Although Canvey Island Football Club has been in existence since 1926, it's only in the last nine seasons that Gulls have really shot to soccer prominence.

That rise coincided with night club boss Jeff King, backed by a new committee, taking over as manager of a club he'd once served as a player.

With the backing of then coach Paul Delea, King set about the task of putting the Islanders on the trial of a remarkable soccer success story which quickly saw them reach the semi-finals of the FA Vase before bowing out to Tiverton Town in a memorable two-leg tie.

Domestic success in the Essex Senior League, which they had joined in 1974, led to King's men starting their remarkable Ryman League story in the 1994/95 season and they went on to win promotion from Divisions Three and Two in successive seasons.

In the second of those they also enjoyed their FA Cup heroics with Brighton, but the following term saw a rare hiccup when they were relegated from Division One.

After that drop down to the Second Division, former Ipswich and Southend midfielder Glenn Pennyfather - a major influence on the playing front for a number of seasons - took over as coach and the unique double act he has formed with boss King has become a major factor in the club's meteoric rise.

They won the Second and First Division titles in successive seasons and other memorable highlights included an FA Trophy epic at now Football League Cheltenham - Gulls lost 1-0 after dominating the game - and an Essex Senior Cup final triumph over Leyton Orient.

Last season, their first in the Premier, they were in the championship chase for much of the term before finishing fifth and won that Senior Cup again, this time against Purfleet.

The unique ability of King and Pennyfather to get experienced and up and coming players to blend together playing good passing football success now sees the Park Lane side leading the Premier and perhaps on the verge of claiming Premier honours and a possible place in the Nationwide Conference.

(Right) Boss - Jeff King

(Left) Top scorer - Wayne Vaughan in action during the second qualifying round tie with Braintree.

2nd picture: LUAN MARSHALL

Backroom staff in the spotlight

Behind every successful football club you'll usually find a hard-working team of behind the scenes enthusiasts to ensure future progress and that's definitely the case at Canvey.

Willing bands of volunteers have been working against the clock since the Cambridge City win less than three weeks ago to make sure things are just right on the big day.

Happy supporters had hardly got up the next morning from their journey back from East Anglia before treasurer Rod Hall and his team were busy constructing extra permanent terracing behind the Park Lane goal.

Frances not only carries the enormous weight of being club secretary on her shoulders - she also works at the convenience store and post office Nearbuys on the Island at Dovervelt Road.

She admitted: "Sometimes it's hard marrying the two together, but although it's hard work it's tremendously exciting being connected with the club at a time like this."

Soccer mania runs right throughout the Roche household with husband Tony vice-chairman to Ray Cross, daughter Sam part of the kit management team along with Toni Goodwin, and son Tim a huge fan.

Dave Wallis leads the pitch staff who work tirelessly throughout the year to make sure Canvey have a playing surface the envy of so many.

As ever, Trevor and Jan Edwards will be running the supporters shop to ensure that the Islanders band of "yellow army" fans will not be short of the hats, scarves, shirts and rosettes, very much part of the big FA Cup day scene, while the roast potatoes served up by June Overall in the boardroom - a superb addition built along with much-envied dressing rooms in the summer - have become legendary on the non-league scene.

Finally, in a successful effort to get the club organisation on a more professional footing, Keith Johnson has come in this season as the club's first full-time commercial manager and, apart from the setting up of the hugely successful 50-50 money-raising lottery, has made immediate improvements to Canvey's match programme and information line.

Jones gets testimonial

No-one is in a better position than striking star Andy Jones to judge the fantastic Canvey Island Football Club success story over the past decade.

The goal hero, who is close to entering his tenth season with Gulls, has become the first player to be granted a testimonial at Park Lane.

In the coming months he'll be organising quiz nights, a golf day, a mouth-watering soccer meeting between the current team and former stars and, hopefully, a match against top-class opposition at the end of the current campaign.

If it's a game celebrating winning the Ryman League Premier Division title and taking their place in the Nationwide Conference for manager Jeff King's men it won't surprise Jones.

He said: "Jeff's got a fantastic squad down here at the club now - obviously the best ever - and it's a real battle to try and get a place in the side. Often we have players who would walk into most other teams at this level who can't even get on our bench.

"The striking situation is a typical example. I've scored well over 200 goals for the club and Steve Clark, who came here from St Albans in the summer, is the record Ryman scorer with over 300. Yet we haven't been able to get in the side due to the form of Wayne Vaughan and Neil Gregory.

