It was the final Tuesday before Christmas. While many were out doing some last minute shopping Aaron, Rob and I were trying to find something else to do with our rare day off together. Personally, I would have been happy spending another day at the Manchester Christmas Markets, making the most of being served food by our European cousins before the EU referendum. I decided against this though because they had sold out of the most continental of dishes the previous day; no way was I going to be disappointed by a lack of Lancashire Hotpot again. Away from the festivities there were a couple of local football matches on but the general consensus was that we were in the mood to tick off a new ground. Nobody will ever know why but Aaron basically said that if I found a match I wanted to go to he would head there. This process of organisation tends to result in something absolutely ridiculous and stupid occurring.
Usually when Aaron says he’ll drive to a match he gives me a 50 mile limit or something as he knows how carried away I can get. This time however it soon became clear that there were no boundaries. He had a brand new car and was obviously feeling just as spontaneous as me, if not more so. An extensive and varied list was quickly compiled and teams as far north as Linlithgow Rose in Scotland and as far south as Weymouth were accepted.
The evening before, we still couldn’t decide where we were heading so opted to just meet up in the morning and see where the day would take us. In the end it took us 214 miles south to Redbridge. How did we come to decide? It was simple really, we just drove southwards for a bit. I was in charge of the music, so decided to play topical tunes such The Magical Mystery Tour and the theme tune to Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere.
It was when we reached Sandbach services we thought it would be wise to finally decide on a destination. We picked matches out of a Burger King bag until we were left with the winner. It must be mentioned that the weather was awful so we weren’t even sure if the match would be on when we got down there. As it was, 19 of the 21 matches that were in the hat were postponed so it was nothing short of a miracle that we ended up at one of the two survivors.
Other than an awful lot of ran in the Coventry area – so much so that we couldn’t see out of the front window – the journey was quite relaxing. Even the M25 behaved itself. It was behaving itself more than me anyway as I went off on a typical northern style rant when I saw that the M25 is named an ‘Orbital Route’ instead of a ‘Ring Road’. Who do these southerners think they are with their posh names for things? They’ll be shoving the words International and Parkway on to the end of all of their train stations next.
It was only when we left the motorway and saw a double decker red bus sitting at the traffic lights did it set in that we had driven over 200 miles down to London for an eighth division football match that none of us had the slightest bit of interest in. It was an adventure and that’s all we cared about, really.
Redbridge is a district of Ilford found in the North East of Greater London. For me, as a complete outsider, I find this part of the country incredibly hard to get my head around when it comes to football. Obviously there’s Football League side Dagenham & Redbridge who I had visited a few years ago, but then there’s also Redbridge FC and Barkingside FC along with a few others.
Redbridge FC’s roots lie in the car industry which has a long association with this corner of London and Essex. The football club was previously known as Ford United FC which dated back from a 1958 merger between Ford Sports FC and Briggs Sports FC, both of which were founded in 1934. They moved to their current home, the Oakside Stadium in 2001. In doing so, they took control of the ground from previous owners Barkingside FC who continued to be tenants until they moved to Ilford FC in 2014. In short, Redbridge play in Barkingside, while Barkingside play up the road at Ilford’s ground. If you’ve fallen asleep by now, I don’t blame you.
So apart from having a bit of an odd football history, what else did the area have to offer? Well, it’s the birthplace of Keith Flint the lead singer of The Prodigy while Kele Okereke from Bloc Party went to school in Barkingside. The latter I was majorly impressed with as I had recently purchased one of their albums from PoundLand in York (times are hard) and had been playing it on repeat for a number of days.
You know us by now, we managed to get down to Redbridge without using a GPS. We are part of the young generation who refuse to use technology where it isn’t needed. Plus, I like getting us lost. All was fairly normal for the whole drive down but we got lost at the final hurdle when we could actually see the ground, eventually ending up nearly knocking over a host of commuters in the car park at Barkingside tube station.
A few minutes later we finally managed to find the entrance to the ground and got out to stretch our legs. Players were arriving at the same time, showing just how early we had managed to reach our destination. Through the turnstile we went and straight into the clubhouse which stands straight in front of you up a slight step. Inside it was set out like a classroom, with tables and chairs all lined up to the right of the bar. It seemed a bit odd as not one person spoke; everybody sat there reading newspapers or typing away on laptops. I think I’m just a bit too used to the clubhouses of the NWCFL where people speak to anybody they can set eyes upon.
This was a rearranged fixture against Brightlingsea Regent due to their participation in the FA Cup. It meant they had to travel across from near Colchester on this freezing cold, wet Tuesday night. Not many came along to cheer on their side in the shadows of Barkingside tube station which backs on to the main stand. Coming into the match, Redbridge sat one point above the relegation zone while Brightlingsea were faring better in 14th place.
