Welcome

I have created this blog to share my footballing tales and adventures with you, through short stories and anecdotes, I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Jacques Cousteau derby!


Monday 25th April 2011 and a bumper crowd of 1163 turned up at Park Lane, home of Canvey Island FC for a local derby match that is unique not only to the Island or the county of Essex but to the country as a whole.
Ryman Premier League Gulls and Island rivals Concord Rangers who play merely a mile away are the only senior football clubs on Canvey. Although little love is lost between them, they share the distinction of this being the only local derby fixture in the country where both teams’ play below sea level!
Extra spice was added to the fixture what with both clubs chasing a play-off place, and as Concord had won the previous fixture at their Thames Road ground back in February, Canvey were keen to even the score.
For the record, the match was held up for ten minutes due to crowd congestion. Once underway the visitors totally dominated the game. Canvey were not helped by being reduced to nine men by referee Mr Yeo. Nevertheless, Concord Rangers were well worth their victory by four goals to nil.

Here is The Football Adventurers picture gallery of the day’s events.

My son Stanley & I under the sea!
The Canvey Island supporters ready for the big match. 
The 1163 crowd builds up.
The teams arrive on the pitch.
Concord Rangers start the brighter.
Alfie & Stanley look for a better vantage point.
But my youngest Oliver sleeps through it!
Concord celebrate a 4-0 win with their supporters.
10 things you should know about Canvey Island. From Seasider Review, the official programme of Canvey Island FC (price £2)

UNCLE JACK

Jack Hinton (left) as my Dads best man.


I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Canvey Island Football Club, the reason being a man by the name of Jack Hinton.

Jack was my great uncle. He moved to Canvey from East London and in the late 1950s he joined Canvey Island Football Club as reserve team manager. He had been a useful footballer before the war, and even when hostilities broke out he still played whenever he could.

Unfortunately he suffered a severe injury in a motorcycle accident which ended his footballing career, so he turned to management and administration work within the Ilford & District league and also managed one of Leytonstone’s teams.

Now uncle Jack was a character. As children we used to go to his house in Urmond Road, Canvey and would spend long Saturday afternoons playing football or cricket in his garden while he and my father were at Park Lane. When they returned from football, Jack, a member of the magic circle, would put on a magic show for my me and my cousins. I remember one trick he performed on my Auntie Tessa. He put her arm into a contraption with a huge knife bolted to it, the knife would be draw down and would appear to slice through her arm. We would all gasp! But of course auntie Tessa still had her arm. To this day I don’t know how he did the trick and I’m not sure I want to know either!

It was during one of these magic shows that we found out the full extent of Jack’s war injury. The motorcycle accident had damaged his right leg, which led to it having to be amputated. Of course uncle Jack didn’t want us kids to know that his war wound was received working as a dispatch rider so he told us that he’d been run over by a German tank! I remember we all stood open mouthed as he told us – what a hero!

Jack progressed through Canvey Island FC and became club chairman. Along with several others he worked tirelessly for the club putting on the social activities and mucking in with maintenance on the ground. Reg Wellman, a good friend of Jack’s and a Park Lane regular, recalled a time when they were working together on the pitch. It was a cold wet day and the ground had become very boggy. Jack was working by the corner flag when his boots became stuck in the muddy pitch. As he pulled his leg up, the artificial limb came away and was stuck upright in the mud. Imagine the scene as Jack, hopping on his good leg, tried to pull the other out of the thick mud!

Jack also played a part in discovering one of the South East Essex area’s finest footballers, Peter Taylor.
Taylor played for Canvey before being sold to Southend United for £100. When he left the Shrimpers for Crystal Palace the London club paid more than £100,000 for his services! He then went on to play for Tottenham and Orient before turning to management with Southend, Gillingham, Brighton, Leicester, Hull City, Crystal Palace, Wycombe Wanderers and recently Bradford City. He also famously took charge of the England national team for a fixture with Italy – his legacy, appointing David Beckham as England captain.


A packed house at Park Lane for the visit of Southend United in an FA Cup replay.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIi7BkKzcm4&feature=share

 

THE WONDERS OF WAKERING



Great Wakering Rovers are my local club. Despite my commitment to Southend I try to visit Burroughs Park whenever possible.

If ever you should visit the Rovers you are guaranteed a warm welcome. They boast a lovely little ground with a well-stocked clubhouse. But despite my own particular feel-good factor towards the club, I think it’s fair to say we didn’t get off to the best of starts!    

My earliest memory of our paths crossing was back in early 1980. I was just starting out in junior football with Leigh Rangers. One of my first games was against the Great Wakering Colts. Although the game was only a friendly, extra spice was added when Sharon Batchelor, the unattainable ‘hottie’ from King Edmunds School class 1ct turned up on the touchline to watch her brother play against us. Despite my wholehearted efforts, which included playing with my shirt outside my shorts and socks rolled down to look the part, and indeed setting up a goal (albeit with a miskick)  Sharon was unimpressed. In fact she took little or no notice of me for our remaining four and a half years at school!

My next meeting with the Rovers was equally unsuccessful. I was by now playing for Brooklyn Sports in the Second Division of the Southend & District League, and although only an average player, I did have a bit of pace. This particular Rovers team were struggling towards the bottom of the League and were mainly made up of the club’s elder statesmen. I remember looking at the ageing full back and rubbing my hands at the prospect of running him ragged. At the first opportunity I sped past the grey-haired defender close to the touchline only to be tripped over by one of the many vocal spectators who had arrived fresh from an early afternoon bevvy session in the pub. The rowdy crowd roared with laughter – and so, to my abject disgust, did the referee, who waved the game on!

Local men who had recently been demobbed from the army following the atrocities of the Great War founded Rovers in 1919. Work in the area was sparse, some found positions as farm hands and others at the local brick works. Football gave them something to rebuild their lives around. A sense of somewhere they belonged. They soon became one of the most successful teams in South East Essex football.

