These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

THE ONLY WAY IS THURROCK (EAST)

Printed in the National League South game v Oxford City on Saturday 8th September 2018 We won 2-0 in front of 832 people.

It was my first Slough Town Conference away game since the Napoleonic Wars and if you could sum up what non league football is all about, then it was this. A few lost Rebels wandering aimlessly around Stanford Le Hope looking for a taxi were approached by a man – 'Hi, I'm the secretary of East Thurrock United do you want a lift to the game?' The man turned out to be Neil Speight, who also edits the Thurrock Independent and after dropping us off he had to rush off to take photos of a carnival for the paper! A man of many hats who just like so many lower league clubs have too few people working tirelessly behind the scenes doing too many jobs - but he still found time to help out away fans.
The only time I had been to East Thurrock, me and Gary Big Lens had arrived so early we startled a group who'd looked like they had been up all night playing cards. Eventually the clubhouse was packed - full of West Ham fans who stayed watching the Hammers rather than the game. This was at the end of the 2006-7 season, officially known as the Slough Town Season of Horror when we finished bottom of the league with just 18 points from 42 games! We lost 4-1 but at least we scored a goal no doubt serenading fans favourite Matt Miller with our 'He'll score again' song.
I tried to get my head round just where East Thurrock is. They play in Essex in the beautiful old village of Corringham (not to be confused with new Corringham) and the nearest train station is Stanford Le Hope. This isn't to be confused with Thurrock who used to be Purfleet who folded last season after their owner retired due to health grounds but couldn't find anyone to take over.
East Thurrock have only been around since 1969 and they only moved to the ground in 1984, which has got to have the most picturesque surroundings in the National League South. Being a village they struggle to get big crowds and quite a few of their supporters said they 'were punching above their weight' with crowds often below 300. I crossed through the church grounds to have a pint in The Bull where I couldn't resist the deep fried Camembert as you do when your a well heeled Slough fan. We chatted to two football lads including a West Ham supporter who'd had enough of the Olympic Stadium and was now a Southend season ticket with his son.
The pub, the ground, the local taxi company, in fact a lot of the place it seems are owned by one family; but that family have had an almighty falling out, straight out of an East Enders plot, resulting in a High Court battle including a punch up in the High Court bogs.
The clubs higgledy-piggledy Rookery Hill ground was taken over by the Bennett family when the members run club was in debt to Green King Brewery who were threatening to close it down and take possession. Several years ago Ben Bennett mooted a plan to sell Rookery Hill for housing development, and move them to Stanford-le-Hope – a move supported by the council. But Mr Bennett’s son Wayne, his nephew and a local businessman claimed that they are due a share of any profits from the sale of the land as they helped Bennett senior turn the club’s fortunes around. Bennett senior disagreed and said that the trio were just three among a large number of supporters, officials and local businessmen who were involved – many of whom have remained involved to this day. The judge agreed and in a 72 page document dismissed the trio's claims.
As is ever the case the Rebels travelled en masse to Essex, drunk some beer and made some noise. East Thurrock defended well and did us with a sucker punch at the death. 1-0 and their first win of the season.
In start contrast to this friendly attitude, Brighton this week decided to ban flasks to the game. They hid their reasons behind the usual health and safety and police advice flannel but what it really means for those, usually older supporters, is an almighty rush to the bar at half time if they want a hot drink in the winter months. The queues are long and many won't manage it in the 15 minute window.
It's those increasing petty rules that make me hate the higher levels of football while its acts of kindness from an opposition teams secretary that make me love non league football even more. It will take a monumental effort to keep East Thurrock in the league but I hope they manage it.


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