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

Comments (3)
Comment by making_progress 2010-04-24 11:20:47

It's a fair guess that they've used about 150 players over the last three seasons - and that Mickey Woodward has threatened to leave about as many times.

A perfectly decent little ground (and an over-hyped club) is going to go, although it's probably worth noting that the New Rec has already given over one side to housing development: on the site of an old stand they built a block of flats in the 80s. Road End

Comment by hissing fauna 2010-04-24 12:08:34

What's that twat with the bell in the flats next to the away end going to do now?

Comment by darkblueturbo 2010-04-27 13:54:34

I'm not a Gray's fan, but I do follow all of the Essex clubs in varying degree's and like them all to do well.
It's always a shame to see any ground lost from my beloved Highbury to ColU's Layer Road and Chelmsford's New Writtle Street and now The Rec.

The first thing I thought of, as a Real Ale fan, was what's going to happen with your famous, CAMRA bar?
A loss not just to football, but to bearded Ale drinkers everywhere.

As for your friend in the flats, maybe he can put a mobile home on the field by East Thurrock's ground.
What a nightmare place to get to by anything other than car that is - a far cry from a town centre ground.
Real shame.

Good luck next season.

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