Ground Hopping Part 2: Romford v Soham Town Rangers 13th October 2012

So as part of Non League Day I went to the Romford v Soham Town Rangers game as the second game of the day.


Now, Romford do not play in Romford at all. They used to play at Aveley’s ground, but not play at Ship Lane the home of Thurrock FC. This is only about 1 1/2 miles from Aveley’s ground.


Romford had a very successful football team in the period up to the 1970s. The history below is taken from their website


  1. THIS IS the third Romford Football Club, both their predecessors having competed at some point in the Southern League, and each time having been defunct for fourteen years before the name was revived.
    All three versions have had their moments, although the present model has yet to emulate previous achievements on the national stage.
    The original club was founded in 1876 and reached the last six of the F A Cup in 1880-81, then in 1884-85 visited a Blackburn Rovers side on their way to completing a hat-trick of F A Cup wins. The Club joined the Southern League in 1909 but failed to complete their fixtures in their first season, and after an internal dispute which saw a breakaway club formed and a change of name to Romford Town, folded during the First World War.
    For a while there was no senior football at all in Romford, but the situation was addressed in 1929 when local figure Tom Macpherson, later to become M P for the area and subsequently Lord Macpherson, took charge of re-forming the Club after a public meeting at the Corn Exchange, which was so well attended that the crowd spilled on to the street outside, to the annoyance of the police. The meeting was advertised by a poster proclaiming a match between Romford and Aston Villa, revealed to be hypothetical in the small print. The new Club moved into the local Brooklands stadium, which was bought by the Club when it became a limited company in the mid-1930s, possibly the first Amateur club to do so. After two seasons in the London League, Romford joined the Athenian League in 1931, and between 1935 and 1938 won two championships and twice reached the semi-finals of the F A Amateur Cup.
    After the Second World War the Club, who had acquired the nickname Boro after the Borough of Romford, was created in 1937, competed in the Isthmian League and finished third in each of their first two seasons. The highlight of this era was reaching the Final of the F A Amateur Cup in 1949, losing 1-0 to Bromley in front of 95 000 spectators in the first Final to be held at Wembley. However fortunes then plummeted and after finishing in the bottom three five times in a row, Romford took the bold move of turning professional and joining the Southern League in 1959
    Promotion was achieved at the first attempt and, after a near miss in 1963-64 when Boro finished fifth after remaining unbeaten until the New Year, the enormous Championship shield came to Brooklands in 1967. Romford were perennial (and unsuccessful) applicants for membership of the Football League but, apart from third place in 1970-71, never looked like repeating their title success and eventually were relegated in 1975.
    Boro’s failure to make it into the Football League had left huge debts, but only when the ground was sold did the extent of the Clubs problems come to light. 90% of the proceeds of the sale of Brooklands were eaten up in debt repayments and tax, leaving barely £60 000 to finance a new stadium, and the 1977-78 season was spent playing home matches at borrowed grounds – indeed the last match, at home to Folkestone & Shepway, was eventually played at Folkestone with Boro only able to field ten players including the manager. Romford Football Club closed down in 1978 and the site of the unfinished stadium in Oldchurch Park became Romford Ice Rink.
    Appropriately, it was at the Ice Rink that the first meeting took place in February 1992 to gauge interest in reviving the Club. Over 150 people attended to hear the ideas of Dave Howie, and very soon the Club was formed, a ground-share arranged with Hornchurch and senior status granted from the Essex F A. To have achieved so much so soon owed much to what had gone before, and in view of the importance and significance of such a heritage to the success of the new club, it was inevitable that it would adopt the traditional blue and gold colours and Boro nickname, despite the local council having since become the London Borough of Havering.


So today, Romford still find themselves playing several miles out of Romford at the home of Thurrock FC. This is a modern ground as Thurrock were only formed in 1985. The ground is on the outskirts of Thurrock and is situated below the Thurrock Hotel.


The first think one notices on approaching the ground is the large car park which offers free parking. From the car park there are 2 sets of turnstiles, one marked away fans only, but that was not in operation today.


At the main turnstiles, I explained the position about the tickets and handed over the business card and was allowed admittance to the ground.




Again, I notice that there is no mention outside the ground that Romford play at this ground. It may be Thurrock’s ground, but you may have expected as part of the ground share agreement that Romford would have some form of signage outside the ground.


Once in, the ground itself if a modern looking affair with cover provided on all sides of the ground.




The main stand is a little unusual I thought. The stand is shown in the picture below. It straddles the halfway line, but on the rest of the side there is no terracing and only a wide walkway.




Having seen the photograph, you may say there is nothing unusual about the stand and that it is a traditional non league style stand seen at many grounds over the years. You would of course be right. The unusual thing is that Thurrock FC were only formed in 1985 so it is unusual to have a stand built so recently in such an old fashioned style.


