Orpington Rovers, in its current format, was established in 1979. The club had been in existence before that but at the end of the 78/79 season, different factions of the club decided to go their own separate ways. The older age group went in one direction under a different name, and the younger section, retaining the name of Orpington Rovers, went in a different direction under the guidance of Charlie Moss as Chairman who coerced Alan McIlvaney to take on the role of Club Secretary. Some of the younger players left when the club split into two separate groups and this meant that the three younger teams were going to be short of players, not to mention funds.
It was decided that we should recruit players to make up any deficiencies by advertising on the notice boards of the schools in the area, letting them know that if they were interested in joining, we would be holding a signing-on day on a Saturday morning in July at Tubbenden Lane. We were inundated with boys that wished to play football, so much so that we had enough players to form five teams. There were a few obstacles to overcome, namely that we did not have enough football kits, footballs or money to get five teams up and running. In fact, we only had two kits, a few old footballs and about fifty quid in the kitty, prior to all these aspiring players turning up to join the club.
We also had to see if we could get all these teams into a league, find managers to run them, arrange pitches for them to play on, and in general get ourselves up and running in a very short space of time, bearing in mind that we were not expecting to have this many teams in our first season, and apart from Charlie Moss, had no previous experience of running a Youth Football Club. All of the teams that season played in a league known as the Norwood & District League which is no longer in existence. Teams within that league, when they knew of our plight, were extremely helpful and two clubs, in particular, namely Canterbury Old Boys Club and B.P. Colts donated football kits to us to help us through our first season. Through these early years, we hired pitches from Bromley Council at St. Mary Cray Rec, Goddington Park, Tugmutton Rec, Glentrammon Rec and we also hired some pitches from Bexley Council known as Five Arches off of Rectory Lane at Sidcup. As well as these we also had a pitch which we had marked out at Tubbenden Lane, which Bromley Council also permitted us to play matches on. We kept the goalposts for Tubbenden Lane matches alongside the garage of one of our members, who lived close by. We managed to survive that first season and progressed from there, each season often increasing the number of teams that we were running.
We eventually entered teams into other leagues, The Mercury League, The Tandridge League, The Bexley League. The Shirley & District League and the Gravesham League. In the 83/84 season, we also branched out into adult football entering a team in the Orpington & Bromley League, managed by Eric Shoebridge, ably assisted by Keith King. During all this time, we were playing our matches on various Council Pitches, which were not always well marked, were not always well maintained and certainly did not have very good changing facilities. Although we were beginning to become quite a large club, we were basically a number of individual teams when it came to playing games, due to the fact that we played at all these different venues but rarely did we have two teams that would play at the same venue at the same time. Clearly, this was not an ideal situation, and something had to be done to improve our lot.
Already the club had an enthusiastic committee. Its Chairman was now Pat Harvey and all the managers were very committed and passionate about football. One club member suggested trying for our own ground. This was put to a vote and agreed. We would investigate various ways that we could achieve this. Several options were investigated, preferential use of an existing Council Recreation Ground, leasing a plot of land that could be turned into pitches, or owning our own ground, although in the early days owning our own ground seemed a very remote possibility. We were financially secure at this time, but we were certainly going to require a lot more funding if we to achieve our ambition. The wheels were put into motion. Fundraising began. Our Social & Fund Raising Chairman at this time was Eric Shoebridge. It commenced with running discos, barn dances, jumble sales, quiz nights and race nights. We became so professional at this, that we would hire the New Village Hall in Orpington for our own use, but also let plots for stalls out to other organisations that could not afford to hire the entire venue. Then we hit upon the idea of entering stalls in summer fetes. Stalls were constructed and members ran these at every fete and carnival available, giving away footballs or cuddly toys as prizes, selling secondhand books and anything else we could think of as a way of raising money. In Eric Shoebridge's house, the entire ground floor would often be filled with merchandise for Jumble Sales and Brian Archer's hall and rear porch often resembled a library. Pretty soon, being a member of Orpington Rovers became an all year round occupation, almost an obsession. We would enter two or more stalls in large summer fetes or sometimes two single stalls in different fetes on the same day. Another money-raising scheme was the collection of waste paper/newspapers which turned out to be extremely lucrative. John Draper, our current Ground Manager, was also a person who a lot of this fundraising depended on, for without the use of storage facilities at the premises of his work and the use of his transport, we would not have been able to do anywhere near as much fundraising as we did in those early days.
We needed to raise our profile somewhat in order to have a bit more muscle when it came to negotiating for land for our own use and it was decided that the club needed a President. It was felt that the local Member of Parliament at the time, Ivor Stanbrook, was the very person we needed. Pat Harvey went to see him one Saturday at his surgery along Sevenoaks Road and Ivor Stanbrook duly became our First President. When Ivor Stanbrook retired, he was succeeded by the well-known football commentator, Brian Moore. Sadly both of these men have passed on and as yet we have not sought a new President. Pat Harvey left the club and sadly died before we had the ground at Cockmannings Lane up and running. Ian Johnston, our current Chairman succeeded Pat Harvey and has held the post ever since. Eric Shoebridge, who did so much as Social & Fund Raising Chairman died suddenly whilst playing Table Tennis. Although he saw the ground and pitches formed, his team did not play a league game here. Being an adult team, it was a requirement of their league that changing rooms were available and for the first season the pitches were available, the changing rooms were not. His team did, however, play the odd friendly at the ground.
