Where it all started
Our league has been running since 1947 at the iconic Hackney Marshes in East London and is the most widely recognised grassroots football league in the UK. We are an integral part of the community in East London and surrounding areas, offering opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to play football together.
Our league has seen players reach the professional ranks; it was on the Hackney Marshes that heroes of English football like Bobby Moore to David Beckham started their football craft. It was also the setting for the Park Life Nike commercial featuring Eric Cantona, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler and for the Adidas campaign featuring Lionel Messi. But our roots first started after World War II…
The war was not long over, and the now famous Hackney Marshes became synonymous for its football pitches. These pitches were created on the foundations of the rubble created by the ‘Blitz’ and the heavy bombing of London.
At first the pitches were small and on top of the one another. Often just a yard or so between the pitches, which is not surprising because there were over 120 pitches to start with. The dressing rooms were no more than huts without any lighting and there were no luxuries such as hot water and showers.
By natural process our local Sunday football league was created for mainly North London teams which at the time was mostly made up of Hackney & Leyton residents but also from most parts of North and East London and even as far south as North Kent. So in 1947 the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League began.
The Hackney & Leyton Premier Division was very strong and in the early years there were some great sides, some of them virtually made up of top so-called ‘amateur’ players who played on Saturdays for the great amateur clubs of the day such as Walthamstow Avenue, Corinthian Casuals, Enfield, Leytonstone, Barnet and Finchley.
The league that these clubs played in was the equivalent of today’s conference league, and everyone knew that these players were paid. It was called ‘boot money’ because players that played for these top clubs had a few quid tucked into their boots as an inducement to play for a particular club.
The clubs that could call on these top players were the cream of the Hackney & Leyton. In the early years it was United Services, and then in 1962, Barrowside FC who won the Premier division three years in a row. Eastern FC, a very good side, prevented Salisbury achieving Barrowside’s feat. Gus Sports won the Senior Cup in 1965,66 and 67 and then went on to win the Premier Division in 1971.
These teams always drew large crowds whenever they played, especially whenever the top fixtures took place at the ground what we know as the ‘ Hare & Hounds’ . It was not unusual that a crowd as big as two or three hundred spectators would fill the now called Leyton FC ground.
In the 70’s Railway Rovers won the Premier three times and Islington Stanley won it twice, and went on to bring great honour to the league by winning the London Challenge Cup in 1971. In 1977, Cricketers followed Islington Stanley’s performance by also winning the London Challenge Cup as well as winning the Premier three times.
In the 80’s Joiners FC won the Premier twice, the Senior Cup twice, and the newly inaugurated Dickie Davies Cup three years in a row.
M.G Sports then achieved the feat of winning the Premiership five years running and the Dickie Davies Cup twice, while Monteith their great rivals won the Senior Cup three years in a row. This domination in the 80’s was ended by Ordell FC who won the Premier three times and the London Intermediate Cup two years in a row.
In recent time Hoxton Athletic have maintained a grip on several trophies, amongst them four times winners of the Premiership and their fair share of cups. Also Bancroft three times and Eureka twice have taken the premier title along with their cup successes. Lapton being the team that has dominated since 2008 with several back to back premier titles and cup competitions.
The Hackney & Leyton have tested their quality against other leagues by entering the London Inter-League competitions on a number of occasions. In spite of the difficulty of getting the league’s most talented players to come together and represent the league, we have, on the occasions we have entered, given a good account of ourselves. We were winners in 1986, 1989 and 2000, runners-up in 1985, 87 and 1993. However, we have decided to take no further part in the competition for the time being because of the difficulty in getting the league’s best players together for these prestigious fixtures.
The league has remained one of the strongest and largest leagues north of the river even in the face of strong competition from neighbouring leagues. We have had our ups and downs in recent years and in the eighties it affected the Premier division so that it only consisted of six teams that played against each other three times.