It should not be taken as a criticism of the stand as it is perfectly adequate, even having facilities for the hospitality of directors and sponsors at the back.


There were 2 signs on the front of the stand that I am not sure how to interpret.




Now, I always understood that football is a ball game. The clue is in the name is it not? Make of this sign what you will.



The stand behind the far goal, and in the foreground the changing rooms.



Close up of the same stand. Sadly it was without spectators as was most of the ground.





The stand backing onto the car park.




The covered stand running the length of the pitch. This is slightly unusual in that the left hand half is terracing but the right hand half is now seated. I presume this was done to ensure Thurrock met the seating requirements to enable them to move up the football pyramid.


Wandering round the ground before the game, I saw the following sign adjacent to the rubbish skip. Personally I think its a little unfair on the players!



The game itself kicked off with Romford dominating the first half and easily moving into a 2-0 lead. They were looking good value for the 3 points. I was watching this half from the seats next to the away dug out. The Soham manager was clearly not happy at the way his side were playing. I thought he looked familiar, and eventually I twigged on who it was. It was Steve Fallon who performed miracles at Histon for many years, taking them from being a village side to real contenders to win the Conference Title and beating Leeds in the FA Cup as well.


The first half was played in glorious sunshine and it seemed that nothing could rain on Romford’s parade. However, that was to change literally and metaphorically.


As I wandered round the ground at half time, I looked up at the floodlights and noticed the ominous looking sky.




Rain was on the way it seemed. Just time to get a burger and a cup of tea before the rain came. The second half I decided would be watched from the back of the main stand, well out of the rain. I’m a fair weather fan.


The rain started just as Soham came out onto the pitch for the second half. There was no sign of the Romford team though. Then an announcement was made for a qualified referee in the crowd to run the line in the second half. Apparently one of the linesmen ( I know – assistant referees!) was injured and could not carry on. Eventually 10-15 minutes late the Romford team joined the by now wet Soham team on the pitch and the 2nd half kicked off.


The replacement linesman was a young 16 year old lad who was a qualified referee. He obviously had to borrow the kit as it was way too big for him. I tweeted about the delay and about the replacement linesman. Those tweets were picked up on by The BBC’s non league show and re tweeted- my claim to fame for the day!


Sadly the delay did nothing to help Romford and they folded in the rain like a soggy pack of cards and ended up losing 3-2. Definitely 3 points thrown away.


The Crowd for this game was given as 104, which coincidentally was the same crowd Aveley claimed for their game earlier in the day. I did not count the crowd this time, but there were more people at the Romford game than at the Aveley game.


The delayed kick off in the second half had me fearing I would miss the Sports Report Theme on Radio 5 Live, but fortunately their commentary game was running even later so I still got my weekly dose of the theme tune.


No need to worry about whether Newcastle had lost today as they were not playing. However, it was still a Saturday so Orient obviously lost. I think its compulsory for them to lose.


The best news of the day were the regular tweets coming from Queensgate, the home of Bridlington AFC where Spennymoor inflicted the first defeat in 11 games on their hosts in winning 5-1 away in the first round of the FA Vase. I still marvel at the technology allowing me to know what is happening to all the Ebac Northern League sides despite being 250+ miles away at a different game.

Ground Hopping: Aveley v Brentwood Town FC 13th October 2012

Today is Non League Day. This is an annual event arranged on a weekend when there is International Football and therefore no Premiership or Championship football. The aim is to showcase the non league game and to encourage those who would normally go to Premiership/ Championship games or don’t go at all to live games. Many clubs offer cheap admission (or free admission) to season ticket holders at Premiership/ Championship games.


Others stagger kick off times so that fans/ ground hoppers can go to more than one game in the same day. That is what Romford and Aveley did today. Aveley moved their home game with Brentwood forward to 1pm so fans could get from there to Thurrock FC’s ground a mile away where Romford play their home games. Romford were to play the exotically named Soham Town Rangers. Both these games were in the Ryman’s Division One North. This is at Step 4 of the Non League Pyramid or the 8th level of English club football. It is the level above the Ebac Northern League that Spennymoor Town play in. So, it would be logical to expect a better standard of football and bigger crowds wouldn’t it?


Well, I’ve never been to Aveley, let alone the football ground there. Thankfully I have a sat nav for the car. Without the Sat nav, I would have found Aveley, but the ground is hidden down a lane off Mill Road in Aveley.  There was little attempt to publicise the existence of the ground let alone the fact of Non League Day. i arrived at the ground less than 20 minutes before kick off. There was no sign of much activity in or around the ground, apart from cars in the Car Park. There were no spectators in the ground. This had me wondering if it was the Romford game first then the Aveley game. Had I got it wrong.


