Advertisements
Long Read

The day boys became men

by: theterras

0

The day boys became men

The inside story of the infamous 0-9(NINE) Rushden & Diamonds game

In this article Duncan Gardner looks back to 2009 and why there was some good to come out of “that” infamous game.

Through eye-witness and media reports at the time, combined with brand new player interviews, we explore how a record number of players enjoyed (or endured) their only competitive Weymouth game that day in a fixture that included many other statistical quirks.

And we will show that despite such a heavy loss, many of those donning claret and blue that day took positives from the hastening experience.

“It was men against boys out there”

The above is obviously a much overused and usually unfair phrase in football but at Weymouth that day it was not an exaggeration as we will shortly discover…

One month before (January)

The club was halfway through its third season back in the Football Conference National division, dining at the top table of non-league football for the first time in 18 years but despite a mid-table position, all was not well. There were rumours that the club was running out of money and the debts were spiralling out of control. The chairman had already resigned a couple of months before.

Rumours soon gained weight, changing from unfounded to substantiated. It was all true and the situation was worsening on a daily basis.

The days before the game

A team meeting was held early that week and the players were basically told the club were running out of money and everyone would be transfer listed.

Scott Dixon, first-team central defender, 20 years old: “We were full time then so for 90% of the lads playing for Weymouth FC was their sole income. Therefore as you can imagine it was devastating news. Nonetheless, the majority of the boys agreed to play the game on Saturday and train full time as normal. We were actually in a decent position football-wise prior to Rushden & Diamonds and playing well.”

On the Thursday news broke within the club that the playing insurance had not been paid.

SD: “We heard the news at training that evening that if we played on Saturday and got injured we would not be covered. As we were all on the transfer list and most of us had only agreed to play as it was a “shop window” for other clubs we all pulled out except Collins [Jordan Collins, defender], Reedy [Steven Reed, midfielder] and I.”

Callum Robins, unattached (former U16 defender), 17 years old: “I received a call from one of the reserve team coaches two days before the game was due to take place asking me whether I wanted to play and that if I did I needed to come down the stadium the next day to sign a contract. At first I thought he was winding me up as I had told him the previous summer that I had fell out of love with the game and that I was planning on taking some time out from playing. When he told me that he was deadly serious I was obviously shocked and my first thought was ‘Where the hell are my boots?!?'”

On the day before the game news began to filter through to the fans and the local media. Everyone began to wonder what sort of team would show up the next day. Bookies odds for a Weymouth loss dropped from 15/8 to 5/4 but some of those that were about to play were none the wiser…

Joe Prodomo, U18s goalkeeper, 17 years old: “I got the call from Tim Davis [U18s manager] on the Friday asking me to be at the ground at 1:30pm the next day but I didn’t think anything of it. I’d been training with the first team for a couple of weeks so I thought I might be a back-up in case of injury or at best on the bench.”

Ollie Tribe, U18s, centre midfielder, 16 years old: “I can’t remember exactly when I was told that we would essentially be fielding the U18 team for the game. The seriousness of the financial difficulties and the impact they would have was a big surprise. As 16 year-olds a few of us had been involved with the first team from pre-season that year and so had been in and around the team at training and at the stadium but that was the extent of our experience.”

SD: Late on the evening before the game I got a call from Reedy [Stephen Reed] saying he wasn’t going to play. The same evening the gaffer called me and asked what I wanted to do as it was now only me and Collins from the first team playing. I was a boyhood Terras fan, a young lad who had only just broken into the first team and loved the club so of course, I was going to relish the opportunity of another senior appearance for Weymouth.

The morning of the match

The news was out. The first team would NOT be playing.

For many fans, at first, there were mixed emotions. Would the game go ahead? Have I already seen my team play for the last time?

