The story of Ekco Sports starts with the story of Eric Kirkham Cole, a genial engineer born in Rochford in 1901. He began manufacturing radios in the early 1920’s in a garden shed at his house in Beedell Avenue, but was taken by a newspaper article by William Verrells that espoused the potential benefits of mains powered rather than battery powered radios. Cole set about developing a battery eliminator radio and showed his invention to Verrells. He was so impressed the pair went into business in 1926 as E.K. Cole Ltd, initially based in Leigh-on-Sea. Within four years the firm moved to a much bigger site built on a former cabbage field at Priory Crescent in Southend.
The company boomed and while they diversified into many areas such as domestic appliances, car radios, heaters, Geiger counters, tape recorders, televisions, radar, aircraft and tank radios, they were most famous for the production of domestic radios housed in striking bakerlite cases. Initially Ekco imported the bakelite casings from AEG in Germany but prohibitive import duties saw Cole set up his own moulding plant next to his factory. He employed some well-known designers like the modernist designer Wells Coates (perhaps best remembered for the Isokon Buildings in Belsize Park) and it was Coates that designed the casing for Ekco’s iconic product, the AD-65 radio. Cole also similarly engaged the Russian born designer Serge Chermayeff who is best known for co-designing the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.
At its peak, Ekco employed 8,000 people and E.K. Cole even did a lot of secret government work on the Enigma code breaking machine during World War II. The company merged with Pye in 1960 and the plant diversified to electrical lighting before closing in the 1970’s, with the factory being sold to the credit card company Access. Cole himself met an unfortunate end, drowning in the Bahamas in 1966.
Cole was undoubtedly a caring employer, a real leader on providing apprenticeships, workplace pensions and paid holidays. He also provided excellent social and welfare facilities for his workers. Football and cricket (from 1935) for the men and netball for the factory’s numerous female employees. The works football team first started with friendlies in 1929 before entering competitive football for the 1930/31 season, fielding two teams in the Southend Borough Combination. The first team won Division Two in 1931/32 seeing off the challenge of runners up, Leigh Wesley. The team played in amber and green colours, the livery of works vans and of the flag flown above the factory. Initially games were played at Bournes Green Park and then at Rochford Corner before a sports field and pavilion was established at the factory site.
During the war Ekco’s sports teams had to adopt the name “Nomads” for security reasons, as the firm was involved in the production of components to aid the war effort. The footballers won the prestigious Southend Charity Cup under the Nomads moniker in 1944/45. Many of the companies’ workers either enlisted or were evacuated to Ekco’s other sites in safer areas. The two Ekco cricket teams, the Monarchs and Trojans, struggled to field sides and drafted in the help of professional footballers from Southend United, like Stan Montgomery (who had played first class cricket for Glamorgan), Frank Dudley, Jack French and Frank Walton.
In January 1946, Ekco travelled to Layer Road to take on the first team of Colchester United, then of the Southern League, in a friendly. A crowd of 2,000 watched the works team achieve a very creditable 3-3 draw. It was clear Ekco were ready for a higher level of football and they joined the London League for the 1946/47 season.
To coincide with their elevated status the club erected a stand at the ground. Many years later the stand was re-erected at the Victory Sports Ground in Eastern Avenue. Sadly, it didn’t last very long and with the area being an open public park it was soon badly vandalised and demolished for safety reasons. Unfortunately, to date, searches for a photo of the Ekco stand have proved elusive.
The London League had become an interesting competition with reserve teams of the likes of Chelmsford City, Guildford City and Bedford Town, as well as first teams of established clubs like Tilbury, Eton Manor, Woodford Town and Epsom. Other works teams such as Crittall Athletic and London Telecoms also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Leavesden Mental Hospital, Woolwich Polytechnic and Royal Naval Depot. Playing in a higher level meant entering the FA Cup for the first time. Ekco reached the second qualifying round in 1947/48, succumbing to Grays Athletic.
Ekco spent three seasons in the London League before a bottom place finish in 1948/49 saw them elect to return to the Southend Borough Combination. Ekco won the title in their first season back in the competition relegating defending champions Gaslight (Southend) into the runners up spot. Ekco remained in the Borough Combination for many years, winning further titles in 1956/57 and 1965/66, and competed long after the company closed down. In 1981/82, and now called Ekco Social & Sports, the club moved up to the Essex Olympian League. A further name change occurred in 1996 to Ekco First Data, reflecting the change of site ownership to Access. The club left the now Essex Intermediate League at the end of the 1999/2000 season.
