Hallowed turf

PUBLISHED: 13:14 26 October 2007 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013

Leyton Orient

Leyton Orient

Football in Essex has strong roots. With the help of two new books about the football grounds of Essex, Collette Thomson reveals a quirky side to Essex soccer

DAGENHAM and Redbridge FC proudly took their place in League Two of the Football League for the first time at the start of the 2007-2008 season. But the ground on which they will play their home games that has been home to several Dagenham clubs over the past 90 years.
The history of football grounds throughout the county have recently been recounted in two new books by Jon Weaver, The Football Grounds of Rural Essex and The Football Grounds of Essex Metropolitan. Jon is currently working on the book that will complete the trilogy and cover formerly-used grounds throughout Essex and the East London region.
The first tenants of Dagenham's Glyn Hopkin Stadium in Victoria Road, were Sterling Athletic, the works team of the Sterling Telephone and Electric Co Ltd, the factory next door. They were succeeded by Brigg Motor Bodies FC, later known as Brigg Sports, but when this club moved to Rush Green in 1955, Dagenham FC took on the lease, moving from their former home at the Dagenham Arena.
In the early 1990s Redbridge Forest FC were also playing there on a ground-share agreement, and in 1997 the two clubs merged to form the present Daggers, in their red and white colours.
On his travels around Essex to photograph the grounds, Jon has kept an eye open for the individual and unusual aspects of the county's football stadia.
Great Bentley FC play on what is said to be, at 42 acres, the largest village green in England. Players cross the road from their former Nissen hut changing rooms to the pitch on the green, on which one touchline is only eight feet from the road. Wickham St Paul's also play on their village green.
The Eastcliffe Sports Ground at Holland-on-Sea, home of St John's (Clacton) FC, is in a similar open situation - only a road's width from the sea.
For some grounds, the name itself provides a memory, such as the Victory Ground of Leigh Town - named after World War I, and the King George V Playing Fields at Southminster was one of many so named following the death of the king, in 1936.
Several clubs make themselves easy to find by referring to a nearby pub, such as The Bell for Rettendon Athletic and Gun Meadow at Pitsea, from the adjacent Gun Inn.
When clubs ceased playing during the war years, for some there was no option, as their grounds were ploughed up for food production. Many had already had links with agriculture such as White Notley's ground, Oak Farm, and Earls Colne's Green Farm Meadow. The ground of Brightlingsea Regent was once a cornfield, and potatoes were once harvested where Rayleigh Town now play their home games.
Facilities are often shared with other sports - such as cricket at Wormingford Wanderers and also Weely Athletic at Clacton-on-Sea, among many others. White Ensign FC ground-share with the Southend Radio-Controlled Car Club, and on weekdays Little Oakley's headquarters also become the local Post Office.
Boxted Lodgers' name suggests a similar sharing of accommodation, in their case in the village hall in Cage Lane.
Clubs with long histories include Dedham Old Boys, whose first match on The Old Grammar School Ground at the Drift was in 1877. Stambridge United were founded in 1888, playing at Broomfields until 1894 when they moved to their present Rochford Road Ground.
Initiative is often called for in enabling a club to find a home. At Barnston, the players gave up their Sunday soccer for a whole year to work instead on building their pavilion when they moved to High Easter Road in 1977.
The Heronsgate clubhouse is a former pub, brought to their Brentwood home in the 1960s. A converted chicken shed served Old Chelmsfordians well until it burnt down, and it still does, as the remnants were converted into the members' lounge which stands alongside the new building.
The New Shed suggests a similar history at Helions Bampstead, this however is a white weather-boarded pavilion. The ground is reached via a steep and scenic drive leading to a plateau from which balls flying over the crossbar can make a rapid and lengthy descent. Jon describes his visit to the Recreation Ground there, on Church Hill, as one of his highlights, admiring the pavilion with its pitched roof, clock on the central gable, weather-vane and veranda, and the pitch surrounded by trees on three sides.
'This is football in its purest and simplest form,' he says. Well it's not quite the Theatre of Dreams, but few could disagree that he has a point.


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