This weekend, Grays Athletic have a rare Friday night outing, for a fixture under the lights at Tilbury, against our near neighbours, Basildon United.
The Bees trace their origins, as a junior level club, back to the late 1950s, playing in local leagues before, in 1971, becoming one of the founder members of the Essex Senior League. Around the same time, they moved from their original home in Gloucester Park to their current ground at Gardiners Close (although unusually, they had to continue to play floodlit games at Gloucester Park for several years, until the new ground was fitted out).
After a short spell in the Athenian League (remember that one, old Blues fans), in 1981-2, Basildon were promoted for their first-ever spell in the Isthmian League, where they played with some success for around a decade.
Dropping back into the Essex Senior League in 1991 provided more successful years, although the club opted to stay at that level rather than play at the higher level. That was until 2017-18, when promotion back to the Isthmian League 1 North was achieved, where they remain.
Basildon United are, of course, currently managed by Grays Ath old boy Darren Manning and this season, he has guided the Bees to their current position of third in the table - something that has raised a few eyebrows. Success has been due in part to the goals of another former Blue, Kai Brown, but he has now departed for pastures new. However, their form has been consistently good since the start of the season, winning six of their ten league games, although success in the cup competitions rather eluded them this year.
Over the years, our two clubs have met 11 times, mostly since the Bees return to the Isthmian League. These games show just one defeat for the Blues and several handsome victories. Last season’s two games were both crazy draws. At Gardiner’s Close in March, two very late goals from Roman Campbell and Courtney Homans rescued a point for Grays (and then Callum Leahy hit the crossbar in injury time). And just a couple of weeks later, in the return fixture, Basildon pulled the same trick with a 90th minute equaliser in a breathless 3-3 draw.
What price more of the same on Friday ?