"Until we lost in a mudheap at Hendon on Saturday, the team had gone 17 games unbeaten since the opening day of the season - so you can't complain if you don't get in the side. You understand the situation, but that doesn't make it any easier.

"Obviously, at the age of 30. I feel I can still be doing a good job, but because the team's performing so well, I've rarely been getting more than ten minutes or so of action. I'm not complaining as it's great to be associated with a club where so much is happening.

"However, my contract is up at the end of the season and I'll sit down with Jeff then and come to a decision as to whether there is a realistic future for me at Park Lane.

"I like to think that I've still got three or four seasons playing at a decent level in front of me."

Park Lane without Jones is difficult to contemplate. He's been with them through all the glories of FA Carlsberg Vase runs . . . meteoric rise from the Essex Senior League to Ryman Premier status . . . and is the only active playing member of the staff from the FA Cup heroics with Brighton five years ago.

King and Jones have had a close friendship away from the footballing side since the striker came to Park Lane from Billericay Town - he runs the Design2Print company on the King's Leisure Park - and the manager is known to have turned down offers for the club's record scorer during his fantastic scoring days on the Island.

"There have been occasions when I could have moved onto a higher level," admitted Jones. "But I always wanted to be part of this Canvey success story.

"This Sunday can be another fabulous chapter. We won't be stupid enough to take Port Vale lightly.

"They are the League side who train full time and we are the underdogs, but you won't find one person at Park Lane who thinks we're not in with a chance."

Cup of woe for Vale?

Sunday's Potteries' visitors know all about the mixed emotions of joy and pain the FA Cup can bring.

They reached the semi-finals back in 1954 before going down 2-1 to eventual winners West Brom, but on January 6 1981 suffered a defeat still billed as "the night Vale died of shame."

They took on Gulls' current Ryman League Premier Division rivals Enfield in the third round and were beaten after a 1-1 draw in the original match at Vale Park.

That represents Vale's only defeat by a non-league side in the FA Cup in post-War years, but their record in the competition in recent seasons is not good.

In fact, they haven't won an FA Cup match since 1996 - admittedly on that occasion it was something really special as they knocked out the then holders of the trophy Everton.

In comparatively recent times before that they had KO'd the likes of Spurs and Leeds, but generally since those heady days the Cup has come and gone far too quickly for followers of the Nationwide League division two club.

Current boss Brian Horton - another of many involved in Sunday's tie with Brighton connections - took over the managerial hot-seat in January 1999 and was hailed as a hero when he saved them from the big drop.

Last term, however, Vale slid into division two and early season form suggested that the drop down the League might continue.

However, they have shown much improved form in recent weeks and, after an 11-month barren spell, finally won an away game recently when they triumphed 1-0 at Swansea.

Much interest will centre on midfielder Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, a close season signing from Derby County, who has been doing so well that Arsenal are said to be among the big clubs keeping an eye on his progress.

At the back, goalkeeper Mark Goodlad has been earning rave reviews with a series of quality displays with the win at Swansea representing his first clean sheet of the season.

With ex Southampton midfielder Tommy Widdrington out of midfield through suspension, Jeff Minton, formerly with Brighton, and George O'Callaghan, an ex Vale youth star, are among those in line for a first team call-up.

About the Canvey-Port Vale clash

While Canvey's Park Lane ground is the only one in the country below sea level, Port Vale's pitch is the second highest in the country - behind West Brom's Hawthorns home.

Top Port Vale fan Robbie Williams is likely to miss the big Cup action due to a Concert appearance in Paris. The pop icon once appeared at Jeff King's nightclub, Kings Club, as a member of Take That.

Jack King - father of Jeff - was strongly featured in ITV's Metroland documentary series when they visited his highly successful King's Holiday Park.

Canvey players Ashley Harrison and Peter Smith have both featured strongly on TV as well in the cult soccer "Dream Team" series.

Watch out Vale boss Brian Horton - Brighton manager Liam Brady was axed after Gulls held the Seagulls to a home draw in the FA Cup five years ago.

London giants Arsenal are said to be among those interested in the future of one of the visitor's brightest young stars - midfielder Marc Bridges-Wilkinson.

Port Vale haven't won an FA Cup tie since 1996 - but that success was special since they knocked out the then holders Everton.

