So happy to see Hornchurch rewriting history
I can't remember the exact details of my first Hornchurch match, but I'm pretty confident of where and when I will next see them in action - at Wembley Stadium on May 22!
There is still the small matter of applying for a media pass for the Buildbase FA Trophy final against Hereford, but even if unsuccessful (surely not?), I will hope to be able to buy a ticket, with fans set to be allowed to attend a week on from a pilot scheme at the FA Cup Final.
It is arguably the biggest event for one of our clubs in my 20-plus years of working for the Romford Recorder and not one to be missed.
I joined the sports desk in October 1996, working alongside the late Peter Butcher, but most of my weekend assignments in those early days were covering Collier Row & Romford in Isthmian League Division Two - Urchins were in Division Three - and the Romford Raiders ice hockey team.
Boro enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase that term and I saw most of the ties at Sungate, while also travelling to Salisbury to see them beat Bemerton Heath Harlequins.
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Dreams of a trip to Wembley were shattered as they eventually bowed out after a replay to Bedlington Terriers, up in the North East, but they won the Isthmian Division Two title - and Raiders were champions of the English League South.
I think my first trip to Bridge Avenue to watch the Urchins must have been during the 1997-98 campaign, when Mick Marsden was manager and the clubhouse was nothing like the current building!
- 1 Harold Wood fatal stabbing victim named as police arrest three more people
- 2 Serial child sex offender jailed after found with 14,000 indecent images
- 3 Man and two boys charged with murder of Daniel Laskos in Harold Wood
- 4 Family of Harvey Tyrrell campaigning for stricter pub safety laws
- 5 'No one deserves that': Neighbours 'traumatised' by triple stabbing
- 6 Memorial bench at hospital honours 'well-loved' medic
- 7 Man jailed for drug offences and violent assaults in Romford flat
- 8 Petition launched by family of Harvey Tyrrell soars to 40,000 signatures
- 9 Arrests made after multiple stabbing in Havering
- 10 Man's suicide method thoughts were not in clinical notes, inquest hears
I do remember I was made to feel very welcome by club officials, but I'm pretty sure Pete used to prefer to cover their matches and I was generally sent elsewhere on reporting duties!
That season ended with a trip to Wembley to see Dagenham & Redbridge lose the Trophy final 1-0 to Woking, when Pete penned the match report and I was dispatched back to Victoria Road for the post-match party.
After leaving the Recorder in May 1999 and spending a couple of years working on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, I returned to Romford in July 2001, with Gary Haines establishing himself and covering Hornchurch games more regularly as they climbed into the Isthmian Premier.
While looking back at the club's run to the FA Trophy quarter-finals in 2004, it was little surprise to see Gary had reported on more of the matches than Pete or I, but I did witness the 2-0 win over Aylesbury United - as well as the FA Cup win over Darlington from temporary seating behind the goal at the clubhouse end!
Urchins, of course, then climbed to the top of Conference South under Garry Hill and I do recall covering a 2-0 win at Carshalton Athletic (I think Lee Elam scored?), but then things went a bit 'pear-shaped' and the club had to start again in the Essex Senior League.
Former youth-team manager John Lawrence steered them to an unprecedented treble, but was then replaced by Colin McBride, who I had gotten to know well while covering Purfleet/Thurrock for the Recorder.
And I remember seeing Urchins romp to a comfortable win at Wivenhoe Town towards the end of their Isthmian Division One North title-winning season, as Kris Lee and Simon Parker combined to great effect in attack, and their first Essex Senior Cup final success that same year, after beating Great Wakering Rovers at Southend United's Roots Hall ground.
After Pete left Archant in 2008, I covered more Hornchurch fixtures and would bump into him at Bridge Avenue, where he was helping the club as secretary and programme editor.
Other matches which stand out for me are the play-off final win over Lowestoft Town, when Michael Spencer's last-minute goal in extra time sealed promotion for a side now being led by Jimmy McFarlane, as Colin focused on off-field matters, of which there were plenty, as chairman.
And then there was a 4-1 win at Chelmsford, defeat in the fog at Colchester United, the play-off final loss at Harlow Town, plus the semi-final defeat against Thurrock and Elliot Styles Testimonial a year later, but my had role changed in early 2013 and I began taking more of a back seat and the likes of George Sessions and Jacob Ranson started covering matches instead.
I was back at Bridge Avenue last January, though, to see Urchins lose to Aveley in the Trophy a couple of months before the first national lockdown was imposed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and have continued to follow their progress - and that of all our clubs - despite having a new role at Archant since last summer and being based down in the South West.
And it was a thrill to watch the live stream of Saturday's dramatic penalty shoot-out success over Notts County and write a report on that semi-final triumph - the latest giantkilling of a superb run despite not playing a league fixture since November as their season was curtailed once again - knowing what it meant to so many people whose paths I have crossed in four different decades on the job!
When I think of Hornchurch, from my time at the Recorder, I think of people like Mick Marsden, Rob Monger, Ken and Tina Hunt, Mick Ewen, Pete, Colin, Jimmy, Alex Sharp, Jordan Newman, Max and the many players to have pulled on the shirt, like Kevin Marsden, Glen Dyson, Elliot Styles, Mark Janney, George Purcell, Frankie Curley, Joe Anderson, Jonathan Hunt, Alex Bentley, Martin Tuohy, Andy Tomlinson, Leon McKenzie and Dave Collis to name but a few, to some of the longer serving members of the current crop such as Rickie Hayles, Jordan Clark and Nathan Cooper.
And it will be great to be at Wembley among some of them for the biggest match in Hornchurch's history, as Urchins boss Mark Stimson aims for a fifth winners' medal in the Trophy. I just need to get that application for accreditation submitted and approved. COYU!!!!