In 1902 a sports teacher at Park Higher Grade School, Ilford, decided to form a football club for both pupils and teachers. Today, 110 years later the school has changed its name and location - but its ties with the club that still bears its name remain as strong as ever.
Despite the change of name, the old boys' team clung tenaciously to their original title, the Old Parkonians. Sports master Harry Heather launched the club eight months after Park Higher was founded, and under his guidance the school 1st XI was extremely strong in the early years. In the 1902-03 season - the club's first - they became champions of London by winning the prestigious Dewar Shield, beating Halstone Road School, Greenwich, in the final. Headteacher Mr Clayson was so impressed he gave the whole school the day off in celebration.
The outbreak of war twice put an end to the team as players went to Europe to fight - some never to return. But each time the club was built back up again with a mix of old and new members.
The Old Parkonians - which currently boast nine separate teams of various ages and ability - went on to a series of glory days throughout the 1950s, '70s, '80s and most recently the last five years, winning trophy after trophy in the Southern Amateur League. Arguably their best achievement was last season (2011/2012) when the club won the top 3 Old Boys Cups for the first time in their history as well as a league win and 2 other promotions.
Since 1993 the club have played at Oakfield, behind Redbridge Sports Centre, Forest Road, Barkingside, where a purpose-built pavilion takes pride of place. On 12th September 2002 more than 400 people involved with the club attended the pavilion for the centenary dinner. Former pupils and teachers travelled from as far as Australia, Japan, Israel, USA and Canada to celebrate the occasion and meet with former team mates.
Until 2006 the club was ‘closed’, meaning that in order to play for the club you had to have studied or taught at Ilford County High School. However, due to declining player numbers the club took the decision to move away from its 104 year tradition and opened the doors to external players. Now anyone can play for Old Parkonians as long as they embody the gentlemanly spirit and competitive attributes of Old Parkonians. The move to open up the club has reaped much success and since 2006 the club has won 9 league titles, 4 cups and a number of promotions.
Being competitive on the pitch is very important for the players but the spirit in which the football is played and the reputation of the club have always been far more important factors. During the club's 1926 Silver Jubilee, general secretary Bill Olliffe said: "Many clubs have unlimited troubles for various reasons, often trivial. But it is the proud boast of Old Parkonians Football Club that it is ever a happy family and that keenness and loyalty never flag."
More than 85 years later, those values still hold true.
The club currently has over 200 members, many of whom play for the Old Parks Cricket Club during the summer months.
Deeply rooted in the local community Old Parkonians FC believes it’s important to try to give something back wherever possible. Over the last 5 years Old Parkonians have donated money to the Chigwell Riding Trust, Cystic Fibrosis charity ‘Tomorrows’ , taken part in 24hour charity football matches and further afield have donated a number of old kits to African children.
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