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Non-league Football

Braintree Town

About Cressing Road Stadium
Braintree TownBasic it may be, but it is more than adequate for “the Iron”. One single covered stand runs three quarters of the length of the pitch, and covered terraces opposite and behind one goal offer cover from the elements for those standing. Behind the north end is a small terrace, protecting the club house. Views from everywhere are good but avoid standing under any speakers as they are deafening. The club is one of the few in the leagues where the Board Room is a portakabin beside the edge of the pitch. The club are planning on a move to a state of the art 6,000 community funded stadium on the edge of time – hmmmm.

How to get to Cressing Road Stadium
The ground is located to the south of the town centre. The car park at the ground is free of charge and to reach the ground leave the M11 at Junction 8, heading in the direction of Stansted Airport, but staying on the A120 whilst the airport traffic heads off at the second junction. Follow this for 16 miles until you reach Galley’s corner, where you should take the 1st exit on left at the roundabout into Cressing Road. Follow this for nearly a mile and take third left into Clockhouse Way, then 1st left again for the ground (it’s hard to see until you turn the corner).

From Braintree station it is a 15 minute walk. Turn right outside the station, then first right into Rose Hill. Keep left and this will become Mill Hill and eventually Chapel Hill. The second right is Clockhouse Way for the ground.

How to get a ticket for Cressing Road Stadium
Pay on the door is the order of the day in Braintree with £15 entry for Adults and £6 if the do decide to charge for children. You can pay an additional £1 for a transfer to the single stand, or wait until just before half time when the steward wanders off for a pint and sit there free. Nice little tickets though.

Our last visit – Braintree 1 Dartford 0 – 18th April 2014
I’m heading towards Braintree on the A120 when I decide to engage my teenage daughters in polite conversation.  Of course, being plugged into the Apple grid they huff and puff as they have to take out their earphones.  “You know what Braintree is famous for?” I ask them.  Within seconds they have Googled the answer and Littlest Fuller tells me to “Smack my bitch up, you Firestarter”.  Yep, I walked into that trap didn’t I? The answer I was looking for was it was the ancestral home of John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States, rather than the town that spawned The Prodigy.

The plan today had originally been to head to Yorkshire for an afternoon as a Brighton fan at The McAlpi..doh…Galpha..sorry John Smiths in Huddersfield.  But eyebrows were raised by CMF, who politely pointed out the fact that  “20 out of the next 30 days out of the country and you still decide to spend a bloody Bank Holiday driving 4 hours each way to watch a game involving two teams you care nowt about”.  Granted, she did have a point and so I agreed to take the family shopping.  “What about a designer outlet place?  There’s one in Essex, only an hour away called Braintree Freeport”.  “Braintree, as in Braintree Town?” She’s quick is CMF.  “Erm, I think so”, “And I bet they are playing today aren’t they?”…Plan rumbled, but accepted.  You shall go to the ball Cinderella, albeit one at the Working Mens Club rather than the Palace.

With just three games left in the Skrill Conference Premier, three of the four Play-off spots are still up for grabs.  With Cambridge United confirmed as runners-up to Luton Town, five teams could realistically say they were still in with a shout at a shot at a place in the Football League.  Four of the five had Football League pedigree, albeit in Gateshead’s case it was over fifty years ago since they failed to gain re-election.  The fifth was Braintree Town.  And next week, on the final day of the season, the five (plus Cambridge United) all play each other.  No pressure at all then on today’s game.

13925498603_70b7a7255d_bWhen we last visited the Amlin Stadium (then Cressing Road) back in 2009 it was relatively basic for the Conference South.  Five years on and a new stand had been added at one end of the ground in order to pass the ‘A’ Ground Grading meaning that they could host Football League games but it still retains that Non-League feel.  There is space behind the south stand for expansion as well as land to the west.   Talk of a new stadium off the A120 has disappeared although should they reach the promised land it would undoubtably return.  Average crowds of less than 1,000 suggest that it may be an investment too far, but when was logic ever applied to football clubs (George Reynolds and Darlington anyone?).

Should the Iron reach the Football League they would join a small band of clubs who play in towns with a population of less than 45,000.  Accrington (35,000), Morecambe (33,000) and Fleetwood (25,000) are all towns that support clubs who have risen through the Non-Leagues although it is still possible that either Accrington Stanley or Morecambe could well return back there this season.  Braintree’s rise hasn’t been fueled by a rich benefactor in the case of Fleetwood Town but by hard graft and a manager who knows a thing or two about the game.