They would often draw big crowds to watch Southend & District League matches at Great Wakering Recreation Ground, particularly when teams from nearby Rochford or Shoebury were visiting.

Rovers’ senior teams played at ‘The Rec’ until 1988, when they started work on the adjacent Burroughs Park. The ground was formerly a plot of disused allotments. The club set about turning them into a football ground.

I remember playing in one of the earliest games on the new ground when Brooklyn visited Rovers 3rd team for a pre-season friendly match. We got changed in a portacabin in the North-West corner of the ground – the small room was full of building equipment and the Brooklyn lads bemoaned about the less than comfortable facilities. As the visiting team Brooklyn were asked to donated £10 to the Rovers with the money being set toward the development of the ground. It proved to be money well spent, as today Rovers boast one of the best grounds in Isthmian League football.

The move to Burroughs Park saw the club elevated from the District League to the Essex Olympian League and in 1992 they gained their senior status and joined the Essex Senior League. The club celebrated the achievement with a prestigious pre-season friendly match against a Leyton Orient XI. A crowd of around 500 saw the teams share the spoils with a 1-1 draw. Rovers next two home fixtures were equally as eventful. The next visitors were the newly merged Dagenham & Redbridge who boasted a number of England semi-professional internationals. Rovers proved to be no match for the Daggers who won by eight goals to nil. The goalfest continued a few days later when a Southend United XI and Rovers drew 5-5!

Rovers progressed through the Essex Senior League and became members of the Isthmian Football League and briefly the Southern League. During this period the club achieved little in the way of success although in 2007 they made it through to their first Essex Senior Cup Final.

Great Wakering reached the final following some notable victories. Both Thurrock and Dagenham & Redbridge were defeated at Burroughs Park while Aveley were dispatched unceremoniously in the semi final.
  
Around 1200 people, many from the village, flocked to Southend United’s Roots Hall Stadium to see Rovers take on AFC Hornchurch. Sadly the Rovers lost by the odd goal in three.

From a personal point of view Great Wakering Rovers Football Club have a special place in my heart. I have served them as a programme contributor, and worked in the commercial department as well as being a supporter and a player. Ok so my lonesome appearance in a green & white shirt was for Rovers Reserves in an Essex & Herts Border League fixture away at East Thurrock United. But I was called for as a second half substitute with Rovers trailing 0-5, and I’d like to think I made a difference as I set up a goal and we won the second half 1-0!

Much to my Dad’s disappointment my professional football career never really took off (at all!) However I did appear for a Charlton Athletic Legends XI in a charity match that took place at the Rovers Burroughs Park ground. Sadly Dad was long out of this world, so he never witnessed my one and only appearance for a Football League club.

In fact I was not the only person to benefit from Charlton’s lack of numbers that night. My best mate Ed is to say the least a big chap. His playing role these days is limited to appearing in goal for our ‘tour’ team. However, when offered the chance to anchor the Valliant’s midfield for one night, the big man stepped up to the plate and rolled back the years.

Ok, so the game didn’t go quite according to plan as we lost an eight-goal thriller, 7-1! But sit Ed and I in front of any televised Charlton Athletic match and the topic of conversation soon turns to the lack of creativity in the heart of their midfield!

The home of Great Wakering Rovers might well have given me my one and only appearance with a big club, but it also produced one of the most heart stopping moments too. The beauty of many grounds such as Burroughs Park is that the kids can run about and from almost any vantage point you can keep an eye on them. During one particular match my eldest son Alfie slipped out of sight. In a blind panic I searched the ground but to no avail. The club even put out an announcement over the tannoy. By now I had most of the crowd (112) looking for him. After some ten minutes a lady found Alfie hiding under one of the seats in the grandstand.   

It’s a brisk Tuesday evening in early September 2008 and the Rovers have a home league fixture with local rivals Tilbury. Wakering have made a poor start to the season, however, they seem to have something of an Indian sign over the Dockers so hope springs eternal.

The committee give up their time working tirelessly behind the scenes so that the ground and clubhouse look smart and are well stocked. Programmes are kept as up to date as club stalwart Nobby Johnson can possibly make them. Meanwhile the staff in the tea bar are busy producing the best food in Essex non-League football.

On the pitch the players duly compliment the hard working backroom team by picking up their first League victory of the season, beating Tilbury by two goals to nil. Only 106 spectators have made the effort to venture along.

In many cases up and down the country, the vast majority of the British football supporting public treat non-League football with apathy. Strangely the very same apathetic fans will be found heading the queue for tickets should their local team pull out a plum FA Cup tie. Great Wakering is little different. In a village of some 6,000 people only an average of 100 make it along on a match day.

For all the hard work that has gone into organising the Tilbury fixture the huge spaces on the terraces and in the stand make you wonder if it’s all been worth it. But really, if it’s an honest football match you want, with 100% committed players, a programme and a pint for around a tenner, for me the likes of Rovers win over Premiership prima donnas every time.  

Action from Burroughs Park

            A chance for me to pull on a Rovers shirt with former Birmingham City, West Ham, Liverpool and England legend Julian Dicks.



          

In search of Dudley Duncan


Dudley is what I would call a working man’s town. Although today it looks a little run down, just a brief glimpse around shows the signs of the West Midlands’ proud industrious past.

From a football perspective the town may appear to hold very little. A couple of non-League clubs, one of which, Dudley Town, famously had to vacate their ground when a disused coal mine collapsed close by. In fact if you took a poll of the townsfolk most would pledge their allegiances to either West Bromwich Albion or Wolverhampton Wanderers.

However, Dudley can proudly boast of being the birth and indeed final resting place of Manchester United legend Duncan Edwards. 

Born on the 1st October 1936, Edwards signed for Manchester United in his early teens. Both Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers were keen on signing the youngster but he joined United claiming it was the club for which he wanted to play.

