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Non-league Football

East Thurrock United FC

About Rookery Hill East Thurrock United FCA strange mixture of styles in rural Essex at Rookery Hill.  Two medium size covered seating areas can be found on either side of the pitch, but on opposite sides of the half way line – i.e not facing each other.  There is a strange double decker portakabin structure as well on one side.  Behind one goal you will find two tiny covered terrace “stands” which are certainly unique, and at the far end is just an open area. There is a small tea bar inside the ground and a club house outside which serves beer, although it is unclear if this can be brought into the ground. How to Get to Rookery Hill East Thurrock United FCIf you are coming by road then undoubtably you will come via M25 or A13.  Take exit 30 off the former and head onto the latter (A13) in direction of Southend. Exit the A13 at Stanford-le-hope (A1014),  just after the BP garage. Turn right at the roundabout (3rd exit) onto A1014. Go straight over first roundabout and then through the traffic lights on the dual carriageway.  The ground is visible on your left hand side and the turning into Rookery Hill is just after.  Parking is on the roadside or verges down this road. The ‘100’ bus ( that runs between Chelmsford and Lakside stops 100 metres from the ground. This bus also runs past the local train station if you are coming via rail. The nearest stations are Stanford-le-hope or Basildon, both on the Fenchurch Street to Southend line. Stanford is about a mile away as the crow flies. Basildon about 4 miles away. Admission to Rookery Hill This season admission is £9 for Adults, £4 for Concessions and just £1 for Under 16’s.  Programmes are on sale inside the ground. Our last visit – August 2013 786There isn’t a lot to say about a trip to East Thurrock United that hasn’t been said before.  Predominantly by me, naturally, on my three previous visits to this little slice of rural England-cum-Oil refineries.  I’ve mentioned before it can claim Denise Van Outen and Dougie Poynter as its famous daughter and son, but have I ever mentioned it was also the home village of Sue Hodge, better know as Mimi Labonq from the classic 80#s comedy show ‘Allo ‘Allo.  Sue was a regular at Rookery Hill, cheering the lads on as they rose through the divisions I’d expect, signing autographs like the one to the right for anyone who wanted it (an autograph that is and perhaps some witty Anglophile banter). Oh, and every time we have come here, we have lost.  One bloody nil.  So excuse me if even a chance of seeing the 1985 Mimi in all of her finest didn’t excite me. But tonight Matthew, it was all about the action on the pitch and not off it.  A strong Parliament of 40 Rooks had descended on deepest, darkest Essex for the midweek encounter with the Rocks to see if this great start to the season could continue.  My mate Ben told me that the last time Spurs had won away on the opening day of the season they qualified for the Champions League.  The last time the Rooks had gone 3 games unbeaten at the start of a season they won the league.  Like all football fans, we clutch at straws even after three games in a season. So with the sun setting over the Thames Estuary, and the full moon rising on the opposite side of the ground we awaited the Spartans, led by Jack Walder into the arena.  With the battle cry ringing in our ears he led the warriors into the arena, “Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time!”….or it could have just been “come on lads”. East Thurrock United 0 Lewes 2 – Rookery Hill – Tuesday 20th August 2013 9556481533_278a96effa_bIt’s games like these that make a successful season.  The Lewes of old would have wilted in the setting sun, uneasy with the direct pressure the East Thurrock team put us under.  But these days they are made of stronger stuff and a goal in either half was enough to fairly take all three points.  A rare non-Arsenal caller to BBC’s 606 programme on Saturday suggested that the mark of a championship winning team is to play badly and still win.  Personally, I think that is all bollocks.  A championship team will very rarely play badly.  They may be out-thought, out-muscled, out-played for parts of the game, but it is how they respond that marks them out to be champions.  Not that I am suggesting for one minute this Lewes team are Champions-elect, far from it.  But the concentration on defence before attack, retaining shape and always supporting the man with the ball is there for all to see. Mixing the short, fast ball with the occasional lob over the heads of the retreating centre-backs worked perfectly.  Add in the huge throw-in#s from Treleaven and it is fair to say the keeper had more than the setting sun causing him a headache.  Three points were never really in doubt after Jack Dixon powered in his second goal in as many games on the half hour mark. 9556338673_5f8d93b53f_b (1)The home team did strike the woodwork (or plasticwork as it is these days) in both halves, giving us a bit of a moment.  But the ball over the top with five minutes to go saw substitute Olorunda hold off his marker and fire the ball into the corner of the net.  Game over.  Tough on the home side who came into the season with high hopes and then lost the nucleus of their squad to bigger sides, a fact that frustrated the officials no end in the board room post game. Competition at the top is already fierce with four teams already on 10 points from four games, trailing the 100 percenters, Grays Athletic.  Next up for Lewes is the small matter of a visit to Maidstone United.  