We continue our footballing journey in the Isthmian League after our return in 2017 following a gap of 13 seasons. This comes after our transfer to the Southern League in 2004 and demotion to the Essex Senior League in 2006 due to off the pitch problems. Ironically, we had reached the Southern League Division One East play offs in our previous two seasons..
Our renaissance started when Mick O’Shea and Rob O’Brien took us into third place in the Essex Senior League in 2014/15, our highest since we joined the league, and the winning the Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy. This was followed by fourth place in 2015/16, achieved by Glen Golby and Steve Willis who took over as joint managers in October 2015. Mick and Rob concentrated on our academy and took our Academy under 19 scholarship team to the national final of the Football Conference Youth Alliance League Cup in which the young Blues lost 3-1 to Kidderminster Harriers at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park Stadium.
This progress was maintained in 2016/17 when Golby and Willis with coach Jeff Sears led us to win the Essex Senior League championship and promotion back to the Isthmian League. Our present manager, the well-known and highly respected Justin Gardner took us to tenth place in 2017/18, thus justifying our promotion. This was our highest finish since 2005/06. Our highest ever league placing was when we were Isthmian League champions in 1978/79.
In addition to our success on the pitch our hands-on chairman Rob O’Brien together with Mick O’Shea and other dedicated volunteers have established the club as a valued pillar of the community with an emphasis on youth work.
The ancient abbey town and fishing port of Barking has been represented by a football team since at least 1880 and we are the longest established football club and possibly sports club in the borough of Barking and Dagenham. We have played in the FA Cup since 1895/96. Barking's colours of Royal Blue are said to originate from the Short Blue fishing fleet which plied the oceans from Barking Creek for many years and supplied London with fish.
In 1880 the Barking Rovers club was formed, playing on Eastbury Field, and is known to have existed until at least 1890. The Vicarage Field ground was opened in 1884 with a match against IIford which Rovers won 2-0 but in 1889 Barking Rovers were accused of damaging the Vicarage Field cricket pitch and were forced to return to Eastbury Field. In 1892/93 a South Essex League existed for one season and included Barking Excelsior and Barking Working Men’s Institute. Excelsior, playing at Holland’s Field, were champions and by 1895/96 were known as Barking Town, then playing at Eastbury Field. They won the Essex Junior Cup, defeating Saffron Walden 3-0 but disbanded in 1896 when it has been suggested that they were integrated into Barking Woodville.
Woodville from Forest Gate became known as Barking Woodville and moved to the Vicarage Field in 1896. This club was in existence by 1882 as Woodville (Upton), in which year a Woodville club formed in Barnet had to distinguish itself as Barnet Woodville. Barking Woodville was affiliated to the London Football Association in 1886. The club played in the Essex Senior Cup from at least 1886 and the FA Amateur Cup from at least 1894 but appears to have disbanded in 1900 when the Vicarage Field lease expired. An unconfirmed suggestion was published in the Grays and Tilbury Gazette at the time that Barking Woodville became West Ham United’s reserve team. Although there was no connection London Caledonians also occupied the Vicarage Field for a period.
The Vicarage Field was then occupied by Barking Institute, formed in at least 1896 as Barking Working Lads’ Institute, originally playing at the Recreation Ground (Barking Park), or earlier as Barking Working Men’s Institute. They won the London Minor Medals in 1896/97 and the London Institutes Federation Cup in 1897/98. The link between Rovers, Woodville and the present club is unclear. One authority states that the Rovers club was the precursor to the present club, the local Church Institute being involved in running it with the name being changed to Barking Institute. What is certain is that each club was regarded as representing the town and played on the Vicarage Field, which was the prime sporting venue in the town for many years. There was also a Barking FC affiliated to the Essex FA in 1886 and playing in 1895/96 and Barking Victoria in the early twentieth century but no links with these clubs have been found. In fact, we played against them. Interestingly two of our predecessors, Barking Rovers and Woodville, played each other in 1888/99.
Barking Institute's name changed to Barking in 1902 and in 1908 Barking Ferndale became Barking Reserves. The name was changed again to Barking Town from 1919 to 1932, reverting to Barking until changing to Barking and East Ham United in 2001/02 for five seasons. The club developed the Vicarage Field to Football League standard. Barking had early experience of floodlit football, playing in the Borough Charter celebrations in Barking Park on October 12th 1931, our opponents were Ilford whom we beat 3-1 despite their being in a higher league. Floodlights were installed at the Vicarage Field in 1958 and Barking was the first club to play an Isthmian League match under its own lights. In 1973 Barking were required to leave the Vicarage Field by the council and were leased the present ground in Mayesbrook Park.
