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Barking Football Club

         Can they rise again?

Ron Price


    In 2013 Barking FC completed their seventh season in the Essex Senior League, one of 14 Step 5 leagues within the National League System (NLS). In six of these they have finished  in the top half of the table without challenging for promotion. Yet, ambition to restore past glory remains; as noted by an annual application for promotion. They have played at a purpose built stadium in Mayesbrook Park since 1973.

    Barking had merged with East Ham United in 2001, having returned, as champions, to the First Division of the Isthmian League. The other Hammers, as they were widely identified, had begun a ground share, two years previously. Between 1988 and 1991 the  reformed Ilford FC had shared the ground.

   This East Ham United derived from Storey Athletic in 1955, a title adopted two decades earlier to recognise their origin from former pupils of Storey Street School in North Woolwich. They won senior leagues in 1970 and 1973 and were quarter finalist in  the national FA Vase in 1977, when they also won the first-ever Essex Senior Trophy competition. Hope of using the Terence Macmillan Stadium, built on the Beckton Power Station site in 1967, was frustrated and the club continued at their nearby Ferndale  Sports Ground. In 1999 it was acquired by the Docklands Development Corporation for housing.

    After more than fifty seasons in the Isthmian League, 2004, changes to the NLS placed Barking (& East Ham United) in the  division for eastern England, Middlesex and the Thames Valley. They qualified for the four-club promotion play-off losing on penalties to Maldon Town in the semi-final. The following season they lost at the same stage to Stamford (Lincolnshire). During  the close season, the club were reallocated to the division for south east England and Greater London but following the sad loss of their benefactor the club restructured as Barking, accepting a demotion to the Essex Senior League.

    Can Barking revisit their former glories?  The sad answer is probably no!

1895/96 and All That

    By 1891 the population of Barking was almost 21,000. Once reliant on fishing and farming; incomers were attracted by industry setting up along the bank of the River Thames.  Some of these firms had been forced out of the metropolitan area by ‘clean air’ statute.

    1895 is pivotal in the story with the arrival in the borough of Woodville (Upton). They had won the Essex Senior Cup in 1893/94. Formed in 1882 they took their name from the quality housing being built on the southern edge of Epping Forest. It had at  least football and tennis sections; the latter competed in its county cup. The footballers joined the Essex FA in 1886 using a ground on the Romford Road near it junction with Green Street. In 1892 they attended the meeting that attempted to establish  a Southern League. Like many multi-sports clubs other grounds were also used including one in Barking, not at Vicarage Field, for at least their 1895/96 FA Amateur Cup games. The church was unwilling to allow its use by non-residents. It had also considered  laying athletic and cycling tracks.

    Woodville probably used Holland’s Field, which became the Recreation Ground, opened in April 1898; one of the first leisure initiatives of the new urban district council (UDC). By 1910 the development of Barking Park incorporated the Recreation  Ground. Examining a contemporary map suggests it was the area on which the rugby club played from the 1960s until their move to Goresbrook; or alternatively the site of the grammar school (now Barking Abbey).

    Woodville’s good run in the FA Amateur Cup was topped by again securing the Essex Senior Cup. In the previous season they had been disqualified at the semi-final stage for fielding an ineligible player. Meetings to form the London League had agreed  professionals and amateurs could play together; as a consequence, they with several amateur clubs discussed a separate league. The idea floundered, and Woodville accepted their allocated place in the London League.  Their ‘A’ team lifted  the Essex Junior Cup.

    In August 1896, at a meeting at the Town Hall a consortium of three businessmen, who had acquired (1) the Vicarage Field, confirmed the formation  of an Athletic Association. The cricket club was also to be restarted; who continued to use Vicarage Field to the outbreak of the Great War. Major Glenny, who had built the commuter cottages adjacent to the new station on the St Pancras to Tilbury line,  was also in attendance.

    Woodville agreed to prefix the town to their name. The meeting also heard negotiations for the use of the ground, with the team of the local brass band; Excelsior had broken down. Several speakers were critical of the consortium’s motives and intent.  The gate would be allocated one-third to the club and two-thirds to the Association, Loan interest was payable to the consortium members with the Association providing shirts and paying the rail fares for out matches.

    Excelsior previously used Holland’s Field, but was now at Eastbury Field, presumably within the 65 acres of the Manor’s land around the junction of Ripple Road and Upney Lane. Excelsior had won the Essex Junior Cup in 1894/95 and then held  meetings to integrate with the Working Men’s Institute as Barking Town, also rejecting professionalism. As far as is known this Town did not play a fixture, as its better players opted to join the Association and be selected for a team built on  Woodville. Both clubs had been founder members of the South Essex League in 1892 but it failed to complete its first season. It restarted in 1895 to provide senior amateur football in suburban Essex to 1921.