Canvey's best-known all-time player is Peter Taylor who made his Gulls debut as a substitute at the age of 16 before joining Southend. The man who managed England in their international in Italy this week was a guest radio expert when the Islanders met Brighton five years ago.

Until winning 1-0 at Swansea late last month, Port Vale had gone 11 months without a victory on opposition territory.

Skipper Tommy Widdrington, who misses the Cup action due to a one-match ban, was one of only three ever-present Vale players this term.

Meet the team

ASHLEY HARRISON - promising goalkeeper who first caught the eye with Basildon United's highly-rated youth side before gaining experience with Dover Athletic in the Conference. Has made the first team jersey his own at Park Lane in the past year.

PETER SMITH - defender who will remember those epic FA Cup Canvey v Brighton clashes five years ago - he was in the opposition line-up. Joined the Park lane set-up from Woking towards the end of last season and has produced somne tremendous displays this term.

CRAIG DAVIDSON - dependable defender well-known on the Essex scene. Was with Southend United as a youngster. Member of the Dagenham and Redbridge side beaten in the FA Trophy final by Woking at Wembley in the mid-90s - went on to play for Billericay Town with much success.

MICK BODLEY - Former Southend United, Peterborough and Barnet defender who came to Canvey after skippering Dagenham and Redbridge to the Ryman Premier crown and elevation to the Conference last season. May miss out on the big day due to groin injury.

STEVE WARD - hugely popular central defender and author of the "Ginger Sex God" programme feature. Formerly with Grays, a Kent schoolteacher by day and was last season's Supporters' Player of the Year.

MICKY BENNETT - Another ex Football League name with Brighton and Wimbledon. Equally effective in defence or midfield. Likely to switch from middle of the park to line-up alongside Ward at heart of rearguard if Bodley is not fit.

JOHN KENNEDY - new midfield addition this term. Former Ipswich Town youth star who made a number of senior appearances for the East Anglian club. One of the young Gulls rated as having an excellent chance of going on to play at a higher level.

MARK STIMSON - few at this level have more big-time experience than midfielder Mark as he played at top level for Spurs and Newcastle. With Southend United and, briefly, Leyton Orienht before joing Canvey set-up at start of last season. Recently sidelined by injury, but could get a starting position for big game due to reshuffle caused by Bodley's injury.

STEVE TILSON - Southend United's loss was very much Canvey's gain when the likeable and inspirational skipper was shown the door at Roots Hall three years after a decade of tireless service. Very much a major part of the Park Lane success story.

STEVE PARMENTER - Young and talented midfielder who operates wide on the left this term and is anxious to eventually relaunch a Football League career that has seen him already have action with Queens Park Rangers and Bristol Rovers.

NEIL GREGORY - Especially dangerous in the air striker who has struck up a superb understanding with Wayne Vaughan up front. Formerly with Ipswich Town before joining Colchester for a club record fee. Few know about it, but has outstanding goalkeeping skills and would almost certainly replace Harrison if Canvey's custodian should pick up an injury on the day.

WAYNE VAUGHAN - Definitely the new icing on the cake at Park Lane this term. Former England Youth and Tottenham Academy star, has already notched ten goals for the islanders. Has lightning speed in the box and is being strongly tipped as a big-time name of the future.

ANDY JONES - Club's longest-serving player and scorer of well over 200 goals in nearly ten seasons at the club. Striker who is first Canvey player ever to be awarded a testimonial.

STEVE CLARK - Experienced record Ryman League scorer with over 300 goals in nine seasons with St Albans before joining Gulls in the summer. The prolific frontman has already hit six goals in very limited striking appearances with the Islanders.

SAMMY COOPER - Speedy midfield man cum winger who can trouble the best of defences on his day. Billericay Town, Enfield, Purfleet and Grays are among his previous clubs.

ADAM MILLER - exciting new midfield addition. Former Ipswich youth star who was about to sign contract with Southend United before Alan Little got the sack as manager. Only 18 and tremendous prospect for future.

CHRIS DUFFY - Record signing when arriving at Park lane for £5,000 from Conference side Northwich Victoria at the start of last season. Immediate hit with fans, but misses out on big day after undergoing groin operation this week.

GARY BRITNELL - Long-serving defender also missing out through injury. Tremendous club stalwart who has played with Dartford and Enfield. Away from playing, his building firm has helped carry out redevelopment work at the ground.

Converted for the new archive on 19 November 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.