This week’s offering comes from WIE 49 published in November 2016. The photo which accompanied the article was one of my favourites taken by Keith Gillard and shows Mr Bartley celebrating after he’d scored at Stonebridge Road.
And, if you haven’t seen them yet, you can find some of Keith’s excellent photos of the Wings in action on Instagram and Twitter (@kgtopsnapper). Now, on with the article…
In a season where it has been rather difficult to find anything even remotely representing a bright spot, a Welling player scoring 6 goals in one game most certainly qualifies as such. Possibly, in fact, the only one so far. Adam Coombes’ achievement against Swindon Supermarine in our ultimately disappointing FA Cup run led to a short debate on the fans forum as to who was the last Welling player to score 6 in a game. And it was quickly and almost inevitably the name of minor deity John Bartley that appeared, with a fine night out in Banstead 36 years ago being the game in question.
1979/80 was the middle of our three seasons in the Athenian League, and our third season at PVR. The Athenian League had one division, with neither promotion nor relegation, as the non- league pyramid was at that time only in the early stages of construction. It was the year that the Alliance/Conference/ National league was launched. To get promoted you generally just applied for another league of higher status and hoped that you didn’t, for example, get the chairman of dartford as head of the ground inspection committee (as we did that year, and had our application turned down for not having any covered standing accommodation. Which, in those far off days, we did. Ho hum).
We, as ever, in 79/80 were burbling along quite nicely, scoring a lot of goals but, alas, leaving Nigel Ransom to marshal the defence, which left us quite near the top, but not near enough to make anyone believe we might actually win the thing. But as March turned to April we suddenly went slightly mad. An Easter Saturday trip to Haringey Borough saw us winning 5-0, and then two days later on Easter Monday we went one better at home to Alton Town, winning 6-0. The following Saturday found us away at Harefield United, a delightful place if you have no sense of smell or, perhaps, actually enjoy the fragrance of a farmyard. As it was, “Cows shit, and we know they do” would have been the song of the day. But we won 2-1, so after 3 wins on the trot we started to study the top of the table a little bit more closely. Sitting on top were Windsor and Eton. There were three weeks of the season to go and, due to the Athenian league issuing fixtures month by month rather than planning them for the whole season; we were left in the remarkable position of still having to play them home and away. “Interesting. Very interesting!” as Barry Davies might have said.
And next up was Banstead on a Tuesday night.
John Bartley. For Wings supporters of a certain vintage, he is the answer to all of their cat-naming dilemmas. Welling arguably have had three remarkably good strikers in our history: Terry Robbins, Gary Abbott and John Bartley. There have been other good ones, of course, such as Tony Agana and Ross Lafayette, but they didn’t hang around as long as the big three. People will have their individual favourite – Robbins had pace and worked his socks off, Abbott had excellent control, was strong in the air and had great skill, and Bartley…well…it’s hard to say what he had, exactly. He didn’t have great pace, but he could read the game, and was seemingly always in exactly the right place at the right time. He was playing at a time when to be level with the last defender was to be off-side, and at a time when defenders could happily tackle from behind and didn’t have to worry about hacking people down when they were the last defender. Nevertheless, Bartley was forever timing his runs perfectly, and being left one against one with the goalkeeper. And the thing about Bartley was that once he was in that position supporters were never in any doubt that he would score, whether it would be by gently chipping it over the diving keeper, or going around him and rolling it in from whatever snooker-like angle he had left himself. He could be a bit dodgy on penalties sometimes but generally the feeling was “Ah, the ball has come to Bartley. He will score”. And he almost invariably did. Possibly we didn’t really appreciate what we had until he left us the first time (for Millwall) and we watched how his replacement dealt with a one-against-one with the keeper. We had signed Greenwich Borough’s goal machine of the day – sadly not Ian Wright but Derek Somers – and he decided to go for power but not precision, and his resulting blast can almost compete with Stuart White’s legendary penalty miss at King’s Lynn (which is apparently still in orbit somewhere) for height and distance.
The first programme I have of Welling’s had the remarkable statistic that Bartley had scored 266 goals in 166 games, which I quite frankly didn’t believe, but from that point on he averaged a goal a game for us. For the next 400 games or so. In two spells. Again, comparing him to Robbins and Abbott, it could be said that he was playing at a lower level, which is true, but he also averaged just under a goal a game for Maidstone in the Conference, and got goals in the Football League for Millwall (where in his wisdom manager George Graham decided that this goal scorer supreme was in fact better playing out wide). And he was, well, he was John Bartley. We had him, and big club dartford up the road didn’t, so that was good.
