Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ilford FC at Newbury Park


Not only were Ilford one of the most famous names in amateur football, but from 1904 to 1977 they played at one of its most celebrated venues.  As well as being on hand to witness Ilford’s many successes, the 18,000 capacity Lynn Road ground at Newbury Park staged Olympic Games matches, Amateur Internationals, an FA Amateur Cup Final, plus countless other cup finals and representatives matches.  Ilford’s decision to sell the ground for redevelopment in 1977 proved to be the undoing of the club however.   A rash of mergers and ground sales ensued and within a few years the grounds and names of Ilford, Leytonstone, and Walthamstow Avenue had all disappeared.

Formed in 1881, Ilford played at various grounds in the south west Essex town before taking up residence at the Ilford Sports Ground in 1888.  Located in Wellesley Road, a short distance from the town centre, Ilford Sports Ground was a spacious enclosure that along with football also catered for cycling and athletics.  Though covered accommodation was limited to a tall gabled pavilion, it was at this venue that Ilford played two seasons of Southern League football from 1894 to 1896, before joining first the London League, and then South Essex League.  In 1904 Ilford were served notice to quit the Sports Ground as it was required for housing, but the club quickly secured four-acres of undeveloped land in Newbury Park to the north of the town and set about levelling a pitch.   Clapton were the visitors for the first match at Newbury Park in September 1904 but it wasn’t until November of that year that the stand and dressing rooms were ready for use.   Positioned at the south of the ground adjacent to where Lynn Road would later be built, the stand seated 400 and its initial spectator comforts included a sanded floor but not a roof. 

Ilford were founder members of the Isthmian League in 1905 and over the next couple decades became one of its most successful teams.  It was after winning consecutive championships in 1920/21 and 1921/22 that moves were made to improve the increasingly inadequate spectator facilities at Newbury Park.  Having purchased the freehold of the ground for £3,000 in 1922, a 600 seater stand was erected on the north side of the ground that same year.  Considering the amount of space that was available it was a curiously modest structure, its long, low roof supported by a profusion of unwieldy struts.  Because of the clock on its centre gable, the structure became known as the ‘clock stand’, a name that the stand retained even when the clock was replaced by a club badge.   With crowds increasing all the time, it was not long before the clamour grew for further improvements at Newbury Park.  In the summer of 1928, the original 1904 stand on the south side of the ground was demolished to make way for something much grander.  Costing £4,250, compared to the £600 spent on the ‘clock stand’, the new grandstand was built by East London building firm W J Cearns Ltd, who had recently built grandstands at West Ham United and Leicester City.  Also comprising dressing rooms and a club room, it was a luxurious structure with 850 seats in elevated tiers, while the large pitched roof also provided cover for 950 standing spectators in a paddock section at the front of the stand.   The club celebrated the completion of their fine new stand by going on to win the FA Amateur Cup in 1928/29 and 1929/30.

Newbury Park was one of the London area grounds chosen to stage matches in the 1948 Olympic Games football tournament.  The Ilford public had shown their appetite for international football earlier that year when 13,000 turned up to see England play Luxembourg in an amateur friendly.  Crowds approaching 8,000 saw the two games held at Ilford, France v India and Yugoslavia v Turkey, and for the rest of the late 1940s and early 1950s five figures crowds were not uncommon, with the record attendance at Newbury Park being recorded in May 1952, when 17,000 watched the English Schools Trophy Final between Ilford and Swansea.  By 1951 nearly all of the banking around the ground had been concreted, giving Newbury Park an 18,000 capacity with 1,400 seats, while in 1957 the covered accommodation was extended further still when a roof was erected over the terracing at the Ley Street end.  But for the installation of floodlights in 1962, the ground remained unchanged for the remainder of is existence, even retaining its splendid white wicket fencing that spanned the four sides of the ground.

The last big match at Newbury Park, or Lynn Road as it was more commonly known by then, took place in November 1974.  Drawn against Southend United in the Second Round of the FA Cup, Ilford optimistically set a crowd limit of 15,000 but in the event less than 3,500 showed up.   Plans to move to a new stadium on land opposite Fairlop Station were already in the pipeline by this time, and at the end of the 1976/77 season Ilford bade their final farewell to Lynn Road.   In the summer of 1977, the main stand was dismantled ready for transportation to the new site and the ‘clock stand’ was put up for sale.  Preparations were made to share Leytonstone’s Granleigh Road ground while the new stadium was being built but with no progress being made in that direction it soon became clear that something was wrong.  As the months wore on it transpired that Ilford had not taken account of Land Development Tax when budgeting for the new stadium.  Of the £325,000 raised from the sale of Lynn Road, £112,000 had to be paid in tax. Unable to proceed with the project, Ilford decided in 1979 to throw in their lot with Leytonstone and merge with their former Isthmian League adversaries.  Two more mergers followed, first with Walthamstow Avenue in 1988, and then with Dagenham in 1992.

Supporters and officials of the old club reformed Ilford FC in 1987.  After a protracted struggle they obtained use of the Cricklefield Athletics Stadium in Ilford High Road, a venue coveted by the old Ilford when they were thinking about leaving Lynn Road in the 1960s.  As well as being a fine little stadium, Cricklefield also provides a link to the old ground in the form of the Sir Herbert Dunnico Memorial Gates, which were moved to Cricklefield from Lynn Road when the football ground was knocked down.  At the time of going to press it looks as though the name of Ilford will soon be appearing on Isthmian League fixture lists again, as the league have offered the club a place in their Division Two next season.






 





 

 

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Thankyou. I supported Ilford in the 70s before moving away for work, and had always wondered what went wrong... I was at the Southend game and at Wembley the following year for the last Amateur Cup final (lost to Bishop Stortford). Your article and pics might be very interesting for the "Ilford in Pictures" Facebook site.

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  2. Vince, this is amazing. I'm researching the cricket history of Tilbury and I've heard some very vague stories about a playing field at the Little Thurrock end of Dock road somewhere near the Rookery. It's been referred to as Hedley's field or Hedley's ground. The story of the field I'm after more information about is that it was the pitch on which the 'Interknit cricket club' played on before moving to Blackshots. Interknit were based at Siley Weirs in Tilbury Dock. If you can help, I need to know... (1). Do you know of a field in the Little Thurrock area just off of Dock Road that was used for cricket up until about 1936 - have a look at this link it's described in the 1st couple of paragraphs... http://www.sedcb.org.uk/yesterdays-our-timeline/1918-formation-of-thurrock-interknit-cricket-club

    I was going to ask if 'The Lawns' ground was ever used for cricket, but that seems unlikely now. Can you be more specific about where 'The Lawns' ground was? Thanks in advance of your reply.

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  3. Very interesting stuff! Paid them a visit recent for my own blog - http://beautifulgame2015.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/jerk-chicken-tea-ilford-fc-vs-eton.html

    Thought the gates on the way in were a bit grand, but it makes sense now. Good for the club to have that connection with their old ground

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