My Easter weekend fixtures were pencilled in weeks ago.
In the coldest part of winter I channelled my inner Michael Fish and predicted the weather would be much improved by the end of March, gleefully looked up two games in seaside towns, and decided that the first part of my Easter double would be on Canvey Island. My blind optimism was- of course- unfounded and I spent most of the days leading up to matchday anxiously checking the weather forecast. As I set off from East London the heavens had already opened, been open for a few hours and showed no signs of closing. I headed down the A13, fast becoming a yellow brick road of football for me, and miraculously the clouds began to lift and the skies brighten.
I arrived at my Essex destination slightly earlier than usual as I was not alone for this trip. I was accompanied by my three year old Cockerpoo, Rodney. Rodders was about to see his first game, so I decided to tire him out beforehand, and treat myself to some seaside cuisine. We walked along the sea wall and found a perfectly acceptable chippy to fuel up for a tasty looking contest between Canvey Island and Waltham Abbey.
One man and his Canvey Island dog
Canvey’s Frost Hire Stadium is conveniently located yards away from the sea wall making for great views. Rodney was excited to see some of the club’s youngsters playing a small sided game behind the ground. It was a first chance for me to get in my standard ‘he’s a bit shy and can be fond of barking’ shtick. I am of course referring to the canine form of communication rather than Barking FC, he’s hasn’t seen them play yet.
The ground is one of the more striking and impressive at this level. It’s befitting of a club that has sampled life at the top of the non-league game in the not so distant past. As the new millennium approached the Gulls, as they are known, began to ride a wave. A wave similar to the ones Rodney and I could hear lapping against the sea wall. Between 1999 and 2004 Canvey Island never finished outside of the top five of the Isthmian Premier Division until they finally won the league and promotion into the Football Conference as it was known.
They spent two seasons in the top flight of the non-league game before taking a voluntary demotion back into the Isthmian North Division. During this peak time in their history they also beat Forest Green Rovers to win the FA Trophy in 2001, and in so doing became the first Isthmian club to do so in 20 years. Unfortunately, the club decided that life one level below the Football League wasn’t sustainable, as many like them have also discovered.
The wave has plateaued slightly since the demotion. The Gulls won promotion back into the Isthmian Premier in 2008 and remained there until last season when they were relegated back into the North Division. They’ve put together a promising promotion campaign this term, holding a position in the play-off places for long periods. Canvey have almost created a play-off island for themselves. They have a safe cushion between them and the bottom of the play-off places, but the automatic promotion spots are potentially just out of reach.
Canvey Island v Waltham Abbey
The Gulls sat in fourth prior to kick-off, 13 places and 24 points ahead of their visitors from Waltham Abbey. The Abbotts league position came as a little bit of a shock to me having seen them in free flowing form earlier in the season. They raced into a two goal lead against Tilbury before the visitors eventually pegged them back and headed back up the A13 with a point. Their goals against record appeared to be a key factor in their position as they had scored a favourable amount compared with teams around them. Scoring goals is something the Gulls were also finding easy this season. They are the top scorers in the division thanks in no small part to the prolific George Sykes.
The first thing that you notice about Canvey’s seaside home is the impressive Danny Green Community Stand, a large terraced end that rises above the rest of the ground. From the top you can look down on the other, modest yet organised, parts of the ground. It seemed like the perfect place for Rodney and I to watch the action. We firstly had to stop by the tea bar and run the gauntlet of the club house area where friendly locals cooed at my shy companion and lamented the fact they hadn’t brought their own four-legged friend.
Our time at the top of the terrace was curtailed several times by brisk rain showers but on the whole the weather held and there were even glimpses of sunlight. We could see how good the pitch looked, however, a testament to Canvey Island’s groundstaff. From our position atop the terrace we could see the crowd of 265, just above the season’s average, coming from far and wide. It felt as if we were in the beating heart of the community. The Gulls attendances are impressive considering they share their town with another club, Concord Rangers, who are currently a couple of levels higher than them.
The crowd made their way onto the terrace, with a few wiser members of their number heading immediately for the covered sections. The visitors started brightly and had most of the play in the opening period of the match. Aron Gordon had their best chance to open the scoring as he was played in by Ngandu. Gulls keeper Newcombe had other ideas, however, and was out quickly to beat him to the ball.
Waltham Abbey had good spells of possession and used the wide areas to their advantage. They found it difficult to create clear opportunities, however, and the home side began to find their stride as the half went on. Merrifield had a shot from distance and Charles’ header was saved by Rossetti. Canvey Island eventually took the lead after half an hour. Rossetti was unable to get to a corner and Merrifield pounced on the loose ball to volley home.
The home side went into the break a goal up but the game was well poised as the visitors had shown plenty of intent in the first half. As the second half began, however, the Gulls seemed extra keen to put the game to bed. They were soon two up. Sykes flicked on a free-kick and the impressive Tuohy got on the end of it to finish well. The visitors still carried a threat but Canvey Island were now in control of the game.
Waltham Abbey made changes to try and force their way back into the game. Newcombe was on hand, however, on the couple of occasions that they did threaten. The third and final goal of the game came with five minutes to go. Craddock’s whipped corner was met by Rossetti but the goalkeeper’s punch was mistimed and ended up in the back of his own net. It was an unfortunate end for the visitors.
Canvey Island were good value for their win. Waltham Abbey played well in patches and provided a threat but it wasn’t to be their day. The Easter weekend crowd went home happy and the Gulls kept up their good form as they looked to build some momentum as they approach the end of the season and the potential of promotion play-offs.
It’s certainly a great venue to watch football. For humans and dogs.
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