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Rocking Back The Fates Of Fortune

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   If ever someone chats to you, bewailing the fortunes of their football team, just say one word.

   “Thurrock.”

   This tidy little club, nestled right next to junction 30 of the M25, have suffered what could be described as the most unlikely and unlucky of relegations ever.

   Having avoided the drop from the Ryman Premier by the skin of their teeth in 2012-13, Mark Stimson looked forward to building the club up after their relegation from the Conference South the season before.

   Karma, however, had other ideas – in the form of Joel Barnett.  In the summer of 2012, Joel’s Sunday league team in West Yorkshire disbanded over unpaid fines, working out at £16 per player.  Barnett himself was unaware of that, having been what could kindly be described as away from public life at the time.

   Barnett eventually headed south, playing briefly to a number of sides, oblivious to the fact he was on the West Riding FA’s ‘sine die’ list.  The Ryman League clubs he played for abided by the directives they themselves were given, checking the Essex County FA list, where of course his name didn’t appear.

    The ruling, despite the extraordinary circumstances, was harsh.  The clubs he played for were deducted three points for each game he appeared for them.  Playing briefly in Thurrock colours, for just a single match, meant the Ship Lane outfit, after all their efforts in staying up, were relegated.

   In a week where it seems a famous name from non-league football, Kettering Town, were threatened with liquidation over an unpaid debt of £58,000, to be relegated over a £16 fine, that the club could have no way of knowing about, seems outrageous.  It is, too, but that’s football.

   Some may have pointed out that karma works both ways, and that the Ship Lane outfit have had their share of good fortune.  On the face of it, that seems plausible, having avoided relegation from the Conference South in 2009 and 2011 due to the resignation or liquidation of other clubs.

   Of course, they were the benefactors of someone else’s ill fortune or mismanagement on those occasions.  Their relegation, however, wasn’t caused either by results on the pitch, or by an administrative error, or poor running of the club off it.  If it’s fate, it’s a twisted way of supposedly levelling things up.

   And so it was that, on Non League Day, Ship Lane was the place to be.  On a day like this, Thurrock really does have a story to tell as they acclimatise themselves to life in Ryman One North.

   It’s a neat, tidy ground that Thurrock has.  A large, well covered main stand, one roofed and one open terraced end, a covered enclosure with a choice of seats or standing, and a spacious clubhouse.  Everyone there, from the gateman right through all the match day club officials, are uniformly good natured, helpful and sociable.  They deserve better.

   As the ‘Fleet (their nickname coming from their original club name when founded in 1985, Purfleet) know ruefully, though, what you deserve and what you get are two entirely different things.  Manager Mark Stimson knew he needed to get the time motoring pretty soon after two wins, two defeats and a draw in their opening five games.

   Their opponents on this Non League Day were having problems of their own.  After that 2-0 win over Erith & Belvedere, Brentwood Town’s only other point in six matches was a thrilling 3-3 draw at Barkingside.  No need to panic, but new boss Les Whitton would be looking for the next win a little more anxiously than his counterpart.

   The first half was a good example of how, when two sides need a win, fear plays a factor.  Both teams played the ball around nicely, with the likes of Brad Warner for Thurrock and Petrit Elbi for Brentwood Town influential. 

   When the ball was in the final third, though, both forward lines seemed almost frightened when they had a sight of goal.  Shots were going high, wide, and a danger to passing motorists.  Set pieces were hurried and, frankly, dreadful.  It was going to take a mistake or a moment of magic to open the scoring.

   Just before the break, it happened.  Not, of course, the magic.  Loui Hazlewood, the impressive Thurrock full back, got down the bye-line on the right, centred, and Brentwood captain James Love had a moment of self-hate, turning the ball into his own net from inside the six yard box.

   It was like a dam had been opened.  The second half had just as good approach play but this time confidence flowed through in the last third.  Just after the hour Hazlewood double the ‘Fleet lead with an exquisite free kick from 20 yards out.

   The struggling visitors were by no means out of it, though, and deservedly forced a way back into the game with twenty minutes left.  A harmless looking centre came in from the right, with the host defence thinking they were rightly marking their opposite number.  Nobody bothered tracking defender Martyn Stokes ghosting in, though, and the defender scored yet again to halve the deficit.

   What transpired after that was a superbly entertaining contest.  Sos Yao will probably be still regretting the chance he failed to put away to equalise, pouncing on a Thurrock defensive lapse, through on goal, only to shoot straight at home keeper Reece Ottley from 20 yards.  The groans from the away contingent could be heard through the Dartford Tunnel and into Kent.

   As if to rub the salt of karma into wounds, the game entered injury time, with memories fresh of the last Brentwood visit to Ship Lane.  That freezing night, they scored twice in injury time to turn defeat into victory over lodgersRomford.

   On this wet but mild afternoon, though, the two injury time goals went the way of the landlord home side.  Jordan Clark dinked a lovely shot home from 20 yards and then Charlie Stimson dived low to head home and put a bit of an unfair gloss on the score.  Thurrock deserved the win, no doubt, but 4-1 never really told the story.

   It’s a story, on Non League Day, which needs to be told as well.  Thurrock FC has been dreadfully wronged off the pitch during the summer.  How fitting and ironic it would be if that wrong was righted on the pitch. 

   If they can mix a bit more confidence with their neat play and rub of the green, come next April, the ‘Fleet may well be sailing up the leagues again.  It’s no less than everyone at Thurrock deserve.

   And would be a fitting story.

Thurrock 4,  Brentwood Town 1