A visit to the Rush Green Bowl, home of FC Clacton since 1987, provides both the regular and casual visitor to this seaside club, a friendly and very warm welcome.
Having been forced by the local council to vacate the clubs’ previous dwelling based in the town centre at Old Road when previously known as Clacton Town to make way for a shopping centre, the Seasiders have resided in their home of the last twenty-three years with continual pitch problems due to poor drainage – but then this is a pitch built on an old refuse site!
The older FCC supporter has often felt that this out of town ground has proved problematic since the outset. Too cold and remote, the club have struggled to attract the crowds despite a number of innovative ideas that have included live match broadcasts via the internet and on a big screen in the clubhouse. There was a time also when the club laid on a free minibus to charter supporters from the town centre to games.
On discovering the ground, visitors will immediately be welcomed with a custom-made sign welcoming you to the Bowl which usually will display the details of the next first-team game including the name of the opposition, date and kick-off time. A 100-yard drive down a drive way and into a car park that serves both the ground and the adjacent recreation ground normally provides enough parking for the average matchday but can become full for the one or two bigger games of the season.
The Bowl is afforded its name by the fact that around three sides of the pitch, sloping grass banks lead down to pitch level and are flanked by a corrugated fence, but not at the clubhouse end where visitors will firstly find themselves. The park within which the ground was built had hosted football for a number of years and the arrival of Clacton Town saw one of a number of pitches being banked up and fenced off and a clubhouse sunk down below pitch level behind the goal at the car park end. It had been hoped that the old grandstand from Old Road would be re-erected. If that had happened, the ground would have taken on an entirely different look and offered sufficient comforts to tempt more locals away from their television sets. Instead, early visitors were greeted by no greater comforts than a wooden railing around the pitch which later was to be replaced by a metal barrier around the entire pitch.
The very first match on 7th November 1987, against Soham Town Rangers, had to be abandoned after the floodlights failed. The 200 spectators observed four floodlighting poles on each side of the ground with a generous grass bank along the left hand side, with shallower banking along the opposite side and at the far end.
There are two entrances into the ground on matchdays, one with a traditional turnstile that once through you can either walk round to the clubhouse for pre-match refreshments or you can walk up a few steps immediately opposite on entering to pitch level with picnic benches available for those who wish to sit for a while.
The second entrance is for the disabled visitor to negate the need to worry about those steps to get you up to pitch level. 2009/10 season prices are set at £5.00 for Adults and £3.00 for concessions. When entering the ground, you will immediately be offered the award winning Matchday Programme priced at £1.20.
This 32-page programme has won the Eastern Counties League Programme of the Year award for the past six seasons and is full of features, columns, fixtures & results and very few adverts! The front cover is different each game complete with full match details. Oh, you will also be offered ‘Golden Goal’ tickets at the gate for the princely sum of 50p!
At one time, the club shop was set in a caravan on the banking. This was replaced by another adjacent to a hospitality suite and boardroom and in July 2007, this moved up on to the Burberry suite into a large Portacabin with the old shop making way for a Physio clinic. For the visitor who likes a club shop and a chance to buy a badge or other souvenir of their visit to a club, then the club shop at FC Clacton is a real must. The Portacabin is based on a raised area of decking providing an excellent view of the pitch and ground as a whole.
The Portacabin is also used to house the PA system operator. The shop stocks many an item including hats, scarves, badges, replica shirts, clothing, programmes, mugs, pens, mouse mats, coasters, rulers, key rings, fridge magnets and even brand new football boots at £5.00 per pair!
The Council dragged their heels over planning permission for the main stand, and it was late 1988 before this was approved. The metal and brick shelter was then placed at the bottom of the largest banking, effectively reducing the capacity as supporters standing at the rear of the bank could no longer see the whole pitch. Two rows of bench seating were installed in the stand a year later, and this has changed very little over the years, except for a protective screen end nearest the clubhouse and a large board on its roof displaying the name ‘The Mars Drury Stand’ in memory of FCC’s only ever Life President who passed away in 2009. This stand is centred on the half-way line and seats approximately 100 spectators.
In 2000, the far end of the ground was neatly enclosed with a hard standing cover (again, built at the bottom of the bank). The well intentioned sign that hung from its roof welcoming visitors to the club was soon decimated by a series of wayward shots and subsequently looked far older than it actually was. At the time of its installation the club had ambitious backers and had their eyes on Southern League football. Had they continued to develop along those lines then the stadium would doubtless be looking quite different today.
Opposite the main stand, a very small covered stand was built up against the metal fence behind the dug-outs and barely wider than them. This had three steps of concrete within it and has now been dubbed ‘The Bus Shelter’, with the club embracing the name to the extent that a small Bus Stop sign protrudes from the roof, and there is a timetable up against the rear wall! In February 2005, this was re-roofed, following a bout of storm damage. This houses the vocal but friendly Shelterites.
The clubhouse end is an entirely open end with a player’s tunnel dissecting the grassed area behind the goal. The clubhouse is compact with a pool table and gaming machines in the bar area taking up one half of the building, whilst the other half includes the toilets, a kitchen and dressing rooms.
The clubs website is an excellent source of information that is updated daily and one of the best on the non-league circuit and can be found at www.fcclacton.com
Overall, whilst some parts of the ground and indeed the clubhouse could do with a makeover from time to time, the efforts put into many other areas of the club makes FC Clacton a club worth a visit, especially for Groundhoppers looking to take in a bit of coastal sunshine at the start and end of a season.