Harwich & Parkeston FC
The Royal Oak Ground
Ground Number: 644
Thursday 3rd November 2016
Harwich & Parkeston 2-1 University Of Essex
Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division
HARWICH & PARKESTON - A BRIEF HISTORY
Harwich & Parkeston were formed in 1877 and for their early years played in local leagues as the game of football established itself. In 1935 they became founder members of the Eastern Counties League, winning it in their first season and stayed there until 1964 apart from 1937-38 when they defected to the Essex County League, winning it in their only season. 1964 saw them join the Athenian League in their third tier, with 2 immediate promotions seeing progress to the Premier Division. After some mixed seasons, they joined the Isthmian League in 1973 in it's second tier.1976-77 saw them finish 3rd which remains their highest ever finish in the football chain, as at the time it was the joint second highest level of non-league football in England.
The 1982-83 season saw them exit the Isthmian League as they finished bottom of Division 1, with them spending a season in the Athenian League before returning to the Eastern Counties League the following season. They remained in the Eastern Counties League until 2010 when they resigned mid-season due to financial issues. During their tenure, they spent all but one season in its top tier with a best ever finish of 3rd in 1996/97 where they amassed 104 points and scored 133 goals but still finished behind Wroxham and Wisbech Town. Since 2010 they have played in the Essex & Suffolk Border League, with a voluntary drop down to its second tier in 2014 as the financial troubles worsened and the reserve team was disbanded. Top flight status has since been regained, but it's a far cry from the many glory days the club has enjoyed.
As one of the countries top amateur and semi-pro clubs, Harwich & Parkeston have reached the FA Cup 1st Round on no less than 6 occasions, the last of which in 1976 saw them take Enfield to a replay before losing 3-0 at their own ground. They've played some Football League clubs too, but progression through the Qualifying Rounds saw defeats to Crystal Palace and Torquay United. The club were runners-up in the FA Amateur Cup in 1899, losing to Stockton in the final. Their run was not without controversy though, as they lost their Quarter Final tie to Royal Artillery Portsmouth but were reinstated following a successful appeal to the FA that the club was not an Amateur side. As a result RA Portsmouth disbanded, with the vast majority of fans defecting to Portsmouth FC and taking the Pompey Chimes with them. Credit to friend and fellow hopper Laurence Reade's blog for this little gem.
The competitions replacements have seen some success. They reached the FA Trophy 3rd Round in 1975/76, remarkably their narrow 2-1 defeat to Bedford Town was their tenth game in the competition that season. The 1990-91 saw an equally impressive run in the FA Vase as they lost 2-0 at home to Gresley Rovers in the Quarter-Final. The victors went on to reach the final at Wembley, playing out an incredible 4-4 draw before losing to Guiseley in the replay at Sheffield's Bramall Lane. Locally the club have won the Eastern Counties League Cup on 3 occasions, the last of these coming in 1997.
This game was arranged around a week prior and credit must go to my mate and fellow hopper Dan for spotting it. After confirmation with the club that the unusual time of Thursday night was indeed correct, plans were put in place to go, with me stopping in and around Braintree en-route to pick up Dan and our mutual friends Maurice and Josh. Harwich was a ground I'd wanted to visit for a while, though the fact that they rarely played midweek had restricted my chances. I'd seen both sides once before, with Harwich winning an FA Cup Preliminary Round replay 5-2 in 2005 at Holmer Green, a club less than a mile from my front door. I'd seen University Of Essex play at Coggeshall in May 2015 as they won 2-0 away from home. The day held happy memories for me as I met Dan and his cousin Maurice for the first time that day, both of which have gone on to be firm friends and have joined me on a number of subsequent groundhops.
On the day of the game I woke at 9am after a decent sleep in my own bed. After having breakfast and a bath I caught up on my blog for the past two days amongst other things. I ended up leaving around 3.30 and for the time of the night with me getting to Josh at 5.20. It helped that he lived out ion the country and soon we were on our way. After picking up Maurice and Dan we made our way to Harwich. With me being hungry and there being an hour until kick off, we stopped at a local Chinese takeaway called Tasty where I had chicken curry, rice and mini spring rolls for £6. I took them back to the clubhouse and eat them while I waited for the game to start. With 15 minutes to go I went and took a seat in the impressive stand.
The game started promptly and at a decent pace. Harwich took the lead on the quarter-hour mark when after a good jinking run, a University of Essex defender could only deflect the ball into his own net. The second Harwich goal just before half time was a great overhead kick and one of the best efforts I've seen this season. The chances dried up in the second half, though University of Essex pulled one back from a header with 10 minutes to go. From there we had a decent journey home, dropping Dan off at 10.20 before making the other 2 drop-offs. I got in just before midnight, having a drink before I went to bed half an hour later.
THE ROYAL OAK GROUND is a classic ground, although owing to financial issues a lot of it has fallen into disrepair. The main stand would once have held around 500, but now it holds a fraction of that as only the front few rows area available. The view from here is still decent if you can avoid the supporting pillars as it is well elevated. There are even a few cushions available to make things more comfortable. There is further cover behind the goal in the form of a steeply covered terrace, holding a decent amount. The rest of the ground is open, and a lot of it overgrown. There appeared to be an open terrace on the far side at one point, but this is fenced off now.
There's a bar and tea bar at the ground and these sell basic snacks and hot and cold drinks. Further afield, there is an ASDA opposite the ground, plus the area of Dovercourt is around 5 minutes walk from the ground and this offers various takeaways and pubs. This ground is well worth a visit and although there are no firms in place, the club are hoping to move in the future.