#WFC1982 – Worrell Sterling & Deeping Rangers FC

FA Vase, 3rd Round
Deeping Rangers FC v Heanor Town FC
Saturday, 6th December 2014, 3pm
The Haydon Witham Stadium
Entrance £6, Programme £1
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 92 miles, Attendance 129
Imagining where I’d find respective squad members on this season’s journey; a small old market town, in a tranquil rural setting, was not really top of my list.
For many of the1982 players, the pick of the possible destinations leapt easily from my research notes to the planning table. With Worrell however, the appealing options were as varied as the thoughts racing round my head. He’d simply had many good seasons away from Vicarage Road, often becoming a fans favourite.
Born in Bethnal Green; Worrell was brought up in Kilburn, beginning his football career with local Sunday youth side, Kilburn Rangers.
In 1978, Kilburn’s then coach arranged a match against Tom Walley’s U14s and in the aftermath, five boys were invited to Vicarage Road for trials. Worrell wasn’t one of them. His chance only came later, when the mother of one of the lucky five, informed the Welshman of his error. By the time Worrell eventually signed schoolboy forms, a year later, he was the only one of the six still in Watford’s plans.
A clear beneficiary of both Graham Taylor’s youth policy and Tom Walley’s mentoring; Sterling was a 1982 FA Youth Cup winner against a strong Manchester United side featuring Blackmore, Hughes and Whiteside. A year on, he made his first team debut at Old Trafford and four games later, played a pivotal role in the legendary final day victory at home to Liverpool.
Despite having phenomenal ability and having “kept Cally out for a bit” – like others of his era – his chances were severely limited by those ahead of him in the pecking order. “I wanted to play games, regularly” Worrell told me of his move to Peterborough, who were in 1988, the only team to come in for him.
An extraordinary five seasons – under five different managers – brought Worrell and Posh achievements they both craved. It also afforded the gifted winger notable prominence in the region which is yet to be forgotten. Worrell identifies being at London Road at “the right age” and in “consistent form, as key to this success.
On top of incredible cup runs – and meeting his wife Jackie – Sterling’s Peterborough were promoted twice, including a first ever trip to Wembley for the 1992 Play-off Final, where Ken Charlery bagged both Posh’s winning goals. An ever-present throughout this period, Worrell would also help Peterborough to what is still their highest ever league finish a year later.
Just a few months later Worrell became one of Bristol Rovers’ new manager, John Ward’s big signings. Again he became a fixture in the first team – “It was really nice working with Wardy again” – and spoke to me with equal pride of being voted Rovers’ 1994 Player Of The Season and, the birth there, of the first of his two daughters. Life was good for the young family however; some lingering homesickness promoted a move back east, after just three years in the West Country.
“Home” again; John Beck’s Lincoln City was both Worrell’s first port of call and his last professional contract. There followed a brief stay at Brain Talbots’ Rushden & Diamonds and a trial at Stevenage where he “played one game there but got injured”, before moving to Spalding United, Kings Lynn under Tony Spearing (a former Peterborough team mate) and then Bourne Town.
“Towards the end of my career, I was working full time and training once a week. It was a new ball game; it wasn’t always easy to juggle.” Sterling explained of the difficulties of moving out of football’s bubble.
Full time work for Worrell entailed delivering furniture which, somewhat predictably, didn’t always leave him near the club at the required time for training.
Given it’s said that good always follows bad however… when the manager suggested Sterling and Bourne Town part ways – after one particularly late arrival – it wasn’t long before local headmaster and Deeping Rangers manager, Chris Beckett, got in touch.

