If you type the word ‘Beach Boys’ into Google, the first pages that come up are be linked to the American Rock band of that name who were formed in Hawthorne, California back in the swinging sixties. However, the swinging sixties were also a time when a small Essex football club began playing friendly matches on a pitch alongside Canvey Island beach. That club went by the name of Concord Rangers because the beach next to their pitch was known as concord beach, and they adopted the ‘Beach Boys’ as their nickname.
Whilst the Essex version of the Beach Boys haven’t quite had the same worldwide global success as the Californian version, the football club are still currently enjoying the most successful period of their history, and their continued presence in the second tier of the Non-League pyramid is a testimony to efforts of Danny Cowley and his former assistant Danny Scopes. This season Danny Cowley is managing Lincoln City and he has enjoyed worldwide fame with the Imps’ run to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup, but between 2007 and 2015 Danny helped guide the Canvey Island-based club from the modest surroundings of the Essex Senior League to a first ever FA Cup 1st round appearance in 2013, and also to the lofty heights of the National South in same year. They have remained at this level ever since.
However, before their recent successes, Concord Rangers once spent seventeen unbroken seasons in the Essex Senior League, and back in 1998 the club were languishing at the bottom of the Essex Senior League and struggling to make ends meet. The club also had their bar license taken away which prevented the club bringing in some much-needed revenue. Things were looking very bleak indeed. The arrival of Anthony Smith in 1998, son of former Chairman Jack Smith, transformed everything off the pitch and suddenly the first shoots of recovery began. The Beach Boys started to also enjoy some much-needed success on the pitch too, as the likes of Colin McBride, Steve Knott and Ben Embury all managed the club and added some silverware to the trophy cabinet during their time in charge. However, the success went up another notch with the arrival of Danny Cowley in 2007 and his assistant Danny Scopes. The two Danny’s helped steer the club to heights many supporters must have thought was very unlikely given their modest resources and fan base. The first season after Cowley and Scopes took their places in the Thames Road dugout, the club lifted the Essex Senior League title, won promotion to the Ryman Isthmian North Division and reached two cup finals; winning them both too. The team also embarked on a glorious run to the FA Vase Quarter Finals that season winning seven matches and scoring 27 goals before Lowestoft Town ended thoughts of Wembley with a 1-0 win in Essex. It had been a truly memorable debut season but this was just the beginning of the club’s remarkable rise through the divisions.
The following the season the club narrowly lost out in the play-off final on penalties to Waltham Abbey, but within a year they were the ones popping the champagne corks as they defeated Enfield Town 3-1 to gain promotion to the Ryman Isthmian Premier Division. After 17 years playing in the same division, the club had gained two promotions in just three seasons and they were now dining at the same table as their island neighbours Canvey Island. The 2010/11 season was a season of stabilising at a higher level, but credit must still go to Danny Cowley and Danny Scopes for managing the club to an 8th place finish, which was just two points and two positions behind their most established neighbours. The following campaign saw the team blighted by injuries throughout and the departure of Danny Scopes who retired meant Cowley had to bring in a new assistant. Glen Alzapiedi was the man to replace Danny Scopes.
The departure of one-half of a successful duo can sometimes bring turbulence and disruption to a football club, but it was anything but that at Thames Road as the team again produced miracles to gain end of season play-off place and then win two games away from home to gain their third promotion under Cowley and the first with Alzapiedi alongside Danny. It was the stuff of dreams for everyone involved with the Beach Boys. The club had gone from the laughing stock of the Essex Senior League to finishing above the likes of Chelmsford City as they did in the first season in the Conference South in 2013/2014.
The last part of the Danny Cowley revolution took place during the 2014/15 season. The club achieved their highest ever finish in their history with a 7th place finish in the National South, they also reached the 1st round of the FA Cup for the first ever time and they ended the season with lifting the Essex Senior Cup for the second consecutive year. Unfortunately, the success that Danny Cowley had achieved in this corner of Essex had attracted other Essex club to his management skills, and Braintree Town were able to prize Cowley away from Thames Road.