The club rejoined the Southend Borough Combination and merged with Thames Park. Ekco/Thames Park won the Premier Division in 2004/5 two points clear of Old Southendian, retaining the title the following season. The Ekco name disappeared from local adult football at the end of the 2008/09 season and Thames Park carried on under their own name. In the same year Ekco’s two cricket sides merged with Southend-on-Sea Cricket Club. The Ekco name does continue at youth level with the long established Ekco Whitecaps club. Whitecaps have also been fielding an adult team in the Borough Combination from 2015. While the team may have gone the sports ground and social club remain as actively used facilities to this day.
The whole site of the former factory was demolished to make way for a housing development and for a new site for Fair Haven’s hospice. In 2020, the long and fascinating history of Ekco and Eric Kirkham Cole has been marked with a superb statue, by sculptor Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, of Cole made out of 182 ceramic mosaic tiles of photos of the factory and its workers, standing atop of that iconic radio.
With grateful thanks to Vince Taylor of Groundtastic Magazine
In the mid 1920’s the Scottish Football League ran an ill fated Third Division which lasted just three seasons before the 1925/26 season failed to finish. Several member clubs were struggling financially, and some fell by the wayside altogether after, or soon after, the collapse of the Third Division. It’s a fascinating period where doughty sides from very small towns briefly rubbed shoulders with the traditional big city clubs.
The Third Division began in season 1923/24 with clubs being elected largely from the Western League.
The first Third Division Champions were Arthurlie from the town of Barrhead. They played at Dunterlie Park and remained in the Scottish Second Division until they folded in 1929 being immediately replaced by a junior club of the same name who remain playing at the same ground. It should be noted Arthurlie have played at Dunterlie Park since 1919, although this is the third ground bearing the same name over the years.
Runners up in the inaugural season, and also promoted, were East Stirlingshire who played at Firs Park, their home ground until 2008, save for the 1964/65 spent at Kilbowie Park following the controversial, and short lived, merger with Clydebank. The club have since groundshared at Stenhousemuir and, currently, Falkirk and lost their place in the Scottish Football League in 2016. The club had used various grounds such as Burnhouse, Randyford Park and Merchiston Park before the latter was required for the expansion of a foundry. Firs Park in Firs Street became their home in 1921 and remnants of the old ground, derelict for a dozen years now, remain in an overgrown and unloved state.
Beith were originally formed in 1875 although the club had several periods of inactivity throughout its lifetime. In their early years they lead a nomadic existence playing at Gateside Toll, Marshalland, Knockbuckie, Juckes’ Meadow and Glebe Park before the First World War. Glebe Park must have been a substantial ground for the time as a 1905 Scottish Cup tie against Kilmarnock attracted a crowd of 4,000. Their lease at Glebe Park expired during wartime and, upon reforming in 1919, Beith had to play home games in Glengarnock at Kersland Field, home of Vale of Garnock. They completed the 1919/20 campaign back in Beith at Mains Park. In 1920 the club purchased their former field at Juckes’ Meadow, now called Muir Field, and renamed it Bellsdale Park in recognised of the work done by Archibald Bell, a local solicitor, in acquiring the site. Beith left the Third Division after the ill fated third season and joined the Scottish Football Alliance before eventually folding in 1938. They were immediately replaced by Beith Juniors who still play at Bellsdale Park in Meadowside.
Brechin City and Montrose played in all three seasons before leaving the Scottish League at the end of the uncompleted 1925/26 season. Brechin have played at Glebe Park since 1919 and Montrose at Links Park since 1887. Both clubs had nothing more than a brief hiatus from the Scottish League being readmitted to Division Two for 1929/30 when both Arthurlie and Bathgate failed to finish their fixtures. Queen of the South were runners up in the 1924/25 season and continue to play at Palmerston Park, their home since 1919.
Clackmannan were formed in 1885 and after playing at Tower Park and Glebe Park in their first year, they moved to a permanent home at Chapelhill Park for the 1886/87 season. The club played one season in the Scottish League Division Two in 1921/22 before dropping down to the Eastern League. The club folded in 1931 but the ground remained until the 1950’s when it was demolished for the construction of South Pilmuir Road and Chapelhill Road. The town’s current football ground, the King George V Playing Field, is a few hundred metres north of the old ground.
