That’s it, we’re back in business. No doubt about it. Sod the summer, domestic football is back. London was awash with pre-season action on Saturday - I could have travelled north, south, east or west and found a game to watch to my satisfaction.
Boston don’t start their round of pre-season friendlies until Tuesday evening, so Saturday meant another blank cheque for random, loyalty-free football watching. I ducked south and east, heading about half an hour out of central London to the respectable environ of Welling for my second fix of the season.
There was a definite wish at the back of my mind to avoid the shambles of last Saturday, when I ended up watching what was essentially a park game and just felt a bit stupid and lost. With Welling hosting Charlton Athletic, or at least an XI representing their name, I knew at least it would take place in an actual ground and not on some dodgy college astroturf or overgrown meadow like many of the other friendlies going on.
It is also time to get started on visiting a few more Conference South grounds. I’ve done the full tour of the Conference North clubs - and seen some, like Guiseley and Gainsborough, so often that I can practically describe every landmark from the station to the ground - and it was now time to compare them with their southern equivalents. Dartford (only a couple of stops on the train after Welling) and Boreham Wood are the only two visited already, so just the 20 to go!
As has become depressingly familiar in this lost summer, London was being pelted with rain as my train pulled across the Thames from Victoria. The apex of The Shard - which I’m convinced should hold Sauron’s all-seeing eye of evil - was coated in thick grey and it was no less moist upon arrival at Park View Road.
Welling’s home since 1977 was no different to many other grounds at this level, with seating on the two sides and large expanses of terracing behind both goals. The bigger of the stands thankfully had a big roof, which prevented me getting too soggy as the players warmed up.
It was obvious that this annual fixture is a massive money-spinner for Welling, who defied expectation by reaching the play-off final last season, and they would have banked plenty of money for this season’s war chest from the 1,800-strong crowd here. Admission was £12 - way above average for pre-season - but this didn’t deter a large crowd who were predominantly backing Charlton, whose ground isn’t too many miles away.
The majority had little to cheer in the first-half, played out on a super-slick playing surface. One debate between my Boston-supporting friends is whether the Conference South is more aesthetically pleasing than the North - whether the default setting for those in North is to bash the ball forward while the ‘silkier’ players in the Southern division prefer to pass.
On this evidence, it’s true. Welling’s passing and movement was excellent and they found themselves in threatening positions just as often as their Championship opponents, who fielded all their first teamers at one point or another during the game.
The only moment of anxiety for the hosts came when Danny Green picked out an unmarked Calum Harriott at the back post. The forward was clean through but connected with the slippery ball so wildly that it went out for a throw in, to more than a few tuts, groans and shouts of Taxi!’ from those in my vicinity.
The second period was an entirely different affair. Chris ‘Nicest man in football’ Powell made wholesale changes and the replacements were much more ruthless. Chris Solly whipped in a dangerous cross from the left and Welling defender Joe Obersteller, on debut, spanked it past his own goalkeeper barely 90 seconds after the whistle.
Michael Smith was then left unmarked to head a second goal and the risk of an undignified defeat for Charlton on their first outing of pre-season lifted. The away fans started to enjoy their afternoon and the rowdier elements started working through their repertoire of songs and chants, glad their Saturday afternoon were filled again.
Welling struck the upright through Ross Lafayette but it wasn’t long before the Addicks put a more lopsided complexion on things. Danny Haynes pirouetted into the box and was brought down, with Jonnie Jackson converting the penalty for 3-0.
The roles were reversed when Haynes added a fourth shortly before full-time, which sparked one of the most pointless pitch invasions you’ll ever see. It did bring a smile to my face, however, and if I wasn’t wearing smart but inappropriate footwear I certainly would have joined them. They’re always better with Boston though...
Next Match: Likely to get to a match in midweek as there’s no shortage of options. Next Saturday sees potentially my first Boston away, but then it is at Rainworth Miners’ Welfare so frankly I’m in two minds...