Eighteen full international footballers grace Wanstead Flats

Wednesday 14 August 2013

As the footballing world prepares itself for the Premier League kick-off, this weekend, we thought we'd focus on a local contributor to much of its talent - past and present.

Wanstead Flats has possibly spawned more international footballers over the last four decades than any other public space in Britain, rivalled only by Hackney Marshes, as the listings in this article suggests.

At least 18 future internationals have graced the local turf, and although many of them could not be considered world beaters, the list is only a goalkeeper short of a team that could, collectively, have qualified in most international tournaments, world-wide, over the decades.

Football on Wanstead Flats
Ten are full English internationals who have accumulated over 430 caps between themselves. Over 150 of Senrab's players have moved on to play professional football.

Senrab FC is a Sunday League football that plays on the Flats.  It was founded in 1961 by Jimmy Tindall, later a youth development officer with West Ham.

The selection criteria has been high from the outset; Tindall would only sign young players who had already played for their district, or county. In the early 1970's so many Senrab players signed for Chelsea that former player and current England assistant manager, Ray Lewington, nicknamed the club "Chelsea Juniors".

England Assistant Manager,
 Ray Lewington, nicknamed
 Senrab "Chelsea Juniors"
The club currently operates 15 teams for age groups between 5 and 17 years old. As well as producing a number of future top flight players (see below), Senrab has produced a number of top rate coaches, including Dario Gradi, who until June 2007 was the longest-serving football manager, with Crewe.

Given this remarkable track record, shockingly Senrab ran into financial difficulties a few years back, and one of its alumina, John Terry, donated an undisclosed sum to keep his junior club going, in 2011.

Hero and villan, John Terry
It is a disgraceful reflection of the state of football in England today that while literally billions of pounds slush around the Sky-tv backed Premier League, the F.A. does, as its name suggests, so little to support the network that grooms and prepares this future talent, in their early and formative years.

It is nothing short of scandalous that a team that nurtures so many players with huge potential - like Senrab - needs a begging bowl to provide the £10k or so per season required to ignite a quality supply chain of footballing talent at local level.

A week's wages for an average Premier League footballer could keep both Senrab and Clapton FC going for a couple of seasons.  Yet both struggle for lack of almost any money at all.

The Wanstead Flats club takes its name from Senrab Street in Stepney, where the players trained, originally.  The name, incidentally is Barnes, spelled backwards - the name of another, local Stepney street.

The illustrious roll of former internationals, in alphabetical order (rather than footballing ability!), includes:

Ade Akinbiyi - b 1974, striker. Career: 1993 - 2010, one full Nigerian cap. He made over 500 professional appearances with over a dozen clubs, scoring 136 goals, including Norwich (49 apps - 3 goals), Gillingham (63 - 28), Wolves (37 - 16), Leicester (58 - 11), Crystal Palace (24 - 3), Stoke (59 - 17) and Burnley (109 - 26). Remarkably, he clocked up £11.5m in transfer fees, mainly generated by current England Under 20 manager, Peter Taylor.  Ade was much derided by many fans, who rather cruelly knew him as "Akinbadbuy".

Ade Akinbiyi
Lee Bowyer - b 1977 in Canning Town, midfielder. Career: 1974 - 2012, one full England cap and 13 under 21 caps.  604 professional appearances (99 goals), with half a dozen clubs, including Charlton (46 - 14 goals), Leeds (265 - 55), Newcastle (98 - 11) and West Ham (60 - 5). Bowyer had a colourful and violent off-field presence, and still holds the record for the largest number of yellow cards imposed in the Premier League.

Bad boy, Lee Bowyer
Sol (Sulzeer Jeremiah) Campbell - b 1974 in Plaistow, and a pupil at Lister school, central defender. Career: 1992 - 2011, 73 full England caps (1 goal).  504 professional club appearances (20 goals), mainly with Spurs (255 - 10), Arsenal (135 - 8) and Portsmouth (95 - 2). His career was blighted by terrace chants about being allegedly gay, and his brother, John, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in 2005, for assaulting a man in the street  who suggested that he was. Sol has launched a charity - Kids Go Live - aimed at helping inner city kids to see various sporting events.

Sol Campbell: much travelled and much taunted
Ashley Cole - b 1980, left-back. Career: 1998 - to present, 101 full England and 5 under 21 caps. Over 150 appearances (8 goals) for Arsenal and 212 (7 goals) for Chelsea, plus 14 (1 goal) on loan to Crystal Palace. One of the most gifted defenders of his generation, with an off-field lifestyle that offends many unaligned supporters. A distant cousin of Maria Carey, Ashley Cole was, for a while, married to singer Cheryl Tweedy.