Not that I plan on ticking many grounds off in this division, it was nice to watch my first match in the Isthmian League Division One North. I had heard of a number of the clubs in the league, including Redbridge thanks to their FA Cup exploits a few seasons ago. In 2011, they reached the First Round of the cup where they beat Oxford City 2-1 in a replay. This set up a Second Round tie at League Two leaders Crawley Town who subsequently won 5-0 in front of an attendance of nearly 2,500.
Prior to that, back in 2007 Redbridge had been managed by current self-appointed Bolton Wanderers chief executive Dean Holdsworth. During his time at Oakside he secured a third placed finish and managed to take Redbridge into the play-off final where they lost on penalties to Canvey Island. He lasted just over a year before he took up the vacant manager’s position at Newport County who were at the time pushing to get into the Football League.
As kick off approached the three of us made our way around to the other side of the ground which consisted of a long sheltered area. It almost looked like it was hiding in front of a large mound of earth which rose above it. Behind the near goal was an open terrace which had a curious appearance, with the majority of it looking to be railed off from public access. In truth, the ground needed an awful lot of work doing to it but what it lacked in aesthetics it certainly made up for in character and ramshackled charm.
The game started fairly evenly with both sides pressing forward. The first few chances fell to the visitors with the first coming from Phil Kelly who did well to create a shooting opportunity. Jake Turner then saw his shot comfortably held as Regent looked for the first goal.
Brightlingsea took the lead on 18 minutes when a pass to Jake Clowsley allowed him to run down the line before cutting back and delivering a quality ball into the area. Phil Kelly headed the ball back across the face of goal into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
Redbridge went extremely close to an equaliser when they were gifted possession just seconds after seeing their attack break down. With men already committed forward, the forward collected the ball and lobbed his shot over the goalkeeper, only for it to rebound back off the post.
The score remained 1-0 as the half time whistle went. We had nearly finished our lap of the ground and decided to grab some food from Jeanette’s Kitchen, which is next to the players tunnel. Jeanette looked more like a James as I was served by a ginger bloke. He didn’t seem to have any food that was familiar to me, a mere peasant from up north. In short, there were no pies. I felt it was only right to go with the locals and treat myself to some chips and curry sauce… although I failed to see what all the fuss was about.
You know the old saying, it’s grim down south. Rain continued to pour down as the teams emerged for the second half. It won my award for wettest game of the season, quite ironic when I spend my time in between Manchester and York – a city that flooded just four days after this match. Fortunately, in York my bottom floor bedroom survived by a couple of streets, although we were getting primed to dash up there to move my belongings in case the River Foss breached the back garden wall.
The ball was now beginning to hold up in standing water and the covered area that we were sheltering under was beginning to leak around us. Redbridge started the half well and pressed for an equaliser, Ollie Bowles tipped a shot marginally over the crossbar after just a couple of minutes to keep Brightlingsea in front.
Despite the home side enjoying a bright start, Regent doubled their advantage on 62 minutes. Jake Clowsley beat two defenders before it seemed the defender had thwarted his run. Great tenacity from the winger saw him win the ball back and fire a shot under the advancing keeper who partially blocked it before Terry Rymer ran in to finish.
As Jimmy Hill – who died two days before this match – would have said, “If Redbridge are going to win this match, they’re going to have to score a goal.” but they nearly found themselves further behind moments later when Phil Kelly rounded the goalkeeper and saw his effort from a tight angle cleared off the line.
Just as the match was simmering out, Regent rounded off a decent performance on 88 minutes by scoring a third. Jake Turner won a header which found Terry Rymer, he hit a first time shot which skidded off the surface from 25 yards to beat the keeper finding the far corner.
Possibly the most shocking revelation of the whole entire day came when we were about to leave the ground. Rob hadn’t said much all evening but when he did it was a bombshell. He revealed that he had never been to London in his life. I felt sorry for him as his first experiences of seeing tube trains and double decker red buses were on a cold, wet night in Barkingside. For most people, these joys usually coincide with a tourist visit to Buckingham Palace before then going on to have a selfie in front of Big Ben… not for Rob though, he’s far too much of a hipster for any of that rubbish.
We got back home at around 01:00 in the morning, which was quite a good time in reality. There have been many occasions I have wandered down the road to watch Atherton Collieries at home on a Saturday afternoon and I haven’t returned until around 04:00 in the morning for one reason or another, so this seemed like a nice early night.
In the end, we decided that we had enjoyed our totally unplanned and ill-researched trip down to Redbridge. The term groundhop roulette was coined and the same process will definitely be repeated at some stage in the upcoming season. Where will we end up? Absolutely nobody knows.
As for Redbridge, they ended the season being relegated alongside their neighbours and former owners of their ground Barkingside.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 214 miles
- ADMISSION: £6
- PROGRAMME PRICE: Free as it was out of date due to the original match being postponed