On Saturday I awoke to what was an unusual site. A bright light was shining in through the window. When I finally ventured outside for a closer look I was greeted by the sunshine. I was slightly worried when I could no longer see my own breath. It took a few minutes, but it gradually dawned on me that winter does eventually end.
I was back in Thurrock this weekend for another visit to one of the borough’s non-league football clubs. This week it was East Thurrock United, who are the top ranked club in Thurrock at present. They were facing Essex rivals Chelmsford City in one of two Essex derbies in the National League South. Braintree and Concord Rangers were also up against each other a few miles away.
Competition: National League South
Refreshments: £2 (soft drink and bottle of water)
Star man: Scott Fenwick
Who are ya, East Thurrock United?
The Rocks, as they are known, were founded in April 1969 by locals of the Corringham and Stanford-Le-Hope areas, who thought they were lacking a non-league club. A local Sunday club formed the basis of the new team, and they achieved senior status in 1972. East Thurrock played in the Metropolitan-London League, which became the London Spartan League, until 1979 when they joined the Essex Senior League.
The Rocks won two League Cups while at Essex Senior Level and were eventually promoted after finishing third in 1992. They joined Division Three of the Isthmian League and won the division in 2000. They were promoted to Division Two which became Division One North but were moved to the Southern League in 2004. East Thurrock finished runners up in the East Division and were promoted into the Isthmian Premier.
After three seasons on the Premier the Rocks were relegated back into the North Division. They reached two successive promotion playoffs, losing on both occasions to Concord Rangers. In 2011 they won the Division and returned to the Premier Division. East Thurrock qualified for the playoffs in 2013, losing to Lowestoft Town and then again in 2016 where they defeated Dulwich Hamlet in the final. The Rocks then joined the National League South and finished a respectable 13th in their first season at step two.
- East Thurrock have previously ground shared with neighbours Grays and Tilbury, before they opened their Rookery Hill ground in 1984.
- The Rocks reached their first Essex Senior Cup final last season, losing 1-0 to today’s opponents Chelmsford.
The Rocks were 12th in the table prior to kick-off. They’d won three of their last five games, but had three recent fixtures postponed due to bad weather. Their last game was a 2-1 win away at Truro City. East Thurrock had won the previous league meeting between the two sides this season. Max Cornhill scored twice as they beat Chelmsford 2-1 in September.
Chelmsford gained some revenge, however, as they knocked the Rocks out of the Essex Senior Cup in January with a 2-0 win at Rookery Hill. The Clarets were fifth in the table, 12 points ahead of the Rocks and still in with a very good chance of making the playoffs. The Clarets had won their last three games after going winless in March. Their last game was a 4-2 win over Whitehawk. Scott Fenwick scored a hat-trick of penalties in the win.
The East Thurrock United experience
Train: Stanford-Le-Hope Station, reached via London Fenchurch Street or Southend, is the closest station to the ground, but it looks like a long walk. The 100 bus runs past the station and near the ground
Car: Exit the A13 for the A1014 and turn right at the roundabout (third exit) onto A1014, go straight over the next roundabout, through the lights and you’ll see the ground. There is a small car park, but parking is also available on the roads near the ground.
This particular Essex derby was clearly keenly anticipated. Crowds were already gathering around the entrance and club house, as well as the local pub that’s just round the corner from the ground. The quiet country lanes that serve as the key arteries to the ground were quickly filling up with cars. ‘Bit warm, isn’t it’, could be heard from many of the eager supporters, mainly dressed in claret, as they excited their air conditioned motors.
Rookery Hill, is situated in one of the greener settings I’ve seen on my travels, so far. It would be possible to miss it were it not for the crowds gathering outside and the lines of cars. The large clubhouse is the most visible part, next to the car park. The entrance is just up the hill and through the bush. Once in the ground it’s a lot more open, like entering a woodland clearing.
The ground is well set up, but you can tell that the Rooks have steadily risen up the divisions. There is a small main stand on the same side as the entrance. On the opposite side there are two separate seated stands that have been gradually been added as East Thurrock have progressed. The ends are more open, and in the case of this surprisingly warm spring day, a bit of a sun trap.
Further indications of how well East Thurrock have progressed are evident as you dig a little deeper. Leaflets were being handed out on arrival appealing for additional volunteers to help with groundskeeping and marketing (not necessarily together). The crowd of 508 was also a good increase on the season’s average of around 350, which is one of the lower in the division. The crowd was boosted by the visitors, but the Rocks success will surely continue to draw additional numbers.
All hail to penalty king
Rocks’ boss John Coventry instructed his charges to ‘switch on’ during the warm up. His words appeared to fall on a few deaf ears. Chelmsford shocked the hosts with a goal in the first two mins. Giles’ cross was met by Fenwick who cleverly headed the ball over the advancing East Thurrock keeper, Lidakevicius. It was a severe wake up call to the sluggish home side.
The Rocks began to settle after the initial setback and their wing backs were providing some momentum for them. They had more possession but Chelmsford continued to provide a threat going forward. Higgins, however, got the Rocks back into the game. The striker timed his run well and after his initial attempt was saved he managed to poke the ball out from under the keeper and finish.
The rest of the first half was fairly equal, but Batt was fouled in the box a few minutes before the break. Fenwick, who had already scored three penalties this week stepped up and drove the ball into the bottom corner. The home side struggled a little after the break as the visitors started to take control. Fenwick soon added his fifth penalty of the week after what appeared to be a harsh call on the East Thurrock defender.
Fenwick soon had his sixth penalty in five days, this time the referee got the decision spot on as the home side began to capitulate. Once again the striker drilled it low into the corner. For his fourth goal of the game and his seventh goal in two games, six of which were from the spot (SIX). The Rocks actually improved after the fourth goal and looked more fluent. Lewis Smith showed his tenacity as he drove into the box and added a second for the Rocks. It proved, however, to be a consolation as Chelmsford held on.
This Essex derby didn’t disappoint, unless you’re a East Thurrock fan. It was a lively game featuring two attacking sides. In the end Chelmsford deserved the victory. The Clarets looked like they had quality all over the pitch, and they should now be able to hold onto a playoff spot. East Thurrock, led by the division’s top scorer, Higgins have had a second solid season in step two and they’ll look to push up the division next season.
Rookery Hill is an aesthetically pleasing ground with a country feel. It’s a friendly place to visit and watch a good standard of football that may well continue to improve over the next few seasons. If there are any green fingered marketers reading I would strongly advise you to get in touch with the club.