Alan Curbishley - b 1957 in Forest Gate, the younger brother of Who promoter, Bill Curbishley. He was a midfielder. Career: 1975 - 1993, one England under 21 cap. Over 450 appearances (36 goals) for: West Ham (85 - 5), Charlton (91 - 6), Birmingham (130 - 11), Villa (36 - 1) and Brighton (116 - 13). Later (1991 - 2008) a successful manager with Charlton and West Ham, against whom he won a Tribunal case for constructive dismissal, when he left the club in 2008.  Now a TV pundit.

Local boy, footballer, manager, pundit Alan Curbishley
Jermain Defoe - b in 1982 in Beckton, and a pupil at St Bonaventure's school. He is a striker. Career 1999 - to date, 53 full England caps (19 goals), 23 Under 21 caps (7) , although remarkably for this number of appearances has never played a full 90 minutes at full international level, having been brought on as a substitute a record 32 times. Over 425 club appearances and over 150 goals, with Spurs (262 - 90 goals), West Ham (93 - 29) and Portsmouth (31 - 15). His half brother, Jade 'Gavin' Defoe, grime artist Escobar, died of head injuries following an assault in Leytonstone in the summer of 2012.

St Bons old boy Jermain Defoe
Ugochuku (Ugo) Ehiogu - b 1972, central defender. Career: 1989 - 2009, 4 full England caps, 21 under 21 caps. 400 first class appearances, with six clubs, principally Villa (237) and Middlesbrough (126).  Now runs his own record label, Dirty Hits and works with the Spurs youth academy.

"One Size" Fitz Hall - b 1980, central defender. Career: 2000 - to date, no caps.  290 professional appearances, principally with Crystal Palace (75), Oldham (41), Wigan (25) and Queen's Park Rangers (85).  Has just missed out on a return to the Premier League with latest club Watford, following their defeat to one of his former clubs, Crystal Palace, in the Championship play-offs, at Wembley.

Vince Hilaire - born 1959, midfielder. Career: 1972 - 1992, 9 under 21 caps. Over 500 appearances with half a dozen clubs, principally Crystal Palace (255) and Portsmouth (146). One of the country's first established black players in the higher echelons of football, who suffered racist taunts throughout his career.  In contrast, affectionate chants of "There's a brown boy on the wing" to the tune of Boney M's "Brown girl in the ring", rang out from the terraces during his delightful tenure at Selhurst Park.

Terry Hurlock - b 1958, central midfielder. Career: 1980 - 1995, 3 England B caps. Over 500 appearances for half a dozen professional clubs, principally Brentford (220) and Millwall (104). A combatative player, or in football parlance "a hard man", who while playing for Rangers, in Scotland, amassed a record number of disciplinary points in a single season.  He was nick-named variously as "Gypo" (because, unusually for the time, he wore an ear ring), "Animal" and "Warlock".  Tony Cascarino once said of him: "Some of us (Millwall) players playfully goaded Terry about what he was going to do to Vinnie Jones, in the upcoming fixture against Wimbledon. Without saying a word, he got up from the table and walked to the entrance to the pub and ripped the door off its hinges."

Muzzy Izzet - b 1974,  midfielder. Career: 1993 - 2006, 8 Turkish caps. Played almost 300 games, mainly for Leicester City.  Now runs a football academy with fellow former football pro Steve Walsh.

Turkish international Muzzy Izzet
Ledley King - b 1980, central defender. Career: 1999 - 2012, 21 England Caps. 268 professional games, all with Spurs. A highly rated, cultured, defender whose career was cut short by a chronic, recurring, knee injury.  It was so bad that he was unable to train, but remarkably still played Premier League football, leading manager Harry Redknapp, to describe him as "an absolute freak". Currently an ambassador for Spurs.

Cultured and crocked, Ledley King
Paul Konchesky - b. 1981, left back. Career: 1997 - to date, 2 full England caps and 21 under 21 caps. Over 400 appearances with half a dozen clubs, including Charlton (149), Fulham (97), Leicester (81 - not out), and West Ham (59).

Released West Ham junior, Paul Konchesky
Tommy Langley - b 1958, a striker. Career 1974 - 1991, one England under 21 cap. Epitome of the "much travelled" footballer.  He played for over a dozen professional clubs, including Chelsea (140 appearances, 40 goals), Aldershot (81 -21), Crystal Palace (59 - 8). Now works for Chelsea in a variety of media and hospitality-related roles.

Ray Lewington - b 1956. Career: 1975 - 1990.  No representative honours as a player, but currently England assistant manager. Over 400 career appearances, including Fulham (234) and Chelsea (85). He has been caretaker, assistant and manager and coach for Fulham, Crystal Palace, Brentford and Watford, since 1990, and is currently assistant to former Crystal Palace player, now England manager Roy Hodgson, in the national set up.

