Ian Jenkins – 30 year Cray Wanderers Celebration

Ian Jenkins at Flamingo Park – June 2021

Cray Wanderers Isthmian Premier League match with Folkestone Invicta on Wednesday 15th February is dedicated to former Cray Wanderers player and manager Ian Jenkins who made his Wands debut 30 years ago on 17th February, 1993.

I have to say that when it comes to Jenko’s playing career I feel a bit cheated.  I started watching Cray Wanderers in 2010 by which time he was fully ensconced as Wands manager and never got to see him play aside from one or two Vets/legends games but even in those games I felt I wished I’d seen more as his quality showed through.

The word legend I feel is banded around with easy regularity these days but the sign of an iconic figure for a club like Cray Wanderers is, is the club  in a better place when they depart than when they arrived and with Jenko that is most certainly the case.

Ian joined the club in February 1993 in a very difficult season for the club on the pitch.  There was a huge turnover of players and Eddy Davies’s side were at the foot of the Kent League and Jenko’s debut on 17th February 1993 was a 0-1 defeat at Greenwich Borough and part of a five match losing streak.  Despite the iffy league form, Cray were doing well in cup ties and had earlier advanced past three rounds of the FA Vase and had reached the Semi Final of the Kent Senior Trophy where the Wands edged past Deal Town 3-2 after extra-time with Jenko scoring twice and taking the Wands to the final.  His first league goal came in a 1-4 defeat at Corinthian on 6th April and eleven days later came the Kent Senior Trophy Final at Gillingham FC where Sam Wright’s header beat favourites Whitstable Town 1-0 and captain Jenko lifted the trophy, the first silverware for the club in nine seasons.  This helped trigger an incredible end of season form with six games won in the last eight matches and relegation was avoided.

Cray Wanderers – 1992-93 Kent Senior Cup Winners – Pic credits:  Mike Floate

From here Ian was part of a side which for the most part finished in the lower regions of the Kent League but was a regular player in the side and played usually around 40+ games a season.  The club went through a tough time in 1994-95 with a change of Chairman, Gary Hillman coming in October 1994 and the club gradually began to find their feet and in 1997-98 finished 6th, their highest placing for 7 seasons. This was the club’s last season at Oxford Road in Sidcup and the club had to move elsewhere as the ground was not permitted to have floodlights which became a prerequisite for remaining in the Kent League.  

An iconic game from Cray Wanderers history – Gary Hillman’s first match as Chairman, 29th October 1994 at Crockenhill with Ian Jenkins in the thick of the action with Sam Wright also in the picture. The match finished in a 1-1 draw and signalled a new era for the club.

Cray Wanderers 1995-96 season, Jenko 3rd left front row.

Ian Jenkins in the Wands away strip at Hythe United, 1999

Cray Wanderers started a groundshare arrangement with Bromley FC for the 1998-99 season and Jenko was appointed player manager and after a decent start to the season including a hat-trick for the player-manager against Tunbridge Wells the team struggled and won just two games in 1999 and at the end of the season Jenko remained at the club as a coach with Fabio Rossi brought in as manager.  By October 2000 results were poor and Jenko was reinstated as player manager and gradually going into the millennium experienced quality players came to the club and one such player was Joe Francis, a successful non-league player with links to the Charlton Athletic system and was signed for the 2001-02 season and became Jenko’s right hand man and formed a non-league version of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor up to September 2013 and the club finished in a hugely respectable 5th place and returned to the final of the Kent Senior Trophy losing to Thamesmead Town.  Jenko earned his place in Maidstone United folklore by scoring an injury time equaliser at VCD Athletic to deny the Vickers the league title and win the championship for the Stones.

Jenko helping out the Wands defence vs Deal Town at Hayes Lane, 1999

From here the club were beginning to eye looking forward and the next two seasons saw the club going from strength to strength and in 2002-03 a remarkable run from February saw the Wands lose once in 16 games and in a season impacted after Faversham resigned from the league the Wands looked to be the underdogs in a race with Maidstone and Thamesmead and edged in front until the Kent League decided that the league will be decided on points per game and Cray were underdogs in the race once more.  Cray kept themselves in the picture by beating Slade Green while Maidstone and Thamesmead both drew so on Tuesday 29th April in the last game of the season on a tense night Cray edged past Lordswood 2-0 to claim the title.  Cray completed a cup double by beating VCD 2-0 in the Kent League Cup Final at Folkestone and could have won a treble but had lost to Maidstone in the final of the Kent Senior Trophy.

Cray Wanderers 2002-03 Kent League Champions

Jenko & Gary Hillman with the Kent League trophy

Cray Wanderers 2002-03 Kent League Cup Winners

The 2003-04 season was the last for the Wands in the Kent League and possibly the most successful in the club’s history to that point although the league was not quite so dramatic as a very strong Wands side with the likes of Ricky Bennett, Jamie Wood, Ian Rawlings, Jamie Kempster and a young Sam Wood were unbeaten from August – early December and went on to win the league for the second straight year.  

