Some 30 miles from the centre of London in an easterly direction you will find Vange Creek which separates mainland Essex to the alluvial island known as Canvey Island. Formed from silt in the Holocene period on a bed of old red sandstone the island actually sits below the mean sea level meaning that it is highly vulnerable to flooding (look who got an A in O-Level Geography). Canvey Island today sits almost like its own little community, facing the Isle of Sheppy across the water, and just downstream from the Oil refineries of Isle of Grain. Hardly the best panorama in the world, but who cares. Any place that has a 17th century pub featured in Great Expectations called the Lobster Smack is good in my books, which we of course decided to visit in the course of our research and found a jolly decent place, although the website did give it a Waetherspoons feel (“We sell wine!”) which it certainly isn’t.
Canvey Island is today home to not one, but two teams playing at level 7 in the English game. Last May, Concord Rangers won promotion to the Rymans Premier League with a win over East Thurrock United and thus resurrect two Christmas derbies with their more famous neighbours Canvey Island FC. On a hot sunny day with trees for a perfect rural backdrop where could be better to watch a game?
Alan Partridge once famously asked in his Christmas special, Knowing Me Knowing Yule whether Dr Hook was a real doctor. I never found out the answer and I have asked the same question of Dr Feelgood. What relevance is this to a game of football in Essex-by-the-sea? Well the 70’s “pub rock band” actually hailed from Canvey Island and made themselves famous by doing Roxette (the song and not Marie Frederiksson from the Swedish pop duo) amongst other songs. We did ask Dr Feelgood for comment but they were on tour in France BUT the exclusive news is that they would be playing Canvey Island again in March 2011. Click here for exact dates and venues.
The island had hardly been a hotbed of football, and in fact records prior to 1953 were destroyed in a flood, immortalised in the song “Canvey Island” by British Sea Power. They played at various levels in the Essex Senior Leagues until Jeff King took over the club in 1992. Over the course of the next decade or so they wrote their own name in the history books of the non-league of England. A run to the FA Vase semi-final combined with the Essex Senior League set down a marker for the next few years in King’s first season. They then swept through the lower levels of the Isthmian (Ryman’s) League winning the second and first division championships in back to back years.
In 2001 they reached the final of the FA Trophy where they took on Forest Green Rovers, who were two divisions above them at Villa Park. A 1-0 win meant the team became one of a very select few from the Isthmian League to have won the non-league FA Cup. With a taste of the big time in their noses, and bolstered by the signing of ex-West Ham youth team scoring sensation Lee Boylan the club reached the FA Cup 3rd round the following year and even beat current Premier League Wigan Athletic at the JJB Stadium before defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor. Boylan went on to score a club record 136 goals in 170 games. Another ex-West Ham player who turned out for the club in that season was Julian Dicks who played four times before announcing his retirement from the game.
The final step in their non-league development was promotion to the Conference, which was achieved at last in 2004, a season in which also saw them reach the FA Trophy final again, losing this time to Hednesford United at Villa Park. Whilst their time in the highest level was brief – just two seasons finishing 18th then 14th in 2006 before owner King shocked the club by announcing he was withdrawing his financial support. Faced with a choice of fielding a team of juniors and getting embarrassed each week new manager John Batch took the club out of the Conference and back down into the Rymans League North. Two seasons later and they are back in the Ryman’s Premier. Last season they finished in 16th position which was a tad disappointing but this season is full of hope.
Now someone at the club must have some connections. Christmas Day 2 is what the 24th/25th July weekend is called in these parts and could Canvey have had a more exciting weekend. On Sunday the likes of David Haye, Ricky Hatton, Teddy Sheringham and Iron Maiden would be descending on the Park Lane ground for a charity game. But before that there was the little matter of a visit from FC Twente, none other than the Dutch Eredivise Champions.
Yes, let’s just say that again – the Dutch champions. The small side from Enschede last season held off the challenges of Ajax and PSV, winning all but one home games to win their first ever title. And which tactical genius guided them to this honour – well that would be Steve McClaren. Surely not the Wally with the Brolly? Well not based on his first ever interview for Dutch TV – classic YouTube! Unfortunately McClaren has now jumped ship, heading off to Volkswagen town, Wolfsburg, but his team will be in the Champions League Group Stages and may well be heading back to London later in the year for a game against Arsenal, Chelsea or Spurs.
The Dutch are famous in these parts. Not only did they invade a few times, sailing their armada up the Thames and occasionally coming ashore on the party islands of Grain, Sheppey and Canvay but they also helped build the original see defences. The townsfolk were so impressed they adopted all things Dutch. You can still now visit the local bakeries and buy your space cakes, have a Sunday carvery with pancake and live in roads such as Van Diemens Pass, Zelham Drive or Baardwyke Avenue.
