History


THURROCK HOCKEY CLUB HISTORY

– BY KEN HAYWARD

THE EARLY DAYS

Club-Members-Dressed-as-1907-Players-to-Celebrate-the-75th-AnniversaryThe history of Thurrock Hockey Club began on 19th October 1907 when the newly formed Stanford-le-Hope Club club played it’s first match at Stanford Recreation Ground against Westcliff, the result being a six goals to one victory for the visitors.

Two weeks later after Stanford had again lost 6-1, this time away to Bexley, the sports editor of the Grays & Tilbury Gazette wrote;
“Hockey is making vast strides amongst athletes throughout the kingdom, but Stanford is the only district within a good radius of Grays which can boast of a club, which is a pity, as there is plenty of room for a club in Grays and I should like to see one there.

This is a game greatly condemned as effeminate and weak by those who do not understand it but a good game of hockey requires as much stamina, pace and skill as a game of soccer and is much more free from roughness, although hard knocks often occur.”
On 30th November 1907 Stanford recorded their first victory, a 3-2 win against Shoeburyness Garrison and in the 1907/8 season played a total of twenty games for a seasons record of;

P 20 W7 L9 D4 Goals For 59 Against 88

OrsettLadies1926yMatches were played in all weathers and reports in the Gazette speak of torrential downpours, fog, thunderstorms and deep mud. The only match noted as being canceled was when Ilford failed to arrive due to the cancellation of the only suitable train. The fixtures available to the club were limited by the availability of suitable public transport which at that time was almost exclusively trains. Many journeys involved a change of trains and games played in Kent involved a ferry journey as well.

Few players names are recorded from this first season as press reports identify players by their positions but two which do emerge are H Dobree and C Dobree, presumably brothers, who appear to have been the inspiration behind the club.

In November 1909 the Gazette sports editor’s wish was granted and a Grays team played its first match against Leigh on Sea. This team, Grays & District, was the forerunner of the ladies section of the Thurrock club and later became Orsett. It is interesting to note that in December 1907 Stanford-le-Hope had played a fixture against a “Mr Silverwood’s XI” from Grays and it may well be that this gentleman was connected with the start of the Grays club.
The Gazette sports editor, never at a loss for words, wrote;

OrsettMen1926y“The first match of the newly formed Grays and District Hockey Club was played last Saturday on the Manor Field, Grays and resulted in a brilliant victory by the home team by eight goals to four. Although the visitors were not up to full strength they had an Essex County man playing. However throughout the game Grays had the advantage of the play. Special mention must be made of Loftus, for the home team, who scored five goals. The Grays club have many home fixtures, and Grays sporting public will do well to spend an hour or two on the Manor Field on these occasions.” (Loftus had previously played for Stanford).

Reports of ates played by both Stanford and Grays & District appear in the Gazette over the next few years and show that both clubs were playing regularly and fielding either men’s or mixed teams dependant on the nature of the opposition. Hockey had been made an Olympic sport in the 1908 games in London when England won the gold medal, and this no doubt increased interest in the sport and thence the number of players and fixtures available.

THE INTER WAR YEARS

In 1914 the First World War brought an end to organised sport and it was not until 1921 that hockey again started to be played in Thurrock. Stanford’s first match was in October against Westcliff, as had been their very first match. Grays & District joined with a club formed by a young man who was a Lay Reader at Orsett Church and a Miss Nancy Braam which played on a field near the Orsett Cock public house. The combined club was renamed Orsett and played it’s first match, a mixed fixture against Stanford, in November. Orsett won 2-0. One of the scorers was Miss Braam who was to be a stalwart of the club for very many years scoring hundreds of goals. In April 1922 the club fielded an Orsett Ladies team for the first time.

In October 1922 Orsett moved to a new ground at Mill House Field. The first match on this ground being the first time Orsett fielded a men’s XI. The club was to move again in the 1925/6 season to Orsett Recreation Ground where hockey continued to be played until 1998.

In the 1920s recreation grounds were managed by charitable trusts and clubs using them were required to mark out their own pitches and erect their own goals. Orsett paid a Mr. Willis £2 per year to mark out the pitches but this was soon increased to £3 and the erection and taking down of goals added to his duties. The annual subscription to the Orsett club was raised to 7/6 (37.5p) in 1926 a figure that remained unchanged until 1956.

