I decided to satisfy a few historic questions by going to this game. Spennymoor were playing away at Trafford FC in Manchester and I couldn’t afford to go there, so of the local FA Cup ties to me, this seemed the one with the most interest.
Chelmsford City FC are trailblazers in that for many years they were called “City” even though Chelmsford was only a town! It was only in March 2012 that Chelmsford was awarded city status. Chelmsford City FC have a long distinguished history in amateur football and used to have a ground at New Writtle Street in Chelmsford next to the County Cricket Ground. The first couple of times I travelled to Ipswich in the mid 1980s to see Newcastle play, I was always impressed by the size of the ground as the train passed nearby it over the viaduct.
After their establishment, Chelmsford City played at the New Writtle Street ground, which they purchased in 1939. During the early parts of World War II it was shared by Southend United, before it became a barrage balloon site in 1942. After World War II it briefly hosted greyhound racing. The record attendance of 16,807 was set for a local derby with Colchester United on 10 September 1949. Floodlights were installed in 1960. Several plans were made to increase facilities at the ground, including installing a swimming pool and building office blocks or a hotel, but none came to fruition.
In 1997 the site was sold to developers and the club had to move out of Chelmsford. They initially shared at Maldon Town’s Wallace Binder Ground, before moving to Billericay Town’s New Lodge. In January 2006 the club moved back to Chelmsford when they became tenants at the Melbourne Athletics Stadium, also known as Chelmsford Sport and Athletics Centre. The first game back at Melbourne Park was against former landlords Billericay Town and was played in front of a record crowd of 2,998. The club has plans to upgrade the stadium to a 5,000 capacity capable of achieving the necessary ‘A’ ground grading.
As for Leatherhead, I last saw them play in 1978 when they lost 2-1 at Spennymoor in the FA Trophy Semi Final second leg, but won 3-2 on aggregate. 34 years of hurt. So as you can gather, I was hoping for a home win.
Being a relatively short trip was good for me as I was supposed to be decorating my house today as well as scoring at Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club where they were hosting cyclocross races as part of the Eastern Cross Cyclocross Series. So as part of a busy day, I was up early, put a coat of paint on the walls and ceiling in the kitchen. Then a quick shower, off to Redbridge Cycle Circuit and scoring for the first two races before heading off to Chelmsford for the game. After the game I would have to head back home to put another coat of paint on the walls and ceiling in the kitchen. That would then leave me to paint the lounge and gloss both the lounge and kitchen on Sunday. Remembering of course that Sunday is a day of rest!
The ground at Melbourne Park is an athletics stadium. This is never a good venue for football – West Ham please take note. The Olympic Stadium will destroy the atmosphere you have at Upton Park. There is a large free car park at the ground which is a plus point. Admission to the ground is a rather pricey £11.50 to stand or £12.50 to sit down in the main stand, but you can sit for free on the opposite side. That sounded a bargain, but I will come back to that.
Once through the turnstiles, there was a stall for the supporters club at which they were recruiting new members and were collecting for Truro City who are in administration and facing imminent bankruptcy.
Next to that was a wooden programme hut, selling the match programme at £2.50 a time. This is in my view very expensive for non league football. Certainly it is nearly as much as some clubs in the Northern League charge for admission!
The view through the turnstiles was not too promising
Fortunately, the viewing area is not next to the turnstiles.
Passing the club shop and the programme hut, there is a relatively new building which houses the bar, function room and changing rooms. This is an impressive building. The club have clearly thought about how to maximise their income. Outside the clubhouse is the most important facility, the food van. Now, this being Essex and rather pretentious, ordinary burgers are not good enough. Here they serve Paninis instead and decaffeinated coffee.
However, the real face of Essex was also on show with this attempt to out do everywhere else
Sadly, like usual, Essex fails to realise that big is not necessarily better.
The ground is dominated by the running track, an 8 lane running track and long jump pit etc. means that fans down the touchline are a long way from the pitch.
Above is a view of the main stand, below is the view from in front of the main stand. Notice how far away the pitch is from the fans. This is not conducive to creating an atmosphere.
The distance however should prevent trouble between the bench and spectators.
The opposite side of the ground has seating at a lower level which are built into the wall of the sports centre. The problem with these seats are they are too low down.
Indeed, it is not really possible to see the pitch from these seats. This probably explains why most people on this side stood at the fence to watch the game and did not use the seats. The photo below is taken from sitting in the seats on this side.
The good news is that there is another food van on this side of the ground!
These are the bad points about the ground. Chelmsford City have attempted to overcome some of the problems at this ground. In front of the raised main stand, there are some temporary terracing sections to increase the capacity. However, the best thing is behind ach goal, where the club have installed temporary standing sections in the infield section of the running area. This means that fans can view the game from directly behind the goal not with a running track in the way. However, the access to these 2 standing areas is only from the main stand side of the ground. Barriers and temporary matting is placed over the running track to minimise the damage to the running track.
Two views above of the covered stand at one end. Newton Aycliffe may want to note the use of a terraced flooring makes the stand more useable.
The other end of the ground was an open terrace which in the first half was populated by the Leatherhead Massive
Despite being so small in numbers, they made far more noise than the Chelmsford fans. Indeed, it was very noticeable how quiet the crowd were. I would suggest this was due to the distance the crowd were from the pitch as a result of the running track. However as you saw in the earlier picture the majority of the crowd were behind the goals
The game itself was dominated by Chelmsford. They had a very promising left winger, but failed to make their dominance pay. They took the lead shortly before half time and extended that in the second half, before Leatherhead pulled one back at the death.
It was nice to watch an entertaining game and share a bit of crack with some Leatherhead fans who had come to Spennymoor all those years ago. It was interesting to learn how history has treated their club. Even a chance to reminisce about The Leatherhead Lip Chris Kelly.
Despite being at an athletics stadium Chelmsford have tried to create a football ground atmosphere with the stands in the infield area of the athletics track.
The clubhouse and commercial set up at Chelmsford are impressive and give the impression of a club going places
The home fans failed to create any atmosphere at all. This is disappointing when there was a crowd of in excess of 500 there
The admission prices are high compared to the Northern League (as is the programme price).
It was a pleasant day out and despite the ground not having the character of their old ground, it is a pleasant venue.
Chelmsford look like a club who will be in the Conference North before long.
I’ll end this blog with a couple of oddities I saw at the ground. The first was the sweet stall in the ground.
Then there was this strange sign. I’m not sure whether I would consider eating here