As a youngster, I would long for the weekends during the football season. My beloved Southend used to play most home fixtures on a Friday night leaving Saturday free for Dad and I to take in another match somewhere in the area. Ipswich, Norwich, Colchester and Orient were the regular venues for our “bonus day”; but at the beginning and end of the season we would mostly be at New Writtle Street, Chelmsford.
New Writtle Street was wonderful. Chelmsford City and Essex County Cricket Club were next door to each other and the prospect of watching both on the same day was too much to resist. Saturday would start at 11am when Essex’s County Championship matches got underway. After watching the likes of England all rounder Graham Gooch smash the visitors’ pace attack to the four corners of the ground, we would take a break from cricket and pop next door. At 2:55pm we would take our place on the Woolsley Road end to watch City.
Although City were only a Southern League team, they had some fabulous players and crowds were often well over 1000. My favourite was goalkeeper Willie Carrick, who had played out some of his early years at Manchester United. Carrick had a great rapport with the City faithful, who would sing “We’ve got the biggest Willie in the league”. I even seem to recall him scoring a penalty against Dorchester in one of his final matches for the club.
In attack City had Frank Bishop, a regular goal scorer and quite a character, it always surprised me that he never played in the Football League.
Regular visitors to New Writtle Street included the likes of Cheltenham Town, who progressed into the Football League; but the game everyone looked forward to was Dartford. Both were seen as “big” clubs by Southern League standards and both had aspirations of playing in the Football League, however it never happened – the tag of under-achievers attached itself and in truth never seems to have gone away.
The Stadium at New Writtle Street was in its day one of the finest outside of the League. In the early 70s, 16000 packed in for an FA Cup tie with First Division Ipswich Town. During my regular City visits I can often remember crowds of over 2000 for Cup-ties and almost 5000 for a friendly against Aston Villa.
A way beyond both the grounds is the railway viaduct. A haunting noise would filter across as the big diesel locomotives pulled freight trucks over it. To this day the noise reminds me of those sporting days with Dad, particularly as he is no longer with us but was a railway engine driver himself.
Sadly the Stadium’s future always seemed to be in doubt and eventually City moved out, sharing with Maldon Town and Billericay before returning to Chelmsford and playing at Melbourne Park.
At 4:45pm the referee would bring proceedings at the Stadium to a close. Dad and I would return to the cricket for the final session of the day. I often remember the kids at my school boasting about their day at Highbury, White Hart Lane or Upton Park and mocking my visits to less glamorous surroundings, but football and cricket on the same day…. unbeatable!