An-Orsett-Ladies-Team-of-the-1950yWhen Thurrock Urban District council took over recreation grounds in 1938 they became responsible for marking out pitches but clubs still had to put up and take down goals.

During the 1920s Stanford fielded teams on Saturday, either men’s or mixed according to the opponents while Orsett fielded both men’s and ladies’ teams each week. An Orsett mixed team also played on Wednesday afternoons mostly against teams from London.

The First World War had taken it’s toll of hockey players as with other sportsmen and it is noticeable that many of Stanford’s matches were played between teams of less than eleven players. Players are frequently noted as playing for opponents in order to even up numbers, occasionally as low as eight per side. Orsett men had less difficulty fielding a full side but towards the end of the decade the need to travel further to obtain better fixtures was becoming a problem. The records of the Orsett Hockey Club’s Annual General Meetings from 1926 to the amalgamation with Stanford-le-Hope have fortunately survived and state that in 1928 quotations were obtained from a Mr. Underwood for the use of his fourteen seater bus. It is not clear whether this vehicle was used but in 1929 a journey to Witham proved so expensive that a competition, nature unstated, had to be held to help defray the cost. The prize in this competition was a pair of live chickens.

The early 1930s were a period of considerable success and expansion for Orsett, so much so that in 1934 the ladies section decided that they could not accept any more members. However towards the end of the decade the men’s section experienced a fall off in numbers and almost folded in 1936. Financially there were however problems. The club ended the 1930/31 season with a deficit of £1-12-5 (£1.62) which was owed to the secretary . It was decided to impose a levy on each player of 1/- (5p) per match but when this proved difficult to collect the club held the first of many Christmas raffles which solved the problem by raising £6-11-10 (£6.59).

Reports of matches in the Gazette are infrequent during this period. In fact Orsett had taken a decision, no reason given, at their 1929 Annual General Meeting to “curtail as much as possible the reports of the matches each week”. Stanford’s reports continued but in those days before leagues and sponsors they depended on individuals remembering to write them which made them far less regular than today.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND AFTERWARDS

At the outbreak of war in 1939 men’s hockey ceased to be played but the ladies section of Orsett continued throughout the war with a reduced fixture list. The number of games actually played was probably even less as during this period a government permit was needed to purchase hockey balls and leisure travel was positively discouraged.

Stanford-le-Hope-2nd-XI-1955yAfter the war Stanford began playing again in 1948 but Orsett men did not reform and the club became Orsett Ladies Hockey Club. Orsett Ladies continued to build on their pre-war successes and became one of the strongest ladies teams in the South East. Stanford also enjoyed a fair measure of success and in 1949 had enough players to start a second eleven. Neither club held any major celebration of their 50th anniversary, in 1957 and 1959 respectively and the 1950’s appears to have been a period of consolidation. It was however a period during which many of those who were to shape the men’s club’s future joined. Individuals such as Stan Dunning who’s name is perpetuated in the trophy awarded to the season’s highest scorer and Ted Saxton who played over five hundred games and is still associated with the club as a vice president.

The nineteen sixties however were to be a totally different decade and resulted in major long term changes for both clubs. In 1961 Stanford started a third eleven and began to use a pitch at King George V Playing Fields, Blackshots Lane, a venue that Orsett Ladies had used for pre season practice matches since 1959. The use of this ground continued, on pitches in the centre of the athletic stadium or outside it until 1994.

Orsett-Ladies-1962yAlso in 1961 the first club news sheet was produced by Ralph Sagrott and others. Ralph was Mr. Thurrock Hockey in the post war club until he left for greater things in the Eastern Counties and without his energy the club would not have become the force it did. This newssheet was the forerunner of the Thurrock Thunderer the first copy of which appeared in 1969 and which continued to be published several times a year until the 2003/2004 season. This publication which was eagerly awaited by members and received favourable reviews in the national hockey press is being revived in 2007.

In 1965 the decision was taken to change the club’s name to Thurrock in order to be more associated with the wider area and this change took place in the 1966/67 season.

In 1966 the club undertook it’s first “overseas” tour, to Jersey, arranged jointly with Orsett ladies which was the first time the two clubs had cooperated in this way. Further visits to Jersey took place in 1973 and 1976.

