Football in Dagenham before 1949
Dagenham Football Club was one of the four antecedent clubs of the Football League club Dagenham and Redbridge. They were formed in 1949. The other three clubs, Ilford, Leytonstone and Walthamstow Avenue heritages dating from the 19th century.
Until 1955, when its local council (Council) acquired the freehold of Victoria Road, previously the sports ground of Briggs Sports, and offered it or Glebe Road to the club, the Daggers played at the Arena. An initial rental of £80 gave way to a five-
The most successful works’ team were Brigg Sports. After four relatively unsuccessful post-
Another works team Ford Sports, like Brigg Sports had been admitted to the SL in 1939, as did among others, Dagenham Cables encouraged employees’ recreation, by financing an employed secretary and providing a maintained sports ground. These sports and social clubs were normally managed by a general committee on which each section was represented, with employees paying a subscription.
White’s Directory of 1863 records Dagenham as an ancient parish, bounded by the Rivers Thames and Beam and the Ingerbury Brook. More than 6,000 acres and a population of 2,682 its local justice was administered within the Becontree Hundred while its welfare was the responsibility of the Romford Poor Law Union. The Hundred encompassed most of today’s five ‘Essex’ Greater London boroughs. The parish extended from Hainault Forest in its north, through Marks Gate, and the Chadwell Heath to the village which gave the parish its name. Arable farming was the primary income source.
In 1935 Parsloes Park was opened to mark the completion of 15-
The LCC took the name of the Hundred for its ‘town within a town’ much of it; now Valence and Heath Wards built on the Chadwell Heath. Originally envisaged as a dormitory town, the need to provide employment for war heroes reignited the 1903 plan for arterial roads through metropolitan Essex. In 1926 the Eastern Avenue [A12] was opened to supplement the new bypass on the London to Tilbury Road [A13]. Many manufacturing and chemical companies took advantage of the improved access and available workforce to relocate their businesses. In the new millennium; as plans for the Thames Gateway take shape these provide reminders of Dagenham’s rich industrial heritage, which influenced local sport.
Before the Great War
The first Dagenham FC was formed in 1892, using a pitch situated between the Railway and Bull public houses, about one half-
Dagenham St. Pauls, supported by the vicar and Varco Williams, whose family laid out the Dagenham Dock Estate, immediately succeeded the defunct village club. For their first three seasons they also used Gunary’s Field before in February 1905 the club obtained a lease on 2½ acres of land behind the Cross Keys public house which was laid out for cricket and football. It was designated as Vicarage Field. In the April, by defeating Romford United 2-
The Saints played in local district leagues before joining the South Essex League’s (SEL) junior section in 1909. They finished joint runner-
Instead Dagenham’s first senior club was formed by the sports and social club of the Sterling Telephone & Electric Company. The company formed in 1911 by Guy Burney took over the Four Wantz Industrial Estate site of a defunct ammunition manufacturing company, initially producing telephones. In 1914 production was given over to war work with lightweight radio sets for RNAS and RFC. In 1919 the company was brought by the Marconi Telephone and Wireless Company.
In 1917 Sterling Athletic joined the year-
Thus life in the Premier Division proved a struggle and in their three seasons Athletic finished bottom twice and 11th of 16 clubs in between. Further player losses and the company's finances lead to the club withdrawing from senior football in 1924. In 1925 Burney ‘retired’ from Marconi as it began to rationalise Sterling and two other loss making subsidiaries into one. He resurfaced as a director of the Gramophone Company formed to develop patents that created 78rpm discs. His Dagenham factory, soon employing 2,000 people was utilised before a merger with Columbia Records created EMI in 1931; with production transferred to Hayes in Middlesex. There is limited evidence that the Sterling Sports and Social Club, using Foxlands Meadow, (now the May & Baker and the former Toby sports grounds), continued for employees of companies using the Sterling Works site.
