Tilbury 2 Waltham Abbey 1 (26/03/2011)
The rare prospect of going to two games in one day encouraged me to trek round to the other side of the M25 and beyond to see two games I’d usually be very unlikely to attend.
First up was Tilbury of the Rymans North. Tilbury’s Chadfield’s ground, within sight of the nearby dock cranes, and next door to a traveller’s site, isn’t going to win many “most beautiful ground” awards, even if it is bordered or two sides by open fields. It feels fashioned in blue-collar grit, where hardy dockers would eschew any sense of comfort in favour of a ground that would put hairs on your chest.
It did have the look of a ground that had seen decent crowds some time in the past, but it was clearly a distant past, and the place now was clearly used to decades of patching up and making do. The main stand, looking like a set of poor man’s executive boxes above a floor of dressing rooms, had been declared unfit for use. It only looked to have held a couple of rows of seats anyway. Opposite was another seated stand. This also had two rows of seats, and some gaps where seats should have been, raised behind a small paddock of terracing. The smart brickwork was in contrast to the brutal breeze-block back wall. The roof, judging by its condition and blackening fading lettering, looked like it had been built in the 1940s and not maintained since.
To the side of this stand was covered terrace of the same depth, offering the best view of the ground. Unsurprisingly, this was the home of The Dockers’ most vocal fans, who gave their club a backing far better than expected for crowds of this size. The far corner’s back wall was painted white, with “Danger Spikes” daubed in black paint on the top brick, lest anyone should think of escaping a dreary 0-0 and bounding off into the fields instead.
Both goals only had a few steps of terracing behind them, uncovered. Both ends also had a large net right at the front of the terracing, obscuring the view for the maximum number of people. As well as stopping wayward shots bouncing off into the fields, at one end it also protected the clubhouse, whose dark wooden exterior looked more vulnerable to shots than it probably was. Inside was a spacious but welcoming place, which felt as if it was just as much “home” as the ground itself.
On the pitch, Tilbury got the three points they just about deserved. A penalty for each side looked to be making the game head towards a stalemate, but just moments after I’d said I hoped Tilbury would nick a winner, they did. In stoppage time the ball was prodded home to give Tilbury the points, and put a fine end to today’s “first half”.
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