Shropshire Star

Days of thrills but no frills for hardy Telford United fans

Changed a bit, hasn't it? Here's an aerial view from our archives of the old Bucks Head in Wellington which brings home just how basic things used to be for football fans of yesteryear.

Not much cover for fans years ago at the old Bucks Head.

They cheered on their teams from windswept terraces open to the elements, and we won't even go in to what the toilets were like.

In contrast today's supporters of AFC Telford United enjoy the facilities of a modern stadium and watch matches played on a lush green surface which is actually flat – for many years the old Bucks Head used to have a pronounced slope.

The New Bucks Head today, seen from the same direction.

The old photo from our files has no information to tell us when it was taken, but there are a couple of clues which narrow down the time span. It is going to be after 1935, because that is when the new main stand was opened at the start of the 1935-1936 season. The opening was on August 31 by Major E. R. Herbert, and the stand had a capacity of 750.

And the photo was taken before later improvements to the ground, which were perhaps carried out in the late 1940s or during the 1950s. We do know the slope was levelled in a major operation in 1949, and an aerial picture of the ground from about 1960 shows, among other things, that the east stand – that's the far stand – had been greatly lengthened by then.

In those days, of course, there was no Telford United. The team was Wellington Town, the name of the team until adopting the name of the new town of Telford in 1969.

Telford United played their last ever game at the old Bucks Head on April 22, 2000, beating Stevenage 2-1.

In a nice touch, a bumper crowd at the historic occasion enjoyed 1969 admission prices of 50p and 30p.

Some parts of the stadium had already been demolished as the ground geared up for a £9.5 million redevelopment which was still incomplete when they played their first match at the New Bucks Head on October 21.

Sadly the club was to see a downturn in its fortunes, and went bust in 2004, but fans formed a new club, AFC Telford United, which embraced the history and traditions of its predecessor.

And here's a question to test devoted fans. How long has the team played at the Bucks Head site?

The name came from the old Bucks Head Hotel which stood on the corner of Haybridge Road. It was demolished when a new Bucks Head pub opened there, although that building, which bears the date 1928, has become a pizza place in modern times.

The old Bucks Head Hotel which was replaced in 1928. Picture: Lynne Purcell.

The first mention of Wellington Town was in 1879, and the club played its fixtures at Haygate. Nevertheless the Bucks Head site may well already have been used for football, as in 1880 the reserve team is recorded as playing a fixture "on the ground of Wellington Blues at Watling Street".

At the time of the match in 2000 at the old Bucks Head, reports said the club's association with the ground went back 113 years, which would be to 1887, although newspapers from around that time don't bear that out, for example variously referring to games on the "Shrewsbury Road ground," at "Street Lane," and in September 1888 a match against Market Drayton was said to be at "the new ground of the Wellington Club, which is situated at the Spa, Admaston".

However, a season preview in the Wellington Journal of September 3, 1892, read in part: “...Wellington’s prospects are exceedingly hopeful. Taking to the new ground (which has been greatly improved, and christened ‘Olive Grove’) at Watling Street, is anticipated to lead to a considerable increase in gate receipts.”

A report of a match played later that month included the telling words: “The home team faced the incline...”

While Olive Grove doesn't seem to have caught on in Wellington, it was the name for Sheffield Wednesday's first permanent football ground.

Early reports talk about games being played at Watling Street but the ground was being called the Bucks Head from at least Edwardian times.

In any event, for over 130 years it has been a field of dreams and – sometimes – glory.