But then as lunchtime approached there appeared to be no sign the game was to be called off…which meant only one possibility…

1:30pm (90 mins before the game)

JP: “I arrived at the ground without hearing the news that morning. The first thing I knew was when I saw the team sheet pinned up in the dressing room…”

Joe saw his name at the top of the sheet… starting in goal… his debut for the first team. And that was just the start of it. As he scanned down to read the other 15 names on the list he saw the rest of his U18 teammates.

Name First XI WFC games already played Age on the day
1 Joe Prodomo None 17y 6m
21 Jordan Vincent 1 16y 9m
25 Scott Dixon 6 20y 8m
22 Jordan Collins © 5 20y 2m
8 Shola Dadson None 18y 4m
17 Ollie Tribe 1 16y 5m
10 Bostry Bansende None 18y 2m
24 Ryan McKechnie 1 16y 11m
30 Callum Robins None 17y 5m
27 Turngu Agera None 17y 8m
18 Ben Reiffer None 17y 11m
Substitutes
29 Sam Poole None 16y 9m
26 Michael Neish None 16y 8m
28 Charlie Tubbs None 18y 1m
19 Tom Richardson None 17y 5m
5 Aiden Perrett None 17y 5m

OT: “We knew the players and management quite well but I’d had no exposure to any of the behind the scenes side of it all. I was told something about the first team not having insurance cover and so would be putting themselves at risk if they played. I didn’t even know that was player insurance was a thing until then.”

CR: “I managed to find my boots, sign a contract and get a haircut before the big game with absolutely zero expectation that I would play as we had youth team players that had played the majority of the 08/09 season for the club. It wasn’t until I turned up at the ground and went into the changing room sitting down on the benches that I looked up at the starting XI to realise that my name was there. You can imagine what was running through my head. It turned out that my usual partner in crime at centre back, who had played for the first team throughout the season, was injured and that I seemed to be the only available option…..oh dear!”

JP: “Throughout my time playing football it was the most nervous I’ve ever been. I couldn’t wait until we could get out there to start warming up and that next half an hour felt like an eternity.”

The squad that day had an average age of 17 years and 9 months. Let that sink in for a minute.

Due to incomplete records for date of births, we can never be sure if this was the youngest ever Terras line-up but I would bet good money on that being the case! By comparison, the average age of the starting XI in the last game of the 2019/20 season was 23y 4m and that was considered a “young” team!

Only five of that team had ever played first-team football for the club, with a total of 14 appearances between them all. One or two may have played for other local adult clubs but again you could count these occurrences on one hand. Therefore almost certainly another record was set – the least inexperienced side to play a first-team game for the club.

In the town, word had got around that the youth team were playing the game with many local bookmakers refusing to take any more money on the outcome. Nationally the bigger bookmakers were a little slower on the uptake and 4/6 was still available just before the start.

2:00pm (60 minutes before kick-off)

JP: “As soon as I was able to warm up I felt a lot better, the nerves falling away as I was able to go through my normal routine on what would be a very abnormal day!”

Together on the pitch, the team came together for a group photo. The range of expressions on show were exactly what you would expect for a bunch of 16-20-year-olds about to embark on the biggest game of their lives. A few looked petrified, thousand-yard stares into the camera lens or looking far away and clearly wishing they were anywhere but here. However, others oozed the cockiness of youth, too young to feel nerves and possibly knowing they really had nothing to lose and perhaps everything to gain.

CR: “There was a feeling of disbelief amongst the lads all the way from being in the changing rooms, warming up and waiting to be called through to the tunnel before kick-off. A collection of balls and shirts were making their way around the changing room which we were being asked to sign as the official Weymouth FC team. I remember thinking whoever gets their hands on these is going to have one hell of a shock when they see a bunch of unknown schoolboys have signed them. I often wonder where they are now…”

Fans started to gather in the bar and slowly began to filter into the main stand and onto the terraces, the last to know looking at the team sheet in bewilderment. Where had their team gone? In truth, some were still there. Manager Alan Lewer was quoted after the game to say that regulars including Kevin Sandwith and Jamie Coutts had arrived to provide support but he didn’t think it was right for them to be there and he sent them away.