13925910364_93e4bbceda_bAlan Devonshire is a TBIR legend.  We’ve met him on numerous occasions since he dazzled English football as a flying winger for West Ham back in the 1980’s through to his stint as manager at Hampton & Richmond Borough.  Always willing to have a chat about football after the game over a beer, he doesn’t hold a grudge or any bitterness that his International career was curtailed by a serious knee injury, or that manager’s at clubs in the 92 haven’t had to learn their apprenticeship the same way he has, starting Maidenhead United fifteen years ago.  He took over at Braintree Town in the summer of 2011 after the club had won the Conference South and has kept them in the top half of the table for the last two seasons.  But this year could be the year that they move to the next level.

The visitors Dartford had their eyes on Premier League safety.  After a horrendous run of ten consecutive league defeats in late 2013, Dartford have had to fight against the spectre of relegation.  With a week of the season to go they were still in the bottom four, with a gaping goal difference that could be the deciding factor. The indulgence in chocolate over Easter would have to be put on hold for a few days yet.

With the female Fullers safely deposited at Braintree Freeport I walked to the ground, passing a police cordon (apparently someone was murdered close to the ground on Thursday night) and joined a long queue of fans at the turnstiles.  Had football fever ignited the locals?  Was Devonshire the true Firestarter?  Which manager would be able to Breathe easily? With both teams desperate for a win for completely different reasons it was bound to be a dull scoreless draw.

Braintree Town 1 Dartford 0 – The Amlin Stadium – Friday 18th April 2014
As the game entered the 94th minute and the home side holding onto their one goal lead, Dartford threw the ball into the box once again.   Suarez (Mikel alas not Luis)  saw his shot deflected away by Iron keeper Hamann diving to his right. The rebound went straight to Jim Stevenson who forced a second outstanding save and potentially three points that would bring ultimate joy to Braintree and despair to Dartford.  A Darts fan behind me turns to his mate “I’d rather we go down than bankrupt ourselves chasing an unsustainable dream”.

13925413343_76fd7b78a7_bIt wasn’t a classic, with some interesting tactics deployed by both teams that lead to frustration both on the bench and on the terraces.  Braintree liked to get the ball wide but virtually every single cross into the penalty area was played over the lone striker to the far post where there was no one attacking the ball.  Dartford on the other hand kept playing the ball through the middle where the two Braintree centre-backs snaffled out any threat.  Either instructions from the respective benches were not getting through or they simply didn’t see the error of their ways.

The Braintree fans weren’t big in number but made themselves heard in the covered terrace that ran along the side of the pitch.  Whilst the early possession gave them something to cheer about it took 25 minutes before the roof was raised when Kenny Davis picked the ball up 25 yards out and struck the ball sweetly, giving Alan Julian in the Dartford goal no chance.

At this time of the season fans are easily distracted by what is happening elsewhere.  Standing between the two sets of fans I was getting the stories from both ends of the table.  One set of fans were bemoaning the events unfolding at Alfreton Town where the Grimsby Town team coach had been delayed in traffic.  “S’not right innit” said one.  “They’ve got a competitive advantage ain’t they?”.  “I reckon they should stop our game until they catch up” (which would have meant a delay of around 40 minutes).  Of course our mastermind had forgotten the fact that Braintree play at 5:15 away at Barnet on Monday night, thirty minutes after all of their rivals games have finished.

Going back to the issue of the ground.  The official attendance was 1,200 – boosted by a fair contingent from Dartford, but it did seem that the club struggled.  Long queues to get in, get food, programmes sold out, a 15 minute wait for a beer at half-time.  Whilst you can never deny a club a place at a higher level, the fans will notice a massive difference in their match-day experience.  The club will have to jump through more hoops and comply to more rules (no changing ends at half-time for instance) than today.  Some of the reasons why people love the Non-League game will be swiftly and sharply curtailed.

13925386195_803c5bbcf0_bThe second half saw both teams try to play with more positivity.  The home side were causing Darts keeper Julian some concern, although not as much as the stick he was getting from the home fans behind the goal.  Julian had made the mistake in the first half to respond to “banter” and that immediately made him a target for all the wit and wisdom of the fans.  Any save was deemed a fluke or lucky.  When he called for a ball and failed to get it, he was derided with donkey chants. The lot of a goalkeeper.

Scores elsewhere meant at one point Braintree had risen into the play-off spots, so the three points became vital.  Despite the last-gasp scare they held on.  Three points kept the dream alive for the Iron and the nightmare a reality for the Darts.  It hadn’t been the best of games but it was a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine.  Oh, and I managed to pick up a couple of bargains at Freeport too.


