Grays at the Double!
Grays Athletic had to wait 115 years to reach the top flight of
non-league football, but when the Club did make the grade, it did
so in style.
In May 2005, the Club completed a remarkable double of league and
FA Trophy success in a season of firsts.
Grays clinched promotion to the Football Conference, becoming the
first club to win the newly-inaugurated Conference South league,
wrapping up the title by the end of March, scoring 118 goals in
Then, having claimed the scalps of Conference sides Exeter City
and Burton Albion on the way, Grays faced Conference North side
Hucknall Town in the FA
Trophy final at Villa Park. A closely-contested game watched
by over 8,000 fans went to extra time and then penalties, where
'keeper Ashley Bayes was the hero saving from Russell Cooke to claim
the biggest knockout prize in non-league football.
Grays were the first Club outside of the Football Conference to
achieve this league and FA Trophy double.
Elsewhere Grays produced their first non-league internationals,
with captain Stuart Thurgood playing two games for Paul Fairclough's
Game XI and teammates Mitchell Cole and Dennis Oli also getting
callups. Star striker Freddy
Eastwood was sold to Southend United for a considerable fee,
going on to clinch promotion for the Shrimpers.
Off the field a series of developments transformed the 'New' Rec.
A new 1,000 seater stand, away end, covered terracing and toilet
facilities brought Grays' spiritual home up to Conference standard
with plans to upgrade further for qualification into the Football
The Early Years
The End of the Saxton Era
The Early Years
Grays Athletic celebrated their Centenary in 1990, and have played
at the Recreation Ground, Bridge Road since 1906. They became members
of the Athenian League in 1912. They won the Essex Senior Cup in
1914/15, together with the Amateur Division of the London League.
Grays became very strong after the Second World War, winning the Essex Senior Cup in 1945. Grays
helped to form the Corinthian League in 1946 and won both the League and Memorial Shield and
were Essex Thameside Trophy winters in 1948.
In the 1950's they reached the County Cup final on four occasions, winning once in 1957. They
rejoined the Athenian League in 1958 where they remained until 1983.
In 1981 the Club Patron, Mr. Ron Billings, ensured the future of Grays Athletic at the Rec by
purchasing the ground. The Club was reformed as a Limited Company in 1982 with Twin Managers
Jeff and Fred Saxton introducing several of the Management Team. Under Chairman Jim Myers they
gained promotion to the Isthmian League Division 2. Disaster struck before the end of the 82/83
season when a fire destroyed the 400-seater stand which included dressing and kit rooms. R.J.
Billings came to the rescue by building the Ball Court Complex which included dressing rooms,
club room and bar.
A fine F.A. Cup run in 84/85 set up Grays to become Division 2
champions. The 87/88 season proved one of the most successful in
the Club's history. They were promoted to the Vauxhall Opal Premier
League after amassing 100 points. The Club's twin strikeforce of
Micky Welch and Tony Mahoney became known as "the most feared striking
partnership in non-league football". They won the Essex Senior Cup
after a gap of 31 years, and added the Essex Thameside Trophy by
defeating near-neighbours Tilbury.
Another F.A. Cup run in 88/89 ended in the First Round proper
at Bath City, the highlight being the success at Underhill in putting
out Barry Fry's Barnet. Grays retained the magnificent Silver Galleon,
the Essex Thameside Trophy, with a fine win at Southend United.
1990/91 saw the pairing of twin strikers Richard Cherry and Dwight Marshall, who scored 58 goals
between them, helping the team to sixth place in the league.
Grays won the League Cup with a 3-1 defeat of Enfield in 1991/92. The following season they
climbed to sixth spot in the league and had their best every F.A. Trophy run, going out in a replay at Gateshead.
In 93/94 they lost to Canvey Island in a penalty shoot-out in the Essex Thameside Trophy final,
but won the County Cup by defeating Billericay.
The following season they repeated their Essex Senior Cup win against Billericay for their 8th
County title. 1995/96 was another season with a threat of relegation, but they reached the Essex
Thameside Trophy final, losing in extra time to Canvey Island.
The hard times of the mid-90s eventually culminated in relegation to Division 1 at
the conclusion of the 96/97 season. But success eventually returned with promotion to the
Premier division at the end of the 99/2000 season.
The End of the Saxton Era
The 2000/1 season saw the club struggle at the foot of the table for most of the season.
However a successful run in the F.A. Cup finally came to an end with a 4-0 defeat at Reading
in the First Round Proper. This signalled the start of changes at Bridge Road with Mike Woodward
installed as Director of Football, Craig Edwards as First Team Manager and the departure of Jeff
and Fred Saxton, who had given the Club loyal service for some 30 years.
2001-2 saw the first team finish sixth in the Premier Division
and win a place in the First Round of the FA Cup for the second
year running. Grays also won the Essex Thamesside Trophy for the
eighth time. The introduction of a reserve team brought further
success in the shape of the Capital League title (which had not
been won by a team outside of the Conference for 17 years) and runners
up honours in the league cup.
2002-3 was tricky for Grays. The departure of manager Craig Edwards
led to Mark Stimson taking over the reigns as player/manager. A
series of high profile signings including Carl Leaburn and Jason
Dozzell did not work out as planned and Grays narrowly avoided relegation.
2003-4 was more positive. In the close season, the Club announced
its intention to go full-time and manager Mark Stimson and coach
Scott Barrett hosted a series of trials, recruiting a host of talented
and motivated young players. The move paid off; Blues notched up
some convincing victories, most memorably beating St. Albans 9-1
at home, and star striker Freddy Eastwood bagged 37 goals. A narrow
FA Cup 1st Round defeat against Aldershot and a sixth placed league
finish provided a signal of the success to come for Mark Stimson's