In the 25 years I’ve supported Canvey Island there’s been numerous great matches and many special moments.
The club from the mid nineties through to the middle of the first decade of the millennium enjoyed a rollercoaster ride that saw them rise from the lower divisions of the Isthmian League to the Nationwide Conference (as it was called then).
I remember writing a piece for this website recalling Canvey’s great FA Cup runs between 2000 and 2002 in particular the thrilling 4-4 draw against Port Vale.
This time round I’ve picked a more recent match albeit nearly 12 years ago.
On 3rd May 2008, Canvey played Redbridge in the Isthmian North Play off final at Redbridge’s Oakside ground. This was a game that had everything. Controversy, twists and turns, a great atmosphere and one that Canvey fans still recall fondly.
Canvey at the end of the 2005/06 season had voluntarily resigned from the Conference after owner and manager Jeff King had decided to remove his financial backing of the club.
The club had dropped into the Isthmian League North and in their second year at that level, an excellent second half of the season saw them creep into the play offs in 5th place. A thrilling 3-2 semi final win at AFC Sudbury set up a final with Redbridge.
Redbridge were the favourites with Dean Holdsworth as manager and the likes of Tarkan Mustafa, Leon Antoine and Tony Tucker in their squad. The game was played in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000 with a large travelling support from Canvey.
Redbridge started the game well scoring early on. Canvey had chances to score, hitting the crossbar through former Redbridge player Ian Luck and coming close on numerous occasions but were indebted to former Southend goalkeeper Mel Capleton now in the twilight years of his career for some excellent saves.
One quite remarkable double save in the second half proved crucial for Canvey as a goal then would almost certainly have sealed the game for Redbridge.
With the game ticking over into the 80th minute and backed by a vociferous Yellow Army, Canvey found an equaliser through an unlikely source. Giant defender Colin Wall was not best known for his goal scoring prowess but joining an attack, he bravely challenged the keeper Tony Tucker at the far post to send a bullet header into the net.
Wall turned from hero to villain in a dramatic set of events moments later when he was sent off for flattening forward Leon Antoine just outside the penalty area.
Canvey held out for the remaining minutes and despite their man disadvantage were the better team in extra time but there was an inevitability that the game was going to penalties. A titanic struggle between the two sides finished 1-1 after extra time and a place in the Isthmian Premier would be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
The tension was immense and quite early on the pressure got to Redbridge’s Billy Holland who blazed his penalty over the crossbar.
To their credit, both sets of players showed great composure to take some excellent penalties and it came down to Canvey’s final penalty before sudden death with Nicky Rugg stepping up to take it and the score tied at 4-4. If he scores, Canvey are promoted.
There’s an expectancy in the air from the Canvey fans that turns into anguish as Tucker dives to push Rugg’s penalty away.
The distress almost immediately turns into jubilation as the referee points to the spot again and orders the penalty to be retaken. Tucker had encroached from the goal-line before the kick was taken.
A dramatic sequence of events fitting of any game higher up the pyramid. Surely Rugg wouldn’t miss this time and sure enough, he calmly stepped up to send the ball past the despairing dive of Tucker and spark jubilant scenes amongst Canvey players, management and fans.
Canvey fans invaded the pitch in celebration as Redbridge players sunk to their knees. It was a great game that nobody deserved to lose but in the end Canvey’s sheer fight and composure in the shoot-out got them through.
Two years after dropping out of the Conference, Canvey were working their way back up the leagues.