Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grays Athletic


Grays Athletic FC, who represent the town on the north bank of the River Thames about twenty miles east of central London, were formed as Grays Juniors in 1890. Another local side Grays United FC also played their Southern League games at the Recreation Ground before amalgamating with Juniors in 1906 to form the present club.

In 1912 Athletic became members of the Athenian League for a couple of years before joining the Corinthian League, which they won in its first season until 1958 when 'The Gravelmen' rejoined the Athenian League. 

In 1981 the Club Patron, Mr. Ron Billings purchased the ground and the Club was reformed as a Limited Company in 1982 under the guidance of Jeff and Fred Saxton.

In 1983 the club were dealt a blow as their four hundred seater Main Stand and changing rooms were burnt down. Mr Billings built a new indoor sports court along with new changing rooms and with a bar and club room above. New flats replaced the wreckage on the Bridge Road side.

The old Main Stand at the Recreation Ground

Grays moved into the Isthmian League later that year and progressed so that when the Conference South was formed in 2004, they became founder members under the Chairmanship of Mick Woodward as the Saxton's moved on. 

Woodward was also the Director of Football and he had big plans for the club, including moving to a new stadium to match his own ambitions. In the meantime the Recreation Ground was renamed The New Recreation Ground (or New Rec) as it was redeveloped.

The club turned full time professional as Mark Stimpson was brought in as manager and many players were signed, some from League clubs. The team won the Conference South title and the FA Trophy after a penalty shoot out against Hucknall Town at Villa Park. 

In their first season in non leagues' top flight, Athletic finished third losing in the play offs to Halifax Town but regaining the FA Trophy after a 2-0 win over Woking at Upton Park.

The former end terracing at the Recreation Ground
 There then followed a spell of several managers coming and going in a short spell as players moved on for large fees. Meanwhile Woodward was fighting a losing battle with the local council in trying to secure land for a new stadium. He eventually left the club in 2009, as the team were relegated from the Conference National in the summer of 2010.

Far worse news was that the club had to leave The New Rec, as the lease ran out and the owners wished to sell the land for building. Grays made the decision to resign from the Conference as they felt they would not be able to field a competitive side owing to the budget constraints that had been implemented. A groundshare arrangement was sealed with East Thurrock United for the first team to play their home matches at Rookery Hill.

The 2011-12 season ended with Grays just missing out on promotion. Having clinched a place in the play offs, they were defeated on penalties by Enfield Town, leaving manager Hakan Hayrettin to try and take the club up in new surroundings.

Grays previous temporary accommodation at Rookery Hill

The club continued to work hard with Thurrock Council to secure a new home ground back in the town of Grays, while a deal was struck to move to Rush Green Stadium from the start of the 2012-13 season to share the venue with West Ham United reserves. The clubs fans assisted in making the venue fit for Isthmian League football, as it had not been used for a few seasons.

Hayrettin took the team to promotion at the end of the 2012-13 season as Grays were crowned Division One North champions. However, he departed to become John Still's assistant at Luton Town. Ryan Kirby was appointed as player manager in his place.  

Further bad news came as The Hammers ended the agreement to use Rush Green, much to the annoyance of the Athletic fans who had worked hard to make the decaying venue good. Grays were forced to move once more, this time to the Mill Field home of Aveley.

Andy Swallow continued as Chairman during the testing period before departing at the end of the 2015-16 season, as the club continued to looked to move home to Grays with the William Edwards School keen to include a new ground as part of a wider sports hub for the town on their land.

Former playing hero Jamie Stuart arrived as new manager in May 2016 while in February 2017 the club ownership was transferred to the GAFC 1890 Supporters Society Limited, meaning that the club was owned by the fans as a Community Benefit Society. 

Athletic were relegated back to Division One North of the Isthmian League at the completion of the 2016-17 campaign, as they moved with landlords Aveley to their new Parkside stadium

Grays Athletic FC will play in the Isthmian League Division One North in the 2017-18 season.

My visits

Grays Athletic 2 Harlow Town 2 (Monday 3rd January 2000) Isthmian League Division One (att: approx 250)

I was out to enjoy the first football of the new Millennium after seeing the final game of the previous one at Chertsey Town. The game at The Rec was actually my second game of the day after being at the match between Aveley and Kingsbury at midday.

A bus had taken me to Grays via the Lakeside Shopping Centre, dropping me off at 2.45, meaning I had a bit of a dash to find the ground. I was soon through the town centre and I went along Bradbourne Road where I found a turnstile open that took me inside the ground behind the goal.