Wolves manager Stan Cullis was particularly bitter at missing out on such a rich local talent. He made various allegations towards the Manchester United management about the way they had allegedly enticed Edwards to play for them. Both United and Edwards rebuffed Cullis’ claims.

On 4th April 1953 at the age of 16 years 185 days Duncan Edwards became the youngest footballer of the time to play in the First Division when appearing for United during a 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City. A year later he was selected for England, making him the youngest since the second world war to represent his country.

In a career that lasted just short of five years Duncan Edwards made 177 appearances for Manchester United scoring 21 goals, he also represented England on 18 occasions netting 5 times.

On the domestic front Edwards helped Manchester United towards two First Division Championships, an FA Cup final and a European Cup semi-final.

My dad, who had watched much of his early football at West Ham, a club renowned for producing quality young talent, was as good a judge as any of great footballers. I remember him telling me about the time he witnessed one of Edwards’ displays in a match played at Arsenal.

He told me how he could not quite believe that Edwards was so good at such a young age. He likened him to a footballer at his peak, sadly that was a stage of his career he was never destined to reach.

The tragic events that took place at Munich airport on February 6th 1958 shook football to its very foundation. Manchester’s loss was felt all over the world.
Duncan Edward clung on to life for 15 days after the accident. My mum, Eileen, recalls listening to the BBC radio news every morning. Edwards’ condition was the bulletin headline and everyone listened in hoping for some signs that the young footballer would pull through.

On the 21st February 1958 Duncan Edwards lost his battle for life. He was just 21 years old.

Edwards’ funeral at Dudley Cemetery was said to have been attended by more than 5,000 people – a measure of how he had been taken into people’s hearts.

Years later football fans still talk about great players of the past. Duncan Edwards is no exception. In Manchester he is talked of as a legend – an amazing accolade for someone who was taken from the world so young with so much still to achieve.

But what of Dudley, how do they remember their greatest son?

Along with my travelling companions Ed, Phil and Glen, we go in search of Dudley Duncan. After walking into the town’s small market I ask one of the local traders for directions to Duncan Edwards’ statue and grave. He points us in the right direction and tells me that he was at the funeral. Despite the fact he was only 10 years old at the time his memories were very clear; it was an incredibly emotional time for the town and its people.

Edwards’ statue stands proudly in the middle of Dudley High Street. We read the inscriptions and stand somewhat quiet. I’m not sure it was a planned silence. Perhaps we were trying to imagine what it was like for the people who had been lucky enough to see him play.

The man at the market had told us that a further ten-minute walk along the Stourbridge Road is Dudley cemetery, the final resting place of our departed hero.
The walk proves to be somewhat longer than the trader’s estimate. Ed by now is suffering from ‘If I walk another step’ disease and chooses to seek sanctuary in the Three Crowns. Glen notices the attractive advert for Guinness and joins him. For me and Phil the quest continues. We’ve come this far now there’s no turning back!

We finally arrive at the cemetery and ask the grounds keeper the way to Duncan Edwards’ grave. It is a question he has been asked many times. Football fans from far and wide, and not just the supporters of Manchester United, visit the monument.

We locate the grave and once again find ourselves standing silent. Surprisingly the monument is not a big spectacular structure. Sure it is larger than some of the stones and decorated with scarves left by respectful United supporters. But despite Edwards’ considerable fame he remained one of the people. Perhaps the fact his monument did not overshadow those around him proved that he just wanted to be one of them?  

I turn to Phil and mutter, “I wish I’d seen him play”. However, I’ll have to settle for old newsreel footage and the memories of older folk.

We make our way back to the Three Crowns where Ed and Glen are waiting. Four pints of Banks’ Best are ordered and talk turns back to the modern game. I’m sure Duncan Edwards would have been a star in the modern game, a claim with which the people of Dudley and Manchester will wholeheartedly agree!   

Duncan Edwards footage.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a91kJxRA9lQ

  

Sunday, 24 April 2011

September 8th, 1888: A date with destiny


Saturday September 8th 1888 was an eventful day in British history.  - In Whitechapel, London,  the notorious killer Jack the Ripper claimed his second victim - Annie Chapman.

Although this grim finding has little to do with football the date most certainly has, as it was the day the newly founded Football League kicked off.

Of the ten clubs who kicked off that historic Saturday all are still members of the Football League today, although Accrington have twice folded and only returned to the League in 2006 after 44 years in non-League football.

Amongst the first day fixtures was a West Midlands derby between Wolverhampton and Aston Villa. It was around the half hour mark of this particular game that Gersham Cox of the Villa created history by scoring the first ever Football League goal. Sadly for Cox his historic strike was an own goal to give Wolves the lead. Later on in the match Tom Green equalised for Aston Villa and that’s how the game finished.

At Preston North End they disputed the claim of Cox’s statistic stating that they had scored the Leagues inaugural goal after only three minutes against local rivals Burnley, however, with Wolves v Villa kicking off at 3pm North End’s argument was lost as their match started some fifty minutes later!

The full set of results from Saturday 8th September 1888 was
Bolton Wanderers 3 Derby County 6
Preston North End 5 Burnley 2
Everton 2 Accrington 1
Stoke City 0 West Bromwich Albion 2
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Aston Villa 1

The national newspapers took very little interest in the series of fixtures with little more than a line written about each game. Imagine the outrage from the Premiership clubs of today if the nations media treated them with such contempt (God forbid!). 

Although the honour of the first goal was taken from them, Preston took the first Football League Championship by storm, winning all 18 matches and defeating Wolverhampton 3-0 in the FA Cup final to complete the first ever ‘double’ the team became known as ‘The Invincibles’.

