Whenever I tell people I'm a Weymouth fan they know that Ian Ridley was Chairman and Steve Claridge was manager, but this is normally followed by the question “what happened”. Yeah, good one. This is my take on it, a simple take, an idiot's guide. And I must be an idiot to still be a Weymouth fan!
Ian Ridley’s book ‘Floodlit Dreams’ ends with Weymouth beating Lewes to gain promotion to the Conference National in 2006, an event leading to an almighty celebration followed by a nagging headache about how any of this dream was financially sustainable.
As with any hangover, you hope for a swift end to the discomfort and after 10 seconds of the new season, when Ben Smith scored the opening goal in a 3-1 win at Tamworth, the tonic was administered and everyone was delighted. Three successive victories later, over 5000 in the ground for a game against Oxford United, an FA Cup game live on the BBC, a league game on SKY (check out this goal from Ben Smith) and it was clear to see Weymouth FC were going to piss this tinpot league and destined for the Premiership!
That changed drastically on the 9th January 2007 when owner Martyn Harrison announced he had “got a bit carried away”; and the money had run out. Most of the squad left, manager Garry Hill went and the dream was over. The nightmare had begun. Someone wake me up when it's over.
Ridley offered to return with Claridge but was turned down, at the time stating “my fear is the land is sold along with the club." Wise words Ian, wise words. Defender Jason Tindall was appointed manager, and immediately became the most fake tanned football manager ever. We finished the season in 11th place, with a team of heroes, in some instances, and some absolute jokers – some of whom even the most dedicated of Weymouth fans wouldn't recall - and suffered our worst ever defeat in the Conference, 7-0 at Cambridge United. During these dark days there were some bright spots. Stuart Beavon (now at Wycombe Wanderers) was signed from Didcot FC and went on to become one of the greatest players I've seen in the claret and blue and our goalkeeper Super Jason Matthews belted in this goal. I'll admit it, I love Super Jason Matthews more than my own mother.
In June 2007, Harrison sold the club to music promoter Mel Bush, who was also Tindall's Father in Law. Bush came in with the usual stuff about making the club financially stable and “a well-run community club” By October Bush was gone, leaving the club apparently debt free, and uhhh....it hurts me to type this guy's name, Malcolm Curtis took over. Cu*tis, or to give him his full title, property developer Malcolm Cu*tis, took control and stated he was going to put “some stability back in this club” and announcing that "I am not an asset stripper”. By February 2008 Cu*tis had sold the land surrounding the Wessex Stadium to his company Wessex Park Limited for £550,000, a figure seen as spectacularly low at the time and it's legality questioned.
In January 2008 Tindall's sun bed bills were crippling the club and poor results were used as an excuse to sack him. He was replaced by ex Chelsea manager John Hollins who somehow managed to keep us in the Conference.
In August 2008 Cu*tis unveiled plans for a new Community Sports Stadium, to be built by 2012 on the site of the town's Rugby Club. Also in Cu*tis' briefcase that day was a pig which he planned to launch into intergalactic orbit.
Two months later Cu*tis announced he wanted out of the, now apparently debt ridden, club due to “the amount of hand grenades that are being thrown at me.” Sadly he was only speaking metaphorically but the financial concerns led to a number of departures and the fans scrambling round desperately to save the club. Cu*tis was perfectly clear a month later when it was announced the ownership of the land surrounding the Wessex Stadium has been sold again, this time to Wessex Delivery Partnership LLP, a partnership between Cu*tis' Wessex Park Limited and property developers Morgan Sindall Ltd. As part of the deal the club would continue to play at the Wessex Stadium with Cur*is stating “The Wessex Delivery Partnership will only be able to call on the option to build on the site when they have consent on a new stadium for the club."
In December 2008 the well liked Hollins was fired and replaced by assistant Alan Lewer and by now every day seemingly brought a new low. December also saw Cu*tis state “administration or winding up may be my only options.” The following month he left, leaving his shares in a holding company, but not before branding Weymouth “the Afghanistan of non-League football” and with the club still facing the very real threat of liquidation. Great. Cheers Malc! Once again the fans were forced to scramble round for some spare change to keep the club going and this video still makes me a little sniffy.
February 2009 saw us forced to play our youth team in a league match as the majority of the squad issued 14 days notice period due to unpaid wages and, apparently, were not covered with full medical insurance. Unsurprisingly we got hammered by Rushden & Diamonds, losing 0-9. However, the emotions on that day were something else, a stirring sense of pride at the brave players who wore the claret and blue, mixed with the rage of seeing my club on it's knees like this. I'll admit it, I cried on the terraces that day, it seemed like the end. The result also aroused the attention of the FA, due to the amount of betting on the game – I'll leave that one there I think.
