Clacton Town/FC Clacton
1. 1935/37, 1938/39, 1946/58 and 196487, Old Road.
2. 1987, Gainsford Avenue.
3. 1987-present, Rush Green Bowl.
Old Road before 1967, and other early grounds.
When the original Clacton Town folded in 1901, some of its former players started a new club which they called Old Clactonians.
They began by playing friendlies behind the Queen’s Head in Great Clacton before moving in 1903 to a ground at the rear of the National Schools. In 1905 they changed name to Clacton Town and a year later Clacton Cricket Club offered them the use of their ground in Old Road which became Clacton Town’s first permanent home.
The ground had an unusual history, which can be split into three phases. At the outset the entrance to the ground was a short distance behind the east end goal, on Old Road. The ground was relatively undeveloped except for a timber stand that had been purchased from Dr. Barnado’s Homes. What use they had for it is not clear! It wasn’t the sturdiest of structures and by the early 1920’s had a number of supporting props holding it up at the rear. The ground was still large enough to be used for cricket for a number of years and it was shared with Clacton St. Paul’s CC (a reformation of Clacton CC) between 1918/23.
Just months before the start of Clacton’s debut season in the fledgling ECL, in March 1935, came the news that the ground was required for a car park! This was not the last time that they experienced problems with their council landlords. The club were able to take their place in the new league by pushing the pitch back with the car park (which in later years accommodated much of the seaside town’s coach traffic) taking up a third of the former playing area. A new wooden stand was built alongside the south touchline, and the original stand found itself isolated in one corner of the new set up. It witnessed the first ECL game against King’s Lynn on 31st August 1935 before being dismantled. A long and more centrally positioned cover soon replaced this. The changing facilities during this era were within a railway carriage. The home team were able to experience First Class, but to the amusement of many, the referee and linesman emerged from Third Class!
After World War II the short lived cover on the north side made way for a large pitched roof concrete grandstand, seating in excess of 500 in seven rows, and with a press box and partitioned VIP area. Plans were tabled in 1950 to redevelop the Old Road ground in to a 5,000 capacity stadium with a seated stand on the south side and covered terraces behind each goal that stretched around the corners toward the seated areas. This plan was never realised although the old cover opposite the new grandstand was removed and an L-shaped covered terrace was built over the south east corner.
The largest crowd to see a game was 3,505 for the FA Cup tie with Romford in September 1952. In November 1960 an F.A. Cup First Round tie was played here, with Southend winning an Essex derby 3-1 in front of 3,200.
By the time of Clacton’s entry into the Southern League in 1958 there was again a stand on the south side. This was a long, low terraced cover and there was a further cover behind the far goal. A permanent post and rail barrier was installed at around the same time.
Old Road, 1967/87
The third phase for the ground came in 1967 when the character of the ground was lost forever by the introduction of greyhound racing. To fit in the track, the playing area was again shunted further away from Old Road itself, necessitating the removal of both the stands at the far end and south side. The pitch was then narrower and shorter than before, but still large enough for senior football. Part of the L-shaped cover survived into the early 1970s and although yet another, much narrower, cover (with a PA box perched on the roof) sprung up on the south side it had gone by 1974 and that side was abandoned for ever. Thereafter it was only possible to walk around the curve of the track at the entrance end, nearest Old Road, and in front of the grandstand up as far as the corner flag. The main stand itself did not escape the destructive nature of the greyhound invasion, with a totaliser office being built into one end, and an elevated referee’s viewing box alongside it. The Greyhound Bar, Café and Paddock, an ugly portakabin style building appeared at that far end, next to the stand.
As a small concession to the large areas of cover that had been lost to the greyhound fraternity, a lean-to was extended out from the Supporters’ Club hut behind the goal. There were numerous buildings in this area including a cafeteria, changing room area, board room, entrance block and even a hut that sold cushions to make sitting on the cold concrete of the main stand more bearable.
In 1974 the club were given six months’ notice by the council to quit the ground, although they were then offered a yearly licence to continue there until such time as a new ground was ready. Their current Rush Green Bowl home was identified as a possibility during this era.
Since 1967 the ground had ugly spotlights around the dog track, but the lack of proper floodlighting held the club back. They did go as far as purchasing a set of four corner pylons in the 1980s, and although these were erected the club never had the finance to fit lamps to them!
In 1985 the council reiterated their desire to sell Old Road, and decided to sell the entire nine-acre site for a retail park. The club remained tenants until the last possible moment, when they entertained Lowestoft Town on 21 February 1987 to bring the curtain down on 81 years of eventful history. By the time of this game, the roof had been removed from the stand with a view to moving the structure to the new ground, a grand idea but one that was to prove impractical.
Having lost the use of Old Road, a short term venue in town was needed to tide the Seasiders over until their new home at the Rush Green Bowl was ready. A quite basic football pitch at Gainsford Avenue was chosen. It had formerly been college grounds and was used by St. Osyth College FC. The pitch had to be enlarged for senior football, and was roped off on match days. There were no dug-outs, and only basic changing facilities. The first game was played against March on 28 February 1987 and usage continued right up until the move to their new ground in November of that year.
