It was 25 years ago this summer, when John Waldock made the 375 mile journey from Sunderland to Weymouth a permanent one. A quarter of a century may have passed since his debut, but the North-East native can still recall the cultural change the move made for him.
An unfortunate bad knee injury sustained versus Leeds United in a reserve game had made Waldock’s appearances become limited at Sunderland. He eventually joined the Terras in the 1995/96 season after a free transfer by then Sunderland manager Peter Reid.
“I was a young professional at Sunderland up until the age of 19,” Waldock tells theterras.com. “Coming through the YTS scheme, as it was back then, and then progressed into Sunderland’s reserve team, I was on the bench a couple of times, but didn’t actually get into the first team.
“Graham Carr had come to manage Weymouth from Kettering Town and he brought a number of new faces in, so it was a big transition when I made the move. A big change, cultural change for me personally.
“It was a challenge as a young lad, finding my feet in a new town, but I was always very welcome by the fans. It was good fun, it was character building, but it was a good experience.
“It was just a great time and a great team to be part of, one with great camaraderie, even though times were tough, we had a real team ethic. Everyone worked hard, played hard, trained hard, we got the best out of each other.”
Under the ‘Northeast’ revolution led by fellow ‘Geordie’ Graham Carr as manager, The Terras signed three future club legends in Waldock, David Laws & Ian Hutchinson. Between the three of them, they’ve gone on to amass over one thousand appearances, of which 425 appearances were earned by John. The three became cherished fans favourites as they went onto become outstanding servants to Weymouth FC on & off the field.
“There was a lot of peer-pressure in the dressing room to push each other on to reach the high-standards. In training, on occasion, the odd fight would break out; normally it was during a North vs South in 5-a-side, which wouldn’t end well. There would be some flying tackles and the manager would have to come in and break things up, normally it was me who was instigating it unfortunately! It was always North who would win!
“There was quite a Northern backbone in the club at the time, which Graham Carr had brought in with: myself, Hutch (Ian Hutchinson), David Laws, and then there was Paul Myers who was the goalkeeper. Straight down the middle of the team you probably had four players who were at the club for near-on ten years each, it was part of the DNA of the club for a long time.”
In his youth, Waldock had become part of the infamous Cramlington Juniors Youth conveyor belt, under the watchful eye of legendary scout Jack Hixon Waldock’s talent before he was recognised to join Sunderland AFC. Hixon had previously unearthed such talents as Alan Shearer, Andy Sinton, Michael Bridges, Graham Fenton, and Tommy Widdrington.
During his 3 year period at Sunderland, under the stewardship of former black cats legend Jimmy Montgomery, John’s no-nonsense approach saw him recognised with a Northern Ireland U18 call up due to his Mother’s Irish heritage.
“Technically I am a Geordie, being born in North Shields, although I’m the black-sheep of the family going to play for Sunderland,” admitted Waldock. “I’ve got a family full of black-and-white and I’m the only red-and-white, it’s always fun banter when Newcastle are doing well and Sunderland aren’t and vice-versa.”
During the Terras promotion season of 1997/98, Waldock was influential in the back-line under ex-Shrewsbury manager Fred Davis. The season ended with Weymouth lifting the Dr Martens Southern Division on the last day of the season after a 2-1 win at Baldock Town, a game which Waldock described as memorable, as well as the various fierce local derbies he competed in at the time.
“It was a big season, it was against Baldock Town away that we won the Southern League, that was memorable. Fred Davis was then the manager, who had come from Shrewsbury Town, he brought some different thought processes, logic and balance to the team.
“The Baldock game is the one that sticks out in my mind, but there were some great games with great crowds, the Dorchester games always brought big crowds. Then there was Yeovil Town in the FA Trophy. There’s some great games which jump out at me but the Yeovil games were always the big crunch games, even in pre-season friendlies, players would be getting sent-off, it wasn’t really a friendly!
“The FA Trophy game against Southport was a big game, Shaun Teale was their captain, they had Mike Marsh, who was ex-Liverpool, playing for them, and I think their manager was Mark Wright formerly of Liverpool and England.”
Waldock experienced both the highs and the lows of being a Weymouth player, the successes of his early season with the club, winning the Southern League, were followed by seasons of financial hardship and a tempestuous relationship with former Weymouth manager Geoff Butler. Waldock stayed right through to being part of the nearly-men under Steve Claridge, who narrowly missed out on the Southern League Premier title.
Sticking with the Terras and giving his all through thick and thin saw Waldock become popular with, and rewarded by, the Terras fans. At the end of the 1998/99 season, Waldock was awarded the fans player of the year, players player of the year & away fans player of the year; and as recently as this year, he was inducted by the supporters into the Weymouth Football Club Hall of Fame.
“There was always great support,” Waldock continued. “That’s what I remember, even though there were some dark times there in the Weymouth days, in the early years, but there was always a good feel around the club and always a great atmosphere.
“It’s always a great honour to get recognised, whether it’s the Hall of Fame, the Player of the Year and things like that, or whether it’s winning honours as a team, it’s always humbling.
“To be recognised especially by a football club as big as Weymouth, when you put it into perspective and look back at the history of the club, it’s arguably the biggest Non-League club in the country isn’t it? We’ve been close to League football as a club, prior to me joining, whilst I was there and then into the Garry Hill era, we’ve come so close on many occasions.
