Too long in the wilderness
By Nigel Biddlecombe
Wednesday 3rd May 2006
THE last time the Wessex Stadium
hosted Conference National football was 17 years ago. Now
after winning the Conference South championship, Weymouth
will return to non-league's top flight this August. Terras
historian NIGEL BIDDLECOMBE recalls the eventful period since
the club last tasted Conference action.
WEYMOUTH'S ten-year stay in the top-flight of non-League football
ended on May 6, 1989.
Despite Andy Preece's goal giving
Gerry Gow's team a I-0 win over Fisher Athletic in front of
only 492 fans at the Wessex Stadium, it wasn't enough.
After a woeful season, the Terras
finished a full nine points from safety. Few could have known
it would take nearly two decades to get back.
Weymouth's team on that fateful day
against Fisher was Mel Gwinnett, Dave Linney; Willie Gibson,
Jan Johnson, Paul Compton, Richard Cooper, Tony Pounder, Steve
Pugh, Martyn Grimshaw, Darren McBride and Andy Preece.
The Terras began that poor season
with Stuart Morgan in the manager's chair.
He departed in January 1989 though,
to be replaced in a caretaker role by John Impey.
Gow took charge later that season
and was manager as Weymouth kicked off 1989-90 back in the
Southern League Premier Division.
They still found success hard to come
by though, finishing the season just above the relegation
zone in 17th place.
The ex-Bristol City and Manchester
City man Gow, having failed to find success at the Wessex,
was sacked with the season drawing to a close.
Weymouth promoted Paul Compton from
his playing role to take over thaf of player-manager, a position
he retained for the 1990-1991 season.
Compton's reign did not last long
as he found himself released from his contract in December
1990 and replaced by ex-Terra, Dorchester Town and Bristol
Rovers player Led Drake.
Despite Drake's presence the Terras
suffered a second relegation at the end of the 1990-91 season
as they finish last of the 22 teams in the Premier Division
to drop to the depths of the Southern Division.
Drake worked wonders with his squad,
as well as signing several newcomers in order to get an immediate
promotion for the Terras the following year.
After finishing runners-up to Hastings
Town in 1991-92, Weymouth were back in the Premier Division,
the then equivalent of Conference South.
Things turned sour the following season
and after a poor run of results, Drake was sacked in October
The club appointed veteran full back
Willie Gibson to caretaker manager before ex-Sunderland boss
Len Ashurst was appointed in early December.
Ashurst was unable to guide the Terras
away from the lower reaches of the league table and, with
relegation staring the club in the face yet again, he was
sacked in April 1993.
Bill Coldwell became the next appointee,
on April 26, 1993, but the ex-Birmingham City man was unable
to stave off the inevitable return to the Southern Division.
Under Coldwell the club stabilised
and with a very young team finished in tenth place in the
Southern Division at the end of the 1993/1994 season.
The following season started with
a bang as ColdwelI was relieved of his duties in September
and replaced by a partnership of players Willie Gibson and
A short time later, Senior was given
the sole player-manager's role in January 1995, however, this
did not last long as he was relieved of his managerial duties
After leading Weymouth to eighth,
Senior remained with Weymouth as a player until the end of
With the Terras support continuing
to dwindle, eyebrows were raised when Graham Carr was appointed
manager in May 1995.
In tandem with John Clarke, Carr saved
Weymouth from relegation in 1976-77 and build the foundations
on which Stuart Morgan built his successful side in the late
But once again the relationship was
not a lengthy One and Carr left in September 1995 to be replaced
in the hot-seat by then chairman Matthew McGowan.
Under McGowan, Weymouth finished sixth
in the Southern Division in 95/96, thanks in no small way
to three of Carr's signings.
David Laws, John Waldock and Ian Hutchinson
all played crucial roles and went on to be superb servants
to the club.
The Terras were unable to push on
and improve their league position during the following season,
slipping to seventh.
When McGowan stepped down in June
1997, Weymouth appointed ex Nottingham Forest, Manchester
United and England star Neil Webb as manager with locally
born John Crabbe as his assistant.
Webb's tenure was short lived as he
resigned after only three months, citing personal reasons,
with Crabbe taking over.
This appointment was not successful,
however, and before the end of the year Crabbe had joined
the long list of managers sacked by Weymouth.
Initially David Laws stepped into
the breach as player-manager, but after just a couple of games,
the board brought in ex-Bournemouth and Shrewsbury boss Fred
Davies brought in a number of young
players who alongside those already at the club took Terras
to the top of the Southern Division table and back to the
Promotion was confirmed with a win
at Baldock on the final day of the season.
Looking to consolidate their position
back in the higher league Weymouth finished 1998/99 in 14th
But the 1999-2000 season opened badly
and the Terras were in the bottom reaches of the league when
Davies resigned in October 1999.
Andy Mason was initially appointed
caretaker manager before taking the post on a permanent basis.
Mason was able to lead the club to a very respectable tenth
in the division.
Davies however, returned to Weymouth
the following season in a director of football position to
The pairing engineered an improvement
for Weymouth to end 2000/01, fifth in the table.
Despite a superb start to the following
season, Davies was sacked in November 2001 and within days
the appointment of Des Bulpin as director of football was
As had occurred on several previous
occasions, financial problems now started to dictate at Weymouth.
With money tight, Bulpin was the first
to suffer as he was sacked in February 2002, leaving Mason
again in sole charge.
It was during this period that Weymouth
loaned out stars Lee Phillips and Matt Hale, sold David Laws,
albeit temporarily, and Danny Potter and hit a new financial
Only the generosity of main sponsors
Park Engineering allowed the club to survive. Despite all
the off fIeld trauma, -Mason still led Terras to a very respectable
11th place, only to be replaced by Geoff Butler as the season
Butler was asked to work under a very
restrictive budget and this led to the club releasing some
of the more experienced players.
Although the final position of 17th
was disappointing, there was a relief that the club had come
through the financial crises that threatened to put it out
As the season closed there was a major
change at boardroom level with lan Ridley taking over as chairman.
He immediately sacked Butler before
appointing former Premiership striker and ex-Terra Steve Claridge
to the manager's position.
With Claridge in charge the Terras
fought their way to the summit of Southern League Premier
Division, with crowds doubling in the process.
But a run of poor results saw the
2003-04 season finish with Weymouth occupying the runners-up
spot to Crawley Town.
Halfway through the 2004-2005 season
and with the league now called Conference South, the Terras
were knocked out of the FA Cup by Thame United.
With Ridley having already resigned,
this was one result too far for new chairman Martyn Harrison
and Claridge was sacked.
Initially Paul Buckle, John Waldock
and Gary Borthwick were asked to take over as caretakers.
This continued until Steve Johnson was appointed in November
The task of managing a club with the
aspirations of Weymouth proved too much for Johnson and on
March 15, 2005, he became the second manager to lose his job
in the same season.
This time Roy O'Brien, John Waldock
and Gary Borthwick were caretaker managers and continued until
Garry Hill was appointed a week later.
Despite the upheavals throughout the
season, Terras were still able to finish the season in seventh
place, just outside the play offs.
With Weymouth turning full-time last
summer and Hill carefully spending the funding provided by
Harrison, fans were given a season to remember this year.
And after so long in the wilderness,
the sight of skipper Matt Bound lifting the championship was
all the more sweeter.