Welling United celebrate 50th birthday in style

PUBLISHED: 09:10 02 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:10 02 May 2013

Welling captain Lee Clarke lifts the trophy. Pic by Keith Gillard

Welling captain Lee Clarke lifts the trophy. Pic by Keith Gillard

(C)2013 Keith Gillard, all rights reserved

The highest level of non-league football seemed a long way off when Welling United were staring liquidation in the face in the summer of 2010.

But three years later that’s exactly where they find themselves, helped in no small part by a loyal bunch of supporters who raised £60,000 to keep the club afloat.

And club secretary Barrie Hobbins, whose father Sydney founded the club in 1963, is delighted the club will be able to take advantage of some financial benefits as it celebrated its second league title in 50 years.

“There’s much more money floating around by going up one league. There’s more sponsorship and we’ll probably be able to attract bigger sponsors with the added exposure.

“There’s also the potential for playing in live Sky Sports games which will help swell the coffers.”

Player-manager Jamie Day, who has been in charge for almost four years, added: “We know it’s not going to be easy. We’re a little club going into a big league.

“I’d love us to go full-time, but with the size of the club and the budget I don’t think that’s possible.

“We’ll do what’s best and if that’s the way forward, we’ll stay part-time and see how we get on.”

After the near-financial meltdown, the club became a community interest company, which gave fans the opportunity to purchase shares in exchange for a say in the running of the club.

Talking to some of those supporters after last season’s play-off final defeat to local rivals Dartford, many were pessimistic about the team’s chances of success this time around having come so close.

But Welling are preparing to play at Blue Square Bet Premier level for the first time in 13 years, and more than 1,500 fans packed into Park View Road to see their heroes lift the trophy on Saturday.

The step up in class presents challenges of its own.

Namely, facing fully professional teams with much bigger budgets and longer travelling distances in a national league for players who have other professions.

Of the 24 clubs who will be in the division next season, less than half will be full-time.

Welling will have to travel as far as Gateshead next season, which will be their longest trip.

But 70-year-old Barrie said: “The extra travelling is something the club will have to deal with – both the players and the fans.

“On the flip side, some of the away sides who will visit Park View Road next season will bring a lot more supporters than we have seen this season.

“Our last stint in the Premier was 14 years so we know what it takes. I’m very proud of Jamie Day and the team for putting us in this position, as my dad would be.”

Key players in Welling’s success are hopeful of making the step up in August.

Wing-back Loui Fazakerley said: “There are a lot of big teams in the Premier so it will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it, I’ve been trying to get into this league for seven years and I’m finally there.

“A massive thank-you must go out to the fans – the best we could have hoped for.”

Goalkeeper Sam Mott added: “I was playing for Thamesmead last season so I can’t wait to go to some of the big grounds next year.

“We couldn’t have done it without the fans. I know how much they did to keep the club in business and some of the away crowds have been superb.”

Next season starts on August 10. That’s a day for Welling fans to keep free in their diaries.

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