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Saturday 6th September 2014 ko 15.00

Essex & Suffolk Border League Cup First Round


HATFIELD PEVEREL 2 (Muresan 66og Hale 90)

Att 84

Entry FREE

Programme NO

We got to Harwich early, around 11am, and normally you’d expect a port town to have little or nothing to do to pass the time away. But Harwich is no ordinary port town, and the Royal Oak is no ordinary football ground.

Harwich is one of the Haven ports, the 5 ports on the English east coast, Felixstowe, Harwich International, Ipswich, Harwich Navyard, and Mistley.

We spied a lighthouse, and in search of a view of the estuaries of the Stour, and Orwell rivers, paid £1 to climb it. The Harwich High Lighthouse was built as a pair with the Low Lighthouse beneath it in 1818, The idea was that the a ship’s navigator would aim the vessel until the two lights were exactly lined-up one above the other, and so would know when he could safely turn into the port. It worked perfectly until the tides shifted the sands and the houses became obsolete. Nowadays GPS does the job!

From there it was a short walk to the Redoubt Fort. This circular structure was built in 1808, to guard against Napoleonic invasion. Then the structure had a 360 degree view over the bay, and was further fortified over the course of the century. However by the turn of the century the fort’s use was over, and despite it briefly being brought back into use as a prison for military prisoners awaiting trial (their graffiti can still be seen) the fort was left to decay after the war. In 1969 volunteers restored it, and now the Harwich Redoubt Fort is the largest structure in the UK to be restored and run by volunteers. It is well worth a visit, and the second-hand bookstall is excellent.

From there we parked up outside the Royal Oak Ground. It is a quite magnificent, crumbling edifice, but some consideration needs to be considered as to why it’s like it is. From their formation in 1877 Harwich & Parkeston became of the country’s top amateur clubs, and played in the 1899 FA Amateur Cup final, losing 1-0 to Stockton, in Middlesbrough, the goal coming in the final minute.

Their trip to the final produced one little quirk of footballing history, as in the Quarter Final they were beaten by Royal Artillery Portsmouth. Harwich successfully claimed that their opponents were professionals, (rather harshly it seems) and so RA Portsmouth were ejected from the competition. The controversy caused RA to disband, and the majority of the fans went to Fratton to support the newly-formed Portsmouth FC, taking their chant, “The Town Hall Chimes with them.”

So next time you here the word, “Pompey” (from the French battleship “Pompee” assigned to guard Portsmouth during the Napoleonic War) or the Chimes, remember both terms originated from RA Portsmouth, and Harwich & Parkeston were responsible! Pompey certainly think so the Harwich chairman was invited to Portsmouth FC’s centenary dinner! Incidentally, United Services Portsmouth‘s HMS Temeraire ground is virtually on the site of where RA Portsmouth used to play.

The Shrimpers returned to the Amateur Cup final in 1953 this time at Wembley Stadium, losing 6-0 to combined Oxbridge University side Pegasus in front of 100,000 spectators.

The club progressed from the Eastern Counties League, through the Athenian League, and into the Isthmian League, the zenith coming in 1979 when they finished in 7th place in Division One, then just 2 promotions from the Football League. The next season they were relegated and they were relegated back to the Athenian League in 1983, their stay lasting one season as the Athenian was then wound-up.

From there the Shrimpers found a reasonably stable home back in the Eastern Counties League, but financial woes saw them resign in 2010 to take their reserves place in the Premier Division of the Essex & Suffolk Border League.

Last season they finished 3rd in the Premier Division, enough for a return to the Eastern Counties League (due to there being vacancies in that league) but the coffers were empty so the club reluctantly refused promotion. That caused an exodus of the players, and with only 8 players left during pre-season the club took another voluntary relegation, and now ply their trade in the Essex & Suffolk Border League Division One, 8 promotions from the Football League.

And as magnificent as the setting is, the club have massive problems here. Other than the ground being far too big for the club’s needs and finances, vandalism is a real problem. The bar has been repeatedly broken into, and in one of the more senseless acts I’ve heard of someone put blue dye into the line-marking machine and marched it around the ground and outside. The club do own the Royal Oak, and are looking to do a deal with the council who own the car park outside, to sell the combined site for housing and build a community stadium nearer to the estuary.

So if you love traditional football grounds, its well worth paying a visit sooner rather than later, but even with prior knowledge of the ground, Harwich & Parkeston still managed to surprise me.

I strolled round the pitch, taking it all in when the chairman laughed, “Please don’t take pictures of the long grass!” He enquired as to why I was there, and after a chat about the club and its problems he said,

“Enjoy your look around, and when you’ve finished, there’ll be a pint for you and your mate in the bar”

He was as good as his word too, and he found us a bag of old programmes which were invaluable in compiling this article and will find their way to Rob Hornby’s charity programme stall.

So on to the game with a bucketful of goodwill, and for the record how often to two teams initialed HPFC, other than these two get to play each other? The first half saw both teams create, Harwich mainly through overlapping right back Leroy Eade, but poor finishing maintained equality.

The second half produced more chances, Eade saw an effort tipped on to the crossbar but perhaps for a side that has seen more than its fair share of bad luck another slice was to see the cup holders lose their grip on the trophy.

A cross was slung into the box from the right, so Harwich centre-half Vlad Murasen slid in to intercept, but he mis-timed his impact with the ball, and could only watch horrified as the ball diverted past Sam Felgate stranded in the home goal. Harwich threw everyone forward as the clock ran down, and were caught by Lawrence Hale’s sucker punch at the death. That served only to confirm Peverel’s victory, but as we said our goodbyes, to this friendly, gallant club I came to a startling conclusion.

I’d walked into the Royal Oak Ground expecting a wonderful old-style ground, and I was far from let-down on that front, but I left with the people involved with Harwich & Parkeston having made a far bigger impression. That is how it should be, people play the game after all, not stadia. I wish the club all the best for the future.