So back to Banstead. Memories of that game are somewhat hazy due to the passage of time, but I can recollect two of his goals. One was a penalty, notable for the surprise amongst both supporters that it was actually awarded. In those days we used to win a lot of penalties, mainly due to the fine work of striker Malcolm Spratt. He was blessed with absolutely no pace at all, but a huge amount of skill which involved receiving the ball with the back to goal, moving it slightly, and somehow managing to turn past the defender. 1970s defenders in non- league were generally of the “take no prisoners” breed, and a silky and surprising turn usually defeated them, producing a rash tackle that Mr Spratt was always waiting for. He never made a particularly great effort to remain on his feet, and as a result we would have a penalty. Kenny Dalglish had perfected a similar skill further up the food chain for Liverpool, where the defenders ought to have known to take a bit more care.
Anyway, on this night in Banstead, Malcolm had the ball in the penalty area, there was slight contact with his and an opposing defender’s boot which was basically audible but harmless, and Malcolm himself continued with his run. But the referee blew his whistle and we had a penalty, much to everyone’s bemusement. Mr Bartley duly obliged with his standard penalty, right footed to the keeper’s right at what is generally regarded as a “saveable height” and much repeated whenever England manage to stumble into a penalty shoot-out.
The other goal I can remember was…er…memorable. Bartley received the ball at chest height with his back to goal, somewhere out on the left wing. Time is pushing him nearer and nearer to the halfway line, but I suspect in reality it wasn’t that far. Still, what he did next was still pretty impressive; even if it wasn’t from the 50 yards my faulty memory wants to believe. He controlled the ball on his chest and then just smacked the ball goal wards on the turn.
There are certain shots at goal where you just know that the goalkeeper is in trouble. The deflected free-kick off our former manager Paul Parker in the World Cup Semi-Final of 1990 v Germany, which was inevitably going to loop over a Peter Shilton who seemed unable to take the one pace back that was required to put him in a position to save it. The long drifting shot by Ronaldinho which floated over David Seaman in the 2002 World Cup v Brazil, and the last minute “Nayim from the halfway line”, again over Seaman, that prevented Arsenal from winning another bit of silverware. Mr Bartley’s shot was always going to end up in the top corner, and there was absolutely nothing the keeper could do about it, bar saying “shit!!!’ in a panicky kind of way. That goal might have been our fifth, and as it was still in the first half it was clear that any shot from any distance was going to find the net, so why not shoot from the halfway line?
The game finished 7-1, which stood as our highest victory for a time. A fourth win on the trot set us up for the weekend – a home game against top of the table Windsor and Eton. If we could beat them home and away then we might, just might, have a chance of winning the league.
Of course, there is the old saying of it not being the despair that is difficult to deal with, but the hope. Our important top of the table clash ended in the inevitable disappointment, a 0-2 home defeat. It was a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon all round, as Windsor had managed to attract what was described in the following Tuesday’s programme (a 2-1 defeat to Woodford that completely killed off any lingering dreams of cups and medals) as the kind of undesirable element that produces behaviour that “we really wouldn’t expect at our level”. Or, annoying twats in plainer language. Unfortunately, we were scheduled to go away for the return at Windsor the following Saturday where there was indeed an abundance of twats who were tagging along for the ride, and it was another unenjoyable day where secretary Barrie Hobbins was spat at and generally abused. So, Windsor was off the Christmas card list for a while.
We won our three remaining games to finish 5th, and joint top scorers in the league with 86 goals from 38 games. Bartley was the league’s top scorer, of course. That was his last full season for us for a while, as he moved off to Millwall during the following season. He returned in 1984, to lead our attack in our Southern League Championship winning side of 1985/86 which we won by 23 points (which I just mention to cheer us up).
Our fun with Windsor didn’t end there. The following season we were again near the top but not near enough for it to be exciting (which was, in fact, our standard position in that era as from 1976/77 onwards, in various leagues and divisions, we finished 6th, 6th, 7th, 5th, 7th and 8th, before an unexpected nose-bleed inducing 3rd place finish in 1982/83). But we went into our final game of the season, at home to Windsor knowing victory could prevent them from winning the league for a second time. We duly crashed to our heaviest ever defeat, 1-6, and had to endure their charmless fans taunting us with “going up, going up, going up”, as they had been accepted into division 2 of the Isthmian League. So, not a particularly good afternoon, but ultimately we had the last laugh, as the unexpected resignation of Bognor from the Southern League left a handy Welling sized space that needed filling, so the following year found us starting a league campaign one level below the Conference, while Windsor were starting in their new league 3 levels below the Conference. So, it was goodbye, and good riddance to them, until they turned up to smack 5 past us in the Trophy many years later.
So, 36 years since a Welling player got six goals in a game, but Adam Coombes has become the first to achieve the feat at PVR.