I was back in Essex for my next Non League game when I visited AFC Hornchurch as they hosted Harlow Town writes NLD’s Simon Cook
I decided to get the district line to the game as it went from my work in central London all the way to Upminster Bridge. I was on the train for 29 stops in total and saw a number of people come and go as I read the Evening Standard. One bloke caught my attention, he had a brand new phone, it was almost big enough to be classed as a mini tablet.
Anyway, he was playing on an app which allows you to play the classic Nokia game “snake”. Not only was it completely the same layout as the original, but the controls for the game were set out in the style of an old Nokia 3310. It is incredible that 15 years later that the game is as addictive as it was when it was first released.
After becoming far too engrosed into the snake game over the blokes shoulder, he left and I was left to read the remainder of my paper as the tube stops rolled by. When we
passed Dagenham East station I was reminded of my last (and only) visit to Victoria Road to see my team Brentford away at Dagenham & Redbridge in the Capital One Cup.
It was the first round tie in August 2014 and was the most bizarre game of football I have ever witnessed. We were 2-0 up after 10 minutes but by half time only 3-2 ahead after conceding some sloppy goals.
In the second half it was much the same, every time we scored we let a goal in and after 90 minutes it was 4-4. In extra time, we scored again to go 5-4 up then let in twice to be 6-5 down until equalising 3 minutes before the end to make it 6-6!
Brentford won the penalty shootout 4-2 to end a truly bizarre night of football and the 12 goals went into history books as the joint highest in the League Cup. As I turned my attention back to the game between Hornchurch and Harlow, I wondered if I would see even half the number of goals I saw in that match.
After a short walk I arrived at “Hornchurch Stadium” the home of AFC Hornchurch. It seems the term stadium is used in two instances:
- A ground with more than 50,000 capacity
- A ground with a running track round the pitch
This was the latter and I headed to the turnstile to enter and picked up my programme. At £2.50 it was on the more expensive side (average cost so far on my travels has been around £1.50) but it was definitely worth the money.
It would rival some of the League clubs with the amount of information, even containing a bio on each of the away opponents players. Well done to whoever put it together.
I initially headed to the club bar named the “Squibbs sports bar”, I wasn’t sure of the reference but went in. It was one of nicest looking I have seen so far and at £3.40 for a pint of Stella, one of the cheapest too (in London). It was a Tuesday night so the build up to the Champions League was on the TV but most fans were more interested in discussing the game.
There were groups of fans from both sides hanging out in the bar and was a very pleasant atmosphere. As kick off approached I headed out of the bar to find a place to stand. It was a bitterly cold night and whilst I had numerous layers on and a scarf, it was very difficult to stay warm.
I noticed that the club bar looked out over the pitch and a few people had opted to watch from the comfort (and warmth) of the bar. It was hugely tempting, however when I started this journey I made a rule to always stand with the “proper” fans and they certainly weren’t going to be staying inside.
Whilst looking for a place to stand I noticed a Somerfield trolley which was seemingly being used to store cables and other equipment. I had worked for the supermarket whilst at school and university to earn some extra income.
It was mainly stacking shelves however I did receive a “multi skill bonus” of 10p an hour because I could also work on the till if called upon. Talk about perks of the job! The company closed 5 years ago but was good to see that their equipment was being used to help out a Non League club.
The ground is slightly odd with 4 stands, two along each side of the pitch. It seemed that they had been built at different timesas none of them seemed to match each other. 3 of them were seated, but I opted to go to the standing terrace as its where the singing contingent of Hornchurch fans were.
The game started quietly, with neither team being able to get control of the game. This led to quite a few back and forth kicking between the two sets of defences. This led to one Hornchurch fan exclaiming “the pitch is in great nick, the ball doesn’t touch the floor!”. He wasn’t far wrong.
Hornchurch were the first to fashion a chance when Purcell picked up the ball and breezed past 2 defenders before having a shot on goal. A third defender however managed to get back and took the pace off the shot with a block which trickled back to the goalkeeper.
