History 1 of 2

1. Brief History

A Brief History by Lloyd Brown as at August 2019

Tilbury F.C. now have concrete proof that they were formed in 1889, and competed in the Gravesend League from 1889/1890. With the Docks being the only employer of any size in the area, all the Players and Officials of the Club were Dockers, hence the adoption of the nickname, “The Dockers”, which still stands today.

The aim of the Club was to gain success at Junior level via the Essex Junior Cup, and thereby to eventually bring Senior Level Football to the Town. Tilbury soon made a name at the Junior level, with successive League championships, and an appearance in the Final of the Junior Cup in 1903/04, where they were defeated after a replay by Chelmsford Arc Works. It was to be another 5 years before they reached the Final again, in 1908/09, but this time they carried off the Trophy by defeating the County’s oldest club, Saffron Walden Town.

However, at this stage, support for the club was poor. Only a couple of miles down the road, Grays Athletic were now playing in Senior ranks, and Grays Thurrock United were playing Professionally in the Southern League. Most local fans were going to these clubs, and finances for Tilbury were very tight. At the end of the 1910/11 season, the club also lost its home ground, and the Committee decided that the club should take a break from playing while it sought a new home base.

The intended short break stretched to three seasons, and was then further extended by the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914. As a result, it was not until 1919/20 that Tilbury were able to resume, this time in the South Essex League. They became Champions of that League in 1921/22, and were again a force in the County Junior ranks. The big push for advancement into Senior ranks came in 1924/25. The Title was again captured, and so was the Essex Junior Cup. As a result, in the following season, Tilbury were invited to enter the Essex Senior Cup instead, which they accepted, as they realised that some good results would really aid their cause.

In 1926/27, Tilbury reached the 3rd Round of the Cup, the first Junior side to do so, and also became the first Junior club to knock a Senior club out of the Cup, when they played superbly to defeat the mighty Walthamstow Avenue 3-2. During the Summer, they were granted Senior status by the Essex F.A.

Disaster almost struck however. Application was made to several Leagues but, one by one, they were all rejected, and it looked as though Tilbury were doomed. At the very last moment, the Kent League stepped in and offered them a place, which was eagerly accepted. With Tilbury remaining as one of only 5 Amateur clubs in a Professional competition, it was no surprise that they found it tough going on the field of play.

Off the field, however, the 4 seasons spent in the Kent League were a success. Tilbury enjoyed their time in the League and made many friends and contacts. It was an off-field matter, though, that led to them eventually leaving the competition. The League had expanded in size greatly since Tilbury joined, and added to the difficulty of continually crossing the Thames was the end of season fixture congestion.

This meant a great many midweek matches and, with no Floodlights in those days, those games had to kick off at 4.30pm, and Tilbury nearly always had to field weakened teams due to players’ work commitments. At the end of the 1930/31 season, the Committee very reluctantly took the decision that the club would have to move on. They made an application to join the London League, one of those that had rejected them 4 years earlier, and this time were accepted.

Tilbury stayed in the London League until 1939, when the outbreak of the Second World War led to the disbandment of most Senior Leagues. During that spell, they were twice 4th in the table, and once reached the League Cup Final, but were mostly to be found in the bottom half of the League Table. In September 1939, all Football was forced to return to a more local basis, due to Travel restrictions and Fuel rationing. Along with 9 other local clubs, Tilbury formed the War Time South Essex Combination.

They completed the 1939/40 season in this League, but at the end of that campaign were forced to disband for the duration, when their ground was commandeered by the Army, as a site for the Anti-Aircraft Guns brought in to protect the Docks.

Tilbury resumed in the London League in 1946/47, and then on a new home ground, the present Chadfields in 1947/48, and embarked upon a four season spell of much success and National recognition. They reached 2 successive Essex Senior Cup Finals, were 3 times League Runners Up, and were desperately unlucky to be knocked out of the F.A. Amateur Cup at the Quarter Final stage, when reduced to 9 fit men through injury.

The proudest moment, though, came in the F.A. Cup. In 1949/50, Tilbury fought their way through to the 1st Round Proper, eventually going down 0-4 away to a Notts County side led by the legendary England centre forward Tommy Lawton. In the previous round replay, at home to Gorleston, a crowd of 5,500 had packed into St. Chad’s Road, and that is still the official Ground Record. The proceeds from this Cup run were used, a few years later, to buy the Freehold to the 13 acre site that the Ground stands on.

In 1950/51 Tilbury moved into the Corinthian League. Apart from one League Cup Final, this was to be a barren 7 year spell, and at the end of that time they returned to the London League. The move into the Corinthian ranks had coincided with the gradual break up of the successful but ageing post-War side. The move back to the London League now coincided with the coming together of an extremely talented bunch of local young players that brought great success in the coming seasons.

In 1957/58, Tilbury finished 3rd in the London League, but in each of the next 4 campaigns were the undisputed Champions. On 3 occasions they also captured the League Cup. Also, in 1960/61, the Essex Senior Cup was won for the first time, when Walthamstow Avenue were beaten 4-1 (aet) in the Final, just 3 weeks after they had won the Amateur Cup at Wembley.