Then as I looked around the outside of the ground, i realise players were warming up on the pitch. They surely wouldn’t warm up at 12:40 for a 3pm kick off would they?


So satisfied I was in the right place, I had a look around the outside of the ground. The first thing I noticed was the impressively large looking stand. This  looked impressive from the outside.


There was car parking and significant land outside the fenced off pitch. It did strike me that there was land that could be sold off. This view was reinforced when I eventually got into the ground and saw the distance between the touchlines and the pitch surrounds. There would be sufficient space available to build numerous houses/ flats and still leave sufficient space for a new football ground built out of the proceeds of the land sale.


Main Stand & Turnstiles from part of the Car Park



The turnstiles from the outside looked a little unwelcoming. There were 4 turnstiles of which only one was open. The sign is peeling off. There was no sign outside the ground to indicate there was a game on or what the admission price was.

















The following picture is a panoramic view of the ground some 10 –15 minutes before the kick off. note the fact there is not a single spectator in the ground at this time.




So, I made my way to the turnstile and asked about a ticket for the 2 games. The gateman said they didn’t have them because the secretary had forgotten to bring the tickets! so they wrote a receipt on the back of a business card for the club secretary and told me they had arranged with Romford for these to be accepted as proof of the payment for both games. The price for the 2 games was £12. Admission for just the Aveley game was £8, so a 2nd game for an extra £4 seemed worth it.


The programmes were £2 each. now I complained in my last ground  hopping blog about the price of programmes at Chelmsford at £2.50. Well in terms of value for money, the Chelmsford programme is streets ahead of the Aveley one. At Spennymoor the programme is £1 and it contains more information and is better printed than the Aveley one.


The ground itself is a little odd. Going into the ground, the turnstiles take you in near the corner flag. In front of you is a wide terrace with far more steps of terracing than usually seen in a non league ground. Straddling the halfway line and set behind the terrace is the main stand.














However, behind both goals and down one side, there is not much more width than a hard standing path. One goal has a small covered terraced stand.





The side opposite the main stand has a rather primitive cover on a short piece of it. The cover is basically scaffolding poles with a wooden roof over. It looks as though a breeze will blow it down. Not very impressive at all.




Now, you may note in the above picture how far from the wall the linesman is standing. The distance is similar on the other side of the pitch. This space together with the car parking and space outside the pitch boundary would enable the redevelopment of the area and allow space for a new ground as well.


You will by now be wondering why there are so few people shown spectating at the game in my pictures. The reason for this is that quite simply there were not many people at the game.  The photo below shows pretty much the majority of the crowd at the game.




I stood opposite the main stand in the first half and counted the crowd. I reached a figure of between 50 and 60 people. Hardly impressive is it. Interestingly on the league website the crowd was shown as 104. That simply was not the crowd, unless you include the 22 players, the subs, managers and officials.


Half time came and I thought time to sample the delights of the refreshment kiosk. Like I say, I thought and that was as far as I got. £3.20 for a burger seemed expensive for a burger that had little  to do with a cow despite being called a beef burger. Being a skinflint I had a cup of tea instead at £1.





So, with so little money coming through the turnstiles, how do Aveley manage to survive? Well they do have outside the ground a small clubhouse with bar and function room that will provide a regular income. That alone would not support the club in this league.


The floodlights provide a clue as to their income. There are 4 floodlight pylons.



The observant amongst you will have noticed the telephone masts on the top of each pylon ( 2 of which are shown here). The sign shown below on one of the pylons is a clue




Although, I’m not sure the notice on the other side of the same pylon brings in any money to the club




One other thing to report is that the gents and ladies toilets in the ground were locked. I’m not sure what you are meant to do if you need the facilities. Its hardly welcoming is it?


The game itself was over long before half time with Aveley scoring 3 times in the first half and then cantering through the second half with Brentwood totally out played.


The lack of noise and passion from the few spectators in the ground was a contrast to the swearing and dissent shown by the players. It was disappointing to see refereeing so weak that players shouting abuse at the linesman from half the pitch away went unpunished. it was even more ironic that every shirt had on each sleeve the FA Respect badge. Its a shame the players don’t think about what that word means.


The game that started in the sun ended in a rain shower which summed u my thoughts on this trip. It was a trip I looked forward to, but ended up being a let down, with a club that seemingly is very run down and failing to attract support.


The idea of moving the kick off to 1pm to entice ground hoppers seems to have been an abject failure. Perhaps if Aveley did anything to let the local population know there was a ground nearby and that there was a game on today, then they may have had a chance of getting more spectators.


I left at full time and headed off to my 2nd game of the day which will be the subject of another blog post