After a decade in the doldrums, Weymouth are finally playing in the second tier of the Non-League pyramid again, a place the fans feel the club deserve to be.
“It was never in doubt,” said Weymouth manager Mark Molesley with a wide grin and a relieved look on his face. Speaking to the local journalists in his modest manager’s office at the back of the home dressing room after watching the Terras seal the Southern League South title, Mark Molesley must have felt the pressure immediately lifted from his shoulders. A whole town full of anxious fans, who had seen previous Weymouth sides give up great positions in title races, must have felt as if it was going to happen all over again, a run of three games without a win, unfortunately, came during the final run-in with Weymouth hobbling towards the finish line. Mark Molesley however, never showed any signs that he did not believe in his side to deliver what the fans had been waiting for for so long, a return to the National League South.
With Weymouth’s momentum stalling, Taunton Town’s pursuit of the Terras was relentless; their run of winning 6 out of 7 games meant that the title would be decided in the final game of the season. In true Weymouth style, the fans would have to wait another ninety minutes for their first promotion since 2006. A backs to the wall performance in the first-half, as Weymouth battled the elements and a determined Farnborough side, was followed by a dominant second-half showing from the Terras which saw them run out 3-0 winners. As Mark Molesley eluded to, they made it look as though ‘it was never in doubt’.
Promotion and success come at a cost though, the determination for the club to live within its means as well as stay competitive on the pitch meant that a £2 admission price rise was a necessity. It was a move that Chairman Ian White said the board didn’t take lightly, “Five, six, seven years ago we all sat in that bar at the fans’ forum and we all decided that we were going to let the club live within its means. That is very very important because we have to let it live within its means.”
Weymouth could not be further from the position they were in at the turn of the decade, a push to become a financially sustainable club has seen the club firstly pay off a reputation denting CVA and eventually become debt-free. The price for multiple spells of reckless ownership in the past was so many seasons in the Southern League. But things are different now, the modern-day club has even been able to renovate the Bob Lucas Stadium, which had been long overdue; new seats have been fitted for the first time since the stadium’s opening in 1987, new floodlights to be fitted and further plans to improve disabled facilities just shows the direction the club is heading. A club trying to undo the damage and regain trust within the town and local communities.
The on the pitch success meant that Weymouth golden boot winner Brandon Goodship had attracted the attention of League One side Southend United. Ever since Goodship signed for the Terras in July 2017, fans feared that a league club would be looking to sign him; with every goal Goodship scored this seemed to be becoming more of an inevitability than a possibility. Just weeks after lifting the Southern League title the existential worries of many fans came to the fore, Weymouth might have a beach to rival Southend’s, but the lure of full-time league football was ultimately too much to prevent Goodship making the move to Essex.
Whilst Goodship drew the plaudits nationally, it was the supporters’ and manager’s player of the season, Ben Thomson, who embodied the team’s competitiveness and never-say-die attitude; for every goal that Goodship was scoring, Thomson seemed to be creating two, three or maybe four chances. A man-mountain of a player that everything just seemed to bounce off, physically and metaphorically, in a 50/50 there is only one winner; fouled and he just gets back up, scores and he just runs back to the half-way line with a grin on his face, he’s a throw-back of a player which you don’t see very often anymore.
For a few years, it seemed as though a return to the National League South was never going to happen; it took a couple of years for Weymouth to steady themselves and find their feet before appointing club legend Jason Matthews. Matthews would start to steer the Terras ship in the right direction, a change of philosophy and personnel at the club saw Weymouth finish twice agonisingly just outside the playoffs before a 10th place finish sealed Matthew’s fate.
His successor, Mark Molesley has been schooled in Eddie Howe’s AFC Bournemouth philosophies; it shows in not only his steeliness to achieve but to do so in the right way. Although Howe said he would be lying if he said he saw ‘extrovert’ Mark Molesley going into football management, he is not surprised that Mark’s ambition and willingness to throw himself into a challenge has boded well.
Weymouth won the league finishing as the second-highest scorers in the league and the strongest defence, doing so without having to rely on ‘lump it long’ or ‘over physical football’. That is not to say Weymouth could not mix it when needed to, they went toe-to-toe when met with the physicality of Taunton Town and with players like Stephane Zubar and Ashley Wells at the back they didn’t have to worry about their side not being up for the fight.
The attitude of the players that Mark introduces to his squad has to be right, gone are the days of Weymouth accepting mercenaries or players who will upset the apple cart; with this has brought a whole new sense of professionalism at the club. Harfield, Rose, Robinson, and Williams would all appear to fit this mould and it shows how they have slotted into the team seamlessly; and whilst Olumuyiwa may have been sent out on loan for first-team football, his future looks very bright.
Despite all the hard work to steady the club, it still cannot compete with some of the full-time budgets in the National League South, the professional attitude of the staff and players should stand them in good stead to compete on the pitch. You have to look no further than AFC Bournemouth allowing Sam Sherring to return on a long-term loan to see that this professionalism has been recognised.
At the time of writing, Weymouth are five games into the new season of the National League South, winning three and drawing two. They have shown that they are not here to make up the numbers and should not be underestimated; it feels as though the squad have picked up from where they left off. The good start to the season may come as a surprise to the rest of the league but for Terras’ fans ‘it was never in doubt’ really, was it?