Rovers from humble origins to today!
Football has been played in Willand for well over a century. Indeed match reports exist from as far back as 1907 when Willand Association Football Club was under the chairmanship of Dr Henry Tracey of the Gables.
The club then played their home games at the Pavilion Ground; this the field opposite the one and only public house in Willand, The Halfway House.
By 1939 the Football club was still going strong when the world entered another period of war; at this time the Club had become known as Willand Wanderers FC. During the years of the Second World War two members from the football club joined the committee of the Willand United Services Club; this was formed in 1942 to organise wartime events for the local community.
In 1953 the club moved to its current location in Silver Street, playing in the Tiverton District League. Progress was continued when the club moved into the Devon and Exeter League passing through the lower intermediate divisions, and eventually winning the Devon cup in 1967.
In 1971 the club had the foresight to purchase the the Silver Street ground from a and land owner local farmer; at that time there were no houses surrounding the ground just orchards and fields.
During the early seventies there was promotion to the senior leagues and eventually into the Premier Division of the Devon and Exeter League. We were then playing teams such as Tiverton, Elmore, Dawlish, Heavitree, Ottery St Mary and Crediton, who all went on to play in the Western League.
The 1972 season saw the first ever Willand Rovers programme produced with 40% of the sales going towards the matchday draw. There was also a refreshment caravan at the ground for the first time.
Legend says that when the M5 Motorway was built in the 1970s the old village hall had to be taken down to make way for the new road and some of the timber from that building which was used in the building of our first grandstand at the ground. In fact, as the ground has been reshaped in more recent years some of this timber can still be seen in our Main Grandstand by virtue of it being re-used to form the front row of seats.
Despite having built a grandstand, in 1985 the Devon & Exeter League ruled that the facilities were not up to the required standard for a Premier Division team: the club was consequently demoted to the Senior Division whilst the Reserves went to play in the North Devon League.
In 1986, the clubhouse – part of the present building – and changing rooms were built. With these facilities in place the club was able to attract a wider range of quality players resulting in soon winning promotion back into the Premier Division.
In 1992 Rovers became founder members of the Devon County League and they had the honour of hosting the first ever County League league match. In attendance for that opening game was Mr Bert Millichip, then the Chairman of the Football Association.
Clive Jones then became the first team manager and our rise continued apace. The County League was won in 1998/99 and again in 2000/01.
This was followed by promotion to the Western League Division One and, after just three years, the club was promoted again into the Westen League Premier Division.
Clive Jones’ very successful tenure came to an end in 2013 when Scott Rogers took the helm. He presided over the team for two campaigns with his swan-song guiding the team to victory in the Les Phillips Cup final in May 2015, with success against Barnstaple Town at Bridport.
The current manager, Russell Jee, is very well known and respected at the club, having been a player here for many years. He is ably assisted by David Steele, another long term servant with a very distinguished Rovers playing career behind him.
Russell and Dave have continued the success of their predecessors ultimately leading the team as they became the 2018/19 Champions of the Toolstation Western League to gain promotion to the Southern Football League: no one will forget the final league match of the season away at Bitton and the jubilant scenes that followed the final whistle!
During our recent history there have been a number of excellent runs in both the FA Vase and FA Cup.
The FA Cup highlight undoubtedly being in 2014, a run that took the team to the fourth qualifying round and a meeting here at Silver Street where very nearly 1,000 people, and the BBC radio Devon outside broadcast team, were present to see Scott Rogers’ side go out 3-1 to Gosport Borough. They in turn went out in the next round, beaten by Colchester United.
More recently in the FA Vase, in the 2018/19 season under Russell Jee, the Rovers reached the Quarter Final stage where they were narrowly beaten by Cray Valley Paper Mill, again in front of a crowd nearly 1000 strong.
Off the pitch the rise of the club has been every bit as extraordinary as the action on it!
Under Chairman Mike Mitchell Silver Street has seen plenty of ground improvements and developments in recent years: the clubhouse has been overhauled and expanded, purpose made new changing rooms installed, a new seated grandstand installed and covered terrace stands erected. These improvements have given the club a stadium to be truly proud of.
The club have had a number of fine players wearing the shirt of “The Rovers“ – which incidentally started as white, later changed to orange and is now back to the original club colour of white – including four Wembley winners, Kevin Smith, Steve Hynds, Phil Everett and of course Scott Rogers, all of whom appeared there for Tiverton Town in the FA Vase. Phil is actually a double Vase winner, former Non League Footballer of the Year and has represented the FA against Jersey.
Another Wembley connection for the club is former Exeter City and Tiverton Town legend, Hedley Steele, who played in Tiverton Town’s first, and losing, FA Vase final team; he was in the Willand side that won the County League in 1998-9. Hedley is without doubt a Mid Devon Footballing legend who can be regularly seen attending the home Rovers games where he is able to support his son David.
Other local notables to have graced “The Rovers” colours include Steve Rowlands, Martin Tregedeon, Mark Seatherton, who undoubtedly is one of the areas greatest ever goal scorers, Jason Reeves, Gavin Hudd, Nick Howe, Darren Cork, Steve Venner, Phil Staddon and long serving goalkeeper, Brian Cann.
AND AS FOR THE FUTURE
So Willand Rovers stand proudly ply their trade in the Southern Football League Division One South, the fourth tier of non-league football. This is the highest point the club has reached in the football pyramid in its short history.
The forthcoming years will bring a different set of challenges, not least the decision as to whether the Stan Robinson Stadium can be upgraded to meet the requirements of the next step up the football pyramid, promotion to the Premier Division of the famous and historic Southern League. This would see us playing at the same same level as some very big and famous non-league clubs such as Truro City, Salisbury City, Taunton Town, Dorchester Town and Tiverton Town to name just a few! Dizzy heights indeed, but we must have a goal and something to aim for … so lets aim high!
Off the pitch the thriving clubhouse continues to help provide vital funding through social events, parties and being used by local organisations serving the community. We also wouldn’t have achieved the success we have in recent years without the support and backing all our sponsors and the local business community. We say to you a BIG THANK YOU to you all.
There is still a hunger within the club for even more success as “The Rovers” seek to maintain the impetus of the last few years. The story goes on, as the dream continues to unfold – WATCH THIS SPACE!