A BRIEF HISTORY
The club’s history dates back to 1923 when the team were formed as Upminster Wanderers. They played in the Romford League until 1938 when they stepped up to the Spartan League, at the same time dropping the ‘Wanderers’ from their name as an original Upminster club had folded several years earlier.
When action resumed after the war Upminster were worried about a shortage of players and returned to the Romford League for 1945-46, winning the title and the Essex Junior Cup, before returning to the Spartan League.
Promoted to the Premier Division in 1951, they joined the Delphian League a year later, changing their name to Hornchurch & Upminster as they prepared to move into the new Hornchurch Sports Stadium. They took up residence there in November 1952 and have remained there ever since. It is actually in Upminster, though in 1960 that town was dropped from the club’s title and it became Hornchurch FC.
By then, in 1959, the club had been elected to the Athenian League. They were to win the Division One championship in 1967 but were relegated in 1969 and promoted back again in 1971.
1974/5 saw the club reach the Fifth Round of the very first FA Vase competition where they lost to eventual finalists Epsom & Ewell by one goal. That performance helped the club gain election to the Isthmian League. In 1978, the club once again suffered relegation but three years later they were back after achieving the runners-up slot behind Feltham.It was a false dawn, to say the least. Apart from a tenth-place finish out of 21 in 1995, it would be 19 years before Urchins again finished in the top half of their table. They survived several brushes with relegation before losing their Division One place in 1986 and continued to struggle in Division Two North. Matters became even worse in 1989 when a fire destroyed the clubhouse and it took many years to recover. Inevitably, Urchins found themselves in Division Three when the regionalised divisions were scrapped in 1991 and an appearance in the final of the Associate Members Cup – a competition for the bottom two divisions – in 1994 was a rare taste of success.
Mick Marsden was appointed manager in February 1998 and in his second season in charge of the club took them to fourth place. After that, 2000/01 was disappointing as far as league performances were concerned, but the team had an excellent run in the FA Vase before being knocked out by eventual finalists Berkhamsted in an exciting replay.
Things were soon to change dramatically as the club was taken over and restructured. Second place in Division Three in 2002 brought promotion to Division One North as the league was reorganised and another runners-up spot followed in 2003 to take Urchins into the Premier Division for the first time. Much work was also done on the near-derelict stadium, allowing the club to take its place in the new Conference South after finishing fifth in 2003-04, though the season was more notable for a run to the Second Round of the FA Cup in which Darlington were beaten 2-0 before Tranmere stole a controversial 1-0 victory in front of TV cameras and a capacity crowd at Bridge Avenue. The dream continued a little longer as, under former Dagenham manager Garry Hill, the team stormed to the top of Conference South. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. On a grim Thursday in November the entire squad was released.
They had reached the First Round of the FA Cup before the collapse and the tie at Boston United was fulfilled by six debutants and a collection of youth-team players, who took an early lead and gave a valiant show before going down 5-2. The season descended into chaos. Almost 100 players wore first-team shirts as new manager Tony Choules contrived to avert relegation despite a ten-point deduction. Indeed, without it the club would have finished in a remarkable ninth place.
But the off-pitch affairs could not be resolved and the club reformed under the name AFC Hornchurch, to be placed by the FA in the Essex Senior League. Former youth manager John Lawrence took charge in May 2005.
A brand-new Urchins squad proceeded to run away with the championship and also won the league’s two cup competitions, becoming the first side to achieve the treble.
Even so, Lawrence was replaced by former Thurrock manager Colin McBride for the return to the Ryman League and Urchins romped to a second successive title, amassing 103 points to finish 21 clear of runners-up Harlow. They also won the Essex Senior Cup for the first time in the club’s history, beating Great Wakering Rovers 2-1 at Southend United’s Roots Hall.
Success continued in the Premier Division as Urchins finished fourth to secure a play-off place but lost 3-1 in the semi-final to AFC Wimbledon in front of a crowd of 2,897 on a memorable night at Kingsmeadow.
The following season also proved to be an eventful one. The biggest thrill, and the bitterest disappointment, was a 1-0 defeat by Peterborough United at a packed Bridge Avenue in the First Round of the FA Cup. Urchins held their opponents for 90 minutes and even had a goal disallowed but their hearts were broken by a goal by Craig Mackail-Smith in added time. In the league Urchins were fourth going into the final day but a 2-1 defeat at Sutton meant that they finished sixth and missed the play-offs.
Things were still not right off the field and manager Colin McBride took control of the club as chairman midway through the 2009-10 campaign in an effort to sort out the problems caused by the previous regime. His assistant Jimmy McFarlane took over team affairs, initially as caretaker though later to be confirmed in the job. Urchins finished ninth in the league after being in and around the play-off places throughout the season.
It was a similar story in 2010-11, when Urchins were unable to sustain their play-off bid in the closing weeks and missed out by four points, finishing tenth.
But the ‘two Macs’ achieved their ambition the following season as Urchins recovered from three successive defeats in August to storm into play-off contention. They topped the table more than once, eventually having to settle for the runners-up spot behind Billericay. Bury were beaten 3-1 in the play-off semi-finals and a tense final against Lowestoft was goalless after 90 minutes. After taking the lead in extra time only to be hauled back to level terms, Urchins snatched a 2-1 victory with a 119th-minute goal by Michael Spencer and returned to Conference South seven years after the unhappy ending to their first attempt.
It proved to be a difficult season and, despite a brief flirtation with the play-off spots, six dropped points to bottom club Truro proved decisive as Urchins finished 20th, two points short of safety. A second Essex Senior Cup triumph, coming from behind to beat Grays Athletic 2-1 in the final at Dagenham, provided some consolation.
Back in the Ryman League and shaking off the disappointment, Urchins enjoyed a 15-match unbeaten run early in the 2013-14 season and maintained their challenge for promotion to the very end. A poor finish to the season threatened to derail promotion hopes but Urchins scraped into fifth place on the final day and then reached the play-off final with a 1-0 victory at Kingstonian.
So, for the second time in three seasons, Urchins faced Lowestoft Town in the final. This time, though, it was away from home, and with four key men missing through injury or suspension. Others had to play while less than properly fit and Lowestoft won 3-0.
The following season started with high hopes but the club’s landlords, the local council, closed the stadium to install new floodlights, forcing all the pre-season friendlies and the first eight league games to be played away from home. Just one point came from those matches and left Urchins facing a season-long fight to avoid the drop. With six weeks to go they had finally lifted themselves out of the bottom four and looked on course for survival, only for form to desert the team completely as just two points came from the last ten games.
Urchins had high hopes of regaining their Premier status quickly but it was not to be. Finishing 5th in the table, they defeated 2nd placed Thurrock 2-0 in the 2015/16 Play-off semi-final but lost out 3-1 to Harlow Town in the Final. The following season the Urchins finished 4th and again met Thurrock in the Play-off semi-finals but this time it was Thurrock who were victorious, winning the game 1-0. However it was third time lucky in 2017/18 when they won Bostik North by 13 points, amassing 103 goals in total with a goal difference of +62.
At the end of November long serving manager Jimmy McFarlane stood down and in his place the Club appointed Mark Stimson.