It’s been a while, so we thought we’d bring you this article from WIE 46. Published in September 2015 you’ll see that some things have changed and not all for the better…
Defending our Corner
New job, new town, new people. Same old questions.
As the conversation inevitably arrives at football, the “No, not Welwyn Garden City” gets dragged out once again. Why has everyone heard of that particular town? OK, it IS the site of the world’s first boutique hotel chain for cats, which deserves respect (thank you, Wikipedia), but other than that, what? It’s not even the first garden city. That magnificent accolade goes to Letchworth, and who has heard of that? Microsoft thinks it is a spelling mistake. And so do I. And, quite frankly, who cares about garden cities? Ebbsfleet Garden City, anyone? If my garden was anything like that I’d take napalm to it.
Only once have I managed a satisfactory response to the “What, Welwyn Garden City?” question. Having delivered the standard weary response to some posh bloke, I asked for his home town in return, receiving the reply “Hampstead” allowing me my “What, Hemel Hampstead?” reply.
Then there is the “But who do you REALLY support?” question. There was a time when I would ignore my Welling fixation and say “Leeds United” in reply to that, and in all fairness I was already 12 by the time Welling moved into PVR, so I hadn’t actually heard of them until then, and Leeds WERE my team. But there came a time when closets had to be left. It’s hard to convince yourself that you are only mildly interested in the fortunes of Welling when you find yourself in Merthyr Tydfil. For the fifth time. When plans are being made for that trip to Barrow. The final couple of straws which convinced me that my relationship with Leeds was no longer sustainable involved being stuck next to a very fat and perpetually angry Yorkshireman in the away end at Spurs, and realising that I could never care that much about Leeds losing 4-0; and my last trip to Elland Road, where I sat in the upper tier of their enormous stand which gives a fine view of the tops of the other three stands, so that you don’t actually feel you are in the ground, and that some private function is going on far below you to which you haven’t been invited. I spent my time distracted by the view from my seat, over the adjacent stands, of the utter desolation of that area of Leeds, while having the wax blasted out of my ears by one of those PA operators who believe we are there to listen to them and their favourite music.
So, although there are one or two fanzine editors and writers who still say “Chelsea” when asked, “Welling, no, not Welwyn Garden City” is now my answer. And with my new town being in Shropshire I’ve now had to add “No, not Wellington” to my repertoire.
This leads to stage two of the football conversation, mockery.
It’s hard to convince people that division 5 is actually a high level. That it isn’t played in parks. That not everyone brings their dog along. That you are not totally mad. Although sometimes it is hard to argue that last point: paying £15 to watch Welling is hardly a sign of sanity.
Often it’s easier to just admit defeat, and confess to madness, but sometimes when I hear the usual tedious rubbish about how oh so wonderful the premier league is, and that I should watch “proper” football, I feel obliged to defend my corner.
It is sometimes easy to forget that we are supporters of a pretty unique club. There is a lot of stuff by noisier non-league and former non-league teams, such as FC United, AFC Wimbledon and the like about “starting at the bottom of the pyramid”. Really? The bottom, you say? Well obviously they must know, but there is this other club that was started by a couple of brothers and their dad as a boys’ team playing in a park in 1963, and took precisely 23 years to reach division 5, one step from the professional divisions. Now, some people might not think that that is impressive. But perhaps they should. Perhaps they should know that one of the brothers is still running the club, along with the other brother’s son. That the whole thing is not a huge ego trip, or someone’s expensive toy. That the people who run it run it modestly, not for their own glorification. Too modestly, probably. Too modest to actually sell the club to the local area at times, but perhaps that is changing. I suppose I could compare Welling’s performance with that of the richest club in England, from the fine town of Trafford. Welling clambered up the divisions from boys’ football on a Sunday to division 5 of Saturday football from 1963 to 1986, while Trafford’s finest threw oodles of cash at attempting to win the league from 1968 and failing to do so for 26 years. So, 23 years of success mostly overlapping with 26 years of failure, but it is us that get mocked. Such is life.
Despite the years we have spent in the Conference (more than any other Kent team), and thus years spent having our results read out on the telly and radio, we are still spectacularly anonymous, even in South East London. A friend from Forest Hill had never heard of Welling (neither the team nor the place) despite having a sister who travelled through it on her way to Dartford Grammar School, although to be honest I’d only heard of Forest Hill as it used to be written on the front of the 122 bus. So if South East Londoners haven’t even heard of the place, it would be unfair to blame Wrexham fans for admitting to having to look us up on the internet. And the “No, not Wellingborough either” replies that I have to give are the inevitable result of coming from somewhere of such utter inconsequence (Wellingborough being famous for Frederic Henry Gravely, of course, who was very, very interested in spiders – Wikipedia again). If Kate Bush can’t put Welling on the map, no one can.
And pity poor Tranmere. Their year of living dangerously last time out has ended with a fun filled year in the Conference added to the diary. No doubt their poor travelling fans have been on the internet trying to find out where the hell we are (The Garden of England, ho ho ho!), and the Conference fixture pencil has punished them possibly more than is entirely necessary by sending them down here for an early kick-off and probable 5am leaving time, for their first taste of a properly crap non-league ground and non-league atmosphere. After they get back home after their monumentally crap day out they can say “I’ve just got back from Welling”, and can listen to the inevitable cries of “Where? Welwyn Garden City?”
They should pity us. Some of us have had a lifetime listening to that.