1962/63 saw Tilbury move into the Delphian League. This was to be the Winter of the “Big Freeze”, which almost totally disrupted all Sport throughout the Country for a period of almost 3 months. This was to coincide with that League’s last ever season. In 1963/64, that League joined the expanded Athenian League set up, becoming the bottom Division of a 3 Division set up. The Athenian League being the Premier Division, the Corinthian League being Division One and the Delphian, Division Two.

Tilbury were inaugural Champions of Division Two, also winning the Essex Senior Cup again. 5 seasons later, they completed the climb to the Premier Division, by winning the Division One championship. 5 seasons were spent in the Athenian Premier Division before, in 1973/74, they joined the newly formed Isthmian League Division Two, which was later re-named Division One.

In 1974/75, they became the first ever winners of the Isthmian League Cup, and 12 months later were the Division One Champions. 5th place in their first Premier Division season was the best Tilbury could achieve in their 5 season stay, before being relegated back to Division One.

However, during that spell, in 1977/78, Tilbury enjoyed a remarkable run in the F.A. Cup, as they started in the Preliminary Round and fought their way right through to the 3rd Round Proper, before going down 0-4 away to Stoke City. The storm clouds were already forming though, and just 2 seasons later relegation followed, amid a financial crisis so severe that the Club almost died.

Since then, Tilbury have found things tough. They have suffered relegation on several occasions, but have mostly bounced back fairly quickly, but the successes of previous years have never been re-captured.

In 2004/05, Tilbury finished their one season in the Southern League Division One East in rock bottom position, and were relegated to the Essex Senior League. They bounced back immediately, and earned a return to Isthmian ranks, and have managed to remain there since.

The past 2 seasons were moderately successful, with two 11th place finishes in the League, and in 2008/09 Tilbury won the Isthmian League Cup and the East Anglian Cup, these were their first Trophies in 30 years.

2010/2011, with a new Manager in Paul Vaughan, and a tie-up with South Essex College Academy, saw the Club hoping to build for the future. With an inexperienced squad, the first half of the campaign was a real struggle, and by Xmas Tilbury were in real danger of relegation. However, as he gained experience, Vaughan gradually rebuilt and reinforced his squad, and the 2nd half of the campaign saw a run of results that steered the Club to safety well before the end of the season.

2011/12 saw Tilbury greatly exceed their expectations, as Vaughan’s squad stayed in and around the promotion race all season, clinching a play-off place with a game to spare. Sadly, though, it ended in extra time defeat against Needham Market. Success spread through the club as well, with the newly formed Reserves, comprised mainly of players under 21 years old, coming second in the Essex Senior Reserve League, and winning the League Cup.

Unfortunately, this level could not be maintained over the next few seasons, as Tilbury continually lost some of their better players to higher level clubs, and Vaughan was continually having to rebuild his squad. The Club's Academy proved its worth in this respect, as Tilbury still managed to finish in a respectable position.

In October 2014, Paul Vaughan stepped down as Manager, and the Club acted quickly to appoint player Gary Henty as the new boss, and he acted quickly to appoint former Tilbury player Danny Smith as his assistant and another ex-"Docker" George Young as Coach.

Tilbury finished that season in a comfortable lower mid-table position, but showed great improvement in 2015/16, at one time being as high as 5th, on the back of a very long unbeaten run. This included good runs in both the Essex Senior Cup and F.A. Trophy, with no fewer than 3 National League sides being defeated.

However, as the season entered its final few weeks, their poor disciplinary record came back to bite them, with player suspensions taking their toll leading to a fall down the Table to 11th. That pattern was repeated in 2016/17. The first half of the season saw Tilbury in or just below the Play-Off places, but in the second half of the campaign a dramatic loss of form of just 3 wins from 22 games saw them plummet down as low as 17th.

The season was rescued in the final month, in which Tilbury went unbeaten, winning three and drawing two of the final five League matches, climbing back up to a respectable 12th position. On the cup front, Tilbury had a fine run through to the Semi-Final of the Essex Senior Cup, before going down narrowly to National South side East Thurrock United.

Unfortunately, Tilbury suffered a terrible run of results in October of 2017. A heavy defeat in the F.A. Trophy brought about the resignations of manager and assistant, Gary Henty & Danny Smith, plus coach George Young.

Once again, the Club turned to a former player to take over. Joe Keith returned to the club and brought in a few new signings over the next few weeks, and guided the club to a safe final position. However, this run could not be maintained, and in October of the next season, with the Club lying second from bottom, the Management Team was changed again.

Marc Harrison, a former Under 16 side Manager at Tilbury, had enjoyed a very successful spell with Basildon United, and now returned to Chadfields, bringing Liam Wallace with him as his Assistant. Making several new signings, they immediately brought about a big improvement, and took the club right up to 7th place, before a final day defeat away to the Division Champions sent them back to a final 10th place finish.