The Gainsford Avenue ground still exists, but the dressing rooms were considered unsafe and removed, and with them the opportunity for any more football. In 2005 the grass was left deliberately uncut and used for hay. The ground is a very short distance from the home of the now defunct St. John’s (Clacton) FC in Holland-On-Sea.
Rush Green Bowl
Clacton Town’s new out of town ground at the Rush Green Bowl has proved problematic since the outset. Too cold and remote, and with poor drainage, the club have struggled to attract the crowds despite a number of innovative ideas that have included live match broadcasts via the internet and on a big screen in the clubhouse.
The park within which the ground was built had hosted football for a number of years, with the Seasiders’ home being banked up and fenced off and a clubhouse sunk down below pitch level behind the goal at the car park end. It had been hoped that the old grandstand from Old Road would be re-erected. If that had happened the ground would have taken on an entirely different look and offered sufficient comforts to tempt more locals away from their television sets. Instead, early visitors were greeted by no greater comforts than a wooden railing around the pitch.
The very first match on 7th November 1987, against Soham Town Rangers, had to be abandoned after the floodlights failed. The 200 spectators observed four floodlighting poles on each side of the ground with a generous grass bank along the left hand side, with shallower banking along the opposite side and at the far end.
The Council dragged their heels over planning permission for the grandstand, and it was late 1988 before this was approved. The metal and brick shelter was then placed at the bottom of the largest banking, effectively reducing the capacity as supporters standing at the rear of the bank could no longer see the whole pitch. Two rows of bench seating were installed in the stand a year later, and this has changed very little over the years, except for a protective screen end nearest the clubhouse and a large sponsors board on its roof. It has come to be known as ‘The Loft’.
A very small cover was built up against the metal fence on the right hand side, behind the dug-outs and barely wider than them. This had three steps of concrete within it and has now been dubbed ‘The Bus Shelter’, with the club embracing the name to the extent that a small Bus Stop sign protrudes from the roof, and there is a timetable up against the rear wall! In February 2005 this was re-roofed, following a bout of storm damage.
At one time there was a club shop in a caravan on the banking. This was replaced by another adjacent to a hospitality suite and boardroom and in July 2007, this moved up on to the Burberry suite into a large portakabin with the old shop making way for a Physio clinic.
In 2000 the far end of the ground was neatly enclosed with a hard standing cover (again, built at the bottom of the bank). The well intentioned sign that hung from its roof welcoming visitors to the club was soon decimated by a series of wayward shots and subsequently looked far older than it actually was. At the time of its installation the club had ambitious backers and had their eyes on Southern League football. Had they continued to develop along those lines then the stadium would doubtless be looking quite different today.
Clacton Town was established on 27 October 1892 and joined the North Essex League three years later in 1895. The early years were successful for us and we won Division Two in 1898/99 and 1899/1900. We also won the Essex Junior Cup in 1900. Unfortunately, despite being promoted to Division One, the club folded at the end of 1900/01. Some of the players formed Old Clactonians and joined the Harwich & District League in 1902. We remained in that league until 1905, when we joined the Clacton & District League. After bringing the name of Clacton Town back, we won the league in our first season back. In 1907 we joined the South East Anglian League in 1907, and won Division Two in 1907/08.
The following year we joined both the East Anglian League and the Colchester & District League, and won Division Two in both (the CDL in 1909-10, and the EAL in 1910–11). In 1912 the club went under for a second time, but phoenix-like revived again in 1913. Rejoining the Colchester & District League (now called the Essex & Suffolk Border League) we remained a permanent fixture there until 1934. Clacton Town also played in the Ipswich & District League between 1921 until 1924, and again in the 1927/28 season. We left the Border League to join the Ipswich & District League in 1934, and were founder members of the Eastern Counties League the following year, finishing second in 1936/37. The next season saw us move into the new Essex County League, but we played in that division for only one season, and finished bottom, before returning to the ECL in 1938. The outbreak of the Second World War affected all football teams, including Clacton Town and major changes in the post-war period led to the club turning professional in 1952/53 when we finished as runners-up for again.
Clacton won the East Anglian Cup In 1956/57 and reached the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup, losing 3-2 at home to Yiewsley (now Hillingdon Borough FC). The club moved up to the South-East Division of the Southern League in 1857/58 and the following year won Division One, and were promoted to the Premier Division. In our first season we reached the first round of the FA Cup for the first, and to date only time, but lost 3–1 at home to local rivals Southend United. We were relegated back to Division One – finishing 21st out of 22 clubs – in 1962/63, but returned to the Eastern Counties League.
Runners-up in our first season back in the league (a feat we repeated in 1974/75), we also again reached the final qualifying round of the FA Cup, and we remained in the Premier Division until the end of 1991/92, when we finished second from bottom, and were relegated to Division One. We bounced back to the Premier Division as champions in 1994/95 though, and won the Eastern Floodlit Cup the following season. Relegated once again in 1997/98, we won the Division One Cup and Division One at the first attempt and were promoted once again.
Clacton Town won the East Anglian Cup for a second time in 2000, and the League Cup in 2002.