Stanford-le-Hope-1st-XI-1957yNineteen sixty seven was the year of Stanford le Hope’s Diamond Jubilee and was to prove a momentous year for the club. Early in the year the first “Club Day”, masterminded by Ralph, was held. This consisted of a tournament between teams made up of members of the club and the format proved so popular that it has been repeated almost every season since. This tournament featured the unfurling of the first club flag which was designed and made by Elaine Rowlett, a member of Orsett Ladies and the wife of the men’s first team goalkeeper. This flag is still used on Club Days and taken to tournaments by the club. Later in the year a match was held against an Essex Eleven when the club performed very creditably the result being a 1-1 draw. This was followed by a dinner and dance in the evening.

Nineteen sixty seven was also the year that Stanford le Hope and Orsett Ladies combined to become Thurrock. Both clubs wished to take advantage of the expansion opportunities for hockey within Thurrock which were limited as long as the two clubs remained separate. The ladies were finding it difficult to attract members and both clubs wished to be seen as representing the whole of the district of Thurrock. Orsett Ladies brought with them a dowry of £2-1-9 and some lengths of material to make tunics. The new club took the money but the ladies kept the material.

The club’s men’s 1st XI was enjoying a very successful period about this time and as a result were being invited to participate in tournaments as far away as Westmorland. The club was also playing all year, summer hockey having started with a small number of matches in 1963.

Prior to the amalgamation the social activities of the two clubs appears to have been limited. Stanford ran an annual dinner dance but the only reference in the Orsett minutes to social activities is to Christmas Raffles run jointly with Orsett Cricket Club. This changed quickly and by 1969 the fixture card was listing a Social Chairman as a member of the club committee. Social activities, which also raised considerable amounts of money, contributed greatly to the clubs well being allowing , for example, young players subscriptions to be set at a low level thus enabling the club to adopt a progressive youth policy.

As the sixties came to an end the Thurrock Club was running 4 men’s and 2 ladies teams and had successfully consolidated the amalgamation of the two founding clubs.

CONTINUED EXPANSION

The 1970’s started with another proposal for amalgamation, this one with the men’s club at Thames Board Mills. This was not proceeded with but Thurrock continued to expand. A men’s colts team was started in 1972 and a ladies in 1975. Indoor hockey began in 1973. League hockey was beginning to become established and Thurrock Men’s 1st XI joined in 1974.

Thurrock's-First-Club-Day-February-1967yIn 1975 the decision was taken to change the colour of the club shirts from the black with gold facings, worn by Stanford-le Hope since the clubs foundation, to yellow shirts with black facings. Orsett Ladies had played in royal blue and white prior to 1967.
One of the clubs long term objectives had been to have a club house to entertain visiting teams. Since 1963 the RAFA club in Grays had been used but this was only available for two hours each Saturday evening. From 1974 onwards a proposal was developed, jointly with Orsett Cricket Club, to turn the tea-room at Orsett into a clubhouse. This involved much hard work by members especially those on the Social Committee who organised a succession of fund raising events and on 19th December 1980 the Orsett & Thurrock Pavilion Club opened it’s doors. The official opening was performed by the Mayor of Thurrock on 9th May 1981.

Nineteen eighty two was the 75th anniversary of the men’s section and the 60th anniversary of the ladies and both events were celebrated by matches against county elevens. Essex paid the club the complement of sending strong sides for both matches and defeated the clubs elevens in both games. The celebrations also included a dinner dance and a match between a team dressed in the style of 1907 and a club eleven.

Also in 1982/83 season the men’s colts team won the Essex Championships for the second time the club having previously won in 1981.

Thurrock was one of the first clubs in Essex to introduce mini hockey. This activity, started in 1985,began on the grass at Orsett on Sunday mornings and often resulted in very muddy children but nevertheless proved extremely popular with both children and parents. At that time there were no proper coaches and the activity relied on the enthusiasm of club members notably Ken Sullivan and Glenda Stephens.

Occasional tournaments were held by other clubs in Essex and Thurrock entered U9, U11 and U14 teams. The club ran it’s first tournament in 1988 although the lack of entries from other clubs meant that the teams were from local schools. Subsequent tournaments did however establish Thurrock as one of the leading mini hockey clubs and were well supported by other clubs. Mini hockey did not fully develop on a county wide basis until the mid 90’s but regularcompetitions are now held for age groups from U9 to U14 for both boys and girls.

