Previous readers may have noticed that I have a certain fondness for the A13, and the many non-league football clubs that it leads me to. I’ve spent so much time in the Borough of Thurrock this year that I’m expecting the local authority to send me a council tax bill. Tilbury, or the Dockers as they are known, are the latest hosts of my one man tour of the Thames Gateway. They were also hosting my old friends, and soon to become ‘team i’ve seen most this season’, Haringey Borough.
Tell people you’re going to Tilbury and an eyebrow tends to raise. Even the Bostik website fan season preview says, ‘Don’t believe all you have heard about Tilbury’. I have to confess to not knowing a great deal about the town, famous for its docks. A quick scout around my usual array of groundhopping blogs tells me that there is also a historic ferry connection with Gravesend and a 16th century fort. The fort references continue as the ‘bury’ part of the name comes from the Saxon burgh which means fortified place - thank you, Internet! It’s apt, however, as the town’s football club has shown itself to be very resilient over the years.
The Dockers may not have experienced the same dramatic highs and lows that some of their neighbours have, but they’ve achieved a modest consistency and often revelled in their role as underdogs. Recent research has found the club to date back as far as 1889. By the 1920s they were pushing to become a senior club. An invite to the Essex Senior Cup saw them become the first junior club to knock out a senior rival as they defeated the much-vaunted Walthamstow Avenue. As a result they gained senior status, but couldn’t find a league to accept them until the Kent League finally caved in and said yes.
The town’s ferry crossing was thriving, but the club began to struggle to fulfil fixture commitments across the river in the expanding league. The London League accepted their application second time around. The club performed well until war broke out and their pitch at Orient Field was commandeered by the army to be used as a site for anti-aircraft guns to protect the docks. The ground was owned by a Director of Leyton Orient, and as peace returned Tilbury were told they could only continue to play there if they became the O’s feeder club. The Dockers refused, and ploughed their own furrow at neighbouring Chadfields, previously a dog racing venue.
The 1970s is considered the club’s golden era. They joined the Isthmian League, won the first of two League Cups and in 1977 finished in their highest ever league position of fifth. The club have been stable Isthmian members since apart from one season in the Southern League that led to relegation into the Essex Senior League in 2005. The Dockers recovered and won promotion straight back, this time into to Isthmian North Division. Tilbury have remained there ever since, and recorded their second League Cup triumph in 2009. They defeated several Premier Division sides en route to the final where they beat Harrow Borough 2-0.
My visit to Chadfields once again sees the club seemingly unfazed by adversity. The ground is an impressive arena enclosed in concrete, much like a fortress, with seating areas on either side- one perched above the dressing rooms and one within goading distance of the dugouts.
Patient yet vocal fans have seen the club lose its management team and key player this season. Chadfields wasn’t much of a fortress in a tough Autumn that saw the side leak too many goals. Former Orient, Colchester and Brentford player Joe Keith took over the reins, fresh from a role assisting Danny Heale at league rivals Canvey Island.
Things started well for Keith with four wins, two draws and just two defeats in November and December. Things got tougher again in January, however, as they lost six times in a busy eight game month. The Dockers recorded a couple of wins in February, but the second on the 17th against Soham Town was their last to date. The club have enough of a cushion to ensure they remain in the North Division for another year, but they suffered another blow in March as top scorer Adam Vyse left for Bowers & Pitsea. It seemed like in inopportune time to welcome Haringey who were third in the table and unbeaten since a 2-1 defeat to run-away league leaders AFC Hornchurch on 10 February.
Dusk settles over Tilbury Docks
A 33 point gap between the sides in the standings wasn’t evident in the early exchanges as Tilbury started the game on the front foot. They used the wet conditions to their advantage, pressured the visitors and looked to capitalise on any errors. James and Anderson up front for the Dockers looked dangerous, but the home side were unable to test Pajetet in the Haringey goal. The few chances they did create were comfortably held by the impressive keeper.
Haringey, who play their home games on 3G, began to adjust to the slippery conditions and get on the front foot. A speculative effort from McKenzie clipped the bar, but like their hosts they struggled to calve out too many clear chances. Asamoah, capped four times by Ghana, looked dangerous out wide but lacked some support.
The visitors made a change at half time and Anthony McDonald entered the fray. They immediately began to look more dangerous and created a few goalmouth scrambles, but the Dockers were able to survive. Tilbury began to look threatening on the break particularly through Little on the right hand side. The chances they did create, however, continued to be thwarted by Pajetet. Haringey eventually broke the deadlock. A shot on goal was skilfully turned in by Asamoah - think Zola against Norwich, but on the floor rather than in mid-air.
The visitors hung on for the win in what was a tight and occasionally tetchy contest. Tilbury used the conditions to their advantage and were, as usual, cheered on by their vocal crowd. The Dockers have shown what they can do in patches this season, and will be hopeful they can build over the summer and push up the league next season. Their unique fortress style ground may feel intimidating for opposing players, but it’s a great venue for visiting fans. Their progress is well worth keeping an eye on.
See more from Louis at his own website, here.