My social media timelines are generally full of images of football grounds, but I’ve noticed one more than most this season. Aveley’s brand new Parkside ground has been a popular spot for Essex football aficionados and groundhoppers this season. I was equally as keen to see if for myself, and a post-Christmas Friday night fixture against table-toppers AFC Hornchurch was the perfect opportunity.
The club moved to their old ground of Mill Field in 1952. It’s where they got their nickname ‘The Millers’, and they called it home until the end of last season. Mill Field was sold, and an area of land, now known as Parkside was purchased from the local Council. The hard work of the club just off the A13 has paid off and the results are breathtaking. This is one ground where first timers don’t have to keep glancing at the sat nav anxiously to avoid missing the correct turning. The bright lights of the Aveley FC sign are visible from some distance away, a beacon for local Friday night football fans.
The ground can be reached by exiting the A13 for the A1306, turning right onto the B1335 and continuing onto the Aveley bypass. The 372 bus passes the ground and is the best bet for public transport. You can catch it from Elm Park Tube Station on the District line. Parkside has a large car park that even this particular evening’s record crowd couldn’t fill. My eye was instantly caught by the plush looking players entrance on arrival. It wouldn’t look out of place at a club in the upper echelons of the Football League. I walked past it, though, and headed for the turnstile.
Meet the Millers! Image from Louis Maughan
On entry I was immediately struck by the vibrant green pitch and the modern facilities. Parkside really does have it all. There is modern seating areas flanking both sides of the pitch and covered standing sections at each end. I let the grand surroundings sink in for a moment and headed for the tea bar. A cold evening called for some hot food and a cup of tea. The hatch on the side of the main building provided both with good choice and efficiency, allowing me plenty of time to get the low-down on the clubs from the ‘Parklife’ programme.
Aveley was founded in 1927 and played in local leagues prior to, and shortly after the Second World War. In 1949 the club was elected into the London League and achieved success in the 50s. They won promotion through the divisions into the Premier Division, which they won in 1955. Moves to the Delphian and Athenian Leagues followed until the club moved to the Isthmian League in 1973. The Millers moved around the Isthmian Divisions until they briefly relocated to the Southern League in 2004. They returned in 2006 and were promoted into the Isthmian Premier Division in 2009. The club had a fantastic debut season in the Premier Division, finished third and made the promotion play-offs. Unfortunately, they were defeated by the eventual play-off winners Boreham Wood. Aveley are now back in the Bostik North Division, but they’re hoping their plush new pad will help propel them back into the Premier Division.
The excellent Parklife provides a great insight into the club’s strong foundation and backing. I have to admit to having a preference for grass pitches, there’s something about the smell that adds to the experience for me. The advantages of new 3G pitches for many clubs, however, are undeniable. Aveley’s looks great, ensured the game could go ahead after weeks of unpredictable weather, and that both sides could play attractive football. Parkside also provides excellent community facilities. Local kids can play on the pitch, and the club can earn extra revenue. Suites and conference rooms for hire ensure that Parkside is a win-win for the club.
The programme mentions a desire for the club to schedule games on a Friday, to try and attract new fans. Followers of Football League clubs can come down, enjoy a game and return to their other love on a Saturday afternoon. It seems to be working. The Millers have the highest average attendance in the Division, and their average gate is up 224% on last season. A record crowd of 398 for this clash with the league leaders will only help push up the average. Fans took advantage of the facilities and were well spread around the ground. The Hornchurch faithful, adorned in red and white, occupied one of the covered ends while home support and neutral lovers of the game enjoyed the rest of the Parkside’s excellent vantage points.
Fans try not to freeze at Parkside- image from Louis Maughan
Aveley hovering dangerously above the relegation places prior to kick off, but started the game well. The Millers had only won one of their previous five games and tried to establish some dominance in midfield. Bradford started well for the home side and had a couple of attempts from outside the box. Teniola, who had recently returned to The Millers, also looked bright in attack. Hornchurch hadn’t won either of their last two games, despite still being top of the league, and they struggled to get going early on. Purcell and Roberts worked hard, but the visitors struggled to find any fluency in attack.
The first half was a fairly equal affair until just before the break when it saw its first bit of attacking quality. Matthias Fanimo, formerly of West Ham and ‘fastest footballer in the World’ fame got on the end of a long kick from Mott and drove a powerful finish into the bottom right hand corner. The visitors went into the break in the ascendency. They continued to take control of the game in the second half. Fanimo and Purcell began to have more and more influence on the game. Aveley continued to have plenty of the ball, but struggled to break down the well drilled Hornchurch defence.
Purcell headed against the bar and Madden was called into action, in the Aveley goal, on a number of occasions. Hornchurch made a few changes as they began to look like the dominant force in the game. Fairweather-Johnson finished the game off with just over five minutes left. He brought down a flick on, out-muscled the defender and finished well past Madden. The visitors took all three points, and overall they deserved the win. Aveley pushed them hard for much of the game but couldn’t match their attacking quality in the final third.
It was a great night for The Millers, despite the result as they achieved their record attendance at their new home. The welcoming and friendly club are clearly very ambitious and have a good plan on how to attract more supporters to their club. Parkside also provides the local community with an excellent, sustainable facility to make use of.
Aveley v AFC Hornchurch- image courtesy of Louis Maughan
For more excellent blogs from Louis, visit his own website here. Go on, you know you want to! All of the images are also from Louis.