After that one we can dare to dream like the Spartans, or even about Mimi. November 2011 East Thurrock United FCCan you think of anywhere better to spend a Tuesday night than in Thurrock? We are not talking about Lakeside, Thurrock here, with its huge cathedral worshipping the credit card gods, nor the Thameside Thurrock with its container ships bringing exotic cargos from all over the world. Oh no, we are talking about East Thurrock, or to be more precise, Corringham. During the second world war this was a very important place as it was home to the Kynoch munitions factory. For those train enthusiasts amongst you, you will also know it was once the location of the Corringham Light Railway that opened 1901, running from the village down to the Thames, a distance of nearly 3 miles. It closed in 1952 and with it one of the links with the outside world. But the small settlement of just 9,000 has given us more of a famous sight. DVO for those in the know, or for those not, Denise van Outen. Originally she didn’t have a “van” in her name, but in honour of the noble tradition of the men of Essex, she adopted that when she started to make her name in the limelight. Whilst few will remember that she originally hit our screens in 1996 as a weather and travel reporter on The Big Breakfast, even fewer will know that as a 17 year old she had a relationship with Gary Glitter! Every year the locals celebrate the work of DVO and what she has done for Corringham by going out on a Friday night, dying their hair blonde and “oranging up”.. So why was I here on a school night then? Well, Lewes were in town and with the young, free and single Lewes Lunatic Fringe on the prowl (ok – aging, tied to debt and arthritic) all those Stanford-le-Hope DVO wannabes wouldn’t know what hit them. We were here to see the local heroes East Thurrock United host the mighty men of East Sussex. So to say this was a must win game for the Rooks would be an understatement. A dip in the high standards Steve King had set had seen only two points from the previous two home games, and whilst the Rooks were still holding a play off position, teams such as Lowestoft, Billericay and Hornchurch were starting to open a gap. East Thurrock had done superbly well in the cups this year, reaching the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history before losing last week to Macclesfield Town, and were still in the FA Trophy. But in the league they had struggled to adapt to life in the top league of the Rymans after they won promotion last season. East Thurrock United FCComing into the game they propped up the rest of the table and so it was essential that Steve King got the Lewes team hungry for victory. After this game Lewes would be travelling to Leatherhead on Saturday, who were also in the relegation zone. Three points were a must for the few visiting fans who had made the difficult journey into the Essex wilderness. Rookery Hill is a great non league ground. It has been home to the club since the 1980’s when thanks to the assistance of the local council and brewers Greene King they purchased the land where Rookery Hill today sits. The approach to the ground is very middle England. Picturesque church, next to a decent pub and small country lanes. It is only the burning gas towers just over the tree tops that gives away the nature of this area.  But after we parked outside the Bull Inn with  the smell of burning leaves, liniment and spray on tan in our noses we headed across the road and into the coliseum ready for the battle to commence. East Thurrock United 1 Lewes 0 – Rookery Hill – Tuesday 22nd November 2011 Did I say battle? This was more like a duel with white gloves being slapped around each others faces.  Let’s just say it wasn’t a classic.  In fact for the fifteen or so Lewes fans in attendance it will fade into the background rather quickly.  The manner of defeat to a team at the bottom of the league was concerning enough without factoring in a fifth penalty conceded in just six games. East Thurrock United FCUltimately it took until the 92nd minute for this game to be decided when Kris Newby’s spot kick hit the back of the net, but for vast periods of the game it was pretty unforgettable.  After a swift half in the empty Rocks Inn (get the copyright police on that straight away), we headed into the ground to see Lewes lining up with four attacking players in the starting eleven, including Albert Jarrett, a player capped seven times by Sierra Leone, and having a Premier League appearance under his belt from his days at Watford. Lewes certainly started with some good attacking intent.  Draycott and Booth both had chances to put Lewes in the lead although the best chance was actually a mis-hit Malcolm cross that hit a bump in the area and flew up, fooling the keeper and missing the bar by a whisker.  “Had it covered” joked the keeper to our friendly banter. (Reason to love Non League football number 321 – keepers who love a bit of banter with the crowd). East Thurrock United FCAfter the break Deaksy refused to come out of his Executive Box, which he now brings to away games in a holdall, focusing his gaze on the Champions League games on his portable TV rather than the fayre on offer on the pitch, and few could blame him.  The ball seemed to be stuck in the midfield third with players diving all over the shop.  Even the appearance of Christian Nanetti could not lift the mood, which seemed as dark and damp as the fog drifting over the ground from the Isle of Grain. With the game heading for another draw, Thurrock’s Kris Newby smashed the ball against the bar from distance.  The ball hit the underside of the woodwork and bounced down.  As with all such shots the players automatically react as if the ball crossed the line (unwritten rule of football no.343) despite the fact it was miles away.  However, Newby was to have the last laugh when, as soon as the 4th official’s board went up (technically it was the female physio but that doesn’t sound as impressive) there was a push in the area, the linesman gave a spot kick and Newby dispatched the ball into the net. East Thurrock United FCWith time almost up I did manage to claim a small victory of my own.  I completed my hatrick of ball touches, edging Deaks out 3-2 in a nail biter.  Wolfie would be so jealous. The why’s and wherefore’s can be asked all night.  