The first Dagenham Athletic founded in 1920 was by 1922 using Vicarage Field and Home Farm. Like St. Pauls, they may have fallen foul of the church authorities withdrawing, mid-
The first Dagenham club to play in the SL adopted the name of Chadwell Heath. This was Eagle Park, who after a season in the R&DL joined the SEL in 1920, with Warren Farm, off Whalebone Lane North, their home ground. In 1922 they defeated Hythe Bridge Ironworks 3-
In the early months of 1929 London senior amateur football was in a state of flux as the newly formed Romford, much like Dagenham were to be in 1949, were frustrated in joining a league that matched their ambition. The SL created a Premier Division with two vacancies, with Heath allocated to the First Division. The LL likewise, succeeding in recruiting Romford and Dagenham Town. At Heath’s AGM worries about their ground’s accessibility and whether the area could support both them and Romford; a vote to resign and run a first team in the SEL was passed; but the club closed. In 1937, Selinas Lane was used by the Prince of Wales FC in the newly established Essex Senior Sunday League. It is conjecture that it is the Berger Sports Ground.
At their 1929 AGM, a midweek club, Lombardians, whose origin is unknown, changed their name to Dagenham Town. They relocated from Leytonstone FC’s High Road ground with a seven-
In 1906, the FA, in the interests of fair play, restricted sanctioned early closing league clubs from fielding no more than three players registered for a Saturday club, causing interest to wane. After 1919 legislation gave shop workers a statutory half day holiday per week interest recovered and strong midweek clubs began to emerge. Sometimes referred to as Eastern Lombardians or Old Lombardians, the club were in the West Ham & District Thursday League by 1922. At Town’s 1930 AGM, the Treasurer retired after 20 years, which dates the club to at least 1910.
In 1927, they club helped to form the Metropolitan Midweek Senior League, replacing a Challenge Shield, in which they had completed a hat-
After trials, players, some with experience in the Isthmian League and Athenian League, were signed but few anticipated the splash the club were to make in the opening months of its first season in the borough. Their involvement in national competitions and senior cups meant that it was Christmas Day before they played their second LL fixture. A run of ten cup wins came to an end as Town, finishing with seven men, four injured, lost 1-
In the FA Challenge Cup three Isthmian League clubs had been beaten including Clapton who were torn apart on their Spotted Dog ground; conceding seven without reply. In the four competitions Town played 22 matches. The highlights were the First Round Proper of the FA Cup and a semi-
Gates, perhaps because of a lack of affinity with Town’s origin, or possibly incoming East Enders retaining their birth loyalties were never sufficient to create stability. Donations from the Supporters Club became increasingly important. The reserve team was discontinued in 1936 and in 1937 the club opted for the newly established Essex County League. Unfortunately the other metropolitan Essex clubs declined to take part leaving Town to play against five North Essex clubs with the season filled out by friendly matches. Town were readmitted to the Premier Division of the LL for 1938/39.
At its conclusion two points separated the top four clubs. Leavesden Mental Hospital due to their progress in cup competitions had a back-
In 1933 a new club Becontree Town was intimated. They applied to the SL but withdrew their application before its AGM and then had their acceptance for the national competitions withdrawn. It is believed the promoter of the year-
In 1930 the world’s largest manufacturer of car bodies considered European expansion; circumstances dictating the establishing plants in England. Briggs Motor Bodies (BMB) was formed using part of the Sterling Estate also building a riverside plant in Chequers Lane. In 1931 FMC decided to concentrate its production at Dagenham closing Trafford Park in Manchester with its 2,000 employees relocating.
In 1933 FMC and BMB formed employee sports and social clubs. In BMB’s first season they reached the last eight of the Essex FA Junior Cup losing to at Walthamstow Athletic 23. They played in the Becontree Heath area but with the SEL seeking to recreate its senior section, which had last operated in 1921, took a 21-
The SEL plans stumbled and both clubs were elected to the First Division of the LL. Until the outbreak of the war both were successful Ford Sports winning the First Division once and BMB twice. Neither finished below 4 th position in those four seasons and each secured the Park Royal League Cup once. Multi use of their grounds delayed the acquisition of senior status to 1939. In 1940, BMB, who in 1945 became Brigg Sports, won the wartime SEL adding the Essex Senior Cup.
