Abbott duly completed his third hat-trick of the season – quite a feat before Christmas – while Robbins chipped in with a couple and central defender Ian Starkey scored his first goal of the season as Welling completed a 6-0 rout. Starkey played over 300 games for Welling before a knee injury ended his playing days later that season. After the game Mitch changed his pre-match message to, “We didn’t want to know.” Our misery was compounded when Paras (left) received a second yellow card and was sent off. Writing for the Herts Advertiser, Bob Watson mused; “Paradise was lost. City’s Christmas stuffing was complete.”
Welling’s trouncing of us was rewarded with a trip to Southern League Premier Division side Corby Town where they crashed out 3-0. Some favourable draws in the F.A. Cup allowed the Wings to reach the 1st Round Proper where they went down in a replay to county rivals Maidstone United. Gates at Park View Road were not great during this season (the Trophy tie attendance was 505) but the two ties with Maidstone drew crowds of 2,100 to Welling and 2,267 to Maidstone’s London Road home. The club was knocked out of the Inter-League Cup at the first hurdle by Isthmian’s Bishop’s Stortford but the Wings league fortunes improved sufficiently to extend their place amongst non-league’s elite by finishing 20th in the 22-club Conference.
We too steered clear of relegation by coming to rest in 14th place. Our cup form brought a mixed set of results. The F.A. Cup run ended at the first hurdle with a hugely embarrassing defeat at home to Ruislip Manor. Our Premier Inter-League Cup bid also lasted just 90 minutes with Steve Conroy scoring his only goal for the club in a 4-1 defeat to Tooting & Mitcham United at Sandy Lane. Hertford Town pulled off a surprising result in the Herts Senior Cup at Clarence Park with a 6-4 win that was not seen by John Mitchell who was fortunate enough to have been away on a business trip. After that thrashing of Ampthill, our Wallspan Floodlight Cup run ended in the next Round at Boreham Wood.
Success was found, however, in the Herts Charity Cup where a first day of the season 5-0 win over Ware (two goals for Gary Keen) was followed up by a mid-season penalty shoot-out victory over Hitchin Town and then, on the final day of the season, two goals by Allan Cockram saw off Boreham Wood at Broughinge Road to return to cup to Clarence Park after a 15-year absence.
Goalkeeper Mark Pearson (57 games) was ever-present for the fourth consecutive season while Rob Smale , top scorer with 22 goals from 52 games, won the Player of the Year award. A significant signing during the season was that of striker Nigel Johnson from Barnet. He scored 18 goals during his 30 games that season including becoming the sixth player to score a hat-trick on his City debut.
John Watt (right), one of our most popular captains down the years, made the last of his 214 appearances for the club, fellow centurion Ray Tucker (104) also turned out in our colours for the final time. John Mitchell stood down at the end of four exceptional seasons in charge due to business commitments but returned to bring more glory days in the early 1990s.
Welling United: Alan Rogers, Paul Sawyer, Adrian Lemoine, Ian Starkey, Nigel Ransom, Ray Burgess, Stuart White, Terry Robbins, Gary Abbott, Cliff Cant, Tony Reynolds, subs; John Parry, Neil Clemence.
Attendance: 505. Referee: C.Henderson.