WBA 1888 team

Seemingly there is little connecting the opening day’s fixtures and the Whitechapel murderer, however a slight football link is that Harry Chester Goodhart (who won two FA Cup winners medals in 1879 and 1882, scoring no fewer than five hat tricks in the competitionwith Old Etonians as well as leading the forward line for England), was under suspicion of knowing the identity of the killer. Goodhart was a close friend of no fewer than two of the nominated suspects!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Lucky “Chic”

Readers could be forgiven for thinking I have something against Scottish goalkeepers following my tales of little Selkirk and their hapless goalie Richard Taylor. However, I’m very fond of the game north of the border and have some good memories of visits to the likes of East Stirling, Hamilton Academicals and Albion Rovers, not to mention the bigger clubs such as Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian. But the simple fact of it is, Scotland has had more than its fair share of bad luck where custodians are concerned.

Of course in the 1970s there was Stewart Kennedy of Glasgow Rangers. A fantastic prospect. When faced with a rampant English attack at Wembley on his international debut, he simply melted and Scotland were sent homeward to think again with a 5-1 defeat. Kennedy never recovered and ended up at Forfar Athletic!

Then there was Alan Rough, part of Ally’s (McLeod) 1978 World Cup army. The Scotland manager had told the Tartan Army that his charges would return home from Argentina with the Cup. Sadly he did not allow for ‘Scruffy’s’ performance in the Peru match – the dream was over and Ally was out on his arse!

Who could forget Jim Leighton? The former Aberdeen keeper had followed his manager Alex Ferguson to Manchester United, but the bandy-legged Jim failed to make the same impact as his celebrated manager and was sent packing to Dundee and Hibernian following an awful display in United’s FA Cup final with Crystal Palace.
  
However, all of these keepers had it relatively easy compared to the late Charles ‘Chic’ Brodie.
Brodie was born in Duntocher, Scotland in 1937 and went on to play for five clubs making 402 League matches between 1957 and 1970. The accident-prone custodian was dubbed ‘a walking mishap’ by the Sun newspaper following a number of bizarre incidents. In 1965 while playing for Brentford versus Millwall he found a hand grenade had been thrown into his goal. After part of the ground was evacuated the grenade prove to be nothing but a dud! During a match at Sincil Bank against Lincoln City, Brodie was floored when the whole goal collapsed on top of him!

Probably the most famous Brodie classic was recorded by the TV cameras in 1970 when Brentford were playing Colchester United at Layer Road. Chic collected a back pass when a stray dog ran across the pitch after the ball. The mutt collided with the hapless custodian shattering his knee and effectively ending his first class football career.
One would have imagined that nothing worse could happen to ‘lucky Chic’, however in 1971 while playing for non-League Margate in the FA Cup, he conceded double figures as a Ted MacDougal inspired Bournemouth rattled in eleven without reply. A few weeks later Chic broke his ankle.

After Brodie retired from football he worked as a London cabbie, and misfortune struck once again when he collided with a Jaguar. The driver was England’s 1966 hero Geoff Hurst!


That Colchester v Brentford match
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr1yl30LIvw 


SELKIRK’S BIG DAY


STIRLING ALBION 20 SELKIRK 0


Not too many eyebrows were raised when on Saturday 8th December 1984 Selkirk AFC travelled to Stirling Albion in the opening round of the Scottish Cup. 

The non-league minnows had little to boast about in the way of success and had in fact dropped out of the East of Scotland League and had effectively folded at the time. In order to stay in the Scottish Cup, and to ensure future participation, the club fielded the players from Borders Amateur club Selkirk Victoria under their name.

Despite the lack of success in 1966 they did have the honour of playing the French World Cup team in a warm up fixture before the finals that were to be held across the border that summer in England.

The French players were playing for places in their opening fixture against Mexico and duly ran in eleven goals against the gallant Scottish Junior side.  In return, Selkirk somewhat embarrassed their more illustrious opponents by scoring two of their own!

But this was for real, the Scottish Cup is steeped with history and Selkirk wanted to be a part of it. As it turned out they helped write one of the biggest stories in Scottish Cup football this century.

Selkirk had already made history simply by reaching the first round of the competition, thus becoming the only Border Amateur team to participate in the ‘proper’ stage of the competition. The Stirling Albion match programme of that fateful day reported, ‘For Selkirk F.C. today is their Cup Final’

As the match progressed it became alarmingly apparent that Selkirk were no match for their Second Division opponents – goals came thick and fast. Stirling striker David Thompson helped himself to seven goals as Albion recorded the biggest margin of victory in a British senior (League or Cup) match this century, 20-0!

After the match the nation’s media interviewed a somewhat shell-shocked Selkirk goalkeeper, Richard Taylor. Despite the defeat Taylor allegedly insisted, “I was only at fault for about seven of the goals.” With Scottish custodians already somewhat under siege, particularly in England, Taylor’s comments were seized upon with the famous joke, “I asked a man from Selkirk for the time – ‘20-past-Taylor’ he replied!”

Monday, 18 April 2011

BETTER LEYTON THAN NEVER!

I think it’s fair to say when Dad and I first went to the Orient it was purely as an escape. Not fancying a boring afternoon with relatives in nearby Leytonstone, Dad gave the signal and we sneaked off to Brisbane Road.

In the 1970s, things looked bright for the O’s. They had successfully maintained their place in the second tier of the Football League and had surprised everyone by reaching the FA Cup semi-final of 1978 before Arsenal put pay to their Wembley dreams.

Although seen by many as East London’s second team behind West Ham, Orient were at that time a fairly useful Division Two club boasting quite a few good players. But as the calendar turned into the 1980s and our visits became more frequent, Orient embarked on a journey into abject mediocrity from which they are yet to fully recover.

Ok, so perhaps it’s my fault. Orient going along swimmingly, I start going…. well you get the picture. But football is football. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter to me that the O’s weren’t that good, if there was a match to watch I wanted to be there; and to this day that philosophy hasn’t changed! I remember hassling Dad to take me during Orient’s final season in the Second Division when they played Shrewsbury Town.

