The non-league football season has finally drawn to a close except for a few matches between those clubs who made it to the promotion play-off places. In my last football related post I wrote about Wingate & Finchley’s battle to avoid relegation from the Bostik Premier Division. That battle continued for a stressful final four weeks of the campaign – and has played a part in my personal anxieties over the period. I never realised how much my club means to me until this season! Now that it’s over I can finally write about it and probably get back to a more normal blogging pattern.
April didn’t start well with a chilly visit to high flying Carshalton Athletic – they would finish second in the league. After holding our own for the first 30 minutes we succumbed big time and lost 5-1. Even Gorey couldn’t stop this shot……his glove only succeeding in pushing it into the roof of the net. Meanwhile Burgess Hill below us scored a good 2-1 win against Corinthian Casuals while our other relegation strugglers Harlow and Whitehawk both lost. Although Harlow were almost certainly down at this point, mathematically they were still in the battle.
The thirteenth and another away game in Tolworth against Corinthian Casuals. Their previous week’s loss to Burgess Hill had left them vulnerable to being dragged into the relegation fight too. It was a game that we had hopes of winning but they were dashed by a 3-1 defeat on a cold but sunny afternoon. Here’s Anthony Mendy striking our goal……A disappointing outcome but at least the real ale in the club house was very nice! Burgess Hill and Harlow both got excellent draws which kept them in the hunt but worryingly Whitehawk won which lifted them above us in the table on goal difference and dropped us into the relegation places.
Easter weekend is always a big one for non-league clubs with two games over the weekend and the Bank Holiday Monday games usually being local derby matches. Burgess Hill played their first fixture on Good Friday and were beaten 2-0 by Carshalton. On Saturday we faced Margate at home. Mid-table Margate had little to play for and for most of the match the game looked set for a draw. Then the referee stepped in and twisted the rules of football in what we have to assume was some sort of brain-storm. He played an advantage allowing Margate to make an attack and have a shot on goal. That should have been the end of it but, having allowed Margate to complete their attack, he inexplicably called play back to give a free kick at the site of the original infringement. Margate scored from the free kick. It’s refereeing decisions like this that can cost clubs their league status and a lot of income. He apologised for his mistake in the boardroom after the game but apologies don’t restore lost points 😦 Here’s Tanashe challenging for the ball with a Margate defender while the referee looks on……Highlight of the day for me was the visit of fellow photographer Nigel Cliff on a break from photographing his beloved AFC Wulfrunians. As an ex-referee himself he was scathing of the referee’s performance on the pitch. Both Harlow and Whitehawk also lost so effectively it was ‘as you were’ at the foot of the table.
Bank Holiday Monday and we were away against Haringey Borough. This is one of those friendly rivalries with some fans attending matches at both clubs and ex-Wingate coach Tucker now part of their management team. They were currently second in the table and would go on to finish third which entitles them to a home semi-final in the promotion play-offs. My best wishes are with them – I hope they get promoted (although I’ll miss going to their ground if they do!). It was a blazing hot day – I think Tucker and co had been drinking too much water as they all seem to be asking to be excused 😉 …..actually they’re appealing for a possible hand-ball. Haringey took the lead close on half-time when they capitalised on a defensive error and we feared the worst. The second half was a revelation as first Ali Njie scored an equaliser and that man Mendy struck the winner. Here’s Ali celebrating after the final whistle……It wasn’t in the script and everyone was busy checking the other scores on their mobile phones. Harlow had lost – which meant they were relegated. Burgess Hill and Whitehawk both drew. The win pulled us out of the drop zone but all three of the surviving bottom clubs could still be the one that escaped relegation. As predicted, it would all come down to that last game of the season and we were in the fortunate position to be in control of our own destiny – if only in the knowledge that anything less than a win was likely to result in relegation.
Last Saturday we gathered at the Maurice Rebak stadium more in hope than expectation. The weather was grey – one of those days when it thinks it wants to rain but can’t decide to do so. The wind was gusting strongly from the southwest as storm Hannah made its way up the west coast. The game got off to a good start for Wingate with Tony Mendy scoring on 14 minutes and doubling our lead on the stroke of half-time. This lad’s getting used to celebrations…
The second half started badly with Burgess Hill coming back with a brace of goals themselves to equalise. They still had a very slim mathematical chance of beating the drop themselves with a huge win over us. Here’s their equalising goal……a well hit shot rising into the top corner beyond Shane Gore’s reach. At this point, with Whitehawk beating Corinthian Casuals 2-0, we were relegated.
Time for a change! On came Charlie Ruff, a local lad living just around the corner from the stadium! His first act? To spot a loose ball after Mendy attempted a bicycle kick and run in to claim it while everyone else was sleeping – slotting it past the keeper to give us the lead once more…
…Roy of the Rovers stuff that you couldn’t make up! Shortly after Luke Ifil made a great individual run down the right and smashed a low ball past the Burgess keeper to give us a 4-2 victory…
…His celebration was poignant as it took place in front of some of our youth players who are the future of the club 🙂 ……It no longer mattered that Whitehawk beat Corinthian Casuals 4-0 – they were down and we were staying up. Cue the end of game celebrations 🙂