OT: “I saw Ryan Williams outside the changing room before the game and he wished me luck. I’m pretty sure it was genuine but he was always a bit of a joker and we both knew we were in for a difficult afternoon. To some extent, it was quite funny to walk into the changing room and see us all there getting ready to play in the Conference. Many of us had played together for a few years having been the core of a pretty successful Weymouth youth team. But Callum Robins hadn’t even played football for nearly a year because he stopped after our U16 season – he answered the call for his full debut!”

2:45pm (A quarter of an hour to go…)

The young players gathered in the dressing room to hear their final instructions.

JP: “The team talk was brilliant. There was no negativity at all and that gave us all confidence and encouragement. They just told us to enjoy the occasion and the fans will get behind us.”

CR: “The management team were very professional and serious in their briefing of the team even though collectively we all knew we were lambs being lead out to the slaughter. I was told about the centre forward I would be up against and that “he was a big lad and likes to mix it up” little did I know that he would be 6ft 7in and built like a brick wall! When he first saw me and one of my best mates in the tunnel before kick-off he couldn’t help but smile before telling us to have a good game but to expect no mercy.”

2:55 (Five minutes until kick off)

The players emerge from the tunnel to a raucous reception from a near thousand-strong crowd, the fans cheering on their team passionately for what many honestly thought maybe the last time. One of the many evocative photos captured that day shows the primary school age mascot holding hands with Ollie Tribe as they walk together to the centre circle. The young boy looks up in awe even though the player is barely a decade older and in school himself only a year before.

3:00pm (KICK OFF!)

JP: “I remembered thinking as the first pass was made that even if I was injured now at least I had played in the conference!”

But Joe did not have long to dwell on those thoughts as Rushden & Diamonds attacked from the off, a long diagonal ball from right to left found their man on the edge of the box. With one touch he passed it to the striker only 5 yards from goal but Joe bravely dived and saved as his feet before he could pull the trigger.

JP: “That first save gave me a real lift and then our fans, who were behind my goal in the first half and amazing to us that day, starting singing ‘England’s number one!'”

CR: “As the game started me and my mate at the back both tried to put some hard challenges in to the big forward to let him know the feeling was mutual before simply bouncing off of him much to our amusement even to this day.”

SD: “As the oldest players on the pitch at 20 years of age, Jordan Collins and I tried all we could to motivate the lads throughout. I’ve always been a leader and whether we’re winning or losing I’m always demanding more from myself and around me.”

OT: “Lots of the game is just a blur in my memory really. I remember we won a corner in the first few minutes or so and for a moment I was just thinking “Imagine if we score off this!” But it wasn’t long later that they went 1-0 up and we conceded goals pretty steadily from there.”

Indeed the natural order of things was soon restored and with 18 minutes on the board, the away side were three to the good, Michael Rankine with the first followed by a Lee Tomlin brace although his second goal was not without some controversy. Apparently, in retaliation to some ribbing from the home crowd, his goal celebrations were over-exuberant considering the scoreline and the strength of the opposition. Upon the restart, he was given a serious talking to by referee Andy Sainsbury.

Over the course of the next 27 minutes, the youngsters conceded only once more to go in at the break 4-0 down.

SD: “After Lee Tomlin celebrated each goal like it was a cup final I kept trying to tackle him but couldn’t ever get near him to be fair!”

4:02pm (Second half)

The over-excited Lee Tomlin did not appear for the second half, replaced by the chairman’s son Neil Cousins who failed to score. Make of those statements what you will.

Five more goals flew in at regular intervals but the young Weymouth heroes were doing their level best.

OT: “There were two players playing in midfield for them who I later discovered were Andy Burgess and Rob Wolleaston. Burgess was wearing a skull cap which made him look pretty intimidating but he was actually really supportive. I remember him saying things to me during the game, encouraging me to keep going. Wolleaston was just so good, I doubt I or anyone else ever got within a few metres of him. He scored a good goal on the day and I spoke to him about it all a couple of years later when he ended up playing for us. He’s probably one of the most talented players I ever played with.”