In truth I don’t think Dad really fancied going to the match. Orient were struggling towards the foot of the table and it was hardly the most attractive of fixtures. We went through the turnstiles. “Two quid” said the man on the gate. “What? For a kid?” Dad replied. “Bloody hell, I’m not paying that, it’s only 75 pence at Southend!” And then he saw the disappointed look on my face. Realising the alternative was a dull afternoon in Leytonstone and a sulking son, he reluctantly paid the money. We stood behind the goal and witnessed two Kevin Godfrey goals give Orient the points.

During those early visits to Orient there were a few players who stood out. Winger Peter Taylor, whom my great uncle Jack Hinton (chairman/manager of Canvey Island) had sold to Southend for a mere £100. Then there was John Chiedozie, another pacey wide man who seemed destined for the big time but strangely ended up moving to unfashionable Notts County.

 My favourite Orient player was Stan Bowles. Stan had both a chequered life and career. During his heyday with Queens Park Rangers and England, Bowles had developed a gambling habit. There was a rumour at Orient that he would deliberately go down injured so the physio could come on and tell him the racing results while pretending to treat his imaginary injury!

Brisbane Road became a fairly regular outing for us during the 80s, particularly as they would be playing Southend on a more regular basis. Orient had been relegated to the Third Division and very soon looked like they might tumble straight into the Fourth, but still, O’s had some good players. The likes of Mervyn Day had played in goal for West Ham during the successful FA Cup run of 1975, and striker Keith Houchen would go on to make national headlines (sadly not for Orient) firstly by scoring a last minute penalty for York City that sent mighty Arsenal crashing out of the FA Cup. He then dumped on the other half of North London by spectacularly heading in one of unfancied Coventry City’s goals as they beat Spurs in the 1987 final at Wembley.

Despite the emerging rivalry between Orient and Southend I have to admit that I’m quite fond of the O’s. Rumour has it that the proximity of the clubs could have been considerably greater. During the 1960s Orient considered moving away from Brisbane Road to Basildon in a bid to attract support from the vast number of East Londoners who had settled in the new town. Now Clapton or Leyton Orient I could put up with, but BASILDON ORIENT? Somehow I don’t think so.

Although the club never embarked on a move to Basildon, Orient can still boast a proud and rich history, particularly during the Clapton Orient era. Shortly before the Great War, Clapton Orient had a fantastic team. Big crowds would flock to Millfields as the club pushed to get into the First Division. When the world’s fragile political state landed Great Britain in a bloody war, the players and staff of Clapton Orient led the way, eagerly signing up to the aptly named ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ (Middlesex Regiment) for front line duties. The scale of recruitment from Orient was far greater than from any other club in the English League. Sadly, bravery tends to lead to tragedy. Several players never came home and dozens more were unable to return to football due to the nature of their injuries.

Almost a century later and now under the title LEYTON ORIENT, many supporters of the club still travel to Northern France during November to honour and celebrate the lives of William Jonas, George Scott and Richard McFadden. Their story has been wonderfully recreated by O’s fan Steve Jenkins whose book They took the lead gives lasting testament to the sacrifice these and many other men made during the dark times of 1914-1918.

The war had a big effect on Orient. The loss of so many players saw the club slip behind London rivals West Ham and Tottenham. On top of that In 1913 Woolwich Arsenal had controversially moved from South to North London, much to the disapproval of Orient and Tottenham, who believed the move would affect their support. The move unquestionably affected Orient more than the bigger teams – it took several decades for the club to reach those pre-war highs again, but in 1962 and against the odds, Orient reached the First Division. The club’s stay in the top flight lasted only one season. However, they produced some notable performances, which included victories over Manchester United, Liverpool and local rivals West Ham.

But back into the 80s, the likes of Manchester United and Everton had not visited for some time. Brisbane Road now played host to the likes of Lincoln City and Gillingham. The big teams had gone and so had the crowds, with many matches now watched by just 3,000 hardcore supporters. Although the club struggled, they still had a cult hero. Striker Peter Kitchen looked nothing like a professional footballer, however, he continued to hit the net on a regular basis. His exploits are remembered to this very day, the club having named a tea bar after him!

It was around this period that I watched Orient quite a bit. Although the team rarely threatened the top end of the table I did manage to see some memorable matches. Bolton Wanderers came to Brisbane Road and built up a 3-1 lead, however, a wonderful three goal performance from that man Kevin Godfrey saw Orient home 4-3. I also witnessed an early sign of the Wimbledon ‘Crazy Gang’s’ intentions as they won a Third Division encounter 6-2 in East London. There was also a fairly uneventful 1-1 draw with Lincoln City during which O’s Barry Silkman missed a penalty by just about the widest margin I’ve ever seen!

On Boxing Day 1985 I was given a dilemma. Southend were strangely without a festive fixture so I searched for an alternative. A quick check on Ceefax gave me the answer I was looking for. Orient v Hereford United, perfect. Well, almost perfect. With no trains or buses running I would need some form of transport from Southend to East London. I asked Dad if he fancied driving to the match but he had already made prior arrangements to visit the Old Southend Stadium (former home of Southend United) for the final Greyhound meeting to take place before the ground was demolished.

As Christmas Day fizzled out it was looking increasingly likely that I would have to trade football for the dogs, but then like a bolt out of the blue the phone rang. It was a chap by the name of Rowland Lyons.

Rowland was an Orient supporter but had a few friends at Southend. He had even turned out in one or two Southend United Supporters Club football matches. He asked me if I wanted a lift to the Boxing Day game, and I quickly agreed. It was a great gesture of him to offer. He lived in Taunton, Somerset and he would have to make a 500 mile round trip to include picking me up and dropping me home after the match!

