Hornchurch share their Bridge Avenue ground with Havering Athletics Club, and the overriding impression is of a modest athletics stadium that had been rapidly upgraded to keep pace with the Urchins’ meteoric rise up the Pyramid in recent years ... a progression abruptly halted by the financial crisis of benefactor Karl Williams in 2005, that ultimately led to the club’s liquidation, reformation and demotion from Conference South to the Essex Senior League.
Football supporters have a natural antipathy to grounds surrounded by running tracks. However, although one is unable to get near to the action, a good view can still be obtained if there is a stand of sufficient elevation, as at Newport County or Grantham Town for example. Sadly, this is not the case at Hornchurch.
Founded in 1923 as Upminster FC, the club originally played on the Recreation ground now known as Upminster Park. However, problems gaining authorisation to collect gate money led to them seeking a new home.
The current ground in Bridge Avenue was built as a council-owned athletics track on the site of an old rubbish tip in 1952, with Upminster taking up residence in November of that year. The club later merged with Upminster Wanderers to become Hornchurch & Upminster, before becoming simply Hornchurch FC in 1961.
Having struggled in the lower reaches of the Isthmian League for many years, the new millennium saw a dramatic change in the club’s fortunes, largely due to a substantial investment of capital on the playing staff. 2001/02 saw Hornchurch finish runners-up in the old Isthmian Division Three, and promoted to Division One (North) as a result of restructuring. In 2002/03 they finished as runners-up once again, and were promoted to the Isthmian Premier as a consequence. The Urchins’ phenomenal rise was maintained in 2003/04 when they attained a place in Conference South.
First impressions on entering the large car park at Bridge Avenue are very favourable. Everything is neat and tidy, and the clubhouse which is set back behind the near goal is undeniably impressive, with decking and tables outside. However, no matter how hard one tries to avoid the fact, the ground itself remains essentially an athletics stadium.
Like the entrance and clubhouse, the ground is very well maintained. However, the arrangement and design of the various stands, give it a very temporary feel, as if it has been thrown together in a hurry. Three stands are situated along the far touchline (the Riverside), as are the dugouts. The low level main stand that once stood alone, is now flanked on either side by two identical ‘flat-pack’ stands of the now ubiquitous AAS variety: functional but very very bland. There are also toliets and a trailer-cum-snack bar on this side of the pitch. Either end of the ground, in common with other grounds that coexist with athletics is open.
Two older areas of covered terracing stand at the far end of the East touchline, with the website URL repeated endlessly. No casual visitor could ever be in any doubt about the club nickname! There is a further AAS seated stand at the near end of the touchline. Inbetween is a smaller AAS stand for officials only. Immediately behind this is a gym and physio centre, with a door connecting with the stand. Presumably (and someone correct me if I’m wrong), this allows the gym to double as a Directors’ Lounge on match days.
Take the M25 to junction 29 onto the A127 towards London.Come off at the next major turn-off (signposted to Upminster) and turn left into Hall Lane. Follow this road for about a mile and a half, passing Upminster station on your left, until you come to a major crossroads with traffic lights. Turn right at the lights into St Mary's Lane. Continue down the hill and take the second turning on the left (Bridge Avenue). The ground is about 200 yards along Bridge Avenue on the right.
Upminster (10 minutes walk).