The Wessex Stadium
Ground No. 225
Visited - Saturday 12th March 2011
Result - Weymouth 3-2 Stourbridge
Competition - Southern League, Premier Division
Attendance - 497
Founded in 1890, Weymouth have a long and proud history, having largely played at the top end of non-league football for most of their time, yet (and perhaps this is a sign of the media saturation with the Premier League) it wasn’t until 2004 when they came most prominently to the nations attention in a BBC documentary called Football Stories, which charted then manager Steve Claridge’s tenure at the Dorset club. Despite Clarridge leaving shortly after filming ended, in 2005/06 they won the Conference South title, and notably held Forest to a draw in the FA Cup (losing the replay), before making their debut live on terrestrial TV for the first time ever with an FA Cup fixture against Bury the following season, all of which helped to raise the clubs profile and keep them in the spotlight. However whilst to the casual observer they seemed like a club on the up, the reality is that the foundations had been built on sand, and it all came crashing down in 2007 when the entire squad were put up for sale, with the rumours of financial instability having been confirmed. Since then, the club have lurched from one crisis to the next, along with a stream of new owners and managers (eight in the last two years alone!) having been unable to steady the ship. Liquidation has looked a constant threat, and with the club apparently seeing the option of selling the ground as the answer, then I’d been wanting to get down there for a while, eventually opting for the game against Stourbridge with nothing else on that day.
At times you have to be grateful for living in the Midlands, and I often wonder whether I would have ended up doing the 92 or continuing on to so many different grounds if I lived in one of the far flung parts of the country where public transport is less of an option and travelling times vastly increased. Thankfully it’s not something I have to debate, but even then you are still left with some hellish journeys, and this was very much one of them. Setting off early, it wasn’t particularly the length of it that I wasn’t looking forward to, more the slow progress once past Bristol. In fact despite the stage down to Temple Meads making up about two thirds of the distance, the second part from there to the coast would end up taking twice as long, stopping off at what seemed like every village and hamlet on the way, with no fast trains on the line to make the time pass by more quickly. Still, if you want to visit grounds, it has to be done, and we made it in for 11am on a beautiful sunny day that seemed to spring hope of an end to the horrific winter that we’ve endured, and which had taken out a large chunk of the season over the December/January period.
Weymouth itself is about as far south as you can go in England outside of Devon and Cornwall. It’s a historic port town, something you can tell instantly from leaving the station and walking through the narrow winding streets that make up the town centre. It has the rather dubious honour of being where the Black Death originated from in this country, thanks to two ships docking from France with infected sailors, but in a more positive first, the Wessex Stadium was the first ‘large scale’ (however you want to define that) new ground built in the country for 37 years, being opened in 1987, 12 months before Scunthorpe famously made their move to Glanford Park (with it being notable that this ground held more than the development at Scunny when opened). The one downside to the move is that in many ways it kicked off the trend for moving to an out of town site, so after having had a walk around the town and down the prom (prom, prom, **** off West Brom), then it was off on the 2 mile walk, with at least the route there being fairly pleasant thanks to passing through Radipole Nature Reserve on the way.
Whilst it may be a new ground, what draws you to it is four very old school floodlight pylons, a welcome sight that is sadly becoming increasingly rare even in older grounds around the country, and from the outside it has the feel of a ground built for the Football League. Going in, this feeling continues, with terracing 16 steps deep running around all four sides of the ground, except in the centre of the near side, where the Grandstand towers over the rest, with a tier of seating raised from pitch level underneath a cantilever roof, providing some fantastic panoramic views, including over the adjacent Speedway Stadium to the western end of the ground. Beneath it is a good sized bar, so having taken some pictures I made my way in for a couple of pints before the game.
Along with their financial woes, ‘the Terras’ had been suffering on the field as well, sitting only one point off the bottom of the league, (albeit a position falsified thanks to having been deducted 10 points at the start of the season), and when the game got started, it was amusing to hear the home fans trying to figure out who was the latest arrival at the club this week, with the team apparently having been far from settled with players coming and going. The visitors, Stourbridge, on the other hand were chasing the play-offs, and having beaten Weymouth 7-2 at Amblecote earlier in the season, it should have been one sided if it was to go to form, but in just the fifth minute the hosts took the lead thanks to Jamie Mudge, who was able to poke home from near the penalty spot thanks to some good work down the left hand side from Warren Byerley. Having left the Grandstand by this time to show some Black Country solidarity and stand with the dozen or so Stourbridge fans who had made the trip, then it wasn’t too long before they were back in it, 12 minutes exactly, and courtesy of Nathan Bennett, who headed home, albeit it was probably the Weymouth goalkeeper and full back who they had to thank more, the two getting confused as to who was going for the looping ball, both watching it drop into the net when either could easily have cleared. The rest of the half was all Weymouth, the home side laying siege to the visitors goal, and forcing ex Wolves ‘keeper Lewis Solly into some good saves, but the Glassboys were always dangerous on the break, and they nearly took the lead just before halftime when Nick Jordan redeemed himself with a good save from Aaron Drake when his snapshot looked certain to be sneaking in.
After the break, the home side utterly dominated the game, and it looked like a case of when rather than if they’d take the lead again. Only some resolute defending kept the scores level, but the visitors couldn’t do anything in the 69th minute when a cross from the right found Warren Byerley who slammed the ball in off the post to make it 2-1. Ten minutes later and they made it three, Matt Groves heading home from a corner, and that looked to be it, until Stourbridge made it interesting in injury time thanks to Ryan Rowe. They’d already had one header cleared off the line a few minutes earlier from a rare attack and corner, but their 2009/10 Players Player of the year slotted home with one of the last kicks of the game to make the final score look more close than it had in fact been.
With the last train home at 5:20pm, and the game having gone on late, not finishing until gone 4:50pm, then I was right by the exit, one foot out when the ref blew his whistle, ready to speed walk back to the station, not being entirely sure I’d make it in time. Thankfully I did, with no problems in the end, glad to have come, even if the journey home was as terminal as the one down.
Whilst its location might not be perfect, too far out of town for comfort, it will be a real shame if the club do leave the ground, as I found myself really coming to like it. It may only have been less than 10% full, but you get a real feel for it as a classic venue, even if it is only just over 20 years old now. The way it’s been built has been in the mindset of the pre-Hillsborough designs, not to say that the facilities are poor, they aren’t, far from it, but it has that feel of a proper football ground. Stands close to the pitch, good sized terracing on a good scale, partial cover and of course the classic floodlights. Practically any club outside the Football League would be happy with a ground like this, and many more inside it as well.
Welcome to the Wessex Stadium
Rear of the Main Stand
The Club Shop
Rear of the Away End
The Club Badge
The Home End
The Far Side
The Hollybush Stand
The Hollybush Stand
Ready for Kick Off
The Home End
(note the speedway stadium behind)
The Hollybush Stand
Second Half Action
The Wessex Stadium Panoramic