Fortunately we now have a very good premier with a large number of teams and as in most of our divisions, fixtures are mostly very close and competitive.
The league’s officers have always worked hard to maintain the league over the years. It is not possible to recall them all, but there have been some very notable servants to the league, some of them holding their office for a very long time and some earning the honour of having a trophy named after them.
One of the oldest I can remember was a Mr Taylor-Innes. The position he held is not quite clear but I should think he was one of the founders of the H & L because his wife was the league’s Hon. President for many years. Another officer of note was Dave Taylor. A great servant to the league and was so respected that he was honoured by having a cup in his name. The Albert Daniels Senior Cup has replaced this particular competition, although the Dave Taylor remains as very much a part of our history.
Peter Clarke was Chairman and Treasurer for many years. Following Peter was Ronnie Burce, who had to resign after a short while because of the pressure of work. The next long running was Alec Pretlove. He held both these offices until 2003 and became the most popular and hardworking Chairman that the league has ever had.
Alec retired but remained as Treasurer, although he still does a lot of work for the League outside of his Treasurer duties. Since 2003 Johnnie Walker has taken over the Chair, after being the Vice-Chairman during Alec’s long term of office.
General Secretaries work very hard. Jack Morgan was a prominent Secretary in the early years. Alf Brazier followed, but in 1976 Jack Walpole became the longest serving secretary of all and was still the league’s secretary until he passed away in 2001.
We have had many Referee Secretaries over the years; the present secretary being Ted Gore. A former well respected referee himself, has a wonderful record in supplying referees for all of our fixtures. An achievement that other leagues can only show envy. It is no mean achievement in these days when there is an extreme shortage of referees.
Before Ted, it was Frank Hendy. Frank was also a well-respected referee who had a wonderful rapport with the players. Frank had the respect of not only the players but of the club officials and the rest of his referee’s panel.
Albert Whitehead was another well-remembered secretary. Albert though had an easier task during his term of office when referees were not as such a high premium and more plentiful. However, Albert was a most colourful character who seemed to referee every day of the week, and probably did. It was alleged that he made so much money by refereeing so many games that he owned a large villa in the south of France. Sadly Albert passed away when he was still refereeing and was still relatively young.
Mrs Nell Davies, our present Hon President, has served the league for a great number of years.
Nell is the widow of the former popular Registration Secretary Dickie Davies. Together they ran a side called Rising Sun FC. Since Dickie sadly passed away, Nell has given many years of service to the league, and has been a former Registration Secretary and Results Secretary.
Since the league has become more efficient and publicity minded it has been necessary to take on more league officers. The ever popular ‘Macca’ Tommy McEvoy, has taken on many duties. He co-ordinates all league results and reports to the local newspapers as well as being the Assistant General Secretary.
Dino Constantinou joined in 2003 as our technical and website guru. The award winning website you are now on is his creation and an integral and essential part of the league to relay information and interaction with everyone within the league. The site attracts around 200,000 visitors per season and updated and monitored by the ever dedicated Dino.
As mentioned earlier we have had a long association with Leyton FC. This was our headquarters and where we held all our meetings until we moved to the Hackney Volunteers Club in Clapton.
From there we moved to Kings Henry Walk and a public house called the Marquis of Queensbury. We thought we were settled at the ‘Marquis’ but we were soon on our way to a new headquarters when the pub closed for alterations. Then the Mildmay Working Men’s Club. And today we find ourselves holding meetings at the newly built Hackney Marsh Centre (south marsh) with its top of the range facilities both on and off the pitch.
In 2011/12 of our pitches on the East Marsh where taken over by the Olympics, concreted over to make way for a coach park. We fought long and hard to keep these pitches and for the integrity of grassroots football in the community but it seems that the power of the elite was more important and the making of a fast buck. We were given assurances of the pitches returning along with investment after the Olympics.
Please note that the page will be further updated throughout the season – the League’s Historian Mark Anthony Smith is working on extensive additions to this section.