As far as is known our first women’s team was Barking Belles in the 1970s. Our subsequent Ladies team was founded in 1989 as Hornchurch Ladies. After a while as Collier Row Ladies they became Barking Ladies in 1998. Following amalgamation with Leyton Orient we played in the FA Women’s Premier League Division 1 South for five seasons. We won the Essex FA Women’s Cup three times and the Herfulsham Tournament in Denmark. We were in the Eastern Region Women’s League Premier Division but eventually the team was discontinued due to a lack of players. However, in the summer of 2020 a new Women's team was formed and play in the Essex County Women's Football League Premier Division.
There is no evidence of Rovers having played league football but we could have been founder members of the Southern League as, when Arsenal FC convened a meeting in 1892 to form a league in the south, the clubs attending included Woodville, who were however not elected to the new league when it started in 1894/95. In 1896 Barking Woodville was included in a proposed new London Amateur League which failed to materialise but Barking Woodville played in the London League from 1896/97 followed by the South Essex League from 1898/99, winning the latter in 1898/99. Barking Working Lads’ Institute/Barking started in the Leyton and District League, winning it in 1899/1900 and possibly in 1898/99 although no final table has been found. The club progressed to the South Essex League from 1900/01 and the London League from 1909/10, playing in both for several seasons (leagues were smaller in those days). In 1912 their application to join the Isthmian League was rejected but they had been founder members of the Athenian League in 1911, resigning after only two matches, having been fined for not fielding the strongest possible team, and not rejoining until 1923. During the Second World War matches in the South Essex Combination were played at the Merry Fiddlers Ground, Dagenham as the Vicarage Field was converted to an anti-aircraft site and included a first aid post, all matches in 1945/46 had to be played away.
Barking were invited to join the Isthmian League in 1952 and won the championship in 1978/79, managed by Eddie McCluskey. In April 1990 the Isthmian league’s ground grading committee deemed that Mayesbrook Park was unfit for Premier division football and as a result our last home game of the season was played at Leyton-Wingate FC. On June 19th at the league’s AGM there was a vote whether or not to relegate Barking: the voting went 16 for and 24 against with the remaining clubs abstaining. However, this was a temporary reprieve as in the next season after 39 years at Premier Division level, the club suffered the first relegation in its history. In 1993 there was a close shave with relegation to Division 2 when on the last day of the season needing a win against Boreham Wood substitute Lee Parish scored a 93rd minute goal to save Barking and relegate Lewes instead. Again, this was only a temporary stay of execution and in 1996 relegation to Division 2 did occur. Promotion back to Division 1 was won in 2000/01 under the management of Craig Edwards, Paul Downes and Alan Marson. Following restructuring Barking played in the Southern League Division 1 East in 2004/05 and 2005/06, reaching the play offs in both seasons. In 2007, following the tragic death of chairman Peter Webster in late 2004 and the subsequent liquidation of the parent company, the club was transferred to the Essex Senior League in 2006.
Barking have been champions of every league they have played in except the Southern League - which we were only members for two seasons - culminating in the Isthmian League championship in 1978/79 and in that year the club was awarded the title of FA Non-League Team of the Year. In addition to league championships the club has been very successful in cup competitions and over 100 titles have been won at all levels. The greatest success in national cups came in 1926/27 when the final of the FA Amateur Cup was reached and lost 3-1 to Leyton at Millwall FC, the ground staff having dug holes to clear the waterlogged pitch. A total of ten appearances in the last eight of the Amateur Cup was made, from which we progressed to one final and three semi-finals. The second round of the F.A Cup has been reached four times including the defeat of Football League opponents Oxford United in 1980. In the FA Vase in 1996/97 Barking reached the fifth round (last 16) and were narrowly defeated by a single goal at Mossley. The Essex Senior Cup final has been reached 14 times, of which seven were won, and the London Senior Cup has been won four times in seven finals. Other cups won include the Essex Thameside, Essex Elizabethan, Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy, East Anglian, Mithras, Eastern Floodlit and Premier Midweek. A memorable success came in 1996/97 when the Essex Thameside Trophy against Canvey Island was won with the 22nd taken from the penalty spot. Barking triumphed by 8 to 7 and the final kick was successfully converted by Uzodimma Agbasonu.