Want another low point? Go on then!! Heard the one about the daytime TV addict, who lived in a council house, who had £20,000 worth of debts yet offered to donate £300,000 to a struggling non league team, only to spell the club's name wrong on the cheque and then have a stroke at a press conference to announce his donation. No, really – this happened. Embarrassing.
In March 2009 Ian Ridley returned to the club as Chairman, leading a consortium of local businessmen. He immediately looked to reduce the debts, of around £500,000, by launching a share issue and shortly after replaced manager Alan Lewer with ex Wales manager Bobby Gould. Defeat to York City on the penultimate round of fixtures saw the club relegated to the Blue Square South.
Gould left at the end of the season and was replaced by former player Matt Hale, a man whose car I once had a nose bleed in on the way back from a game against Yeovil! With the club under local control and a former player at the helm things looked, well not good, but certainly less crap than for a while.
WRONG AGAIN! The club was still desperately short of money, £50,000 was raised by fans in less than two weeks, Steve Claridge played for us in a 5-1 home defeat to Bromley, as we attempted to raise publicity of our financial plight, Hale resigned in October after presiding over a few thumpings (including one against Bishop’s Stortford (6-2), a game in which Teddy Sheringham's son, Charlie scored five), Ridley resigned to battle cancer, and Cur*tis resurfaced with threats to call in a loan of over £200,000, which led to the club giving notice to appoint administrators. This then led to two bids for the club, both as appealing as an epileptic lobster inserted up your anus but certainly more appealing than the end of 119 years of Weymouth FC, and eventually this led to former Cambridge United Chairman George Rolls taking control of the club.
By December 2009 debts had apparently reached over £700,000 and in January 2010 the manager, and club legend, Ian Hutchinson was fired. He was replaced by Jerry Gill, who resigned after 44 days (including one defeat against Basingstoke in which Mitchell Bryant scored all six of Basingstoke's goals). He was replaced by the returning Hutchinson in March with the debt now over apparently at £900,000. By the end of April this figure was reduced dramatically with the club entering into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), an arrangement that that saw us, (by now relegated from Conference South), start the 2010/11 season in the Zamaretto Premier League on minus ten points.
Shortly before the start of the 2010/11 season, the Wessex Stadium was renamed the Bob Lucas Stadium, in recognition of the sterling service given to the club by Lucas, who died in August at the age of 85. He was our goalkeeper for two years and was man of the match in a third round FA Cup tie against Matt Busby’s Manchester United at Old Trafford before going on to be club physio for 32 years and club President. Bob was a man who symbolised all that was good about the club and always represented it with dignity and pride, traits sadly lacking by many others around the club in this period.
The 10/11 season wasn't a great one, the odd 9-0 loss, the close 7-2 defeat but by the end of it we had overturned the ten point deficit and avoided relegation, thanks to the guidance of manager Martyn Rogers, who replaced Hutchinson in January 2011. Off the pitch Rolls transferred the remaining shares in the club's holding company to his name, meaning “Weymouth FC and the ground is now owned by two separate concerns who don’t care about the club”, before resigning from the Board of Directors in February 2011. The transfer of shares importantly means that Rolls gets the right to oversee any negotiations related to the options agreement with Wessex Delivery Partnership LLP for any sale of the stadium, and do as he sees fit with any money. I think. For the average supporter, hello, it makes the brain hurt.
On the pitch the 2011/12 season has started pretty badly with, of course, a new manager. No paragraph is complete without mention of a new manager, another ex-player, Brendan King, and we currently stand 21st in the 22nd team division and with an average attendance of around 1/10th of that that turned up for the game against Oxford United only five years ago, with many staying away in protest at Rolls' running of the club. (Oh, hi George – I know you'll be reading this you greasy div) For just a handful of the reasons why Rolls' isn't liked start here and then read any sentence anyone's ever written about the man since, or before actually.
Our Board of Directors is now made up of George's wife, his Mum and his Dad! However it's George that continues to rule over the Bob Lucas Stadium, distrust of him is high, his motives and intentions unclear and the club is left with little to call it's own and any new ground further away than ever (as long as you discount the threat of ground share at Dorchester). The fan base is dispirited after years of defeats and an ongoing battle to keep the club alive; but we're still here, the fans pay the wages of some players and as long as the WFC flag is flying from one of the floodlight's, there's still the dream we can win our club back and have a successful Weymouth FC to shout for!
Up the Terras!