Canvey had started the pre-season well with wins against Romford and Bradford City. Part of this rich vein of form could be down to the return of Steve Ward from Chelmsford City, a man known simply as the Ginger Sex God. But this would be a test and a half so we arrived in good spirits after a swift half in the Lobster Smack ready for a battle of the orange men.
Canvey Island 0 FC Twente 5 – The Brockwell Stadium – Saturday 24th July
Mr Last had been in conversation with the club’s press officer and he had “put our names on the door”. To me this means we would be allowed in free of charge in return for reporting on the game. However, in a bizarre reverse of fortune, after having our names ticked off said list we were directed back to the turnstiles to pay. Not that I ever mind of course, but a strange set up all the same.
A quick stop for refreshments in the bar, and a leisurely walk around the megastore to purchase our latest momento for the Lewes clubhouse were the order of the day before we took in the glorious Essex-by-the-sea sunshine and chatted with all round top non-league snapper David Bauckham (check out some of his work here). Everyone who was anyone in Sussex non-league football was at Canvey for this one.
A fairly decent size crowd had pitched up for the game, although there was some confusion as to which team Twente would put out. Their first team had been playing in Switzerland the night before, and the youths were in a tournament with Arsenal and West Ham just down the road in Southend. Which ever one it was had arrived in three minibuses parked outside. They did have a couple of high profile fans though as BDO players Joey ten Berge and Willy van den Wiel had hot footed from their tournament in Basildon to be at the game.
It was obvious from the opening minutes that it was irrelevant what team Twente had brought – they all look so composed on the ball and some of the close ball control was exceptional. They constantly looked to play the ball wide, with the wingers trying to get to the byline to pull balls back into the box. It was great to watch, and one player who really stood out was Jules Reimerink who tormented the Canvey left back all afternoon.
Canvey put up a fight in the first half, trying all ways to break down the organised Dutch defence, and Greg Cohen impressed with his creativity. However, it was Russell who was the busier keeper and the first goal was just a matter of time. Despite all of their silky skills it actually came the direct route which a thundering header from a well flighted corner that Russell got his hands to. One became two a few minutes later when a brilliant passing move was expertly finished off. At this point we feared for the home side and took refuse on the top of the terrace just in case the locals decided to forget about 350 years of good Anglo-Dutch relations.
The second half was more of the same. Twente made a few changes but were obviously not in a “lets take it easy for a friendly” mood as they continued to pile forward and three second half goals added to their professionalism in this game.
Canvey Island could not have asked for a better day for the game. The fans appreciated the Dutch football and both teams were roundly applauded off the pitch at the end. Speaking to a couple of home fans on the way out they think this year could be their chance to challenge again for promotion, and despite the result I think they may have a case.
There was a real “homely” atmosphere on the day. Most people seemed to know each other, there was no “stuffiness” and whilst it was only a small gesture, when was the last time you heard or saw a club giving free ice creams out to the kids or publically announcing their next friendly match (versus London Colney on Tuesday if you are interested) was free of charge to watch. Nine out of Ten Canvey Island FC.
For another view of the day, head on over to European Football Weekends.
About The Brockwell Stadium
I am not sure there is a closer stadium in England to the water than Canvey Island’s. Only Arbroath’s Gayfield sits closer to the water in Britain from memory. This of course can lead to flooding issues, such as the disastrous one in 1953 which wiped out most of the clubs records.
The ground is located in amongst the houses close to the water’s edge and the first thing that strikes you is it is low. The main terrace behind the goal towers over the 4 row main stand and low terraces around the rest of the pitch. This means though that the views from up here are great, looking out to see Kent in the distance. Seating is in the King Stand which runs along half of the pitch, with the club shop, tea bar and excellent corner spot bar taking up the other part. On the opposite side of the ground are two covered terraces.
How to get to The Brockwell Stadium
The ground almost touches the Thames estuary so if you reach the waterfront on Canvey Island you can’t be far away! If you are coming by car exit off M25 at junction 30 and take A13 towards Southend. Follow this road until you reach a series of mini-roundabouts. Follow signs for A130 Canvey Island. At next one take 2nd exit and follow signs for football club. You will enter the one way system where you need to keep left. You will eventually pass the Transport Museum on your right. Just after turn right into Park Lane for the ground. There is plenty of free parking around the ground.
The nearest train station is Benfleet which is on the C2C Line. Journey time is around 50 minutes from London Liverpool Street or Fenchurch Street. Bus numbers 21, 22 or 27 run from here to Canvey Island (its about 5 miles) otherwise it is a cab ride.
How to get a ticket for The Brockwell Stadium
Few games are deemed all ticket and as such it is pay on the door. Adults are £9.50, Concessions £5 and children under 12 are charged £1. Programmes are available inside for £2.