WELWYN Garden City are South Midlands League champions for only the second time in their history, thanks to a controversial stoppage-time penalty.
The Citizens have secured their second SSML title with still seven games to go of the current campaign – bridging a 46 year gap since they last won the crown of the league in which the club has played for the majority of its 97 year existence.
But this time, unlike 1972-73, when former Scots international Alex Massie steered his side to the championship - briefly breaking the all powerful Barton Rovers’ grip on the league at that time - there is a prize at the end of the rainbow.
With a total revamp of non-league football taking place at the end of this season, champion clubs of all 14 leagues at step five (the standard WGC play at) are assured of promotion.
That’s because at the next step up, the FA are increasing the number of step four feeder divisions to seven, to help with travelling and geographical location.
WGC will be either a Southern or Isthmian League club, when next season kicks off. They won’t know which, until all step 5 titles are resolved and the FA allocates clubs geographically in two months time.
For most of last Saturday afternoon, match referee Damien Mirzadeh incurred the wrath of a 183 crowd at Herns Lane, with a somewhat pernickety performance that resulted in four bookings for each side.
But villain turned hero four minutes into eight minutes stoppage time, when Mr Mirzadeh awarded WGC a ‘soft’ penalty, George Ironton going down under challenge from Wembley full-back Tryer, with the ball seemingly destined to go out of play.
The visitors were incensed, but the award stood and Tyler Hatherly, the latest recruit to what is now WGC’s title-winning squad, stepped up to take the responsibility to blaze home for a 2-1 win.
This, coupled with the news that Berkhamsted, WGC’s long-time title rivals had only drawn 0-0 at Colney Heath, was the goal that gave the Herns Lane outfit the title.
This wasn’t one of the best games to last in the memory, even if the club’s achievements this season do.
WGC, without a trio of players – Ben Spaul, Jay Rolfe and Charlie Joy – all unavailable and Jon Clements completing his three match suspension, began well enough, Josh Bronti bringing a save from Wembley keeper Zulmatasilivi early on and then seeing teammate Ashley Kersey, unwittingly deflect another effort over.
But after being on the back foot for the opening 15 minutes, Wembley began to come into the game.
John McGrandles was at full stretch to deflect a Yassine Fehmi-Gil effort away from goal in 17 minutes and the Wembley skipper didn’t have to wait long for another chance, his low shot beating Charlie May in the home goa,l a minute later, for a surprise lead for the visitors.
Apart from a good glancing header just wide from Paul Marks – WGC’s best player on the day – the Citizens couldn’t fashion anything of note before the interval.
It was better after the break and nine minutes in, they were level. A high ball in from Jon Sexton, saw Ironton reach it just before the Wembley keeper and lob over him for it bounce home for 1-1.
WGC had few clear-cut chances as they searched for the goal that might just secure them the championship, the best seeing Ironton skying the chance of a personal second over, after a good run by Dan Bond.
Keeper May was forced to a good save, turning a Tryer effort around a post, as Wembley threatened a last gasp winner, but it looked as though a share of the spoils would have to suffice and a wait until another day for title success, until Mr Mirzadeh decided to do them a dramatic favour.
WGC: May, Sexton, Corran (Boodhoo 73), McGrandles, Hatherly, Marks, Elliott, Ironton, Bronti (Payne 73), Kersey, Bond.