Before 1921 pitches provided by the LCC and Corporation of London were free of charge. Active ratepayer groups forced the introduction of fees and made it difficult for local councils to provide new pitches. Dagenham Council acquired Eastbrook Farm (Central Park), Leys Farm, Blackbush Farm to extend St. Chads Park and Valence Park. The last named from the LCC, who retained ownership of Parsloes Park. The number of pitches available is not known; but in 1939 the designation of Hainault Forest and the Beam Valley as Green Belt raised hopes of increasing pitches in the borough.
The 80% residents’ rule prevented Dagenham clubs using Ilford Council pitches. Clubs from the Hainault Estate and Chadwell Heath may have used the London Playing Fields Society’s pitches at Fairlop Oak and Limehouse Playing Fields. Becontree Heath Old Boys, who were Essex Junior FA finalists in 1933, used the Bell House Farm Ground, off what is now Dagenham Road (High Road). The earlier mentioned Home Farm was also in the vicinity.
Some companies operating outside the borough had sports grounds within. For example, Allenburys, the sports club of Bethnal Green chemical manufacturers Allen & Hanbury. Their Chadwell Heath sports ground was acquired by West Ham United in 1955. It is not known when Jensen & Nicholson, a Stratford based paint company acquired what is now the Berger Sports Ground. Works teams were prevalent in the D&DL, formed in 1920 it survived for 12 seasons. It attributed its closure to the growth of Sunday football, although the East London & Becontree Sunday League is the only one traced. In 1939 the Becontree Simister League, now the Essex Sunday Combination, originating from ‘coats for goalposts kick-
The Football Association (FA), supporting temperance and opposing gambling declined involvement in football played on Sundays. Its proponents argued that Saturday workers were otherwise denied exercise. Working hours, in manufacturing industry, between the wars were 55 to 58½ hours per week. From 1922 the LCC permitted informal recreation in its parks and open spaces but most local councils, influenced by Sunday Observance, would not allow any. In 1946, because ‘Dig for Victory’ substantially reduced available open space, local councils began to allow Sunday use with the Becontree Simister League growing to three divisions by 1950 alongside the newly formed Dagenham & District Sunday League. The FA recognised Sunday football in 1961.
Post Second World War
In 1946 the Council, with boundaries under review decided to apply for county borough status. In April a small committee recognising a representative football club would be a valuable cog in this aim recommended the pre-
Meanwhile several former Dagenham Town officials formed Dagenham British Legion using the Merry Fiddlers ground at Becontree Heath. With only two defeats they swept to the First Division title of the London League (LL). Denied promotion the club moved to Glebe Road whose refurbishment created difficulties between the freehold owner and the Council before it was compulsorily purchased. The senior challenge meant Dagenham British Legion’s gates were such they were unable to again to challenge for promotion before rent difficulties forced their closure in 1954.
Dagenham Cables, a new Chadwell Heath and Wapping Sports had periods in the post-
Between the wars, the SEL, one of the county’s strongest junior leagues had completed a hat-
As the 1960s dawned Dagenham FC were in the Corinthian League, one of the leagues they had applied to in 1949. They had ruffled feathers by suggesting a doubling of the clubs in the FA Amateur Cup’s Competition Proper and a senior amateur league for London with promotion and relegation, while the social and community model at its core financed loans that improved the Victoria Road Ground. The two motor companies’ sports and social clubs had just merged with Ford United joining the newly formed Aetolian League. It had taken six years, for negotiations with the 22 unions representing a combined workforce of 35,000, to standardise pay and conditions after FMC had acquired a controlling interest in BMB by a £2m share swop in April 1953. FMC combining body manufacture with assembly operation used their sports ground, eventually replacing it with a new ground at Newbury Park.
The popularity of junior football continued, with Sundays prevalent, before interest declined from the late 1970s, as recreational opportunities and social habits changed. The SEL closed in 1992. Experts have identified a 20-
Ford United became Redbridge in 2001, relocating to Barkingside, after FMC declined to provide a ten-
The author wishes to acknowledge the research of and help of Fred H Hawthorn in the compilation of this article.
Sources: Dagenham Post, Ilford Recorder, The Times and the web site of the RD&L.