The plan was for Rowland to pick me up at 1pm, this giving us two hours to reach East London for the match. But as the time passed 2 o’clock there was still no sign of him. At about quarter past two and with the rain falling in sheets he pulled up. He was driving an old battered mini. We sped off up the A127. As we reached Basildon I felt a strange sensation in my feet. Looking down I noticed a huge hole in the floor, the water was pouring in and my shoes were by now soaked. As I looked up, the car narrowly avoided a lorry, stopping only a few feet from carnage. “That’s lucky,” said Rowland. “The brakes don’t usually work that well,” he added. I was starting to think that on this particular occasion greyhound racing might have been the better option!
For the rest of the journey I sat in what can only be described as the ‘crash position’ but we arrived at Brisbane Road with minutes to spare. Despite the awful weather conditions Orient and Hereford played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in front of a crowd of 2,700.

The journey home was fairly uneventful but we managed to avoid crashing and I’d got my fix of football. As for dad’s day at the dogs, the electric hare broke down half way through one of the early races and the meeting was abandoned!

Of course what with travelling from Somerset I should not have been surprised that my chauffeur was late picking me up, however, twenty-three years later while researching this story I discovered that he was in fact looking after his parents’ house in Wickford, Essex. He still hasn’t given me an excuse for leaving me standing in the pouring rain for over an hour!

Although I don’t mind Orient, for some strange reason my beloved Southend United have a phobia for them. Not only do the Shrimpers very rarely beat them but we have a habit of scoring for them too! I doubt any team has scored more own goals against one single opponent as Southend have for Orient. One particular match sticks in the mind more than most. When Southend arrived at Brisbane Road for a League 2 fixture in 2004, both teams were struggling in the lower reaches of the division. The game had largely been one way traffic, Southend had taken the lead, missed a penalty and hit the woodwork more times than I care to remember.

With about twenty minutes to go the Shrimpers’ strike force ended an apparent inability to hit the proverbial cow’s arse with a banjo. Sadly nobody could have told Messrs Bramble and Broughton that we were now kicking the other way. The 2000 or so travelling supporters looked on in disbelief as two thundering headers secured another bemusing afternoon on the terraces. If that was not bad enough, spare a thought for my good friend Ed, whose large frame proved too much for the narrow turnstiles. The air turned blue as he struggled to free himself before being let through a side gate!   

Today I still try to get along to the Orient a couple of times a season. Brisbane Road, like numerous other grounds, has changed greatly since those early visits in the 1980s.  But some things never change. The Orient supporters’ club bar has always offered my family and me a friendly welcome. Steve Jenkins has even been known to buy me a beer! The team’s form continues to baffle their faithful supporters. I guess they’re not too different from Southend, Colchester and Walsall in that respect.

Workmen take a break from building the Brizzie Road North stand to take in the O's match with Northampton Town in April 2007.
 

LAYER ROAD RECALLED


It was 3:31pm on Saturday 4th March 2006, and the match dubbed by many as the League One title decider was very much going Southend’s way. The Layer Road faithful were stunned and in truth so were we. The Shrimpers supporters started to sing an old favourite ‘Layer Road is falling down, poor old Col U’, and one look around the old ground would suggest they had the evidence.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a derby victory over Colchester as much as the next Shrimper, but for this particular Southend supporter, Layer Road has some great memories, and I don’t just mean the odd victory over our local rivals.

Dad and I made a fair few visits to Layer Road during our footballing heydays of the 1970s and early 80s. Just like watching the likes of Southend and Orient, following Colchester was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
  
Layer Road during the 70s was always remembered as the place mighty Leeds were brought to their knees – right up to my very last visit I don’t think that the ghostly images of shocked Leeds players ever went away.

Not that this was the only Cup tale the old stadium could tell. Back in the late 1940s Ted Fenton’s ‘Oyster Boys’ of the Southern League defeated First Division Huddersfield Town (1-0) and Second Division Bradford Park Avenue (3-2) at Layer Road before bowing out at a Stanley Matthews inspired Blackpool (0-5).

These Cup-ties gave Colchester national recognition. In 1950 League football was secured, the first game a Division Three (South) goalless draw at Gillingham.

Although the U’s plied their trade in the Third and Fourth divisions, there were some smashing players. An early favourite of mine was Trevor Lee, a powerful midfield/forward player with an Afro haircut that would put any glam rocker to shame! Then there was Roy McDonough, who scored goals for both Southend and Colchester during a number of spells, he went on to manage the U’s during their successful Conference season and I believe to this day holds the football league record for being sent off more than any other player!

Another goal scorer was the ill-fated John Lyons who sadly found everyday pressures too much. In November 1982 he took his own life at a tragically young age, only hours after playing for Colchester against Chester at Layer Road.

In goal during those early visits was Mike Walker. My wife told me how she took a slight fancy to a Spurs goalkeeper by the name of Ian at the very first football match she ever saw, it made me feel old telling her I watched his dad play between the posts for the U’s!

Then there were the games I watched, yes there were some memorable games with Southend including the Shrimpers 4-3 win in the League cup, a 3-3 draw at the start of 84-85 season and a 2-0 win that as good as relegated U’s to the Conference as well as just about secured promotion for Southend.

One of my favourite matches was from the 88-89 season. Colchester had endured a poor season and their league status was in doubt. A run of results towards the end of the season had lifted them clear of the relegation zone, but as Halifax Town arrived at Layer Road, only a victory would do.

The Shaymen had former Manchester United and Ireland goalkeeper Paddy Roche in their line-up. As the match progressed it seemed as if Colchester would never get past the Town keeper as they trailed 0-2. But then by a stroke of luck, good for Colchester and bad for both Roche and Halifax, the Irish keeper caught the ball but landed awkwardly, badly damaging his ankle. The stricken keeper was carried from the field and replaced by the big cumbersome central defender (no keepers on the bench in those days). U’s saw their chance and roared back to win 3-2. I remember the place going crazy as the winning goal went in and League football was secured albeit only for another twelve months. As for Paddy Roche, he never played League football again.

In fact in some forty visits to Layer Road I never saw a goalless draw! 

Then there was the 3-3 draw with Southend at the start of the 84-85 season. Tony Adcock scored a hat trick for Colchester and former Ipswich and England man Trevor Whymark was on target for the Shrimpers.