Barking's team in the Amateur Cup final in 1927 included at inside left Mickey Guyton, who continued to play for the club until he was nearly 40 years old. Guyton once scored all Barking's goals in a London Senior Cup tie against Catford South End which was abandoned with the score at 6-6. Although only one professional club's (Oxford United) first team has been defeated during the club’s history, in 1922 a 2-0 half time lead was held over the full Arsenal side in the London Challenge Cup. However, the Gunners scored five times in the second half. Also, in two FA Cup ties against Gillingham separated by 55 years the professionals required two matches on each occasion to progress to the next round. In December 1983 we lost only 2-1 to Plymouth Argyle in a second round tie with the Pilgrims scoring a late decider in the season that they reached the semi-final.
We have links with both the Olympic Games and the World Cup. The 1900 Olympic gold medal winning Great Britain football team (actually Upton Park FC) included former Barking Woodville players William Quash and Alf Chalk. In 1936 a year prior to joining Barking Bertram Arthur Clements then playing for Casuals represented Great Britain at the summer Olympics. Clements also played for us post World War 2. Peter Deadman was a regular member of the Great Britain Olympic football team in the 1960s and our 2002/03 first team included Rene Regis who captained and scored the winner for St Lucia in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers against Suriname on March 5th 2000.
Over 40 Barking players have gone on to the professional ranks and the most recently famous old boys are Kevin Hitchcock, the former Chelsea goalkeeper and substitute in the 1996/97 FA Cup winning team, Darren Purse and Lamar Reynolds. In their time Arthur Featherstone (West Ham United), Jack Leslie (Plymouth Argyle), probably Barking’s first black player, James Dillimore (Millwall), Harold Halse (Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester United) where he partnered the great Billy Meredith on the right wing, twice an FA Cup winner in three finals and capped by England in 1909), Len Casey (Chelsea), Peter Carey (Leyton Orient), Mark Lazarus (Queens Park Rangers), Laurie Abrahams (Charlton Athletic). Joe Hawkins (Millwall) were equally famous. Jack Tresarden (West Ham United and capped in 1923) played for “The Hammers” in the first Wembley cup final in 1923. England amateur caps were won by Charles Bradley (1913), A. Evans (1928) and Johnny Wilson (1948). George Shalders played for Liverpool in the inaugural game versus Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge ground.
Our most famous ex player is of course Bobby Moore, the West Ham United and World Cup winning England captain. He never played for our first team but research supported by the memories of our late president, Ron Debenham, has indicated that he played for our A (third/youth) team before being signed by West ham at a young age. The programme for a charity match in 1969 played at the Vicarage Field states Bobby “decided to play on the pitch where he had previously appeared as a member of Barking’s ‘A’ team”. This was corroborated in 2015 by former Barking player Alan Batten, who played alongside Bobby in our A team in 1954/55 which was subsequently wound up and Bobby moved on to West Ham United. Bobby’s parents had been active members of Barking FC Supporters’ Club and organised the transport, comprising fleets of coaches and even a special train in those days, to away matches.
Another very famous name associated with our club is Alf Ramsey, who led England to our World Cup success in 1966. In the 1950s, while still playing for Tottenham Hotspur, Alf coached our first team. This was probably his first managerial experience.
Another player to reach the highest level in business is David Gold, currently co-Chairman of West Ham United FC while John Still, successful manager of Barnet, Peterborough, Luton Town, Dagenham & Redbridge and now back at Barnet also played for us as a young man and was one of our youngest ever senior players at the age of 16.
We went to The Netherlands in 1929/30. We lost 3-0 to A.D.O and drew 2-2 with Quick (Nijmegen). Quick FC was founded in 1888 and still exists as does A.D.O. (Den Haag), who in a quarter-final game against West Ham United in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976, won 4–2 in The Hague but lost 3–1 away and were eliminated on away goals.
Among the club records is an unbeaten run of 17 games in 1968/69 which was almost matched by a run of 15 matches in 1996/97. In the light of modern complaints about fixture congestion it is of interest to note that Barking played 14 games in April 1927, losing only four of them. The club record run of unbeaten league games is 23 set by the reserves in 2011/12 which comprised the whole league season and one game from the next.
We have a long history of youth football with one of our predecessors being Barking Working Lads Institute and we have had various youth teams over the years, culminating in our current academy of which includes a scholarship scheme and youth teams at various age levels.
As a closing note, in 1895/96 Thames Ironworks needed three games to win a cup tie against Barking Woodville. It would be interesting to see if their successors, West Ham United, would find it so difficult today.
Compiled by Derek Pedder with acknowledgements to Gavin Ellis, Fay Pedder, Les Wilson, Terry Gilbert, Nathalie Hoodless, Mark Harris, Colm Kerrigan, Phil Sammons, Fred Hawthorn and Ronald Price
Amended and updated by Terry Gilbert November 4th 2019