    After two moderate seasons in the London League, Woodville resigned to join the South Essex League. They were champions in 1898/99 dropping only one point in their 14 league games. In 1900 the South Essex League had a brief dalliance with professionalism  leading to Woodville not taking part. Whether there is a connection to a club of the same name traced in the Manor Park & District League in 1910 is not proven, as is a mention in a Grays newspaper that the club became part of the new West Ham United  formed out of Thames Ironworks. The Association then agreed terms with London Caledonians to relocate from Tufnell Park. Formed in 1886 they had brought together the best London-based Scots players. Their matches were boycotted by local supporters.

   Meanwhile the Institute built a juvenile (2) team from elementary schoolboys’ teams. They won the London Minor Medals in 1897/98 adding the London Federation of Boys Cup the following season. In 1899/1900 they won the Leyton & District League and just failed to secure a third local  success in the Essex Junior Cup. They won the Second Division of the South Essex League in 1900/01. The following season, having agreed a lease with the Association for Vicarage Field, they shared the title after a drawn play-off also winning the London  Junior Cup. Another junior club Ivydale were formed in 1898, at the Recreation Ground, after a season in the Romford & District League they had finished 4th in the Leyton & District  League in 1901/2. The appointment of Mr Cottis as the Institute’s secretary provided the platform and the finance to reform a town club leasing the Vicarage Field direct from the church.

    Victoria returned the Essex Junior Cup to the borough in 1905/6. They were former pupils of the Abbey Victoria National School, who, a decade earlier, with Cottis playing, were a successful schoolboy team. In 1908 they were one of the many junior clubs  in the suburban area to join the Essex Amateur Football Association, a dispute that continued to the outbreak of the Great War. Since, the Junior Cup has been won by CLESCO in 1929/30, the team of the pre-nationalised Power Station and by Barking Borough  in 1973/74 who today play in the Romford & District League. They were formed by those unhappy with the town club’s move to Mayesbrook Park.

    At its 1908 AGM, the town club’s membership was opened to those living in East Ham and Ilford. Ferndale, a branch of a national industrial society, members of the Ilford & District League, became its reserve team. The strengthened first team made  an impact. They lost 1-6 to Atherstone Town in the Fourth Round (last eight) of the national FA Amateur Cup but were bested by Colchester-based 4th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles in the South Essex League and Essex Senior Cup. In 1909 Barking were elected  to the London League winning Division 1a, dropping just one point in a 12-games’ programme. They were promoted to the Premier Division facing reserve teams of Football League and Southern League clubs.

    In 1911/12, as the London League again faced amateur and professional problems, the club made their fourth successive appearance in the quarter finals of the FA Amateur Cup also winning the South Essex League and the London Senior Cup defeating London  Caledonians.

    In 1905 the Scots had been a founder member of the Isthmian League. It had regularly discussed expansion but in 1912 ten frustrated clubs, including Barking, formed the Athenian League. They lost their opening two fixtures as financial difficulties saw  expense payments cease. Unable to guarantee to field its first team in the league, they resigned in late October, which the League finally accepted three weeks later. Barking continued in the South Essex and London Leagues being runner-up in the former  in 1913 and 1914, when they lost the play-off for the title. The reserve team were the first winners of the London Intermediate Cup in 1914/15.

Vicarage Field

Vicarage Fields in the 1950s

    In 1970, the club were informed the plan for the town centre Relief Road would mean .they were to lose Vicarage Field.  Subsequent events show the club's heart and soul went with it. The Field had   existed since 1794 when the parish vicarage was built adjacent to the Ripple Road. Subsequently surrounded by houses and shops, with poor access and insufficient on  ground parking; it unlikely it would  have met the requirements of 21st century grading; yet, like many grounds developed between the wars it had character. To peer through the fence  on the Ripple Road after the club’s departure filled one with sadness. That the Relief Road was delayed  is an irony, as the compact William Warne Sports Ground, off the A13, became available in 1976. Vicarage Field became derelict, was briefly  tidied for youth teams; and is now under the site of a shopping complex, which bears its adulterated name.

    Mayesbrook Park was the logical choice as its replacement, also providing a superior on ground social facility. It was fully exploited as the Cockatoo Disco. The club’s finances suffered significantly when a fire severely damaged the internal fixtures   and fittings. With commercial ventures in Romford town centre also responding to the demand, the income, which funded their most successful era, dried up.

