Everybody has a best day of their life and, in the absence of kids or a spouse, I think that one of the greatest moments in mine so far was Sunday April 29, 2002. The venue was Church Road, Hayes in West London. The occasion was the deciding afternoon in the Conference championship with Boston United and Dagenham neck-and-neck for the one promotion place to the promised land of the Football League.
It seemed as though Boston had been evacuated for the day - at least 2,500 supporters bedecked in amber and black packed the open terraces of the now defunct ground, singing and dancing, while the rest of the town watched on Sky TV.
I was not as committed to Boston United in those days and was only there by a fluke really as my uncle had managed to get two cancelled seats on one of the many supporters’ coaches. That day, that 2-0 win over Hayes and the wonderful celebrations on the pitch afterwards cemented my love of my football club.
In the decade since, a great deal has happened to the two protagonists that day. While United have been up, down and a little way back again, Hayes have been on something of a rollercoaster too. The Hayes club we played that day, with roots dating back to 1909, merged with Yeading FC in 2007 and began a new life together in the Conference South.
It took just two years to gain promotion into the Conference National and there they stayed until earlier this year, always managing to beat relegation despite possessing far inferior resources to many of their opponents. But 2011-2012 proved one season too many and the amalgamated club returned to Conference South.
But as Church Road became dilapidated, they were forced to move anti-clockwise around Greater London and out to Surrey, hence why I found myself on a train to Woking at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. A new home, on the site of Yeading’s old ground, is being built and should be nearing completion by the end of this season.
The programme included a couple of pictures of the new main stand being assembled, which must have been a heart-warming sight for the small band of faithful followers who continue to make the necessary 20-mile journey to Kingfield for their “home” fixtures. It’s a bit like Boston having to play their home matches at Spalding or something - not very far but nonetheless quite annoying.
Woking is doubly famous for being the birthplace of Mod icon Paul Weller - a great hero of mine - and for being the first town destroyed by the Martians in the H.G. Wells Sci-fi novel ‘War of the Worlds’ which even now frightens the life out of me.
There is a sculpture of a Martian fighting machine somewhere in Woking but I didn’t have time to search for it, nor Stanley Road, where Weller grew up. The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” was written about the place and an excellent 1995 solo album is named after his home street.
Kingfield is a curious mix of old and new - a new, all-seater stand behind one of the goals towered over the small terraces and ramshackle seated stands along the side. The shiny cantilevered stand wasn’t open for this one, so I took up a position on the terrace at the other end, immediately noticing that the crowd was split pretty much 50:50 between home and away fans.
I’d been impressed by Welling in their pre-season match with Charlton but they were on the back foot right away here. It was obvious that Hayes had played at a higher level last season - their players passed the ball intelligently and weren’t afraid to use a bit of cheeky trickery to beat defenders. They also had someone called Pele at number five, which was amusing.
They took the lead on 10 minutes through a lovely goal - Kudus Oyenuga (who it has to be said, has a good name) played the ball forward, the away defence dithered and Jerome Anderson nipped in to beat the goalkeeper with a gorgeous chip.
More goals should have followed and the home fans warmed to the neat style of football on offer. Welling barely got a touch, let alone a concerted spell of pressure, and Oyenuga struck the base of the post five minutes before half-time. It would prove costly as the visitors levelled just before the break. Fraser Franks fired a loose ball towards goal and Ross Lafayette back-heeled the ball home.
They technically led for a matter of minute, as Hayes restored their advantage 23 seconds into the second period when Tobi Joseph delivered low and on a plate for Oyenuga to sweep home a deserved goal.
Hayes may have scored early in the half, but they encountered few problems in hanging on. The Welling fans stood around me grew more and more exasperated as passes went astray and the occasional pot-shot flew wide. There were a few corners and long throw opportunities, but Hayes never looked overly troubled. They saw out seven minutes of injury time to win it - and deservedly so on a very pleasant afternoon out.
Next Match: Hoping to make Boston’s away match at Oxford City on Tuesday evening, though the way we’ve been playing of late I’m in two minds.