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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 1992.

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 Trevor Senior.

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 in April.

After leading Weymouth to eighth, Senior remained with Weymouth as a player until the end of the season.

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 70s.

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.

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 Premier Division.

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 place.

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 assist Mason.

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 announced.

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 low point.

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 ended.

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 of business.

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 2004.

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.

 

     
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