141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (24) 141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (32) 141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (22)

“I signed Worrell early on during the summer [of 2000] and he was a perfect fit for our young team.” Chris explained “Worrell was a role model for everyone; he was a dream to manage. Although training was more difficult for him, he was outstanding in many games with his work rate and, an ability to keep the ball as well as deliver superb crosses and set plays.”
The relationship was mutual. After a period of uncertainty Worrell had found a club to enjoy playing for again; his local team. “I was playing with lads who had watched me at Peterborough, there was a good atmosphere. Everyone at the club was very friendly; it was really good to be part of.”
At the time of his signing, the Sterlings lived in “The Deepings”, so such a welcome maybe could be expected. Turning up fourteen years later, I was total stranger, yet came away finding it hard not to empathise with Worrell’s sentiment.
For once my choice of destination had come late – I’d only emailed ahead two days earlier – however I clearly couldn’t have picked a better time to visit.
141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (19)Currently celebrating their 50th anniversary, Deeping Rangers FC, began life in the Peterborough Sunday League. Two years later they lifted both the Peterborough & District League Division Three (North) title as well as the PFA Minor Cup. Promotion to the United Counties League was achieved by the millennium and, the FA Vase entered for the first time in Worrell’s second season donning Rangers’ claret and blue.
The stadium itself is located in the beautiful Fenland, just north or Peterborough. It sits to the east of the site which is also home to Market Deeping Cricket Club and the Deeping Tennis Club.
Alright so distracted by the sight of the floodlights, I’d missed the turning and, struggled as the satnav attempted to then steer me across local fields but once in the car park, it just felt right. The sun was shining, I’d been invited onto the pitch and photographed the “Football Remembers” joint team grouping; surely nothing could go wrong?
Having knocked out Oxhey Jets in the previous round, Rangers faced stiff competition from Northern Counties East League’s Heanor Town (and their boisterous fans). Eight minutes in, the enormity of the task hit home as a Kieran Wells twenty-yard pile driver evaded keeper Dan Bircham and hit the roof of the net.

141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (68) 141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (35) 141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (78)

Having handed over the opening exchanges Deeping dragged themselves back into contention, energising the home support whilst having an adverse effect on the language of the away contingent. At the back Bircham was deftly equal to everything that came his way in that first period; sadly Rangers failed to capitalise up the other end. Charlie Coulson had the best effort, just before the break, but Ian Deakin tipped his shot over the visitors’ bar.
As the second half got underway – with Deeping throwing everything forward – to the left of the dugouts I’d found myself introduced to two of Worrell’s former team mates. Between the conversation, we craned our necks to see numerous close calls as, Coulson lead the charge, ably assisted by Jamie Graham, Dan Flack and Jordan Avis.
141206 FAVase Deeping Rangers v Heanor Town (7)With the cold night creeping in, Dave Simpson (Chris Beckett’s Assistant Manager) and Dean Tarrant (“on the other wing”) humorously recounted tales of Sterling both in the dressing room and on the pitch. Predictably there were wry smiles accompanying comments like “He didn’t tackle a lot but, he was good on the ball.” but, on the whole the recurring theme was that he’d been a pleasure to manage and play with.
In front of us Heanor’s keeper was lucky not to be sent off after taking out Graham who was clean through however, just before time a thoroughly deserved equaliser arrived. Coulson crossed and Jamie Braithwaite bundled the ball home at the far post.
Extra time could’ve gone either way; sadly it was the visitors who found their name in the hat for the fourth round, courtesy of an early Gary Ricketts header. Rangers had chances but they came to nothing. One Deeping effort was correctly ruled out for offside, and a second was fantastically cleared off the goal line by Ross Henshaw.
 As the locals drifted off into the night I bade my farewells just glad I’d picked this club to visit.
Though not at this game Worrell, told me how this is a club still “close to my heart”. He still lives nearby of course and even turned out for the vets’ team once but didn’t last the full ninety minutes. “When you injure yourself in a vets match, you know its time to call it a day.” Adding with a chuckle of the Peterborough Vets, “I’m now down to five minutes in friendlies; ten on a good day.”
As his career came to a close, Worrell retrained. Coaching youngsters and working in Posh’s Academy for a while, now he teaches Level 1-3 Sports Studies at Peterborough Regional College. With tales of students still searching for his football stickers, Worrell quite humbly told me “how lucky” he been.  His Wembley days might be over but, now he delights in a quiet life, seeing others progress.
Final score: Deeping Rangers FC 1-2 Heanor Town FC
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.

