When Tunbridge Wells FC announced on Facebook last week that the visit of Beckenham Town on Tuesday of this week would be free entry for all, it was a bit of a no-brainer. Despite a two-hour journey up from the South Coast, the lure of meeting up with a couple of mates not seen for a long while whilst enjoying a ‘not paid for’ football match was too good to turn down.
The Wells are a club pretty close to me, my younger brother played at the Culvenden Stadium in his early 20’s which got my late father ingrained in the Wells fabric. He was involved in the club until his unfortunate death a few years back beginning the club shop you see today at the ground, producing and printing the programme and generally imparting his non-league advice to then chairman Joe Croker when it was needed.
His legacy lives on today, the Dave Knell Cup has been contested twice between The Wells and my club, Wick FC and was something that nearly got off the ground before he died. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the greatest moment in Tunbridge Wells FC history when they graced the Wembley turf in the FA Vase Final in 2013.
That day was only 4 years ago, but the direction of the two teams involved could hardly be further apart. Spennymoor, who won 2-1 on the day, now reside in the Vanarama National League North comfortably placed in the play off zone having sat at the same level as The Wells, but for the Kent side progression appears to have stagnated.
Sitting just above the relegation zone at the start of play, Wells have not endured much success since that Vase final and sit firmly in the shadows of local rivals Crowborough Athletic and Sevenoaks Town. That’s not to suggest Wells should be sitting in the National League South, but the foundations were set for the club to make the leap to the now named Bostik South Division.
So what went wrong? Off the pitch, the club is well supported although attendances have dropped below the 200 mark recently but that still makes them one of the better supported Southern Counties East League sides. The loss of chairman Croker after that Vase final may have lost focus for a club ready for the next step, but currently on the field the team is a long way from that.
4 of the Vase side featured on Tuesday night, although some have had spells away from the club and others have also been back for a second spell. Club legend Jason Bourne, the Wembley skipper, is now managing the side and it’s fair to say the spark is still waiting to ignite. The turnover of players is fairly high, even for County League level, but Bourne’s standing within the club is giving him a good crack of the whip to get the ship sailing back to calmer waters.
After a fine 1-0 win over Sevenoaks a week and a half earlier in the Kent Senior Trophy, it was set to gain three precious league points against a Beckenham Town side who had suffered an extra time FA Vase defeat at the weekend.
Despite plenty of endeavour, Wells were patchy, largely outplayed and lacking a final ball to take the game to their opponents. Town’s opener came from a free header for Adam Wadmore and although Ian Parsons levelled 11 minutes later with a neat finish, Harry Ottanay slotted home a fine winner after the Wells defence was caught square, split by a perfectly weighted through ball.
A decent attendance of 206 for a team not playing at their potential on a cold-ish Tuesday night in December, but unable to be rewarded with a win. Those wins do need to materialise soon or Wells may find they are playing Division One football next season, something that certainly wasn’t in anyone’s thinking in 2013.