Dumbarton Harp were in the Western League when they were elected to the Third Division for the inaugural season. They finished tenth in the 1923/24 but failed to complete the following campaign, folding after seventeen games. One of their Scottish Qualifying Cup games from 1923/24, against Queen of the South, bought a huge crowd of 3,000 to Harp’s Meadow Park ground which had been their home since formation in 1894. Meadow Park, probably the same site as Broadmeadow, an early ground of Dumbarton FC, and remained in use for football until 1950 when all vestiges of the ground were removed. The area is to the west of Broadmeadow Industrial Estate and still has several football pitches on it.
Dykehead is a very small town next to Shotts in North Lanarkshire, and its football team were formed in 1880. They played at Dykehead Park, Youngston Park and Craigmillar Park in its early years although records show players changed in a public house called Kirkwoods at Dykehead Cross these venues could well be the same field with name changes as a result of ownership changes, or fields very close to each other. They moved to Parkside on Rosehall Road in the late 1890’s, playing their until they left Division Three for the Scottish Football Alliance and then the Provincial League until their demise in 1928. The ground was left to the YMCA and is still in use as Shotts YMCA Park.
Galston were formed in 1886 playing at Riverside Park. They moved to Portland Park in 1894 and in successive weekends in 1907, Motherwell and Rangers visited Galston both drawing gates of 4,000. This was more than the village’s entire population at the time. They played all three seasons in the Scottish Third Division before folding and re-emerging as a junior club which subsequently folded in 1940. Portland Park still exists in truncated form, there area where the football ground lay was consumed by the construction of the A71 bypass.
Helensburgh is a remote town, south west of Loch Lomond, and had three other town clubs before the club that would eventually play in the Scottish Third Division, were formed in 1874. The club had two spells at Ardencaple Park in between playing at Kirkmichael Park, off Old Luss Road (1876 to 1885) and Mossend Park, home of Victoria FC (1885-86). There is some debate as to the location of Ardencaple Park with some five sites under consideration. The most likely is to be the “upper” field north of the Helensburgh Cricket Club. The ground was said to have substantial terracing which allowed a crowd of 2,000 to gather for a cup game against Royal Albert in September 1925. Helensburgh were actually winning the Third Division when the 1925/26 season ended prematurely. The club folded two years later being replaced by a new amateur entity.
Mid-Annandale, from the town of Lockerbie, were formed in 1877 as Vale of Dryfe and played at Mill Field and Broomhouse Park before moving into Kintail Park in 1902. After competing in all three Third Division campaigns the club joined the Scottish Football Alliance. Kintail Park had a stand and a record gate of 2,100 gathered in November 1923 for the Division Three match against Queen of the South. The club later played in the South of Scotland League before folding in 1936. Kintail Park became a residential street. The current Mid-Annandale club were formed in 1959 as Lockerbie Boys Club and these days play at New King Edward Park which is close to the old Kintail Park ground.
Nithsdale Wanderers from Sanquhar won the Third Division in 1924/25 and were promoted to the second tier. However, they soon suffered a dramatic fall from grace when they failed to be re-elected after finishing bottom of the table in 1926/27, ending up in the Provincial League. Their rise had been equally swift, having been formed in 1897 they largely played friendlies and cup games only save for short stints in the Football Combination and Scottish Union Leagues. This changed when they moved from their basic pitch at Castleholm to a new home on the banks of the River Nith called Crawick Holm. This enabled them to join the Western League for 1922/23 and after a solitary season found themselves elected with many other clubs to form the new Scottish League Third Division. Nithsdale spent the post war years in the Ayrshire Region of the Western League before folding in 1964. Crawick Holm was developed sufficiently to allow 4,200 spectators for a Scottish Cup tie against Queen of the South in 1924/25. The ground remained into the 1970’s when a small factory was built right next to it. A now unenclosed pitch still remains next to the factory. The current South of Scotland club bearing the same name were formed in 2001 and still play in Sanquhar, at Lorimer Park.