150207 Worrell Sterling programme (2)  150207 Worrell Sterling programme (4)

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#WFC1982 – David Johnson & Whyteleafe

Isthmian League, Division 1 South
Whyteleafe FC v Worthing FC
Saturday, 8th November 2014, 3pm
Church Road
Entrance £8, Programme £1.50
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 53 miles, Attendance 148
Searching methodically for nearly half an hour, I was unwavering in my mission; literally no photograph would go unturned.
Before kick-off – inside the programme hut at the Church Road stadium – a kindly lady had pointed me in the direction of a box of “older memorabilia” in which, I was unyielding in my quest to find evidence of one David Johnson. Whatever was going through my mind, one optimistic thought dominated; surely one image must exist of this unassuming and amiable player.
Since my last visit, the home of Whyteleafe had improved greatly. Said club shop still occupied a spot beside the turnstiles that were acquired from Stoke’s Victoria Ground and, the changing rooms and tea bar still overlooked the pitch; but brand spanking new perimeter fencing and a beautiful 3G pitch have become a massively welcome boost for this very deserving and friendly club.

141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (68)   141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (166)

Filling a void in the local community, The Leafe were formed in 1946. Initially competing in local junior leagues – following success in both league and cup – Whyteleafe bought four acres of farm land on nearby Church Road and stepped up to the Surrey Senior League in 1958. Their home ever since, this essential investment proved to be the foundation for even further progress. Whilst their record attendance of 2164 saw them hold Chester City 0-0 in the 1999 FA Cup, lifting the Southern Counties East League title last season promoted the club back into the Isthmian League.
141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (56)Parking up the aptly leafy Church Lane, I strolled into the officials’ car park. Straight ahead; young boys, resplendent in Leafe green, honed their skills on a 5-a-side pitch. Belying their outer appearance, to the left one finds a comfortable directors’ lounge and a busy and fantastic bar, whilst on the right, the main stadium where I knew a friend or two might be hanging out.
Twenty years earlier, also at the behest of friends, local lad David Johnson had walked through the very same car park.
Born in Gloucester, David moved to Croydon at the age of eight and had begun his playing career down the road, in Redhill. At the start of the 80s, a youth fixture pitched The Lobsters against Hertfordshire’s finest and – marking Charlie Palmer – Johnson made a fantastic impression on Watford’s then youth coach, Tom Walley. This one performance gifted David a privilege trial at Vicarage Road.
This lucky break worked to both shape his career and afford him role models that – like many young boys – he so desperately needed. Summarising his new mentor, David said of Tom “He taught you so much; so much good.”
Seemingly behind three others in the pecking order however, breaking into the Hornets’ first team became a real challenge. He may have helped Watford win both FA Youth Cup and The (last ever) Sheriff Of London Shield but, by the time he moved to Peterborough three years later, only seven league and cup first team appearances had been made. All Johnson’s nine first team Watford goals had been scored in friendlies.
After finding much more game time at The Posh, David tried the Kenny Pavey route to stardom and headed for Sweden with then team mate Errington Kelly. Seven months at Division 2 Grebbestads IF brought moderate success but, soon he was back home joining fellow former Watford Junior, Francis Cassidy, at Bishops Stortford. There followed stints at Bourne Town, Kings Lynn, Dover, and Heybridge Swifts, before spending a season with Gerry Armstrong’s Worthing.
Recounting these years, its unmistakable Johnson appreciates “great times” at all his clubs. Making friends and connections along the way, David evidently learnt much from each experience. After the Hornets however, his next silverware wouldn’t arrive until 1990, when he helped Dover Athletic lift the Southern League title.