On several occasions Thurrock teams have gone on to represent Essex at Eastern Counties level. Thurrock has remained in the forefront of junior hockey in Essex and the Eastern Counties and is now running not just mini hockey teams but also both boys and girls academy sides.

In December 1985 the club expanded into a new sport, running, when they organised a 10 kilometre run, based on the Orsett Club House, in aid of the Neurosurgical Unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital. This proved to be very popular with runners from a wide area and grew to attract as many as to three hundred runners, some serious, some not so serious. Over the next ten years over £25,000 was raised for Great Ormond Street as well as smaller amounts for Orsett Hospital and charities supported by individual runners.

Unfortunately the Club was forced to discontinue this activity in 1997 although a similar event was held by a local secondary school for a time.

THE 1990’S A DIFFICULT DECADE

By the end of the 1980’s Thurrock had seven men’s and four ladies Saturday teams, men’s and ladies indoor teams, mini teams, men’s and ladies colts teams, Sunday teams and summer teams.

Changes were occurring however that would have a profound effect on the club in the next decade. The first, not directly connected with hockey was the opening in 1990 of the Lakeside shopping centre with it’s large availability of weekend jobs which proved irresistible for many younger players thus resulting in reduced player availability.

Ladies-1st-XI-2006--2007yWithin the hockey world the increasing participation in leagues brought with it the requirement to have access to astroturf pitches at all but the lowest levels. By the begriming of the 1990s many of the Thurrock teams had joined leagues and all were league members by 1998. As there were no such facilities within Thurrock the club had to make use of pitches further afield and at times that were not those at which hockey had traditionally been played. In 1991 therefore the club left it’s men’s section’s original home at Stanford le Hope to play at Waterside Farm, Canvey Island. Usage of the pitch at King George V Playing Fields, Blackshots Lane was also reduced and ceased entirely in 1994. Finally in 1998 all matches were transferred to astroturf and hockey ceased to be played at Orsett Recreation Ground after seventy three years.

Home matches were now being played 16 miles away from the club’s base and in the morning. The pitch at Gloucester Park, Basildon was also used, again in the morning. These changes resulted in a significant fall in membership and by 1997 the number of Saturday teams had fallen to two men’s and three ladies. This reduced number of teams together with the early starts and the need to play outside the borough also had a very detrimental effect on the clubhouse at Orsett. Few visiting teams came back after matches and usage by members was much reduced. Many away matches were also being played in the morning or in late afternoon and it was no longer a place where one could meet members of other teams. This meant that the club was unable to meet it’s financial obligations and at the end of the 1997/98 season was forced to withdraw from it’s agreement with the Orsett Cricket Club and leave the Orsett club house thus leaving it without a base.

RECOVERY

Mens-1st-XI-2006--2007yThe club had not been idle during this decline and had realised that if hockey was to flourish in Thurrock improved facilities had to be provided within the borough. As early as 1987 a plan had been produced to provide four pitches at Orsett using land purchased by the club along with local council land that was already used for recreational purposes. Initially these proposals were for grass pitches but were subsequently modified to include an astroturf pitch. Thurrock Council’s initial reaction was very favourable but before the scheme could get underway a developer proposed the construction of a huge sports complex at the Blackshots Lane site and the club’s proposals were put on hold. In 1993 Palmer’s College decided to consider building an astroturf pitch and the club expressed an interest in using this facility. Following the collapse of the Blackshots Lane scheme the club devoted all it’s energies to supporting Palmer’s with applications to funding bodies. Finally in 2003 after several applications had been refused the centre was able to secure lottery funding and construction was completed in August. Although the Palmer’s development did not include a Club House the college made some portable classrooms available for serving teas and it is the clubs long term plan to provide a bar and Club House at this location.

Having the use of this pitch has enabled the club to begin to rebuild providing as it does an accessible facility for training and a home pitch clearly identified with the club. New players are being attracted, the men’s section is now running four Saturday teams and the ladies three and the evening training sessions are attracting an increased number of mini hockey players.
The Club’s future now looks brighter than it has for some time and it can look forward to it’s second century with confidence.

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