Cray Wanderers 2003-04 Kent League Champions, Kent Senior Trophy Winners and Suburban League and Intermediate League Cup

Back row – l -r: John Di Palma, Paul Foley, Robert Browning, Danny Evans, John Mayall, Micky Simmons, David Gray, James Taylor, Richard Dimmock,

Danny Whelan, Ian Rawlings, John Allwright – Front Row – l-r: Andy Silk, Jamie Wood, Sam Wood, Adam Heaslewood, Joe Francis, Gary Hillman, Ian Jenkins, Jamie Kempster, Ross Lover, Matt Woolf, Ricky Bennett

The legendary duo Ian Jenkins and Joe Francis with 2003-04 silverware

That wasn’t the end of the run of silverware and cup success as the Kent Senior Trophy was won once again in a tight final vs Hythe Town at Ashford won 1-0 with a Rawlings goal. The defence of the Kent League Cup ended in the final vs Thamesmead Town at Folkestone but it was the lure of Wembley that lifted the season especially in the first half as wins against Deal Town, Chessington & Hook United, Great Yarmouth Town, West Allotment Celtic and Keynsham set up a home quarter final vs AFC Sudbury but it was the Suffolk side who progressed with a 2-0 win in extra-time. Even the FA Cup took the Wands to the 3rd Qualifying Round where Basingtoke edged through 1-0. If you watched every Wands game that season you would have had value for money with 57 matches played with many across the length and breadth of England.

Cray Wanderers en route to the North East for the FA Vase 3rd Round tie at West Allotment Celtic

After a great deal of backstage diplomacy the Wands were admitted into the Isthmian League for the first time in the club’s history.  With much of the team which won promotion retained there were other new young arrivals like Michael Power, Leigh Bremner and Steve Northwood and Cray took the Isthmian Division One by storm.  Cray had won the Kent League Charity Shield and were unbeaten for the first eight games.  The season went down in folklore as a rare occasion where the Wands and Bromley met in league competition and Cray winning 5-2 in the home game is still talked about to this day.  As is the 2-0 win vs AFC Wimbledon which ended the Dons 78 game unbeaten record as a football club with a crowd of over a 1000.  The club made its FA Trophy debut and the Wands who scored a lot of goals finished 6th and reached the playoffs losing after extra-time to Horsham in the Semi-Final but still a memorable season.

Cray Wanderers 2004-05 season:  Back row l-r: John De Palma, Danny Bower, David Gray, James Taylor, Tony Russell, Phil Collins, Ian Rawlings, Michael Power, Ian Rawlings, Ross Lover, Ian Jenkins, Joe Francis – Front Row – Dean Morris, John Myatt, Steve Northwood, Leigh Bremner, Jamie Wood, Jamie Kempster, Matt Woolf, Sam Wood, James Millar, Drew Watkins

The following two seasons saw top half of the table finishes but the Wands broke new ground in the FA Cup in 2005-06 when Jenko and Joe’s side beat Steyning Town, Kingstonian, Camberley Town and Margate to set up a 4QR tie at Grays who were the top side in non-league football at that time.  The Essex side won 2-0 but the team were not disgraced and made their mark on the competition.  The Wands also reached the semi-finals of the Isthmian League Cup in 2006-07 losing to Dover Athletic and a 4-0 home league win vs Dartford was an impressive performance.

Cray Wanderers Ian Rawlings, Joe Francis, Ian Jenkins, Gary Abbott & Jamie Wood with the FA Cup, 2005-06

Cray were now established in the Isthmian Division One South and in 2007-08 had a remarkable league season and from November to April went 28 games without defeat to challenge at the top and finished 3rd and reached the playoffs once again.  The Wands beat Metropolitan Police 2-0 with goals from Jamie Wood & Ross Lover in the Semi Final at home to set up a tense final at Tooting & Mitcham United which was decided by a Paul Vines goal for the home side and a heartbreaking loss.  The Wands reached the final of the Kent Senior Cup for the first time after beating Bromley 6-1 in the Semi Final but the final was held over until the start of the 2008-09 season and Ebbsfleet were too strong winning 4-0.  This season also saw the final appearance as a player for Jenko and from making his debut in 1993 to 2008 and scored at least one goal for fifteen successive seasons.  His final goal was in the Semi-Final of the Isthmian League Cup vs Dover Athletic in March 2007 and in 418 appearances scored 78 goals for Cray Wanderers.

