A strange case of Mimi Labonq

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. Continue reading

The silent H

Looking around for a game to go to on Saturday morning I took inspiration from my daughter, who was happily playing with her Moshi Monsters (21st century version of Weebles  in my view) singing to herself about her Heart Skipping a Beat.

8501817584_2f35b1ab3f_b“Where should I go today, Bella?”

“I know, let’s all go to Witam!”

I had no idea where she was talking about, unless she was referring to Witton, which of course we all known is just a part of Northwich and home to Witton Albion.  So I asked her why she had suggested such a strange thing.

“Oh my Goodness, me and you – the Army of Two – let’s go to Witham! I know you are Busy, and you know I am a bit of a Troublemaker but Please Don’t Let Me Go to Ikea with Mum.  I’m wearing my Heart on My Sleeve and I want to go with you”

At this point my eldest daughter came in the room and gave her little sister a round of applause.  It appeared that they had a childish competition to see who could get the most song titles from one artist in one sentence.  I mean, what a ridiculous game.  Who on earth would play a game like that, especially in a national newspaper report (let’s move on quickly).  I Still had no idea who she was trying to refer to.

“Dad, you are so square.  She is talking about Olly Murs” Continue reading

Wish you were here?

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.

photoFor us Non League fans, our season can often be over before the Christmas decorations go up. Unfortunately, the various footballing authorities front-load the season with cup fixtures meaning that by the end of November the leagues look imbalanced with some clubs playing 30% more league games than others.

Down at the Pan our final cup flame was extinguished this week when Sussex League side Eastbourne United beat the Rooks 2-1. Make no mistake – the club wants to win every game and this was a blow – with the likes of Crawley Town and Brighton really taking the competition seriously, the Sussex Senior Cup is the best route to a trophy.

Front loading is also the term clubs use for setting playing budgets higher at the start of the season then reducing them over the season as the club is eliminated from cup competitions. But to some outsiders, the natural and planned reduction of the weekly budget is seen as a sign of panic.

Lewes set their budget in this way, allowing manager Simon Wormull to “overspend” in the early part of the season, on the clear understanding that by Christmas it will be brought back in line. Of course there was always the hope that a decent cup run would deliver some good prize money which in turn may go into the budget. In fact some clubs will forecast a level of cup prize money in their budget setting, which is always dangerous. So this week, with the road to the Amex (the venue for the Sussex Senior Cup) was firmly closed for another season and accordingly manager Simon Wormull made cuts to his squad accordingly. Continue reading

Revenge is a dish I’d rather not have to eat

The term “after the Lord Mayor’s show” could not be more apt this weekend as Lewes play their first home game in a month. On Tuesday night I followed proceedings in the Ryman League Cup semi-final, using the Twitter equivalent of the refresh button on Ceefax. The most important game in almost a year for the club ultimately ended in close defeat to Essex upstarts East Thurrock United. If Ernie, the fixture computer was alive today, he would have raised a wry smile as the Rocks hopped on their fun bus and headed south to the Rooks. A chance for some immediate revenge perhaps?

In early December East Thurrock United sat in the relegation zone whilst Lewes were in the play off places. A week is a long time in football, let alone 11 1/2 of them and coming into this game twelve points separated the sides, with the Essex team having four games in hand. In terms of current form the stats could not be more contrasting. In the League East Thurrock had taken 13 points from a possible 18; Lewes just 2. Why had there been such a reversal of fortune? That would be the power of the FA Cup.

As of the 31st January East Thurrock had played 14 games in the FA competitions. They reached the first round of the FA Cup, drawing Macclesfield Town at home which was televised. The prize money alone for that FA cup run was £27,500. Add in the gate share in the seven games they played, plus the TV money and you will get a figure close to £50,000. Add to that the £14,000 from prize money in the FA Trophy and you will get a figure that is probably 75% of their annual playing budget. And with that cash the club has been able to strengthen their squad accordingly.

Lewes, on the other hand, were knocked out at Chertsey Town in the FA Cup in the first qualifying round and would have got less than £1,000 as a share of the gate, and around the same after being knocked out of the Trophy at the first stage to Harlow Town. Success or failure can rest on a kind draw in the non leagues. Continue reading

Derby Day part 4 – A double helping of Essex United

What a day this promised to be.  Three (well two and a half) fiercely contested local derbies, either side of the River Thames, which thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, that I could go to, as well as still putting in some “Fuller Festive Family Fun”.  Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones, catching up on the events of the year and generally being around those nearest and dearest to you.  But when the words “Let’s go to the sales” are mentioned, all love goes out the window and football becomes a viable option.  Hence, when the three Fuller girls all expressed a wish to go shopping, I played the football get out of jail free card and planned my day of hot and spicy local derbies.

First up was a trip under the Thames to Essex for the “Battle of the M25 junction 28″ as they call it in these parts. Billericay Town sat proudly on top of the table before a ball was kicked.  Despite their nearest rivals all winning yesterday, their amble goal difference of plus 27 saw them safely sit in first place.  Visitors AFC Hornchurch lay in fourth with a game in hand and just four points below.  So a win for either side today could be pivotal in the final shake up. Continue reading

Rooks pay the penalty….again

Can 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”.. Continue reading

Essex United

I 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.

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.

This 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.

With 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.

Half 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.