Travels to the soul and heartbeat of English football...alright primarily Leicestershire!!!!
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The Royal Oak Ground, Main Road, Dovercourt, Harwich, Essex, CO12 4AA
With only having four days holiday left to take between the turn of the year and the end of the financial year, I decided to spread them out over three weekends - one in February and two in March. This weekend is the first of the three and with myself on a Tuesday - Saturday night shift I booked off both the Friday and Saturday.
One of my grounds that has been near to the top of my to do list is that of Harwich & Parkeston FC's Royal Oak Ground - a venue that I have been past twice while on holidaying in the area in recent years. In fact the last time was last June when we stopped off at the Asda opposite for some provisions for a four night break at the Haven site near Clacton. With H & P having a home fixture this weekend it was an easy decision to make, and coming along for the ride is Oadby Town FC secretary and good friend Kevin Zupp.
The High Lighthouse
The ground itself is not actually located in Harwich or Parkeston but that of Dovercourt, a small seaside town in its own right. Though to be fair the three towns are pretty much continuous
Harwich itself has a military and naval history with a Royal Dockyard being established in 1652. This was due to the town being in a ideal location for the deployment of vessels in the Anglo-Dutch wars of the Seventeenth Century. The older part of the town, excluding Navyard Wharf is a conservation area. Nowadays Harwich is probably most associated with the International Port, lying one mile upstream from the town itself. Dovercourt meanwhile is older and larger than its more well known neighbour and is a small seaside town. If anyone does visit the old town in Harwich there is a visitor centre at the Ha'Penny pier and when we (the wife and I) visited back in 2010 we did a walking tour, and the two photos above were taken then.
Harwich & Parkeston Football Club have a long history being formed back in 1877. They have managed to reach the FA Cup 1st Round on six occasions and have been beaten finalists in the old FA Amateur Cup twice. The first coming in 1898 when they lost 1-0 to Stockton @ Middlesbrough FC, and the second in 1953 when Pegasus defeated them 6-0 @ Wembley Stadium. In recent years the club have fallen on hard times withdrawing from the Eastern Counties League mid-season and now find themselves plying their trade in the second tier of the Essex & Suffolk Border League. H & P moved into their current home 117 years ago in 1898 and during the game was told that the land belonged to, or still belongs to Wix Abbey. There are also natural streams that run beneath the surface of the ground.
The day start out with me leaving home around 8.30am to head over Oadby to pick Kev up from the football ground. From there we headed down the A6 and A14 to Newmarket where we called in at the JD Wetherspoon outlet, The Golden Lion for breakfast. With time on our side we stopped off again at another JDW outlet, this time at The Willow Tree in Stowmarket. A call to the social club at the ground confirmed that the game was still on and we arrived around forty five minutes before the scheduled 2.30pm kick-off.
The ground is located on Main Road in Dovercourt and there is a car park to the right of the social club. Entry to the (social) club was free and the walls are covered with old photographs, certificates and memorabilia. The entrance to the ground was on the right hand side about half way down, though there are some fire doors that give direct access to and from the social club. As you enter the main stand, external toilet block, tea bar and changing rooms are to the right and behind the far goal. There is also another stand which is located behind the goal to the left. We were told that there has recently been some people doing community service that have cleared some of the overgrown vegetation on the far side and behind the changing rooms. Hopefully the club can get this again to carry on the work they've started!!! The two stands have, to put it mildly seen better days though in some respects it is what attracts people like myself to visit grounds like this.
Before hand I did not look at the league table to see where the two teams were respectively so had no idea how this game was going to plan out. The first half an hour or so was quite even, but then the home side started to take control and scored twice before the interval, the second of which was an own goal. The second half was predominantly one way traffic and to be honest Harwich could and should have scored more than the three they did in the second period, and it was ultimately a comfortable victory for them.
On the way home we broke the journey up again, this time in Cambridge to one of the two JDW outlets, The Tivoli and managed to park for free outside of the establishment. Like on the outbound journey the traffic on the A14 was pretty light and we made good time back to Leicester, and after dropping Kev off at the Charles Napier pub on Glenfield Road I was back home at around 8.30pm some twelve hours after departing.
Finally last but not least, we found Harwich & Parkeston to be a really friendly and hospitable club - they are a credit not just to non-league football but football itself. When I visit clubs I don't expect them to treat me any differently or go out of their way for me, but when people are polite and friendly, whether it be other supporters or club officials it makes the visit even more enjoyable.