The closest Harlow came to a goal was following a cross from Eadie, Simms getting up highest to head the ball goalwards but Mott in goal for Hornchurch made a good save to keep the scores level. One thing I did notice was that due to the running track, the ball would often end up going quite far away from the goal.
These stoppages seemed to take the pace out of the game. Hornchurch went closest to opening the scoring with a free kick from Purcell about 25 yards out but Freund in goal for Harlow got down well to save it.
On the terraces, there seemed to be quite a few Arsenal fans who were checking their clubs progress against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions league. They were however all keen followers of Hornchurch and giving some great vocal support to encourage the team. Harlow had also brought a good following and were also good voice.
Out of all the games I have been to so far, only Tooting & Mitcham (at Carshalton) had brought enough of an away support to create a good atmosphere. It’s great when you have both sets of fans cheering their respective teams on whilst giving a few jibes at the opposition.
Despite the vocal support, neither team could find a goal and the teams went in at half time goalless. I headed back to the club bar, mainly so I could thaw out after 45 minutes in the arctic temperatures. I got chatting to a few Hornchurch fans at the bar who told me the team don’t normally do well in midweek games. From the first half viewing, they definitely had the better chances but Harlow were well organised and difficult to break down.
I returned to the stand for the second half. The Harlow fans had switched sides in the next side to be in line with the goal they were attacking. This meant that at one end of the stand were Hornchurch fans and the other Harlow. I had ended up standing in the middle of the two fans, clearing sticking out as the neutral amongst the loyal fans in the cold!
Harlow started the second half brightly and both Read and Small went close with headers. It was all Harlow for the first 15-20 minutes, clearly the manager had said something right at half time as they looked like a different team. Despite their dominance, Harlow couldn’t find a goal and Hornchurch went close to taking the lead when the impressive Purcell cut inside on the right flank but his shot hit the side netting.
As the half wore on, it seemed that one goal would be enough to win the game. Both teams made substitutions to bring on fresh legs to find the elusive goal. Hornchurch had an electric board to display the numbers for the subs which the Harlow fans made fun of, although it seemed they were jealous as their team only had plastic numbers!
Hornchurch went close late on with Alex Bentley who found himself in the classic “Scholes territory” (edge of the area from a corner). The ball came out to him, he chested it and volleyed with his left foot but unfortunately for Hornchurch, it flew wide of the post.
Hornchurch ended the game on top but it finished goalless in the end, my first 0-0 on my travels. I couldn’t fault however the commitment of both sets of fans cheering their side on in the bitter cold. I had taken my pint out with me for the second half and it was seriously getting colder the longer I was outside. I headed out of the ground and back to get the district line home. An enjoyable evening watching two teams who will both be doing well in the league this season.
Result: AFC Hornchurch 0-0 Harlow Town
Match: Ryman League Division One North (Step 4 / 8th Tier)
Cost: Entrance £9, Programme £2.50, Stella (pint) £3.40, Chips £2
Novice rating: 6/10
AFC Hornchurch Q&A
Thank you to Club Secretary Peter Butcher for the answers.
How was the club founded?
In 1923 as Upminster Wanderers, possibly (although this is not confirmed) by a bunch of people who weren’t good enough to play for Upminster FC.
The club was reformed in 2005, what was the reason for this?
The then-owner’s unusual approach to financial matters.
After relegation last year, is this season’s expectation to bounce straight back to Ryman Premier?
What challenges do you face as a Non League club?
The same as most others – lack of finance, people preferring to watch TV, shortage of volunteer helpers (though we do better than many clubs and very much appreciate the helpers we have).
I am starting a journey to find out more about non-league football, why should more people watch non league football?
Cheap (by comparison) and cheerful!
What style of football do AFC Hornchurch like to play?
Depends on our mood. We can play some terrific stuff on the ground but there are days when we just lump it.
Are there any players that I should be looking out for when I visit?
George Purcell, 22 goals this season, and he doesn’t do tap-ins. Plenty of highlights on youtube; try his second goal (our third) against Wroxham last month.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
Hope we win but, being the superstitious type, I’ll predict a 1-1 draw.
Article and Images: Simon Cook (nonleaguenovice.wordpress.com)