“We finished second one year, when the league was divided, we were probably ten points clear under Steve Claridge in November and we finished runners-up to Crawley Town. Look at where Crawley Town are now in the Football League, there are still what ifs and it should be Weymouth Football Club.
“There’s no reason (why not), the club has got some strong foundations currently, the board are doing a good job, the coaching staff are doing a good job, from the outside looking in there is no reason why, with a bit of luck on their side it couldn’t be Weymouth.”
Despite being a supporter and his strong connections to AFC Sunderland, the former Mackem admitted that he had not watched the popular Netflix series following the club.
“I’ve not watched the Sunderland ’till I Die documentary, sadly Tiger King’s Joe Exotic has taken over my life on Netflix! But I think there’s plenty which football clubs can learn from it.
“Weymouth has been through those ups and downs and now they’re at that climbing up period. There’s a lot to learn, it’s always good looking forward but equally you’ve got to look at the mistakes you’ve made and make sure you don’t make them again.”
He can be forgiven for missing out on the documentary following the League One side, as his attitude towards the direction which professional clubs have moved appears to be one of disdain. Waldock told the theterras.com that he would like to see more local talent nurtured through professional academies, as a former YTS player himself, it must be a natural feeling.
“I’m not a big follower of football in general at the highest level, I think it’s lost its soul,” explains Waldock. “I think there’s more in local football and it’s always good to see youth coming into play, there’s a lot of young lads at Weymouth Football Club and that’s always good to see.
“I think at the top level there is not enough local talent coming through the academies and being given a chance, you can see it in people like Hudson-Odoi and players who are having to go on loan abroad. The professional game at the very top has lost its soul.
“I think there’s always going to be money in sport and money in football, it’s an open-ended debate. Maybe they can learn something from Rugby where they’ve capped pay, or they could cap the amount of foreign nationals you have in your squad, that could naturally bring through British talent.
“The talent is there, we can see it, they are just not being given the opportunity,, they are having to go and learn their trade elsewhere, which is a crying-shame. It’s probably something the FA can do with the people at the very top of the game, whether it’s through a Chief Executive of a football club, they’ve really got to get back to basics where they think about growing their own talent. Currently, it doesn’t feel right for me.”
It’s obvious that Waldock was part of a different generation of players, a core group of the squad which he played with during his early days with the Terras, stuck with the club for around a decade, a trait which is becoming increasingly rare in all levels of modern football. Waldock himself was given a testimonial against Brighton & Hove Albion for his loyalty and services to the Terras.
“I think it is different now, I don’t think it’s just in football, I think it’s general in society, loyalty to work or to a football team,” explained Waldock. “I think there is a different mindset now. You don’t see so many footballers having testimonials now. Laws, myself and Hutch all had testimonials with the Terras.
“It’s not one-size fits-all, different people have a different outlook, it’s a difficult one to pin the tail on, but I do just think there’s a different mentality. I can only speak on my behalf, when you’ve got feelings for a club, or even love for a football club, you naturally work-hard, give all you’ve got and are loyal and that can go beyond football. It’s just about personal preference. The mentality is different for players in this day-and-age.”
It wasn’t that there weren’t approaches for the Weymouth centre-back, his performances in the Terras’ claret and blue had caught the attention of fellow Non-League clubs, although Waldock’s answer to any approach was easy and his loyalty to the club remained.
“I can remember sitting down in the Russell Hotel in Weymouth, talking to the manager at the time who was Matt McGowan, we had had an approach from the then Lottery winner who had just bought Hastings Town,” recalled Waldock.
“He approached the football club to see if I was up for sale, Matt told them ‘I will have a conversation with John but I think he’s very happy’. We had around a 60 second conversation where he went, ‘We’ve had an approach in from Hastings, the guy has just won the Lottery, would you like to chat with them?’. I said ‘no’, it was just that simple.
“He asked me if I was happy and I said ‘yes’, he asked me if I would like to take it further and I said ‘no, do you?’ Which he said ‘no’, and then it was just the end of.
“Speaking on a personal level, if you’ve got an objective and you’re happy, and you’re happy off the field, why would you want to move? The grass isn’t always greener.”
Nowadays, Waldock has settled and still lives with his family in the local area. He admits that he doesn’t manage to make games as often as he would like to, but that a future working alongside the club is still very much within his thoughts.
“It’s always a challenge (to get to Weymouth games),” he says. “Even though I live and work in the local area, the current job I have takes me all over the country and around the world.
“I have committed to myself and even to the Chairman that I need to get down more often. I would like to do a lot more for the football club, whether that be in the community and bringing the community into the football club, like local schools and vulnerable groups, or whether it’s fundraising and charity work.
“There’s definitely something I would like to bring back to the community and to the football club, so hopefully you’ll see me a whole lot more when we get out the other side of this madness that we’re currently going through.”
There’s no doubt that Waldock would be welcomed back to the Bob Lucas Stadium whenever he wants to pay the club a visit. He was rewarded for his services to the club with lifetime season ticket and he will have only enhanced his reputation with the Terras faithful when he answered whether he was a Weymouth fan.
“I always will be, I said I’d never go over the hill to play for the black-and-white, maybe it’s a magpie thing? I’ll always be a Terras fan.”