141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (63)w

Discussing his move back to the Croydon area, the draw of familiar faces – including old school pals like Steve Mitton – helped make David’s mind up. Also influential in the move were welcoming Chairman Mark Coote and his then new manager. Former Leafe player and a huge fans’ favourite, Lee Richardson, had just been appointed manager and the mood at the club was buoyant. This was a post Richardson would go on to hold for the next eight seasons.
Though no major achievements or silverware came from David’s three seasons playing at Church Road, before moving on again strong roots had been put down in both area and at the club (where today his nephew runs the clubhouse).  He still loved playing but, ultimately David knew his future lay away from the game.
“I was 34 years old, my legs had run out of steam but, it was such a friendly club. Even the second time round, I still wanted to give my all for them.” Returning to Church Road in 1998 from a season at Broadwater United, the decision was again easy. “They had the same manager, Lee Richardson” David proudly explained “And I even scored on my debut.”
Throughout this period – still training often at The Leafe – David had begun to move into coaching youth players through the Pro Direct Soccer Academy. Demonstrating a keenness to learn from his own experiences, to help others, he explained, “A lot of the stuff I did was adopted from Tom Walley.”
141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (13)there we stood – twenty years later – behind the goal David once scored in, watching the former clubs of both Messrs Johnson and Armstrong. Totally unaware of which players before us, if any, the very modest David Johnson might have helped it was nonetheless tiptoeing through my brain throughout the match.
About us children played in the stand whilst, adults stood transfixed at a game that seemed better suited to cup football than a league encounter.

141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (119)w

The visitors started brightly. First Curtis Gayler’s free-kick thankfully sailed over Sheikh Ceesay’s crossbar then, Brannon O’Neill smacked a fierce drive through a crowded box and onto the post. The warning had been felt by the home side and – fortunately unscathed – counterattacks were launched whilst “LEAFE, LEAFE, LEAFE” chants emanated from those about us.
Roscoe Dsane swept through the opposition and forced a good save from visiting keeper, Jack Fagan, who was also wearing a Whyteleafe shirt due to kit clashes. Moments later Dsane crossed, Fagan parried Sam Clayton’s powerful header, and Tommy Smith struck the post from the rebound.
With both team going close, deadlock was eventually broken ten minutes from time and, almost doubled in an action packed final floury.  Dsane was clumsily bundled over in the box, Will Hendon was sent off and, Jason Thompson powered The Leafe ahead. Dsane cross was then deflected wide and a Smith bullet was superbly tipped to safety by Fagan.
Thinking they’d have it easier in the second period, Whyteleafe sat back. The resulting equaliser was sadly predictable, even if it was a clearly yards offside. About us – having changed ends at half time – Worthing’s following, believing justice had been served, were finding their voices the more their side pushed forward.
141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (153) 141108 ILD1S Whyteleafe v Worthing (102)Just past the hour Worthing almost took the lead but Sheik Ceesay was equal to Omar Bugiel’s effort. Then against the run of play Ryan Fowler’s superb long-range strike put The Leafe ahead again. The hosts had some great chances to put the game beyond reach with narrowly close efforts from Bentley Graham, Clayton and Shawn Lyle. The latter’s was brilliantly saved by Fagan in the dying minutes and triggered a charge up field to an incredible finale…
Bugiel fired Worthing level from close range on 90 minutes and O’Niell curled in a stunning free-kick from 25 yards just before the whistle had blown for the end of injury time.
As celebrations peeled off towards the jubilant fans, standing helpless, Leafe keeper Ceesay hadn’t got near the shot. What happened was born purely from a healthy portion of fortune and sheer determination.  Sometimes one wins, sometimes one loses.
It wasn’t on a par with that of the visiting support but – following a superbly entertaining game in an incredibly friendly ground that I thoroughly enjoy visiting – heading for the gate clutching a single old photo protected by the day’s programme, I knew the day had been thoroughly worthwhile.
DSC_0758~2~2
Catching up with David in the following week, and finding so much I could empathise with, was the real bonus to this journey; one I’d never truly anticipated.
After going round the houses, David has ended up back in Croydon. “It never quite happened for me but, I’m quite happy; really enjoying life”. Surround by family and friends he’s happy in his life. “I don’t like the limelight, the razzamatazz.” Instead his time is now devoted – through Sporting Chance – to assisting troubled boys in need of fine role models. It’s not quite a full circle but as he aptly concluded “Everything happens for a reason.”
Final score: Whyteleafe FC 2-3 Worthing FC
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.
150124 David Johnson (1)   150124 David Johnson (4)
Posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, Isthmian League | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment