24 April ~ In 2004-05 my local team, Grays Athletic, won a non-League double of the FA Trophy and the Conference South championship. The following season they retained the Trophy and reached the Conference play-offs. Now however they are facing a drop into lower league obscurity. Those successful years were under the chairmanship of Mickey Woodward and management of Mark 'Stimo' Stimson, who then moved onto Stevenage Borough and who is now at Gillingham. Since Stimo's departure, the GAFC story has been chaotic, shabby, mysterious and depressing.
Mickey ran the club in the manner of a typical east end geezer-made-good, but there were rumours of personality clashes and numerous fall–outs with a succession of managers. Mickey's still involved, although Bob Moncur is now chairman and Julian Dicks is the current manager. The decline in quality has of course gone hand in hand with the recession and therefore dwindling gates – instead of 2000, it's now as low as 200.
And so Grays have wound up bottom of the Conference and have been relegated. Ebbsfleet are just above them, but by a massive margin of points. Grays would have finished one place higher were it not for Chester's disappearance. This weekend, Grays play at the Rec in the centre of town – home to the Blues for 120 years – for the last time. They're probably going to build houses on the land. The local paper, the Thurrock Gazette, reports a ground share with East Thurrock United, who are based in Stanford-le-Hope, some six miles away - despite three other clubs, Tilbury, Thurrock and Aveley being closer. It has also been claimed that the small size of the ground means that the club may have to drop down two divisions rather than one. Not only is it the end of an era in the town's history, but the end of a community hub.
A number of ex-Grays players names from those heady times of the mid-2000s often appear on the teleprinter these days, reminding us of what we once enjoyed, notably Michael Knightly (Wolves), John Nutter (Gillingham), Gary Hooper (Scunthorpe United) and Freddie Eastwood (now of Coventry, who famously scored the goal for Southend that knocked Manchester United out of the Carling Cup in 2006).
While we commiserate with Chester's untimely passing and with our 'local' rivals Ebbsfleet, Grays' current woes are also jaw-droppingly sad. Townsfolk can see clearly where it all went wrong – just one more season with Stimo in charge and we might even have had our day in League Two. The history section on the official site is unlikely to have much to write about for the foreseeable future. Tim Harrold