Our last visit – Braintree Town 0 Worcester City 0 – 12th September 2009
Braintree TownThe credit crunch has not bypassed the Fuller household. Despite my relocation to the 7th most expensive city in the World, I still have a few pennies left at the end of the week for Lolly and myself to find a game on a Saturday when West Ham are away. With our beloved Hammers playing in the North West for the second time in two weeks (with two more trips up there in the next two!) we looked into the Fuller Football Crystal Ball. This week’s criteria was simple – we had to be back at Ikea Lakeside by 6pm to pick up a wardrobe, so a new ground within an hours drive would be ideal. Blue Square, obviously, and preferably one that wouldn’t break the bank, would be somewhere new and had some photo opportunities.

Whilst I had been smashing up a 70 foot concrete drive with a pneumatic drill (very therapeutic apart from the loss of feeling in your hands), Lolly had been away on her school field trip to Swanage. She was following in the footsteps of Jay, Simon, Will and Neil, although I would be very worried if she spent her time looking for the MILF and offering her ” a lick of her cornetto”…For those completely lost at this point – check out The Inbetweeners. However she was back, and looking forward to developing her photography portfolio.

So what did the Crystal Ball throw up this week? Andy Hessenthaler’s Dover Athletic versus Alan Devonshire’s Hampton & Richmond came out first, closely followed by Braintree Town versus Worcester City. I gave Lolly the choice, and once she found out Braintree were called “The Iron” she plumped for a trip to Essex.

Braintree TownShe asked why were they called The Iron and not Irons? We know that West Ham got their nickname of the “Irons” and “the Hammers” from their origins at the Thames Ironworks, Scunthorpe got their monocle from the nearby steelworks but I had no idea why a small town in rural Essex got the name Iron. Time to consult Wikipedia, and they told me that the town was famous for the Crittal Window Company, who made the iron windows for the likes of the Titanic. Their factory was actually located next to the current ground in the south of the town centre. Well there we are.

So we headed north, then east almost passing Chelmsford’s ground where we went last week. Braintree had had a great past decade and a bit. Thirteen years ago they were in the Ryman’s Third division, playing local derbies against the likes of Witham, but promotion after promotion saw the club in the Blue Square South ten years later. They narrowly missed out on promotion to the Conference National in 2007 when they lost in the final to Salisbury City, and last season lost in the Play Off semi-final to eventual winners Eastbourne Borough. Less than an hour from home we were pulling up in the free car park outside the ground, tucked nicely away behind some smart new flats.

Braintree TownTen pounds for me to get in, Lolly free of charge in the good old style “lift over” and with a programme, tea, coke and a delicious bacon burger took the spending to a whopping £20 for the two of us….£20 – approximately the same cost as 40 minutes football for one of us at West Ham. To replicate a similar situation at West Ham it would cost (current season prices) over three times this amount. Even at the Division Two level at Dagenham & Redbridge you would be looking at nearly £30 excluding parking so the club need to be applauded. What was a bit of a mystery though was seeing how comfortable everyone seemed in the ground. The bar was busy, the fans were buying their burgers, everyone was enjoying the sunshine, and with an average attendance (excluding the Chelmsford local derby) of around 450 why, oh why is the club trying to push through a new stadium move? The club are progressing with plans for a 6,000 capacity stadium on the outskirts of town which will have amongst other things, a tennis club, community pitches and a banqueting suite. Why? The board, sitting in their portakabin behind the goal must be on the mushrooms if they think “if they build it, they will come”.

With the temperature hitting the mid-seventies it was obvious that this game would fail to live up to any expectations. It was also obvious that the game I would have chosen (Dover) but be full of goals. So after my first sip of tea, and the teams barely a few minutes into the game, the first score flash came through from the Crabble. Braintree came close to matching that with a smart header from Jon Keeling that hit the bar but was the best effort in the first half an hour. Both teams struggled to make an impression on the game, and the fans seemed more keen on getting their suntan than any meaningful vocal support. What was good to see was the early appearance of a Non-League Wag behind the goal, now a regular feature at the Blue Square South fixtures.

Braintree TownLolly went off to get some artistic pictures especially those showing how uneven the pitch was, with a big lump, as if the clubs elephant mascot had been buried in the goalmouth being marshalled by Worcester’s Ben Hinchcliffe who was the busier of the two keepers, making further saves from Keeling again and Brad Quinton. Half time came and went, and a check on the scores saw that there had been three goals down at Dover – drat! Still a change of tactics in the second half was surely on the cards? Er no. More of the same was served up in the second half, with a few openings. The impressive Worcester full back Alfie Carter cleared one header off the line, and with the game heading deep into injury time it looked to all still left in the ground that Braintree had earned a penalty when Lee Roche was brought down, but the referee inexplicably waved play on, only to blow the full time whistle a few seconds later.

Marks out of ten for a lovely venue for late summer’s football – 9/10.

Marks out of ten for value for money – 9/10

Marks out of ten for the game itself – 4/10

Can’t win everytime I told Lolly, as the sixth goal of the day at Dover game through on my phone….My choice next week!


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