In 2005/06, perhaps the club’s worst season ever, we failed to win a league match all season, finishing at the foot of the Premier Division with only one point and a goal difference of minus 159. Despite these abysmal statistics, Clacton were not relegated because Bury Town and AFC Sudbury were promoted from the league which meant that Fulbourn Institute were not allowed to be promoted from Division One. Although we only finished 21st with 38 points the following season – an improvement – we were relegated.
Following a long and distinguished 115-year history, Clacton Town was reborn as FC Clacton on 15 June 2007 and returned to the Premier Division as Division One runners-up in 2009/10.
Four new owners, all local men, inherited Clacton Town Football Club Ltd in 2006, which was registered with the FA as being in control of the football club known as Clacton Town FC. For many reasons they were uneasy with this limited company holding the club registration. Also, being a normal limited company the Club did not qualify for any tax breaks, business rates relief, etc. They were never Officials, Directors or connected to this limited company in any way. The previous Directors of Clacton Town FC Ltd decided to resign from the company and informed Companies House of this that eventually resulted in Companies House striking off the limited company for not submitting accounts and for having no Directors or Secretary.
The time was therefore right for a complete shake up of how the club was to be administered a new start with a clean slate. A new club was formed and FC Clacton was born. This club is run by FC Clacton CIC, which is a community interest company, set up to run the senior teams and bar. All other teams, the changing rooms and ground is administered by FC Clacton CASC Ltd as a Community Amateur Sports Club.
The club entered its first season playing in the first division of the Ridgeons Eastern Counties League in 2007/08 with former Colchester United and Fulham player John Reeves and David Coyle as joint first-team Managers as the club embarked on a new beginning. The first-team finished in tenth place in this first season but just six points off a promotion place. But for some horrendous injuries throughout the season, promotion at the first time of asking may well have been possible. Reeves reverted back to his sole role as physio towards the end of the season and Coyle went alone into the 2008/09 season to push on for a return to the premier division.
2008/09 saw us finish 7th in the league but with a good progress in the FA Cup, Essex Senior Cup and FA Vase that saw a record-equalling run in the competition by reaching the 4th round proper for the first time since 1974/75.
The 2009/10 pre-season saw Paul Hillier awarded a Testimonial, having been with the club since 1998/99 with the exception of a short spell with Wivenhoe Town and a match against Ipswich Town Reserves was his reward. The visitors won 7-2 in front of 452 spectators.
Last season saw us clinch promotion as runners-up back to the Ridgeons League Premier Division after an absence of three years and in the process, we recorded a record FC Clacton win on Saturday 3 April 2010 when we beat Downham Town 9-0. We also scored our highest number of league goals ever in a season – 117. To cap a great season, we reached our first-ever cup final as FCC and beat Halstead Town 2-1 in the First Division Knockout Cup at Millfield, home of Hadleigh United.
During the close season of 2010, we lost the services of our Manager David Coyle who left for personal reasons, Captain Paul Hillier who retired from our level of the game, as well as a number of players. In May 2010, Steve Pitt was announced as our new Manager along with assistant Michael Pulford. Former Colchester United and Millwall player Phil Coleman joined as first-team coach and we welcomed some new players to the Bowl. The season for the most part was considered a success as we finished in 16th place thus avoiding relegation with plenty to spare.
In the close season prior to 2011/12, both Pulford and Coleman left the club and striker Ray Turner was announced as Pitt’s new number two. FC Clacton Reserves was brought back to life to enter the Ridgeons Reserves League South Division and in June, former Seasider Andy Taylor was announced as the new manager of this outfit.
Then before the 2011/12 season got underway, Steve Pitt was approached by Stanway Rovers and left to become their new Manager taking Ray Turner with him.
This saw an immediate elevation for Andy Taylor to become the first-team manager and he then announced Sean Hillier as his Assistant and we finished the season in 15th place.
Taylor soon departed at the beginning of the 2012/13 season as Ray Turner returned to take over the first-team in September 2012. Just four games were won in the league all season and we finished bottom of the league. Relegation however, was avoided due to the league’s restructuring.
Turner stayed on for the 2013/14 season but left in December 2013 and was replaced by phil Yearling who only lasted four matches! Glenn Eldridge was elevated from the Under 18’s Manager to a caretaker position and remained in a dual role until the end of the season before being announced as the permanent Manager for 2014/15.
By Karl Fuller, 2014.
Born in Colchester on 25 September 1971, Karl was transferred to Clacton Hospital very quickly in order to become an authentic supporter of his local club later on in life. An Ipswich Town fan of more than 35 years, Karl spent 12 successive years without missing a home game in a period that saw him join the Media Committee of the Supporters’ Club and provide player interviews for the fanzine, Those Were The Days. He also wrote a column in the Colchester Evening Gazette. From 2002 he wrote a column in the Clacton Town matchday programme, & was its editor between 2004 & 2010/11 season, winning a Programme of the Year award for seven consecutive seasons. Karl is currently a weekly columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, as well as being a Payments Manager in the NHS were he has been employed for 25 years.
FC Clacton’s website: www.fcclacton.com