We know that Steve King was deeply unhappy with this performance, yet the Rooks someone retained their fifth spot despite only taking five points from a possible fifteen so far in November.  The only consolation was that 33 minutes after the final whistle I was back at TBIR Towers with a cup of tea and the love of a beautiful woman.  But don’t tell CMF just yet.   July 2011 East Thurrock United FCI kid you not there is now a team called Essex United.  They are the side put together by ex-Grays Athletic and Lewes footballer Mark Wright. Wright is of course better known from the ITV series “The Only Way is Essex”.  The team have embarked on a series of pre-season games this year, trying to boost their “popularity” as well as giving local women an opportunity to practice their “cougar” skills.  In fact they are due to play next this Sunday at The Dripping Pan against Lewes. Last weekend they took on the once mighty Grays Athletic, now in the Ryman League North after their chaotic resignation from the league/re-instatement/demotion/promotion from last summer.  They lost 4-0 which isn’t too much of a surprise considering the difference in skill between the two sides. Grays are going through another “re-birth”.  Last season with Julian Dicks at the helm, supported by ex-West Ham players John Moncur and Kenny Brown, the club flirted with the play offs for a while but had to look on enviously as landlords East Thurrock United waltzed away with the title. It is strange to think our last visit to watch the club had been on a sunny day almost two years to the day at their old Recreation Ground in the centre of Grays when they narrowly lost to West Ham United.East Thurrock United FC Two years later and the ground is a building site, the team who were looking forward to a season playing against the likes of Cambridge United, Stevenage Borough and Oxford United are now preparing to face Soham Town Rangers, Leiston and Thamesmead Town. But there is still the pride of Essex to fight for.  Last season that was taken quite literally in the remarkable games against bitter rivals Tilbury, where over a hundred “fans” were involved in a fight after the game at Chadfields. This season there will be league games against Romford, Ilford and Brentwood as well as “the Dockers” but first up was another all Essex affair against AFC Hornchurch. The visitors knew all about spectacular falls from grace themselves.  Touted as the “money bags” of the non league back in the mid 2000’s, the club were able to sign high profile players such as Ex-Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharin thanks to some significant investment from their then owners.  Unfortunately, when the money ran out the players up and left, quite a few of them to fellow Conference South rivals Grays Athletic creating a little bit of hostility that exists today in the bars and clubs of Epping Forest. East Thurrock United FCThis was my first trip to the village of Corringham, home of East Thurrock United’s Rookery Hill.  And pulling up outside of The Bull just across the road from the ground I was pleasantly surprised.  It was almost rural.  If you could ignore the huge oil refineries in the distance this could be your quintessential English village scene.  I walked through the small churchyard and into the ground just as the two teams emerged. Grays Athletic 0 AFC Hornchurch 1 – Rookery Hill – Wednesday 27th July 2011 After 20 months in charge, Grays and Julian Dicks went their separate ways back in May.  Dicks felt he could and should be managing at a higher level, and as recently as last weekend he confessed so to the Non League Paper, expressing his disappointment that former team mates such as Paolo Di Canio with no previous managerial experience at all had been given the chance at Swindon Town.  The new Grays era is being managed by ex-Thurrock manager Hakan Hayrettin and judging by their attacking start, with ex-Lewes striker Jean-Michel Sigere causing a threat they will be one to watch this season. East Thurrock United FCWith the sun setting low over the ground and both teams forgetting that this was a “friendly”, the match made for a very interesting spectacle.  There didn’t seem to be much between the sides with the ball being played through the midfield and out wide as and when a crunching tackle didn’t stop play.  Chances on goal on the other hand were few and far between. Grays had the better of the earlier exchanges but it was Hornchurch who broke the deadlock just before the half hour mark. It followed a Jon Hunt corner which was played short to Tommy Black.  The ball came in but was cleared although only to the covering midfielder.  When the ball found its way back into the area Lewis Smith had space and seemed to miss touch it to Curley to buried the ball from ten yards. East Thurrock United FCHalf time saw the usual raft of substitutes and with the daylight fading neither team could really take a hold on the game. With the ground bathed in the last bit of sunshine (yes, in this great British Summer I have at last been able to use that world) I took stock of the surroundings.  Rookery Hill is an odd ground.  Behind one goal are two of the smallest piece of covered terracing I have ever seen. Stands that I would have made in five minutes in my Lego world (see my article for In Bed With Maradona on the subject). One side of the ground has a strange double decker portakabin situation going on, and the dressing rooms were in what could be described by my generation in a “Scout Hut”.  But it is a welcome home to Grays, who would have been in a whole world of trouble if East Thurrock wouldn’t have thrown open their doors to help them last season. Despite a few good saves from Grays keeper Northwood there was much more action in the second period.  AFC Hornchurch can be pleased with a win over a local rival, and Grays can be pleased with the performance they put in.  After all pre-season is “all about the performance” right?  Or am I confused again. More pictures from the not so friendly friendly can be found here.


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