Darren Purse - b 1977, central defender. Career: 1994 - 2013, 2 under England 21 caps. Over 500 appearances with nine clubs, including Brighton (168), Cardiff (111), Sheffield Wednesday (61), Oxford (59) and Leyton Orient (55).

Darren Purse
Jlloyd Samuel - b. 1981, defender. Career: 1998 - to date, 7 England under 21 caps and 2 full caps for Trinidad and Tobago - having been called up, but never played for the full England team. 300 first class appearances, to date.  He made his name with Villa (169 appearances) and later Bolton (71). Currently playing in Iran.  He was a youth player with West Ham and released on the same day as four others on this list: Paul Konchesky, Lee Bowyer, Bobby Zamora and Fitz Hall - see later. He also played alongside John Terry and Ledley King, at Senrab.

Released West Ham 
youth player, Jlloyd Samuel
John Terry - b 1980 in Barking, central defender. Career: sometime England captain, with 78 full international caps and 9 at under 21 level. Almost 600 appearances for his only professional club, Chelsea (and 55 goals). The club's most successful captain ever, under whose leadership it has won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two league cups and one Champions League title, since 2002.  Terry is one of only five players to have made over 500 appearances for Chelsea. Outside of Chelsea, he is a much derided player, with a poor off-field reputation, and a charge of racism aimed at Anton Ferdinand to his discredit.

Ray "Butch" Wilkins - b 1956, right side midfielder. Career: 86 England caps. Almost 600 league appearances with 11 clubs, including Chelsea (179), QPR (176), Manchester United (160), Milan (73), Rangers (70), Paris St Germain (13), Crystal Palace (1 - lasting 72 minutes!). Butch has subsequently had a number of manager, caretaker and assistant roles with: QPR, Fulham, Chelsea and Millwall. He was sacked from his last job in football by Chelsea in 2010, and has been a media commentator since and has subsequently faced a conviction for drink driving.

Ray Wilkins: Manchester United,
 Chelsea, Paris St Germain, Rangers,
 Milan, England - and Crystal Palace!
Bobby Zamora - b 1981, attended Little Ilford school, striker. Career: 1999 - to present, 2 England caps and 6 under 21 caps. Over 300 league appearances, with 140 goals  to date, with six clubs, principally West Ham (130 appearances and 30 goals), Brighton (119 - 70) and Fulham (91 -20).  Just relegated from the premier league with QPR.  Subject of much terrace chanting, to the tune of Dean Martin's 'That's Amore', with club supporters singing, in a somewhat dated manner "When the ball hits the goal, it's not Shearer or Cole, its Zamora", to which the opposition fans respond vigorously with "When you're sat in row Z and the ball hits your head, that's Zamora".

Hitting row Z, Bobby Zamora
In addition to bringing through players who became future managers like Alan Curbishley, Ray Lewington and Ray Wilkins, above, Senrab also gave the lower league manager legend that is Dario Gradi (b 19 41) his first break in the game.

Long-serving manage and
 talent developer Dario Gradi
Gradi had a brief, undistinguished, career playing in non-league football in the early 1970s. After a spell as manager at the then non-league Wimbledon, that saw the club enter the Football League for the first time, he had an unsuccessful stint as manager of the then top division Crystal Palace, whom he failed to save from relegation. Since that time he has been in a management and director capacity at Crewe Athletic for most of the succeeding 40 years. 

His remarkable talent-spotting record at Crewe rivals that of Senrab, itself, with the club having unearthed the talents of, among others, David Platt, Rob Jones, Geoff Thomas, Danny Murphy, Ashley Ward, Seth Johnson, Robbie Savage, Neil Lennon, Rob Hulse and Dean Ashton.

A final product of Senrab had an almost equally unremarkable playing career in football, but an impact equal to that of Gradi and Senrab itself. Tony Carr (b 1950) had a brief playing career with West Ham and Barnet in the early 1970s, but switched to youth development in 1973, which he has lead with distinction at West Ham ever since.  

The club's reputation as being "the Academy" is in no small part down to Carr's guile; having Senrab on his doorstep would have been no hindrance, either! He is estimated to have generated over £80 million in transfer fees from the players he developed at West Ham.

No less than seven players, trained by Carr were in the 2010 England squad that went to the World Cup in 2010: Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson and John Terry. He was appointed MBE in 2010.

For further information see the Wiki pages of each of the players listed (highlighted) or visit the Senrab website.

For enquiries about the club, contact club secretary Tony Carroll on 07531111906, or 0208 504 7079, e.mail tonycarroll1011@hotmail.co.uk. The club is currently recruiting members for each of its teams, for the forthcoming season.

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