Solway Star from Annan were formed in 1911 playing games at Greenlea Park, on a pitch known locally as “Old Mudhole”. The club moved to Kimmeter Park Green in 1921 which allowed then to rise to the Western League and then to the Scottish League. The new ground had a grandstand and over 2,000 people watched a cup tie with Vale of Leven in 1924. After losing their League place the club competed in the South of Scotland League until World War II. After the war they played a few friendlies but then folded with the recently formed Annan Athletic assuming the role of the town’s pre-eminent club. Intriguingly, the ground became grazing land and the lower half of the wooden grandstand remained as a cow shed well into the 21st century.
Peebles Rovers were formed in 1893 playing matches at Villa Park and Victoria Park, the latter being a still existent public park. The club moved to Whitestone Park in 1906 a ground they share to this day with Peebles County Cricket Club. After their three season stint in the Scottish League, Rovers have been stalwarts of the East of Scotland League.
Royal Albert from Larkhall were formed around 1878 although some sources quote five years earlier. They were members of the Western League that were the backbone of the new Third Division of the Scottish League in 1923. In a similar vein to others after their three season stint Royal Albert dropped into the Scottish Alliance for a season and then into the Provincial League for 1927/28 before folding. Once again, they were replaced by a junior club bearing the same name who took over occupancy at Raploch Park. Their record attendance was said to be 5,000 from a match against Celtic that was abandoned after 80 minutes. The ground is now covered by housing and was directly opposite Larkhall Thistle’s Gasworks Ground behind the houses on the north side of Raploch Road. The junior club played at Robert Smillie Park between 1964 and 2007 before sharing with Larkhall Thistle until 2013, when they took over Tileworks Park in Stonehouse, former ground of the defunct Stonehouse Violet.
The two clubs that dropped into the Third Division for the 1924/25 season were Vale of Leven and Lochgelly United. Vale enjoyed several stints in the Scottish League, but this ended with the third and final Third Division season. The club folded in 1928 and were replaced by the junior club of the same name. Their home remains the same since 1889, the magnificent Millburn Park.
Lochgelly United were formed in 1890 upon the amalgamation of Lochgelly Athletic and Fifeshire Hibernians. Early seasons were spent at Schools Park and Reid’s Park until settling at the enclosed Recreation Ground off North Street. The club folded in 1928 and decided against reforming as a junior club. The ground remained until 1934 and is now under residential houses in Timmons Park.
Leith Athletic joined the Third Division for 1924/25 rising from the Scottish Alliance. Formed in 1887 they played at a myriad of grounds during their first stint in the Scottish League between 1891 and 1915. Their two seasons in the Third Division saw them using one of their former grounds at Old Logie Green which had also been used by another Scottish League Club, St. Bernard’s. After the Third Division was dropped, the club were elected back to the Second Division in 1927/28 and stayed in the Scottish League until 1953, playing post War seasons in the “C” division. During this time their nomadism continued, playing home games at New Powderhall, Marine Gardens and Meadowbank, a venue that would become Meadowbank Stadium. After twelve ground moves in their history, none of which remain, Leith Athletic were liquidated with sizeable debts in May 1955. Old Logie Green now lies under a retail development. The current East of Scotland League club with the same name are a 1996 reformation and currently play at Peffermill.
The two clubs that dropped into the third tier for that fateful 1925/26 season were Forfar Athletic and Johnstone. Forfar were playing, as they still do, at Station Park, their erstwhile home since 1888. They were in third position in the table when the season abruptly ended and were somewhat fortuitous to be elected back into the Second Division for 1926/27.
Johnstone were, however, less fortunate and after dropping into the Scottish Alliance for 1926/27, the club soon folded. Based a few miles west of Renfrew, Johnstone were formed in 1877 playing at Cartbank Park. They moved to a sizeable ground called Newfield Park in 1894 and it was sufficiently developed to allow 6,000 people in to witness a Scottish Cup tie with Hibernian in 1906. After Johnstone’s demise, the ground, named after Newfield House, a nearby property, remained for some time as disused land before being cleared for the construction of the A737 bypass.
So, there you have it, three seasons, 21 clubs with a variety of pathways taken after that brief, ill fated, attempt to get a third level started in the Scottish League.
"Like all children, I wanted to be a soccer player. I played quite well, in fact I was terrific, but only at night when I was asleep. During the day I was the worst wooden leg ever to set foot on the little soccer field of my country. Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: “A pretty move, for the love of God.” And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it." Taken from Eduardo Galeno's Soccer in Sun and Shadow