    The other reasons for their decline are not specific to the club but to changes in sport and community. These can be briefly summarised:

  • From its beginning in the 1902 attempts for a coherent structure for London senior amateur football  failed, giving tacit approval to illegal payments and player recruitment by providing employment. The semi-professional game took a first step to an NLS in 1958; the amateur game in 1959; before in 1974 amateur status was discontinued after an eight-year  transition. The previous season the Isthmian League had added a Second Division; which by 1984 had  four divisions by completing its takeover of the Athenian League. The NLS adopted its present structure in 2006.

  • Football pitch provision in suburban Essex lagged behind the population growth from the between-the-wars housing development in Becontree and Rush Green. It was mitigated by companies providing sports grounds for their employees. The London County Council  released land in the 1930s primarily for Parsloes and Mayesbrook Parks. Before 1914, the playing fields in Barking were adjacent to the Abbey, in its Park, and at Movers Lane (later Greatfields Park).
  • After the Second World War the senior amateur clubs became more pro-active in identifying young players with potential. For those whose idea of recreation was for fun playing with those with fringe experience of the senior amateur game became anything  but. In 1949 the Essex FA introduced an Intermediate Cup for reserve sides of senior amateur clubs who hitherto played in the Junior Cup. In suburban Essex a senior amateur third-team league began in the 1954.
  • Since 1959 central government has controlled revenue spending by local authorities. Loan sanction for capital projects, ‘rate-capping’ and central pooling of business rates are also elements that affect community, as do the enlarged London  Borough councils of 1965 compared to their underlying smaller borough councils.

  • The multi-channel television age with several niches including sport has reshaped the leisure market.

    Continuing demand for housing has made inroads into open space. The losses were to be offset by  floodlighted facilities with artificial surfaces, but there is a reluctance to use these within the NLS. Competition from other sports continues apace. After the Second World War, redundant drill halls provided early sports centres before Sports Council  funding helped to provide purpose built sports halls – a staple of their usage being short-sided football leagues for the casual player.

     The Football Association seemed unwilling to involve itself in short-sided versions until the 21st century. It also developed the NLS to respond to the decline in the 11v11 game;  increasing its isolation from the district leagues. In 2013 the Essex FA sanctions nine such Saturday leagues. An examination of the Stratford Express in 1929 has results from more than 35 leagues, which extrapolated suggests at least  50 leagues throughout the county, with divisions for juveniles to provide a path between schools and open-age football.

Barking Town Again

    The class system, the elementary and grammar schools, different religious faiths, and in 1919 between those who served at the front in the Great War and those that did not  (for shirking their duty!) continued to influence community.

    This was reflected at another lively meeting at the Town Hall to form a new club titled Barking Town as Barking were declared bankrupt during the war. The Vicar, as trustee felt a property owner should have a say in how his land was used gave his support  to an amateur and parochial approach. The meeting disagreed launching an appeal for £300 to restore the grandstand; also appointing a secretary resident in East Ham.  The UDC became the leaseholder of Vicarage Field, a response to an earlier East Ham  United applying to join the Isthmian League in 1921? Who may have planned to use it?

    In Town’s first season they won the Essex Senior Cup and were finalist in the London Senior Cup. The West Ham Charity  Cup was also won. Before 1948, and the birth of the National Health Service, hospitals and similar charities benefitted from many such competitions. The club’s success continued in 1920/21 winning the London League and the London Senior Cup. In  1921/22 Town reached the semi of the F.A. Amateur Cup. They travelled to Darlington to lose 1-4 to South Bank. On defeating Temple Mills 9-1 in a London League match in February 1923, the club’s concern with the competitiveness of the London  League surfaced prompting a successful application to the Athenian League.

    In their first season as Athenians the club finished 8th of 13 clubs. In their next four seasons they secured at least  a top three place without winning the title, and in 1926/27 bettered their previous Amateur Cup run, gaining their revenge over South Bank, before losing the final 1-3 to Leyton. In 1927/28 they were quarter finalist for the third time since the war also  achieving a First Round Proper exit from the FA Challenge Cup for a second time in three seasons.

    The loss of the Ripple Road stand to fire changed the landscape. The UDC funded replacement was opened in late December 1928. The increased rent caused the club financial difficulties and by January 1933, the arrears were significant; when a further difficulty  arose. The club were investigated and found guilty of financial irregularities by paying expenses in excess of those incurred. Town’s officers were suspended sine-die. The club was reconstituted without the suffix. A new committee agreed a settlement  of the rent arrears with the newly formed municipal borough council.