SD: “Rob Wolleaston was constantly talking to me throughout the game and giving me advice to keep motivating the lads. What a guy!”

OT: “The Weymouth fans were brilliant on the day. Everything we did that was remotely good got a huge cheer during the game. I think we really needed that to just keep going.”

4:48pm (The final whistle)

Details of the match were starting to filter through onto the sports websites but it was clear that with the late change to playing personnel, the team names must have been shared with the Press Association over a crackly phone line. Joe Prodomo was listed as “Pro Domo” on many websites, Scott Dixon appeared as “Scott Dickson” and most bizarrely Ben Reiffer starred as “Ben Luther”. Whether most of the Weymouth fans within the stadium knew their names or not, most had stayed well beyond the final whistle to support the Weymouth colts.

CR: “I only played the first half but I remember feeling extremely proud to have helped the club that I had played for since I was a young boy. When we walked a lap of the pitch at full time clapping the fans it was then that it hit home how much they appreciated us turning out for the club. It was a genuinely moving experience hearing the fans applaud against the backdrop of the ground staff playing ‘Hoppipolla’ by Sigur Ros at full volume over the tannoy. From then it was a song that the club adopted in their fight against administration. After the game, my resounding memory was having a bit of banter with the lads in the changing room saying we only conceded four goals when I was playing and that they managed to concede five in the second half when I wasn’t!”

OT: “There was the huge applause afterwards which at the time felt a bit odd because I didn’t really understand that 9-0 was kind of an achievement in a way. I’d never lost a game by so badly so I think I was just a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. A couple of seasons later when the first team lost 9-0 away at Hednesford (thankfully I wasn’t involved in that one) and again recently when Saints lost 9-0 at home to Leicester in the Premiership it made me think we did pretty well there… Joe Prodomo made some incredible saves. We owe him a lot for keeping it below double figures without a doubt.”

SD: “I was proud of the boys’ endeavour but I’m a very self-critical person and I wasn’t too happy with my own personal performance at CB. The fans were amazing throughout and there was an amazing togetherness as I think everyone knew the severity of the situation. Overall it was a remarkable day and event for Weymouth FC and one that will go down in history. It was great to have played a part in that!”

JP: “The players and staff from Rushden were all respectful to us afterwards and their keeper [Dale Roberts] made a point of seeking me out to have a few words with me. Then, as the adrenaline started to drain, the physical and mental fatigue kicked in. It was a weird emotion – a delight to have played in a league game of that standard but also obviously disappointment at the scoreline. Basically the feeling was…Has that really just happened?!”

The players grouped again for another team photo and what a contrast it was to the one taken just over 90 minutes before. A few looked shell-shocked, others proud, all of them clearly shattered.

OT: “I’d always been one of the fitter players but I don’t think I’d ever been so exhausted at the end of a game, obviously we were just playing chase for 90 minutes.”

The next few days…

The story was picked up by the national papers with each one taking a slightly different angle. Some showed pity, others praised the brave heroes who played.

JP: “The very next day I was back in action for Christchurch U18s but the Rushden game must have taken it out of me as I was cramping up all the time! OT: The media reaction was a funny one for me personally because I was on the front page of the Non-League Paper. It was “that” photo of me holding hands with a mascot who looked like he could have easily just been my little brother. The caption was something like ‘Kids to the slaughter’. I worked in town in WH Smith as well so had the added “joy” of it being on the shelves for a couple of shifts.”

SD: “I thought the echo made a bit of a mockery about it really! We had just been beat 9-0 and they gave all the players 9/10 in the papers ratings and I think Joey in goal got MOM. I don’t think you’ll ever see a GK get a MOM again for letting in nine goals!”

The player’s legacy

Ollie Tribe went on to play another three times in the remainder of that troubled season and after a sprinkling of appearances in the following campaign, he was a mainstay of the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons. In total, he played 95 competitive games for the Terras before concentrating on university.

