Rovers from humble origins to today!
Football has been played in Willand, Mid Devon, for well over a century now. 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 played their home games then at the Pavilion Ground, this the field opposite the one and only public house in Willand, The Halfway House.
The Football club was still going strong when the world returned to a life of war in 1939 and at this stage of its existence it was known as Willand Wanderers FC.
There were two members from the football club on the committee of the Willand United Services Club that was formed in 1942 to organize wartime events for the local community.
In 1953 the club moved to its current location of Silver Street, playing in the Tiverton district league, and then moving onto the Devon and Exeter league in the lower intermediate divisions, winning the Devon cup in 1967.
In 1971 the club had the foresight to purchase the present location from the local farmer, and at that time there were no houses around just orchards and fields. From the early seventies there was promotion to the senior league’s and then onto the top division, the Devon and Exeter premier, playing teams such as Tiverton, Elmore, Dawlish, Heavitree, Ottery St Mary and Cediton, who all went onto 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 70s the old village hall had to be taken down and it is wood from that building which was used in the building of the current grandstand at the ground.
Despite having the stand, in 1985 the Devon& Exeter League ruled that the facilities were not up to the required standard for the then Premier Division and the club was demoted to the Senior Divisions whilst the Reserves went to play in the North Devon League.
In 1986, the clubhouse and changing rooms were built and the club soon won promotion back into the premier division.
In 1992 Rovers became founder members of the Devon County League and they had the honor of hosting the first ever County League game and, in attendance for the opening game was Bert Millichip, then the Chairman of the Football Association.
Clive Jones became manager and the rise and 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, this time into the Premier Division.
Since being in the top flight of the Western League Rovers best finish to date was as runners-up in the 2009/10 season.
Clive Jones time came to an end in 2013 and Scott Rogers took the helm. He presided over the team for two campaigns in terms of the Toolstation League and also ended his time as boss with the team winning the Les Phillips Cup in May 2015 with success against Barnstaple Town at Bridport.
There have been a number of excellent runs in both the FA Vase and FA Cup with the highlight undoubtedly being last season’s FA Cup 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.
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 improvement and development over the past five years culminating in the clubhouse being overhauled and into the splendid facility it is today. Much of the recent work has been done with grants from Landfill Tax Credit funding through local company Viridor.
Scott Rogers left the club at the end of season 2014/15 and in a seamless switch, Rovers legnd Russell Jee took on the hot seat with David Steel as his deputy.
As for the future, given the pace of development on and off the pitch in the past five years there’s undoubtedly more to come – watch this space!
The club have also 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 accepted club colour of white – including three Wembley winners, Kevin Smith, Steve Hynds and Phil Everett, all of whom appeared there for Tiverton Town in the F. A. Vase. Phil is actually a double Vase winner, former Non League Footballer of the Year and recently appeared for the F. A. against Jersey.
The fourth Wembley connection for the club is former Exeter City and Tiverton Town legend, Hedley Steele, who played in Tiverton Town’s first, and losing, F. A. Vase final team, and was in the Willand side that won the County league in 1998-9. Hedley is without doubt a Mid Devon Footballing legend who these days is involved and associated with Exeter City looking after one of their youth teams. On most match days Hedley can be seen attending the home Rovers games where he is able to watch his son, David, was a member of the Western League championship winning team in 2004-5. Other local notables to have graced “The Rovers” colours in more recent years include Steve Rowland’s, 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 current goalkeeper, Brian Cann.
ROVERS CLIMBING THE FOOTBAL PYRAMID………………
Willands standing in non-league football climbed to new heights in the last few seasons as they lifted the Les Phillips Cup in 2006/07 beating Welton Rovers in the final, after finishing runners-up to Corshan Town the previous year. Their then highest ever league position also followed in 2007/08 with a fantastic third place spot and that was bettered in a magical 2009/10 season that saw Rovers finish second only to Champions Bideford whilst they also reached the Fifth Round of the FA vase and the 2nd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.
AND AS FOR THE FUTURE……………….
So Willand Rovers stand proudly at the highest point the club has reached in its short history. The next sixty 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 of the football pyramid, namely the famous and historic Southern League. Costs are rising in football and the club are responding by introducing commercial initiatives, and the very first Rovers website set up and run by the secretary Dave Campion.
Youth football was introduced in the early 2000’s and in the 2010/11 season the Club has an Under-16 side who ply their trade in the Juventus League Under-16 Division One, an Under-15 side (Sundays), competing in the Taunton Youth Leagu, two Under-12 sides, one a Saturday side who play in the Exeter Youth League Under-12 Division two and the other a Sunday side who play in Division Two of the Taunton Youth League
Off the pitch the thriving club-house continues to help provide vital funding and the club also has a range of branded merchandise and local business, despite the hard times of the early 21st century recession continue to support, none more so that local haulage firm – Stan Robinson Transport who have increased their involvement with the club as “The Rovers”, seek to maintain the impetus of the last few years. The story goes on as the dream still unfolds – Watch this space!