Barking Yet Again

    The between-the-wars population growth saw the emergence of new senior amateur clubs in suburban Essex. Walthamstow Avenue,  Dagenham Town and Romford were challenging the old order of Clapton, Ilford, Barking, Leyton, Custom House, Walthamstow Grange, and Leytonstone. From 1929 the Spartan League developed links with intermediate football providing a route for clubs who had  outgrown district leagues.

    In 1934/35 Barking won the Athenian League title, securing 25 of their 26 home points to hold off the challenge of Enfield by two points. It was to prove the high spot of some lean times. 1949/50 apart, when the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup was again  reached, Barking failed to secure a top-half Athenian League finish, yet such was the quality of Vicarage Field, when the Isthmian League, announced in 1952 it was to add a 15 th club,  Barking, one of seven applicants, won the final ballot (8 votes to 7) to become Isthmians at the third time of asking; the pre Great War club having been denied in 1911 and 1912. Following Wimbledon, Barking became the second Isthmians to install floodlights  in 1958. Top half finishes continued to be rare.

Blues and Daggers

    The enlargement from the 14-club divisions of the 1950s to the 22-club or 24-club divisions of the 2010s owe much to the  mandatory floodlights required to play within the top five steps of the NLS. Earlier supplementary cups provided gate income to balance the books, more so if a club was eliminated in the early rounds of the major cup competitions.

    Barking, as the above honours list shows, participated in several with the occasional success.

    Today Barking are six NLS steps below Dagenham & Redbridge; their now Football League neighbours. Dagenham’s arrival at Victoria Road in 1955 provided the land to build  social facilities. Their plans included two community halls for the east of the borough and a restaurant to link to nearby industry. The former proved a fertile source of income allowing progression through the lower senior amateur leagues. Isthmians  from 1973, they were immediately promoted to the Premier Division unto joining the Alliance Premier League in 1981, having won the FA Trophy.

    With a new benefactor Barking responded to the challenge and set in train the rivalry between the town clubs. They secured five top half finishes between 1967 and 1972 including a club record run of 18 games unbeaten in 1968/69, when for the tenth time  they progressed to at least the last eight of the FA Amateur Cup.
    Barking’s crowning moment came in 1978/79 when the Isthmian League Premier Division title  was won by a 12 point margin (3 points for a win) from their neighbours. The London Senior Cup was also won. On four occasions in six seasons (1978-1984)  the club were eliminated in the Second Round Proper of the FA Cup including the scalp of Third Division Oxford United.

   It was also a golden era for schoolboy football in national competitions. Barking won the Under 15s in 1975 as Mayesbrook shared the Under 19s for individual schools. The latter introduced in 1968 had first winners in the South East Essex Technical College,  the forerunner to the University of Essex and earlier North East London Polytechnic.
    In 1991, after 39 years at top level of the Isthmian League, Barking were relegated suffering a further relegation in 1996. They revived in their first Division 2 season with a  fourth place league finish, a last 16 place  in  the FA Vase and won  the  Essex Thamesside Trophy on penalties 8-7; from 22 kicks, a campaign  which included a  run of 15 unbeaten matches.


    The present Barking date their formation to 1880 when Barking Rovers were formed. It is likely the impetus came from former pupils of public schools, who established pitches  in suburban Essex, in this instance Eastbury Field.  They were allowed the use of Vicarage Field in 1884 when they affiliated to the Essex FA, formed two years earlier, as football became increasingly popular in its suburban area. Their best in the Essex  Cup was the Third Round in 1885/86. Their use of the Field ended in 1889, on the pretext of damage to the cricket square, to give exclusive use to the clergy. They returned to the Eastbury Field, losing to Woodford (0-1) in the 1889/90 First Round but  ceased before the end of the season. A separate Barking club, of which little is known entered the Essex Cup between 1888 and 1891.

    Many sports historians adopt the convention that mergers and reconstructions create a new club, with earlier incarnations as antecedents. Barking’s formation date using this convention is 2006 with antecedents of 2001, 1932, 1919, 1902 and 1880.   Nevertheless it is a glorious history, which in these days of televised international sport, will hopefully not be forgotten.

From research by the author and Fred H Hawthorn. Thanks to Barking FC historian, Derek Pedder

(1) The Advertiser report uses this word, although it was likely to be a seven-year lease
(2) Juvenile - the two years from school-leaving age.

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