The Rec was pretty basic to be honest, but it had lots of character. The pitch was slightly curved behind the goal where I went in with a bit of terracing either side of the gates. To the left was a few steps of open terrace with a huge block of flats where the Main Stand once stood. 

Part of the ground floor belonged to the club and contained the changing rooms and refreshment kiosk. Beyond there was some more banked open terracing by the main gates and turnstiles before the large sports hall and clubhouse took over. The final side to my right was a low covered stand with seats in the centre blocks and terracing either side.

I don't remember too much about the game apart from it being a feisty entertaining affair. The crowd were particularly vocal and not short of an opinion or two. Sadly the game bubbled over when there was an awful midfield fight when a visiting player lost it and basically assaulted his opponent. There were sending offs and the rest of the game seemed to be rather more subdued.

At full time I went upstairs into the clubhouse, which was a regular entry into the Good Beer Guide and had darts boards, pool tables and was showing the tea time live match. I left after a couple of pints and wandered back to the station to catch my train back to a deserted Fenchurch Street.

I'd had a good day, but the on the field violence had put a dampener on it for me.

Tuesday 14th July 2009

I had a day off work so I booked myself a train ticket and headed out to Southend via Grays and Canvey Island. The weather was stunning and I looked forward to getting some missing photos as well as relaxing with a beer to cool down and relax.

I left the station and followed the signs for the stadium, which took me on a wild goose chase. I eventually arrived and decided to go to the main gates thinking there was more chance of access from there seeing that the clubhouse may have been open or expecting deliveries. I had no luck so I gave it a go where I had entered several years previously.

The entrances had been updated, and lo and behold a gate was open as the groundsman worked on the pitch. He came over to see me and was more than happy to let me take photos around the place. I asked him about the move to a new stadium, but he seemed to think there was no need, as they weren't exactly selling out the New Rec. I don't suppose for one minute, he expected this was to be his last season there.

The New Rec was much improved. Covers had been added down the 'flats' side and in front of the clubhouse. A new terrace had been constructed at the Clarence Road End to accommodate away fans. A new all seated stand had replaced the old seated and terrace construction. Everything was neat and tidy with a capacity of 4,100.

I thanked the groundsman and walked back to the station, having picked up a discarded programme, through the shopping precinct and onto a train for Benfleet.

I hoped to return to Grays as soon as possible to see the club playing a home game at their new ground.

Grays Athletic 3 Romford 2 (Wednesday 2nd January 2013) Isthmian League Division One North (att: 262)

It was a day short of thirteen years since I had seen Grays play a home game, but when I did it came in extraordinary circumstances. Athletic's visitors, Romford were tenants at Rush Green Stadium when Ford United were once landlords and then once again as sole tenants. 

It was an ideal location for them, being just under a mile from Romford town centre. However, a problem over the lease had forced them to move out four years previously. Since then they had shared with Aveley and then Thurrock FC's. The ironic thing was that Ship Lane, Thurrock was only a few miles from Grays town centre. It was a crazy situation!

I arrived at around 7.15 having taken the tube and then number five bus, which dropped me virtually outside the entrance to the venue. The unlit drive was negotiated before I popped inside the clubhouse for an average pint of beer while reading the programme, which I considered a bit expensive at £2.

It cost £8 to get in as the PA played 'Hurry Up Harry' by Sham 69 before the teams emerged to the original Grandstand theme tune on a cool but dry evening following afternoon rain. 

The Grays players wore squad numbers which corresponded with those in the programme. It was the first time I'd seen it applied at that level of football, but it was greatly appreciated. The man on the mic obviously had a sense of humour as he thanked the Romford fans for making the long journey to the game!

Athletic took the lead after just seven minutes as Joao Carlos headed in at the back stick after a fine run by the marauding centre back Junior Baker. Baker had impressed me massively when I'd seen his side win at AFC Dunstable in the FA Cup the previous season, and he didn't disappoint me on my second look. A second goal went in soon after via a deflected free kick from Harry Agombar. Romford were in total disarray.

It was time for some food and the excellent cheeseburger did the business. I had asked for my traditional Bovril to go with it, but they had run out. I opted for a tomato soup instead so one of the men in the portable van have me some French stick to go with it, only to call me a greedy so and so when realising I had ordered the burger as well!

I settled in the Main Stand to enjoy the fodder, as I'd now had time to take in the full stadium after doing a lap. The stand was an impressive structure with tip up seats, although the leg room in between was minimal. 

There was stretches of open terracing either side, which was replicated all the way down the far side. A small cover offered shelter in the centre section. Either end had the obligatory path of hard standing and a bit of open grass.

