THE most successful Sunday league side in the history of Essex has played its last game.

Ockendon Motor Spares has been the dominant force in the county for the past three decades.

Under the stewardship of manager Terry Matthews they won a record eight Essex Premier Cups and a phenomenal 23 premier league titles in the Thurrock Sunday League since they were formed in the mid-1980s.

But after building four great teams, Matthews found it hard this season to raise a team for their fixtures and, with a heavy heart, admitted it was the end of the road for a club he founded when his own playing days were over.

“For the last three or four years, it has been harder getting that commitment from players,” said Matthews, 65.

“Nowadays youngsters have other distractions, like computer games and going out. We’ve had injuries too and were struggling to just get nine players out in our final games.”

It was a sad end to what has been an amazing journey for the football club.

But Matthews – who admits he is enjoying sitting down for poached eggs and bacon on Sunday mornings now rather than stressing about whether his players will turn up – said he can only look back with great fondness at the history his club created.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “From within the first few years of starting out we were winning titles.

“We had to build four teams over the course of those 30 years and they all maintained the standard that we set. Every one of those went on to win the Essex Premier Cup (the top prize in Essex Sunday League football).”

Matthews has had some great players over the years, too.

“We’ve had lots, too many to mention,” he said. “A lot of them would play for a semi-pro side on the Saturday and then get up the next morning and play for us.

“One player who particularly stands out is Gary Lynch who started playing when we first started out at 17 and was even playing last season when he could. He was a great player and should have played at a higher level.”

Other names to have played for Motor Spares include current East Thurrock United coach Joe Keith, Lee Hodges and Tommy Lee.

But perhaps Matthews’ biggest success story was spotting a 17-year-old Scott Griffiths playing for a division four side in the Thurrock Sunday League.

“I just liked the look of him,” recalled Matthews. “He was playing as a centre back but I said ‘you’re never a centre back’ and switched him to full back or wing back and he went on from there.”

Griffiths, who had a spell at Southend United’s youth academy, went on to sign for Aveley and was then spotted by then Dagenham & Redbridge manager John Still.

He then won a big money move to Peterborough United before playing for a handful of other Football League clubs and eventually joining Still back at Luton where he is playing today.

Matthews said his stand-out memory from all his years in charge of Ockendon was beating Writtle in the Essex Premier Cup final of 2009.

Motor Spares were 2-0 down going into the final five minutes.

“I had a couple of subs but they were both injured but I thought, ‘what the heck’. Tommy Lee came on and was excellent and we scored three in the final five minutes to win it.

“It’s been an amazing time and I thank all my players who have played for me over the years and all the backroom staff.

“I’d also like to thank Paul Eke, from Ockendon Motor Spares, for sponsoring us throughout all the years.

“Without him it would not have been possible.”