JP: “After that game I was left thinking “What happens from here”?”

Joe Prodomo travelled with the first team for the remaining games of that season but as trialists and other new more experienced players were brought in he was disappointed at the time not to be asked to don the No.1 jersey again. However, as time passed he realised he wasn’t ready enough or probably good enough to play at that level. In the summer Joe left for Bashley where he spent several seasons, interspersed with one season back at Weymouth when he added three cup appearances to his single showing in the game against the diamonds. Joe then concentrated on coaching goalkeepers at the Weymouth before securing the role of Lead academy goalkeeper coach at AFC Bournemouth.

JP: “At the time I did not want my senior debut associated with a 9-0 loss but looking back I now don’t have any negative baggage attached to it whatsoever. I just feel privileged to have played in that game. If I had my time again and had to choose between losing 9-0 and never playing a game in the conference I’d choose the former every time.”

OT: “What did make a huge difference in general though was the club’s financial struggles. Although it was bad news for the club as a whole, it opened the door for us local lads. Over the rest of that season and the next couple of seasons, there was a real opportunity to impress and get a chance to play some regular first-team football, which many of us who played on that day did.”

SD: “I was always planning to stay connected to the club but it was extremely different circumstances thereafter. Too many people came into the club to try and take advantage and the club has only just found its feet again really in the last two to three years. Some great people have returned to the club. It’s a great sight to see and I am connected from afar!”

Scott Dixon went on to play 87 competitive games for Weymouth over several seasons. A couple of short stints at clubs in the London area followed before he emigrated to Australia where he is still involved in football as a coach.

CR: “I still follow the team’s results and attend games when I am back home in Weymouth so it always brings a feeling of pride standing in the BLS knowing that I helped the club, if only for 45 minutes when they came calling….”

Callum Robins now lives and works in London for a major construction firm after studying construction project management. He plays for his universities post-graduate team the UCL Academicals in the Amateur Football Combination.

Sam Poole was arguably the most successful of the squad that played that day as he went on to make 162 competitive appearances for the Terras, almost a third of those games as captain. Despite that longevity, he is one of only four Weymouth players in the last 30 years to play that many games and not experience a promotion of FA Cup 1st round tie whilst at the club. After a successful spell at Blackfield & Langley, he now plies his trade at Wimborne Town.

Many of that squad dropped out of football completely at one time or another but most have kept an interest in the sport through teaching or coaching. One or two chose a completely different path but I will let the reader make their own enquiries if interested…

What happened next…

The history of the Weymouth football club in the months that followed are well known and the club’s Wikipedia page provides a good summary of events so there is no need to repeat here what transpired here except that to say it is with remarkable good fortune and benevolence of many that we are still able to support a club that is now stable and thriving once more. I know for a fact that many of those fans who benefitted financially from wagering on that game ploughed much of those returns back into the club in those hours of need and maybe that kept the wolves from the door in those crucial days.

You only have to look at what happened to our opponents that day to see how history could have so easily turned out very differently. Only two years after Rushden and Diamonds thrashed Weymouth they were no more. The next season a phoenix club was reborn in their equivalent of the Western league division one, five steps down the non-league pyramid and today they are just one step below where Weymouth currently reside.

But none of the above can be considered a tragedy. That is reserved for the Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper that day, Dale Roberts, who sadly took his own life less than two years after the game and their manager Justin Edinburgh who died from natural causes a year ago this week.

When Roberts passed away, Rushden & Diamonds retired the no.1 jersey forever, a tribute inherited by their phoenix club, AFC Rushden & Diamonds. When they were promoted to the Southern league in 2015 it was demanded they reinstate the number due to league rules. Thankfully after an appeal to the FA was won and common sense prevailed, a commodity sadly often lacking in non-league football and in the roller-coaster history of Weymouth FC. However, as a club, we are on the up once more and perhaps for once, we are building the track as we go with eyes uncovered and unfearful, knowing there are no big dips ahead.

Advertisements