A few of the forty or so visiting fans stood just in front of me, with one old boy remaining extremely chipper in his comments to the home fans considering his side were two down. He was not best impressed as they spurned an easy chance to get one back after a forward headed a rebounded shot from the bar over an open net from about five yards. The vocal 'Blues Army' at the top of the stand sounded their approval!

After a peek at the Newcastle v Everton game at half time, I wandered once more while keeping up with the Chelsea v QPR game on my radio. I was notified on Twitter that a visiting neutral had seen my Scarborough Athletic jacket and said how great it was to see a Boro fan in east London. 

Romford were gradually getting into the game as Grays stood off the pedal. They pulled a goal back when a totally unmarked Paul Clayton nodded home a free kick. This didn't go down well with the home fans who could sense things were starting to get dicey. 

They were bang on, as Romford were awarded a penalty. The previously unconvincing George Kamarusi in the Athletic net saved Lewis Francis's spot kick but Ben Jones smashed home the rebound.

The game was getting feisty, although  thought the referee Mr Elliott Kaye handled it pretty well. He had no option but to send of Grays' Jake Hall after he made a ridiculous challenge after charging twenty yards or so. 

The Romford fans were delighted and could see a winner in the offing although their own keeper Chris Clark had to pull off a good save to keep parity. Unfortunately for them, Grays were made of sterner stuff, particularly Baker who stormed forward to tap in at the far post in injury time. 

The visitors piled everyone forward for a last chance free kick. As the ball was cleared a home player broke away, with Clark just ahead. Instead of shooting from distance he allowed the keeper to recover and make a fine stop.

Shortly after, the ref blew his whistle to end what had been an excellent game of football. I was in a good mood anyway after QPR had won at Stamford Bridge, and the last twenty minutes of the game at Rush Green put the seal on a good evening. I got home by bus, national rail and tube by 11.30 to enjoy most of Match of the Day.

Grays Athletic 1 Hendon 2 (Saturday 4th February 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 186)

It was time for night shift at work, but there was no way I was going to miss this relegation six pointer as I had been really enjoying my first season going to support Hendon. This was despite disruption on the District line.

Instead I took the Jubilee line all the way to West Ham before just catching the C2C service to Rainham from where the 372 bus took me to the St Paul’s Close stop; from where it was just a few minutes walk to the ground.

It was great to catch up with Tom Stockman, the Silver Jubilee Park manager for a pre match beer as well as many other Dons regulars. The team had been picking up of late and I had good vibes before the game.

Mill Field really was showing its age. Aveley were scheduled to leave the ground to move to their new Parkside home in the summer along with Grays as their tenants, so the ground was being left as it was.

The match was a tight affair with plenty at stake. The Dons put together some decent attacks but neither goal was really threatened. Kezie Ibe was having a fine game holding the ball up and creating danger.

Matt Baxter fired in a decent free kick for the home side, which was expertly turned over the bar by Tom Lovelock. Gradually the Greens gained control of the midfield before taking the lead on the stroke of half time.

The ball was intercepted in midfield before being played forward to Ibe who finished low past Athletic keeper Amadou Tangara. The half time bottle of beer tasted well in the clubhouse at half time, even though it was accepted that another goal was required.

Hendon dealt with a couple of attacks soon after the restart before Matt Ball made a fine run before firing over when well placed. The home side seem to be indecisive in attack, while the Dons constantly looked the more threatening on the break.

Tangara made a fine stop to keep out a Reiss Stanislaus effort before Lheureux Menga was introduced by Grays boss Jamie Stuart to add some steel in the middle of the park. The home team began to add some pressure on the visitors goal.

Twelve minutes from time Keagan Cole had his effort beaten away by Tangara with Ball picking up the pieces and finishing in the top corner to double the lead. Yet, in typical Hendon fashion, they still kept the fans in a state of nerves.

Five minutes from time a series of attempts, passes and clearances led to the ball falling to Grays Lartey Sarpong whose effort found the net despite a lack of pace. It wasn’t to be the last of the drama.

Five additional minutes had been signalled, and in the first of those Menga was dragged down before he stamped on his opponent to spark off a melee involving all the players and several members of each bench.

Referee Mr Heavey correctly sent Menga off, but it was a bit of a shock that he was the only one dispatched early to the changing rooms. It wasn’t very smart from the Hendon lads to get involved; especially after their game against AFC Sudbury had been abandoned a few weeks previously in similar circumstances.

The referee didn’t add quite as much time on as he might before he blew the full time whistle to spark off celebrations from the delighted away support. It was certainly a happy bus and train ride back with a few other Dons.

To read about the wonderful Grays fans, with one special long distance traveller, please go to the AFC Dunstable page.

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