Saturday 11th March 2017 – National South – Concord Rangers 1 v 1 Dartford – Thames Road – Att – 367
Since Danny Cowley departed, the club’s success has slowed somewhat, but they remain in the National South despite some of the smallest attendances and resources at step 2. The 2016/17 season has been one of struggle and they still need to put some results together to haul themselves away from the relegation scrap. Meanwhile their opponents Dartford are in the hunt for promotion back to the top tier of Non-League football, having last played at this level as recently as 2015.
The current Dartford manager is Tony Burman, who is another manager who has achieved great success in the Non-League and who has helped put Dartford back on the footballing map in a similar manner to the way Danny Cowley did in his time at Concord Rangers. Burman led the Darts to Ryman Isthmian North Championship in 2007/2008, the same year Cowley and Concord began their ascent through the divisions. Another Championship winning season in the Ryman Isthmian Premier Division in 2009/10 saw the Darts climb into the Conference South and then another promotion was earned just two years later with victory in the play-offs.
An 8th place finish, a run to the FA Trophy semi-finals and the highest finish for a part-time club during the 2012/13 campaign had the crowds flocking to Princes Park before Burman and Dartford found life in the National League a difficult one. Despite a reprieve from relegation in the summer of 2014, there was no such luck a year later as Burman oversaw his first relegation in charge of Dartford.
Last season was very much a season of consolation for both Dartford and Concord with the Darts adjusting to life in the National South after the highs of National League and wins over the likes of Luton Town, meanwhile across the Dartford Bridge the Beach Boys were coming to terms with the departure of the club’s most successful manager in Danny Cowley. The current campaign has seen the Darts back amongst the front runners whilst Concord have been hovering dangerously close to the relegation places.
The Darts made the short journey from Kent to the Island sitting in 3rd place in the National South table with 64 points from 32 games and the play-offs now looking the most likely route to promotion, as neighbours Ebbsfleet United fight it out with Maidenhead United for the title. Concord, on the other hand, were down in 17th place with 30 points from their 32 games, but with an eight-point gap to the relegation places.
The current manager in the Concord Rangers dugout is Adam Flanagan, a former player at Dartford, and he believed the pressure was all on the promotion-chasing Darts before kick-off. Flanagan, speaking to the Canvey Echo, said: “The fact of the matter is Dartford are chasing a play-off place and still have an outside chance of winning the league. It will be a hard fixture, as are most games at this level, but we have done well at home lately in the league against the better teams and my hope is that will continue tomorrow.”
The game kicked off in glorious sunshine despite it being early March, and a healthy contingent of Dartford fans had made the short journey to Thames Road to help bump the attendance up by 130 from the previous home game against another Kent club in Margate. It had been a frustrating afternoon against bottom placed Margate the previous Saturday so the pressure was on get a positive result against one of the league’s front-runners.
In the early stages of the contest, it was the Darts who were having better possession and chances, and they were unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside when the linesman’s flag was raised. However, they didn’t have to wait long to open the scoring and it was Ryan Hayes who was the hero. A great counter-attacking move was finished off by Hayes in the 21st minute. It was Hayes 100th goal for the club in his 12th season with the Darts. The goal did briefly spark the Beach Boys back into life and their best chance of the half came from Jordan Chiedozie, who drilled a low shot at Deren Ibrahim who was equal to the shot to prevent an equaliser. On the stroke of half-time, the away side almost doubled their lead when a powerful strike from Luke Wanadio struck the crossbar. It was struck that hard the crossbar was still rocking a few seconds later!
The second half was a much more even affair, and the home side started to impose themselves on the match. The tackles were also starting to get a bit more crunching with both sides in need of the points for different reasons. The home side seemed to have run out of time, having wasted a few good chances to get back into the contest, but with time almost up the referee pointed to the penalty spot after Chiedozie was fouled in the area in the 87th minute. Steve Cawley stepped up to take the penalty and sent Ibrahim the wrong way to salvage a point for the Beach Boys. It was tough on the Darts who seemingly had the game won but the referee came to Concord’s rescue.
As Tony Burman and the Dartford players headed back along the A13 frustrated having dropped a crucial two points right at the depth, they will hope they don’t have to make the journey to Thames Road again next season with promotion still firmly on their radar, whilst the Beach Boys will be hoping they can survive and continue on swimming with the bigger clubs of the National South.
A full set of match snaps from this and other matches can be found here – Non-League Photography