One hundred years of agony and ecstacy

By Matt White

Friday, July 20, 2012

 

One hundred years of agony and ecstacy

At Westwood Park, from left, club secretary Mike Stokes, fundraiser and committee member Julie Potts, trustee Allan Blackburn and chairman Ian Lee. Picture by Robin Crossley.

WIGHT LIVING TURN the clock back 100 years and the world of football was very different — yet one of the game’s IW landmarks has successfully stood the test of time.

A century ago, the footballs were heavy, players wore hard toe-capped boots, goalkeepers played without gloves and teams had no substitutes.

Players were paid pennies, rather than the millions enjoyed by the stars of today, and the first televised game was still a good 25 years away.

Blackburn Rovers were the champions of England.

Even at grass roots level the game was very different, as thousands, rather than hundreds, packed into grounds to watch their local teams play.

However, some things have survived football’s evolution.

Cowes Sports FC played their first match at Westwood Park in September 1912 and in October this year, the club will celebrate its centenary at the historic ground.

The club, formed in 1881 as Cowes FC, moved to Westwood Park after its former Brooklyn Ground, between Park Road and Upper Moor Green Road, was sold for housing.

The first visitors to the new ground were Woolston, who came away with a 5-2 victory, on September 14, 1912.

Westwood was officially named on October 26, 1912, and the match that followed saw Cowes triumph 5-0 in the Hampshire Senior Cup against the Royal Marines Light Infantry.

Crowds of up to 5,000 were not uncommon, which led the club to replace its original grandstand with a larger structure, capable of seating 600 people, in time for the 1920/21 season.

In 1945, the club bought the ground outright for £665, before a section of concrete terracing for around 200 supporters was added.

The original stand is still used today and remains one of the largest in non-league football across the south.

The club’s historian, Pete Jeffrey, 64, who is writing a book about the club's 100 years at Westwood, said: "The stand is getting on a bit but it is still in pretty good condition.

"We have had some extensive renovation work done over the years and it's holding up."

Another stand on the opposite side of the pitch was severely damaged by the 1987 hurricane and was later demolished.

However, there is no doubting the historic old ground has witnessed many highs and lows, both on and off the pitch.

For Allan Blackburn, 67, who has been involved with Cowes since 1976 and today helps in the tea hut and behind the bar, beating Newport in the IW Gold Cup final was one of his favourite memories.

Allan, a club trustee and lifetime vice-president, said: "We’ve had some great times and some difficult ones.

"As a young lad, I remember loads of people going into the ground on a Saturday afternoon.

"My father-in-law got me involved and I ended up travelling away with the team on match days, helping with fundraising and doing all sorts at the club.

"My son and daughter were a ball boy and ball girl when they were young and today we always try to encourage young people to get involved.

"In my eyes, we are a nice, friendly club."

During the First World War, the IW Air Rifles had a range set up at Westwood, although Cowes continued to play there, as they did throughout the Second World War, when a war league was established.

Leading up to the Second World War, the club was regarded as one of the best in the county and it boasts a number of Hampshire League titles and Hampshire Senior Cups.

In 1963, more than 2,900 fans crammed into Westwood for an FA Cup fourth qualifying round match against Yeovil, which Cowes lost 1-0.

Crowds dwindled during the 60s and 70s, as the small but dedicated staff struggled to keep the ground from disrepair.

However, despite some desperate financial difficulties, the club survived, and in 1980, Cowes FC became Cowes Sports after it amalgamated with White’s Sports, where Mr Jeffrey was secretary.

He became secretary of Cowes Sports but the move was not welcomed by everyone at the club and it led to a mass exodus of mainland-based players and the manager.

The reserves became the first team and narrowly escaped relegation from Hampshire League 2.

However, in the late 1980s, with entirely Island-based players, the team went on to win Hampshire League 1, which won entry into the Wessex League.

A clubhouse was opened in 1991 and floodlights followed a year later, as the ground was brought up to Wessex League standard.

A new clubhouse and covered standing followed in 2003.

Former Portsmouth and Manchester City player, Island-born Lee Bradbury, played for Cowes before he turned professional, while Jamie Lawrence was scouted by Sunderland during his time at the club.

Lawrence was a prisoner at Camp Hill in the 1990s but was temporarily released so he could play football. He went on to play more than 300 games professionally.

Today, Cowes play in Division 1 of the Wessex League, averaging gates of around 80, although last year's derby against East Cowes Vics attracted around 250 supporters.

The club wants to hear from former players, officials and supporters, who would like to join in the celebrations or share their memories of Westwood Park, as well as those who played there for the opposition.

The club is also on the lookout for old photos, programmes, tickets, posters, medals and other memorabilia, to be used in an exhibition celebrating its 100 years at Westwood.

On Sunday, October 28, the current Cowes side will play a Cowes Legends team, featuring players from the 1960s.

After the match, a reunion for anyone involved with the club over the years will be held.

Anyone with any memories to share, items of interest, or who would like to attend the Legends match and club reunion are invited to contact Mr Jeffery on 07903 085785 or via e-mail at

pete.jeffery@talktalk.net.

• The club will be hosting the Westwood Cup from today (Friday) until Sunday to celebrate 100 years at Westwood Park. Semi-finals will be played today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday). The final and third place play-off will be on Sunday.

Reporter: mattw@iwcpmail.co.uk

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