The game had been marred by crowd trouble, and as the match came to an end the police took the unusual step of keeping the home supporters in the ground whilst the visiting Southend fans were escorted out of the stadium. As we started to leave, a surge from the back of the stand caused us at the front to become crushed. I called to a police officer to help me lift my girlfriend of the time over the wall and onto the perimeter track and what seemed to be safety, and as he did so, his now agitated police dog tried to bite her! She never went to another Essex derby!

But for all the wonderful players, great games and fantastic memories this story is about the ground, Layer Road. Yes, as the Shrimpers fans would say, falling down; but full of character and the sort of place a real football fan could watch an honest game of football. My special memory of Colchester United’s former home: a 3-0 win over Peterborough Reserves, the final game, the final goals, and a chance to watch football on the terraces with my young son Alfie, just as I had with my late father all those years ago.

Alfie has a kick-about in the weeds Oct 09

A shot of Layer Road in October 2009

Sadly no more headlines from Layer Road



Thursday, 14 April 2011

Tony Powell


If theres one thing all football fans can relate to its the endless rumours that surround our beautiful game. Whos signing for whom, and what so and so is up to are part and parcel of the deal, and have been for as long as supporters can remember.

But in Norwich towards the end of the 1980s, an unusual story surfaced regarding one of the Citys favourite sons.

Word soon spread that former Norwich City defender and crowd favourite Tony Powell was residing in Americaas a woman! It was unclear whether the ex-Canaries stopper was living as a transsexual or indeed, had gone all the way.

The rumour came as a huge shock to most Norwich supporters – and indeed, to Powell himself. In a newspaper interview he dismissed the story as “ridiculous” adding, “I’ve never worn a frock before in my life, I'm the least likely man to have a sex swap.” He went on to reassure City fans by saying, “I’m all bloke”!

Between 1974 and 1981 Powell had made 275 appearances for the Canaries, scoring five goals.

To this day it is unclear from where the rumour came, although certain suburbs of neighbouring Ipswich have been somewhat tight-lipped on the matter...


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

BACK TO MY ROOTS


Without question, Roots Hall Stadium, Southend (well Prittlewell to be exact) is my football Mecca.

Sure, I’ve been to Old Trafford, Anfield, St James Park (Newcastle & Exeter) even the Nou Camp, all fantastic venues, steeped in history and homes to some great footballers, but you can keep the lot of them. When I’m at Roots Hall, I’m at home!

It’s not the prettiest of football grounds and I’ve heard all the songs from visiting supporters too – “Shite ground, no fans” and the inventive “My garden shed is bigger than this” – but it matters not. Manchester United, Tottenham, Newcastle, Sunderland, Leeds and of course West Ham, they’ve all come down and turned their aristocratic noses up, and all been sent home with their tails between their legs. I might also add that at this very same venue, I’ve seen the Shrimpers turned over by the likes of Newport County, Torquay and Mansfield!

Roots Hall was the first, and subsequently the last place I watched League Football with my Dad. I’ve seen games that range from the comical to the classic. As it turned out my final visit with Dad just before Christmas 2003 saw the comical side of the Shrimpers. Totally dominated the match, missed two penalties before losing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers’ only shot of the game, and oh yes, to add insult to injury my mate Ed was thrown out after a heated barrage of ‘friendly advice’ towards the Rovers bench, a typical Roots Hall on a Saturday afternoon! Just after, on Christmas Day 2003, Dad was taken from us and part of my footballing childhood went with him.

I’ve fallen in and out of love with Southend United almost every week since the mid 1970s. The club has an uncanny knack of collecting all your hopes, wishes and dreams, building them up and then crushing them. Yes, supporting Southend United can be bloody hard work. You’re in it for the long haul and there is no escape. Our relationship has stretched my footballing emotions to their very limits. We wouldn’t want it any other way! Although I’m sure fans from the likes of Orient, Brentford, Walsall and Colchester would make a similar claim.

My earliest memories of visiting the ground go back to the early 1970s. I can only have been about three or four years old when my mother and father took me to the Roots Hall market. I remember Dad taking me through the gates at the top of the old South Bank and pointing out the groundsman marking out the pitch. “Do Spurs play there?” I asked (Spurs was my Granddad’s team). “No, Southend United”, replied Dad and that was that, I was a Shrimper! I can also remember sitting in the stand watching the annual firework display – it wasn’t until the mid 70s that I was taken there for a football match.

We stood on the South Bank for those early matches. The huge terrace could hold up to 16000 people, around half of the ground capacity. You got a great view of the action, but the place we all wanted to be was at the other end of the ground in the North Bank. That was where the action was, the singing, the atmosphere. It was as if you graduated to the North Bank when you were ready. The noise in there was something else.

Toward the end of the 70s Southend were promoted from the Fourth Division to the dizzy heights of the Third and in 1979 Roots Hall victories over Peterborough and Watford (in a replay) saw the Shrimpers paired with European Champions Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup. Of course everyone at my school jumped upon the Blues bandwagon, even kids who had shown no interest in football were now donning blue and white scarves and knew the names of Southend’s star players such as Cawston, Moody, Morris and Parker, but I don’t think any of us really believed that our team could live with the likes of Dalglish, Hughes and Kennedy.

I remember Dad and I arrived for the big match some two and a half hours before the kick-off. To our amazement there were already around five thousand people in the ground. It was a bitterly cold night, an evening snow storm covered the pitch, but with a record 31,033 crammed in there was no way the match was ever going to be called off. The ground staff remarked the lines in blue paint, and the white match ball was replaced with a bright orange one.

As it turned out, manager Dave Smith had Southend fired up, only some quick thinking by England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, kicking clear when Derrick Parker was clear on goal, saved Liverpool from what would have been one of the FA Cup’s biggest upsets ever.

