How United Helped Out My Local Non League Side In 1976

One thing that may surprise alot of people reading this article is that aside from supporting Manchester United, I am a big fan of Non League football and over the past four and a half years have put alot of time and effort into helping out at two of my local football sides.

I have grown to love both Barkingside FC and Redbridge FC  who play about 15 minutes walk from my house at the Oakside Stadium and after going there as a trainee sports reporter for my local radio station have become a fixture at both clubs ever since.

Both clubs have had their moments. Redbridge in fact had Dean Holdsworth as their manager four seasons ago and almost won promotion out of the Ryman League North, which for those of you not familiar with Non League is in effect at the eight level of England’s football league system.

Barkingside play one division below Redbridge, in the Essex Senior League and obviously watching both teams on a regular basis does seem like a million miles away from watching United in the Premier League.

If you are wondering as to why I would be mentioning these two sides on our site which is a Manchester United fansite, well there is one small connection between United and the ground in which the club’s play at, which has become my second-home so to speak for the last four and a half years.

The Oakside Stadium is not one of the greatest grounds in Non League football, as even despite the improvements that have been made in recent years, the ground’s main stand whilst being quite comfortable is in need of being a complete renovation.

Our clubhouse (pictured above) though is one of the best in the Ryman League and underwent major development last year thanks to our new chairman’s investment into the club. A once tired looking building that embarrassed people at the club – to one that we are now proud to walk into.

Barkingside have been based at the Oakside since the start of the 1957/58 season, whilst Redbridge have only been playing there since 2001 after they were forced to move from their previous stadium in Dagenham after the ground’s owners Ford Motors failed to give them a lease to allow them to stay there.

In 1976 Barkingside were playing in the old Greater London League and were a steady but proud little club. In the summer of that year a small fire broke out at the ground with the clubhouse and dressing rooms being severely damaged, forcing ‘Side (that’s their nickname) to move to nearby Woodford to play their games until the damage was repaired.

‘Side back then as they do today relied solely on 2-3 individuals a season to keep the club going. Of course the severity of the fire meant that those running the club could only do so much to repair the damage out of their own pocket.

Even with money coming in from the club’s Insurance, the club secretary at the time appealed to the all of the 92 football league clubs at the time, in a letter whether they would be kind enough to help donate some money to help towards the costs of repairing what was damaged.

Now here’s the interesting fact for you (and probably the highlight of the article which sadly has only come around 560 words in for you) only one of those 92 league clubs replied.

If you haven’t by now guessed who the club was – well that club was of course United who according to ‘Side’s historian Rob Meyers, sent a £5 cheque back to the club’s secretary and a letter wishing the club all the best.

I don’t know if United’s chairman at the time Louis Edwards (father of Martin Edwards who was also our chairman) signed the letter himself, but isn’t it funny that none of the clubs in London (like Spurs of even West Ham) failed to give any money at all, especially in an area where many of their fans have lived in.

Now of course £5 does not sound alot and of course it is not a lot – but isn’t it funny that United were the only club to reply and donate that money – which apparently is worth around £27-30 in today’s market.

It took apparently 3-4 months before the clubhouse and dressing rooms were repaired sufficiently for Side to move back into their home towards the end of autumn in 1976. Of course the ground has since undergone some changes since then, but it’s a certainly a story that really interested me when I found out recently.

Of course in London there are lots of people who are Anti-United and we have some at the club. It will be interesting to see what their reactions will be when I tell them about this story as most of our fans despite our historian Rob producing some great fanzines (made up of stories and reports going back as far as the early 1900’s) will not know about this story at all.

Looking at the story as a whole, Non League football really is on a different planet compared to the dazzling world of the Premier League. Of course clubs at all levels should be able to run efficiently themselves or they shouldn’t be in any league really.

However I do feel that professional clubs should be doing more to help the grassroots of the game as if they are in a position to help clubs on the brink of extinction there’s no reason why they could not afford to give £10-15k to help a club.

That’s just my opinion though, at least I can know that United have helped out my local club and there’s no doubt that they’ve done the same for dozens of clubs up and down the country who all have a similar story to tell.

By Adam Dennehey –  @ADennehey87