Ground development committee formed. Various plots of land were looked at, mainly for lease from Bromley Council, but for one reason or another, they were not viable. It was agreed that the purchase of land was probably our best option with a price ceiling of £25,000. The hunt began and the land was looked at in various locations that might be suitable for our needs in places as far afield as Knockholt, New Addington/Biggin Hill and New Eltham. A member saw eight acres of land in Cockmannings Lane advertised in the local paper. It was for sale by auction. This was ideal. The estate agent was contacted at 11:00 one morning, asked if the owners would sell for £25,000 and by 15:00 the land was sold to ORFC.
As the club was not a limited company, ( and there wasn't enough money ), one member put up the money and via agreements with banks (arranged by members who worked in the City) the land was brought.
Then Planning Permission!!!! With the help of a members friend, permission was sought for change of use from agricultural land to playing fields.
Local councillors were enlisted for support but residents were opposed to the application. They formed the Cockmannings Action Group and arranged petitions in Orpington High Street. This opposition led to numerous meetings.
Bromley Council refused planning permission by 7 votes to 5. Again, a friend of a friend was enlisted to help. He was a Lecturer on Green Belt policy. This help didn't come cheap and a thirty-page document was produced detailing why Bromley Council was failing residents! Along with local MP Ivor Stanbook's backing, planning permission was granted on appeal. The land then needed to be changed from a 'vegetable plot' used for growing cabbages and potatoes into football pitches. More fundraising was organised and along with a grant from The Sports Council monies were soon in place.
A contractor was appointed to level the land. Work commenced but it was soon realised that there was far too much topsoil that needed to be removed. (the original height of the land was level with the bank running behind the goal on the current junior pitch, sloping all the way to the opposite end of the ground). The contractor was able to sell the excess topsoil thus reducing his overall bill by a half! The car park was also dug out and dressed with 'type one' aggregate. Working flat out, using JCB's, bulldozers etc it took three months to complete. Club members were busy making goalposts during this period!
The now level land was seeded. One club member went to the ground every single day for four months and picked up 4 buckets of flints on each visit. They were disposed of down a 'Dean Hole' that had appeared on one side of the ground during the excavation process. A contractor was employed to cut the grass.
Three pitches were marked out, (no small-sided pitch at this point), and the first games commenced. A lot of ex-managers whose players were now adults themselves were still heavily involved with supporting the club.
Planning permission was sought for the construction of changing facilities. Cockmannings Action Group opposed the application but permission was granted with restrictions… no social events and no selling of alcoholic drinks within the building. Work commenced. The only cost to the club was for materials, bricklaying and plastering. All the rest of the work, carpentry, plumbing electrical etc. was done by members of the club.
Water and electrical supplies were available from Cockmannings Lane but the gas supply had to be brought in via Waldenhurst Road. A trench was dug right along the side of the ground to facilitate this. A cesspit was also dug by volunteers.
Altogether, grants of £25,000 plus an interest-free loan of £10,000 were secured from the Football Trust, the Sports Council and Kent County Playing Fields Association to assist with the purchase, levelling, grading and seeding of the land and building the changing rooms and car park.
The Grand opening took place on 7th September 1991 by Ivor Stanbrook.
Bromley Council erected perimeter fencing and the FA provided a grant to help with ground upkeep.
Apart from the various leagues that the club has played in over the years, we have even had a team playing in the Kent Youth League, albeit, they had to play under the banner of Bromley Youth. Orpington Rovers, despite having the better pitch at Cockmannings Lane than the Bromley Pitch at Hayes Lane was not eligible for entry, in its own right, as we do not have Senior Status.
It was decided to purchase the club's own tractor for cutting the grass. Before this could be done a store would need to be built. Planning permission was sought and this time granted without any opposition. A Lottery Grant was refused, but the FA provided some funding. The store was built again with voluntary help and tractors purchased… this now saved the club a great deal on ground maintenance. A regular band of members, some no longer directly involved in the club, give up their time to maintain the pitches all year round.
At this point, the ground was only used on Sundays. The Schools District team requested use of the ground and they now play their home matches on Saturdays at the ground.
Requests from mangers to use the ground for training resulted in the application and planning permission (again) for floodlights. Cockmannings Action Group opposed it (again).
Bromley Councils Planning Committee attended the ground on a Friday evening prior to reaching their decision. Permission was granted but with restrictions…only three banks of floodlights on at any one time, and only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between the hours of 18:30 to 21:30.
Again, with voluntary help, the floodlights were erected - the lorry that delivered the lighting columns couldn't get along the lane so they had to be left at Tripes Farm! Due to only having a single-phase electrical supply to the ground, the lights are not as powerful as in an ideal situation but serve a purpose and are in use every permitted evening.
We have not rested on our laurels, we have other ideas for future development but as yet it is not possible to achieve any of our objectives, but having come this far from very small beginnings, who knows what the future has in store.
Naturally, there have been many successes over the years. Scott Minto passed through the club to eventually play for Charlton Athletic, Benfica, Chelsea and West Ham. Less well known is a girl named Julie Ferret, who went on to play ladies football for Millwall Lionesses and England, and currently playing for Arsenal Ladies, Liane Champ, who used to attend training when her brother played for the club, although at that time, unlike Julie Ferret in the early years, she was unable to play in mixed-sex teams, as the F.A. no longer permitted it. In all, in excess of 5,000 youngsters, mostly boys, have passed through the club during its existence, but that's another story.
Orpington Rovers Football Club is run entirely by volunteers. The club maintains its place in the world of football by having a dedicated membership and a strong committee. There are still seven members left from its inception, and many of the current committee remain with the club, even though their children have long since given up playing football. There are even a couple of committee members who have never had a son or daughter playing for the club.