Football in Bracknell
History & Nostalgia

Following Wokingham Town FC home and away – a love letter to non league football

Matthew Kempson looks back at what it was like following Wokingham Town as a kid

Following Wokingham Town FC home and away – a love letter to non league football

We spotted this brilliant bit of reminiscing on the Wokingham Town Football Club facebook page and thought it worth sharing with anyone who remembers the old Finchampstead Road ground. It’s by Matthew Kempson and was written for the North Ferriby United fanzine – originally titled  “Come on you super Satsumas!” – Another non-league love. Matthew has kindly given us permission to reproduce in full.

He writes: I must admit that North Ferriby is not my first non-league love. There have been others before. My first was Wokingham Town (not to be confused with Woking), a below average Isthmian Premier side from a market town in Berkshire. For 3 seasons in my mid-teens during the early/mid-90s myself and a small group of friends avidly followed the super Satsumas (they played in orange). Discovering Ferriby a few years ago when I moved up to the East Riding rekindled my love of the lower leagues and reminded me of happy (and sad) times following Wokingham years before.

It all started with a chilly mid-week cup game against Chalfont St. Peter. Wokingham pulled off a 2:0 victory in front of a crowd of 132. For me, I recall it clearly because my parents caught me sneaking out a gin-filled hip-flask hidden in my sock (!?). It was revealed as I knelt down to tie my shoe-laces and I was in much trouble. Following Wokingham almost ended before it started. Despite this, I was allowed to go to the game (but no more gin antics!). And I can’t recall my last game but I do expect it was as a result of taking a Saturday job in the petrol station adjacent to the ground. In pre-internet days, friends would pile in after the game to tell me the score.

In between I enjoyed 3 fantastic seasons following Wokingham as they kept narrowly avoiding relegation. The club had achieved limited success in the 80s reaching the FA Cup 1st Round replay against Cardiff and an FA Trophy Semi-Final against Telford and were now on the slide. Success was measured on how early in the season we could confirm top flight status for next year. Compared to our recent success, following Ferriby this season has felt very familiar of my Wokingham days.

Related: Wokingham Town programmes: From Cardiff City to an FA Trophy semi-final

Established in 1875, Wokingham’s ground consisted of a tiny main stand (pictured) and the familiar mix of open and covered terracing. Unlike Ferriby, however, it was enclosed by, not one, but two railway lines resulting in double the amount of footballs being lost to cheers from the crowd. Often trains would halt briefly on the embankment above the ground; the vantage point giving passengers a great view of the action. Now there’s a potential solution for increasing Ferriby’s ground capacity 😉

For a time before I supported them, Wokingham was sponsored by a local conservatory and window manufacturer. As part of their deal they built a middle-of-the-range conservatory-cum-executive box behind one of the goals for matchday VIP entertainment. However, when Town weren’t hoofing it on to the railway tracks they were smashing all the glass panes out. During the years I supported them all that remained of this unwise venture was the executive cabin (pictured) and a twisted, condemned metal structure.

Luke Scope. Photo: Graham Tabor.

Current Wokingham & Emmbrook striker Luke Scope. Photo: Graham Tabor.

So much of the fun of non-league is the away-day trips. On these Saturdays I would often wait impatiently at home in the hope of a call from my friend Tom – “My Dad’s going to Hendon, Hayes, Basingstoke, Enfield, Sutton, Newport Pagnell etc”. “Do you want to come?” Being a small travelling army (car-load) of lads was a great feeling. One of the best was a season’s climax against Bognor Regis. We had to draw to stay up. On the way down we stopped off at an ice-cream van and bored the salesman. In the summer heat on the coast we scraped the necessary point to our excitement and relief. Returning home, orange scarfs flying from the car, we beeped and waved enthusiastically as we sped back passed him. He waved back, clearly without really knowing what he was waving at.

Home or away, our favoured vantage point was behind the goal and we’d always try, unsuccessfully, to intimidate the opposition keeper. We met our match, however, in Les Cleevely of Carshalton Athletic who, we were told by a Carshalton fan, had just been released from prison for GBH. Who knows if this was true but when Les turned around to snarl at us we soon shut up.

Related: Mark Ashwell remembers the famous Wokingham Town vs Cardiff City FA Cup tie

I still recall the names of the Wokingham players – my then heroes. To my excitement one visited our home whilst I was at school. A local roofer by the fabulous name of Reg Leather came round to fix a few tiles. Somehow my mum realised he was a Wokingham centreback and she collected up some programmes for him to sign. Fame for a non-league star! The front line was a cracking duo of 22 year-old Elliot Pearce and former Chelsea player Tommy Langley. They were a great combination of youth and experience. Tragically, however, Elliot was killed in a car crash and I remember visiting the ground on a midweek evening soon after when there was no game. I wandered round the silent stands and tied up a lone scarf near the entrance with a note attached wishing condolences to family and friends, and committing my allegiance to the club forever – “we’ll support you evermore!”

On moving to university, however, I managed to follow Wokingham only from afar and although I held on to the fond memories I gradually lost touch of their performances. By the late 1990’s, following successive regulations and escalating debts, the ground was sold for housing. Then, after a series of ground-shares and with fading prospects of a new purpose-built ground on the edge of the town, Wokingham was sadly wound -up entirely. More positively, a phoenix club, Wokingham & Emmbrook FC was established to continue the Satsuma tradition further down the pyramid, and continues to grow from strength to strength.

Fortunately, in my brief Wokingham days, despite coming very close, I never experienced relegation. As hard as Ferriby battled last season against all odds we were relegated and now, this season, we seem to be in free-fall and a double relegation looms large – All this despite never previously being relegated in our 84 year history. Every effort, care and investment (albeit reduced) will be required to ensure we don’t slide the way Wokingham Town did.

You can follow Matthew on twitter @mjmkempson. The article was originally published in issue 4 of View from the Allotment End – North Ferriby United’s quarterly independent fanzine. It includes articles on arrange of league and non-league football interests. More information via @VFTAE on Twitter.

Tom Canning

Tom is the co-editor of FootballinBracknell. He has played at the lowest possible level of football. In real life Tom works for Trinity Mirror.

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