For weeks after that 0-0 draw and indeed the 0-3-replay defeat at Anfield, I was still pinching myself that my team of journeymen had held one of Europe’s elite. I put those feelings down to being a child more so than ‘Cup fever’ however, I’m delighted to report that some 28 years later I experienced the very same emotions when Southend shocked a star studded Manchester United in the League Cup.
    
Despite neither side scoring, Southend and its players were national headlines as well as becoming heroes of the school playground. Everyone claimed to have been at the match and many counter claimed that they knew one of the players. All this may well have been true but when Chesterfield visited for a Third Division match a couple of weeks later, the hoi polloi had returned to supporting West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal. The match was attended by fewer than 5,000 people, 26,000 less than the previous match!!!!

As a lad I spent hours at Roots Hall, waiting for the players to finish training so I could get autographs. I remember asking if I could spend a day at the ground watching the players practise. Reserve team manager and former Blues defender Frankie Banks invited me along and showed me around the ground before asking me to return that evening in my Southend kit to be mascot for the Reserves. What an honour, at the age of twelve I was to lead out my team (albeit the 2nd team). Unfortunately I didn’t turn out to be lucky, as visitors Exeter City ran out 3-1 winners. 

By now I had my first Roots Hall hero. Ronnie Pountney was your typical Third Division player. Released by both Walsall and Port Vale in his native Midlands, Pountney drifted in to non-League football with Bilston Town before being spotted and signed by Southend. Ronnie was quite small for a professional footballer but more than made up for it with his sheer effort and determination. He became an immediate crowd favourite. During an eleven-year spell Pountney won the club’s player of the year for three seasons in a row. He is still the only Shrimper to have achieved this feat. I even shared my admiration for the Shrimpers’ midfield dynamo by writing a letter to the club’s programme editor, which he duly published (the things you do when you’re 13 years old!). Later in life I was lucky enough to play against Ronnie in a charity match, I’m pleased to say he’d still got it!

Another Roots Hall favourite was Stanley Collymore. When he arrived from Crystal Palace nobody had heard of him. He was an instant hit. I, like many Shrimpers fans, will never forget his goal against Bristol Rovers when he beat defender after defender before thundering in a shot from way outside the penalty area. Some thirty matches later his goals had not only saved Southend from relegation but also secured him a multi-million pound move to Nottingham Forest. Despite a few personal problems off the pitch, Stan is still highly regarded by the Roots Hall faithful. I’ve always found him willing to sign autographs and chat whenever he’s been in town.

Southend have been blessed with a number of classy strikers, particularly in recent years. Along with Collymore the likes of Richard Cadette, Brett Angell and Freddie Eastwood have captured the imaginations of the Blues support. In fact Freddie Eastwood threw up my first father/son heart to heart football chat with my older son Alfie. Freddie was Alfie’s first football idol. When his goalscoring exploits led to a one and a half million pound move to Wolverhampton Wanderers I had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the little man. I’ll never forget the picture of disappointment on his face as I explained that his hero was going to play for another team. The truth is I felt his pain too. The first lesson of supporting a team like Southend is that the good players tend to move on. 

Despite being little more than an average park footballer myself, I’ve been lucky enough to play on the hallowed Roots Hall turf no fewer than thirteen times scoring four goals, a record I’m extremely proud of, and one of which several of the Shrimpers’ less successful strikers would be envious!

A match day at Roots Hall is a real Jeeves family day out. Along with myself, regular attendees are my wife Victoria, mum Eileen (who started coming to football after we lost Dad) and my two sons Alfie and Stanley (familiar name at Southend?). The boys were both at Southend matches within weeks of their birth, well, I wouldn’t want them growing up West Ham now would I?

The memories of Roots Hall are endless, the place has a habit of luring me back in no matter how bad the Blues are performing, a prime example of this was back in the late 80s. An old girlfriend talked me out of going to a Friday night fixture at the Hall against Fulham. Instead we were going to the pictures then on for a meal. As she drove up to the Victoria Avenue traffic lights she noticed me looking up at the bright Roots Hall floodlights. “If you want to go to the game you can,” she said. Now the male understandings of our female counterparts have always been somewhat patchy. Apparently at this point I’m supposed to have replied, “No darling, that’s OK, I’m looking forward to the movie.” However I…well, I don’t have to tell you what I did. Southend and Fulham drew 0-0 and I suffered three days of silence!

Another Roots Hall moment came at the end of the 98-99 season when Southend entertained Hartlepool. Although nothing was at stake, the game was to be the final Football League appearance for Hartlepool’s former England international Peter Beadsley.

I was keen to have a memento of the great man’s final match, so much so that I decided to try and get his last playing shirt. As the match was brought to its conclusion I climbed onto the perimeter track before heading towards the tunnel. I must have looked important as the lone steward nodded at me and let me past. After walking past the pressmen in the tunnel I only had to get past one more steward before reaching the visitors’ dressing room. The steward asked where I was going and in the worst fake Geordie accent ever I replied “Hartlepool dressing room”. He stepped aside and let me through. I opened the dressing room door and Beadsley was sitting opposite. I asked if I could have his shirt but he told me it had been thrown to the Hartlepool supporters. Immediately afterwards he reached into the kit box, pulling out the number 14 shirt that had been worn by Pools goal scorer Paul Stevenson. He signed it and handed it to me. Mission accomplished!
September 2008, Southend have a Tuesday night home fixture against Leyton Orient in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. The team have just returned from a five goal stuffing at Walsall. Talk in the pub is of our awful defending and the possibility of relegation, a real picture of optimism! Orient very rarely lose to Southend and with a tough trip to Carlisle to come we are a pretty miserable bunch. But hey, we would be lost if we had nothing to moan about. Tonight we are at home, with a chance to beat our local rivals – ask yourself, does it get any better than that?  
Sunset over Roots Hall....
...and Roots Hall by my son Alfie aged 6

 A magic Roots Hall moment Southend 1 Manchester United 0 
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwotnq6JDK4