Sittin' by the docks – not a bay, we watched the Boro' go to play; Tilbury were the reason we were there. But what's the story?
Photo: "Sun going down at Tilbury" by psmithson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sittin’ by the docks – not a bay, we watched the Boro’ go to play; Tilbury were the reason we were there. But what’s the story? The town is more famous, we’d reckon, for being one of the UK’s biggest sea ports. Football? Not so much. And yet, if our Remember Them series teaches you anything, it’s that any old town or village across the UK have thrown opponents our way over the years. The Dockers are clearly no exception, because we’re here doing this.

So, here’s their part in the Boro’ story…

Who are Tilbury Football Club?

Let’s roll it back to the start so we can put this tale into some sort of context. The Dockers were formed in 1889, which makes them pretty long in the tooth. Mind you, we could say that about any side established before 1976 – right? Unsurprisingly, the club’s roots grew out of the docks; early players and officials plying their trade by the side of the Thames during the week. And the first steps they took were in local league competitions.

In the first half of the 20th century, they started to broaden their horizons; swapping those local leagues for county competitions and then into the London League (1931). After World War Two, they picked up where they left off in that competition and were a major force – though couldn’t quite win the title. Even so, the start of the 1950s saw them move into the Corinthian League. It didn’t last, however, and they returned to the London League in 1957 for four seasons.

Why do we know the Dockers?

The next stops were the Delphian and Athenian Leagues, before joining the Isthmian League in 1973. The 1975-6 campaign saw them win the Division Two crown with a massive 102 points; a milestone that won them promotion to Division One. A year later, this division was rebadged as the Premier Division. Three years on, however, they lost their spot at the Isthmian League’s top table and ‘returned’ to Division One. They narrowly avoided a second straight relegation too.

But for that, our first encounter with the Dockers could’ve come a couple of years sooner when we joined Division Two North in 1984. Alas, good things come to those who wait and it was just two years after we joined the Isthmian League that we were promoted to Division One.

What is our record against them?

At the time, the Dockers had peaked at 7th in Division One (1984-5) and were now moving back downwards. Of course, being old hands at that level stood them in good stead when we played them for the first time; the 1986-7 season returning two wins out of two for the Dockers. First, a 2-1 away win at Broadhall Way and then a 1-0 home win at Chadfields. Not that Boro’s apparent charity went far with those six points; the Essex side relegated all the same on goal difference.

We followed one season later, which brought us back together for the 1988-9 campaign. Funnily enough (if that’s your sort of humour), we got a bonus meeting thrown in for good measure that season too. But they maintained their hold on us with a 1-0 home win in the FA Vase Preliminary Round. Two weeks later, we met at Broadhall Way and played out a 1-1 draw; the first time we’d got anything off the Dockers. And it seemed to flick a switch in us.

The away league game saw Boro’ register a first win against the Dockers; edging a cracking five-goal game by three goals to their two. From thereon in, Boro’ turned the screw.

We’d go on to win three of our next four fixtures against the Dockers at Division Two North level. The only exception was a 1-1 home draw in April 1990. Once Cloughie took charge of us, there’d be few sides in our division who could hold us back. A second 3-2 win at Chadfields, this time in October 1990, was followed up by emphatic 4-0 home victory as we swept the floor on our way to 100 points and 100 goals. In their defence, they weren’t the only ones to suffer that fate.

Tilbury: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 9 — W 5 — D 2 — L 2 — F 14 — A 10 — Pts 14 — WR 56%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 4-0 Tilbury, 23 February 1991

What happened to them?

As we all well know, Boro’ headed on up the pyramid with contempt for all that stood in our way. Tilbury, however, couldn’t do the same. As the league was reorganised in 1991, they were put in Division Three. But they did win promotion to Division Two at the end of the 1991-2 season, if it’s any consolation. That was as good as it’d get for them in the Isthmian structure. Relegated again to Division Three in 1998, they returned to Division Two in 2000.

The Isthmian League shook it up again in 2002; this time landing them in Division One North. It was where they’d play their football for two campaigns, before they moved over to Division One East of the Southern League for the 2004-5 season. It was a disastrous maiden effort that ended up in relegation to the Essex Senior League. But they’d win promotion at the first attempt; going up to… Division One North of the Isthmian League. What a wide circle that seems to be…

They’re still there now by the way. Mind you, promotion came so close in 2011-2 – only for them to fall short in the playoffs; Needham Market beating them 4-3 in the semi-finals.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Tilbury club profile

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