Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]
Hello and welcome the third article in this current series of ‘Club In-Focus’ blogs where figures in the Grassroots & Non-League game fill us in on their season so far and also recite some chosen moments from recent seasons too.
In this article, I speak to Corinthians manager Chris Stoneham [CS]. Chris has continued the rapid progress of the club’s First Team up the Essex Olympian League divisions since they initially joined the EOFL as an Under-21 side in the 2016-17 season. They now play in EOFL Division Two, having been one of many teams there were thwarted from obtaining promotion last term due to the curtailed season.
SW: Hello Chris, firstly thank you for your time. Looking back to September and the start of the season, after finishing fourth in Division Two in the derailed 2019-20 season, what was the aim for this season before a ball was kicked?
CS: “I appreciate the opportunity to speak about Corinthians FC, thank you Scott. To be honest, our aim has never changed, that is to improve the ability of our players and progress the squad so that they compete in all competitions with a push for promotion on a regular basis.”
SW: As it stands at the season break, Corinthians sit in second spot, two points adrift of Beacon Hill Rovers at the summit of Division One (but with two games in hand on them). How would you assess your start of this campaign?
CS: “I’m really impressed with our start but not surprised as we had a good pre-season, training went really well and we played against some higher (division) opposition, during those games I was filled with confidence and we more than held our own. We have been disappointed by two serious injuries, one to Alfie Knight (eye injury) and one to Luke Owen (ACL), but other than that it has been really encouraging. As we all know these are testing times and we need to pick up where we left off which will be tough, but we feel we’re ready. Plans are hopefully for a 5th December restart and we will be at home to Laindon Orient, which is always a competitive game.”
SW: The sides around you in the table are Beacon Hill Rovers, Leigh Town, Landon Orient and Wakering Sports. Which sides have stood out for you in EOFL Division Two in the first two months of this campaign?
CS: “The teams you have mentioned, you would expect to be competing for promotion without a doubt. I will say I have been impressed with every opposition we have played this season so far, whether that is in terms of team or individual performances within the team. I can certainly see some upsets along the way though and if you’re not on your game, teams will punish you.”
SW: Much of your squad has stayed together as they moved up the youth sides until the present day, along with a well-known & experienced goal-scorer in Nathan Dewberry, who already has amassed eight league goals this term. In your view, which of your players makes up the ‘spine of the side’ and drives the team on?
CS: “Yes, our squad has hardly changed since youth football and we have had minimal turnaround of players since joining the EOFL as U21 4 years ago. We have strong level of stability and a lot of talent in the squad, some of whom could play at a much higher level. There is no lack of ambition from the players they all have an ambition to progress as a squad, which is refreshing in football. You mention Nathan Dewberry and yes, he is an out and out goal-scorer who can win a game with a bit of individual quality – proven with the goal he scored against Rochford Town just recently.
What I will say about Nathan and another player of ours, Sammy Ayres, is that the experience they bring has been brilliant. You need that in the changing room and on the pitch with a relatively young squad around them. You mentioned the spine of the team, and of course this is a big factor when looking at your side, but as I mentioned earlier injuries can play a part in the season as we experienced last season so it’s important to have a strong squad. The squad we have now is the strongest we have ever had, having cover in every position. The squad always work together and when players are given a chance, they will always give 100%, which makes my team selection a challenge. We have 21 players signed on and each of these players has different qualities and fully deserve to be in a very good squad.”
SW: Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?
CS: “I’ve always been interested in martial arts and boxing. I enjoy the gym and like a game of golf (badly) occasionally.”
SW: What isn’t that well known is there are many clubs in Essex Olympian League who are ambitious to progress up the Non-League pyramid. With that in mind, what are the club’s plans for the next three to five years or so?
CS: “The Club has come a long way in a short period of time and had great success with various titles and promotions. We have progressed from having two teams to eleven teams within a few years and we have some great people at the club such as Ben Adams (Chairman) and Kayleigh Ayres (Secretary) who both work tirelessly. Also, my match day team of Graham Owen, Trevor Burrell, Ross Hooper and Andy Tapster all work so hard with me every week. We have some fantastic managers from our newly formed U8 right up to our Veterans football teams. I regularly watch U16 games and see some exceptional talent coming through which is always encouraging for the club who have a good junior and youth policy. The Club are looking to add a Ladies Team, we have had great interest and are already building a team to compete in the Essex [County] Women’s League.
We are an ambitious club and our main aim at this present time is to progress to the Premier Division of the Essex Olympian League. We believe we are more than capable of doing this in the coming seasons. This will allow us to enter teams in the EJA (Eastern Junior Alliance) which will attract a different standard of player at an earlier stage in their progression. There has been massive progress made at our home, The Stambridge Memorial Ground. The changing rooms are exceptional for this standard and the playing surface is looking better all the time with the hard work of Graham Owen. Ben Adams has put a plan together for the club, which is progressing well, and we can see good things happening at the ground already.”
SW: And finally, having watched a few Division Two matches myself last season, I would suggest that the quality in the division is under-rated. How would you sum up the division and the two Olympian League divisions above it in the last two seasons or so, has it improved?
CS: “Our division has certainly improved going by the early matches we have played. I could certainly see several teams competing at a higher level in due course. Since we joined the EOFL it is my opinion the Premier Division is stronger and more competitive. Basildon Town have had a great start and remain unbeaten. Buckhurst Hill who have been a quality side over the past few seasons look to be pushing for promotion once again. I do not know anyone that would disagree that they do deserve to be able to move the club forward after some very bad luck. What I will say about that division although I have mentioned only the top 2 teams, any team is capable of having a run of results ,you just have to look at last season as an example. Take Leigh Ramblers and Bishop Stortford Swifts who both had great results and decent performances which pushed them up the league and I fully expect similar this season.
So, I will be looking out for a few challenges from teams that have not had the best start to the current campaign. I’m always interested in Ongar Town’s progress since our competitive games against their U21 side a few seasons ago, I’m not surprised that they have also started really well again, I expect them to push into the Premier division at the end of this season along with Runwell Sports who impressed me when they beat us in a close game at the start of the season, we fell to a late winner in the league cup. Once again this looks a competitive league and hopefully one that we will be able to compete in next campaign.”
I’d like to thank Chris for his thoughts on the club and the EOFL as a whole. Corinthians is one example of a club that gives the impression that it is ‘just beginning’ its journey up the divisions, even though they have won several trophies & promotions in the last few seasons already.
It also has to be noted that the people at the club are consistently really welcoming and helpful to the likes of me and my colleagues on match days. Once you factor in that they are an exciting side to watch (one of many in these divisions), you wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue their upward trajectory in the next few seasons.
If your club (at Essex Senior or Essex Olympian level) would be interested in contributing to this blog series then please DM me on Twitter. Thank you. Hope you enjoyed the article.