Cray Wanderers 2007-08 season: Back row l-r:  Joe Francis, Ross Lover, Ryan Royston, Tommy Whitnell, Glen Knight, Tyrone Sterling, Michael Power, Mark Willy, Arron Day, Danny Chapman.  Front row – Jamie Kempster, Dean Morris, Jamie Wood, Lewis Wood, David Hall, Colin Luckett, Steve Aris, Ian Jenkins

Never a team to rest on their laurels the team regrouped for 2008-09 with an experienced side which by the end included ex Football League players, Danny Chapman and Simon Osborn and the inspirational captain Mark Willy and finished 2nd behind champions Kingstonian. This set up a playoff place once again and a 1-0 semi final victory against Worthing at Hayes Lane with a Jamie Wood goal set up a final vs Met Police on 2nd May 2009 at Hayes Lane and an unbearably tense match was decided by a piece of magic from Osborn with a free kick ten minutes from time and Cray held on to reach the Isthmian Premier for the first time.


Top picture: Simon Osborn celebrates scoring the Wands winner in the Isthmian South playoff final with Tyrone Sterling and Scott Kinch

Left: Jamie Wood, Jamie Kempster and Mark Willy with the playoff trophy and Jenko on the bus parade through St. Mary Cray.

Inevitably life in the Isthmian Premier would be a huge step up but the team despite not winning at home until November ended up finishing 15th helped by five wins out of seven in January-February 2010 and despite huge odds and expectation lived to fight another day.

Ian Jenkins receiving a manager of the month award and a special award from Gary Hillman for ten years as manager – 2009

2010-11 was the club’s 150th year anniversary and the victorian chocolate and amber strip was introduced for one season only and Cray went up to Sheffield for the Heritage Tournament with Sheffield and Hallam FC and Cray won the triangle tournament in dramatic circumstances beating Sheffield on penalties with deputy keeper Sam Wright saving the final Sheffield penalty after Fraser Cronin made it 7-6 to Cray.   The team had a very solid season and finished 9th with Laurent Hamici scoring 27 goals including hat-tricks against Harrow Borough and Tonbridge Angels and were now very much a force to be reckoned with with a high scoring team with a tough competitive edge.

Cray Wanderers Heritage Cup Winners – 2010

John Woolf, Paul Blade, Jenko, Joe Francis and Gary Hillman – Cray Wanderers Charity Ball 2010-11

Wands award winners 2009-10, George Porter, Jenko, Mark Willy, Leigh Bremner, Gary Hillman

In 2011-12 with a return to amber and black the side continued where they left off and were in contention for the playoffs up to Easter with Tommy Whitnell, Leigh Bremner and Jack Clark all scoring over double figures for the season and finished 9th once again with perhaps just the home form going against Cray costing them a higher league place.

There was great anticipation for the 2012-13 season and Cray started well and were unbeaten away from home until December and beat Hampton & Richmond to go 2nd in the table and also a 4-0 win at eventual champions Concord Rangers.  However in September 2012, Bromley Council turned down the Wands application for a new ground at Sandy Lane in St Paul’s Cray and the club seemed to lose its way and ended up looking over their shoulders a bit towards the relegation zone but a 2-0 home win vs Hampton & Richmond on 20th April preserved the Wands place in the Premier in a 17th place finish.

Cray Wanderers 2012-13:  Back row – Billy Burgess, Alex Stavrinou, Barney Abbott, Michael Power, Andy Walker, John Estrada, Aaron Day, Danny Young – Middle row – Grant Hall, Chris Saunders, Gareth Williams, Tyrone Sterling, Danny Phillips, Mark Willy, Williams Pereaux, Louis Sprosen, Dan Parkinson, James Darvill – Front row – Leigh Bremner, Shawn Beveney, Joe Francis, Ian Jenkins, Paul Blade, Joe Vines, Laurent Hamici

Anyone like me who watched virtually every minute of the 2013-14 season will remember it for many of the wrong reasons, big defeats and an unprecedented number of players used with touch of gallows humour from the fans and sadly the Jenko and Joe era came to an end with Joe departing in September and after four straight defeats without scoring the club decided to move on but sometimes people’s memories are immediately clouded by the last match in charge and Jenko’s time at Cray Wanderers should not be remembered by a 0-4 defeat at Bognor Regis Town but for his hard graft as a player and manager and through some tough times when the Cray Wanderers committee and matchday staff performed wonders to get games on at Oxford Road Jenko was the heart and soul on the pitch and in the changing room.  Jenko also was a great benefactor for charities especially for Breast Cancer through competing in the London Marathon.  He later went on to Greenwich Borough as manager where he achieved success and Erith Town but to many he was still a Wand.

Jenko’s last win as Cray Wanderers manager vs Canvey Island, August 2013

To all the managers who have sat in the hot seat since some very successful, some less successful their jobs have been made a bit easier through the club’s more loftier league position and work off the pitch with always the mantra of we can still do better or achieve more but from where we started when Jenko made his league debut in February 1993 the club are unrecognisable and we hope he has a great night on 15th February, 2023.

Jenko with Kerry Phillips, 100 Club Draw for August 2018 – Jenko’s first game back to watch the Wands since 2013

Jenko, fifth from left as part of a Cray Wanderers legend reunion match, November 2018