Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]
Hello and welcome the fourth 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 blog, I speak to Ongar Town Chairman Simon Boultwood [SB] and manager Richard Ponsford [RP] who have both played a part in the club’s rise in recent seasons. Ongar play in EOFL Division One and are currently leading the division by five points.
SW: Hello Richard and Simon, firstly thank you for your time. We’ll start with developments off-the-pitch, Ongar Town elected to move to the Lakeside Sports Ground artificial pitch in Thurrock, effectively replacing the folded Lakeside First team in playing there. What prompted that move?
RP: “Our move to the Lakeside 3G pitch wasn’t an elected one to be honest, we were actually left without a choice, in fact we were nearly without a pitch, until the chairman (Simon Boultwood) worked miracles by finding not just one, but 2 pitches at Lakeside, for the First team and our Reserve side also.
Our previous home ground at Fyfield was great. We’d turned it into a bit of fortress and the playing surface was fantastic and really suited our style of play, but we were totally unsupported within the immediate community and, when our rental period was up, were told by the local council the agreement wouldn’t be renewed. This left us without a home ground. Similarly, we were also told after the first lockdown that our Reserve side were being kicked out of their home ground at Love Lane in Ongar by Ongar Sports Club, (the charity set up in that area to promote sport in the local community) due to the team not spending enough money behind the bar after games. We were shocked by their decision, thus leaving the entire club scratching around for pitches eight weeks before the season started.
Simon worked incredibly hard in finding a home for us and it has worked out brilliantly in my opinion, the size and quality of the surfaces at Lakeside really suits our game and we’ve really settled in well there. The management of the Lakeside facility have welcomed us with open arms. We even have a following of local residents [Honorary Ongar fans, good to see – Ed]
As a club we are fully aware of how important it is to be playing in our local community, especially now as we are doing so well. We have a lot more local interest in the club. We have two very good sponsors from Ongar’s business community, who supported us last season, with another to follow soon. With Kelly Stone becoming our social media/digital marketing Manager, our profile has increased immensely with a healthy following online, including Olly Murs as we are his local side.”
SB: “We have so many lads who play for the club that live within the town, in both squads and we are very hopeful that we will be playing our football in Ongar again next season and give the town a football team to be proud of. Our success can continue with the clear abundance of local talent. We as a club have big ambitions and need the support of our town to keep achieving.
Going back to the question though, we literally didn’t have a choice in the move to Lakeside, totally out of our hands as a club and quite a sad situation. But we turned that disappointment into a positive.”
SW: Let’s roll back to September and the start of the season, after finishing third in Division One in the curtailed 2019-20 season, what was the aim for the season before a ball was kicked?
SB: “Our aim this season is promotion. Simple as that. This squad is so talented and this group deserve to be playing at a higher level and have showed their quality over the last two to three seasons with the success achieved from a group considerably younger than most.
Last season, in our opinion we were nailed on to gain promotion and were looking good for another County cup final appearance as well but then the world went a bit wrong and Football took a back seat of course understandably.
Our aim is to be promoted as soon and all involved in the club are focused and driven to achieve this. When the club started the original plan was to be a step 6 [aka the Eastern Senior League South] club in five years. So far, so good.”
RP: “From my point of view as a coach, our pre-season was spot on and we learned so much about ourselves, playing against two teams from Step 5, winning one and losing one. We played a Step 4 club as well, where we were taught a bit of lesson in terms of game management and experience. The rest of the fixtures we were superb and absolutely destroyed a few teams in and around our level within the EOFL divisions, giving us real confidence and belief going into the season start.”
SW: As it stands at the season break, you’re five points clear at the summit of Division One, remaining unbeaten in your seven league games so far. How pleased are you with your start?
RP: “Obviously our start has been really good but as a Coach you’re never happy. There have been games where we have been irresistible, scoring superb goals and dominating games from start to finish and then there have games where we haven’t been quite at it for whatever reason and had to graft through difficult periods.
Our recent spell over the last month of games (in October) we haven’t been quite right. This, off the back of a dominant performance against a seriously good Snaresbrook side, which we won 6 – 0 and could’ve been more, yet the following week we were woeful from the first minute attitude wise and ended up drawing the game [at Toby]. We were quite awful on the day, finding ourselves behind and chasing it for periods because our mentality wasn’t correct going into the game.
This has since been addressed and whilst we still haven’t been at our flowing best, we’ve still out worked the opposition and been strong enough to win games, most notably away at Galleywood, which was our last game before latest lockdown. Awful conditions, one-nil down and not competing properly, then down to ten men and we still had enough fight and quality to come from behind to win the game convincingly. So all things considered, our start has been good and we’re very pleased with our lead at the top.”
SW: For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Aaron Blair has already reached 15 league goals this term. Who are the players that really make the team drive on?
RP: “Yes, Aaron Blair is a special talent, born to score superb goals that lad. He’s been sensational since the day I stumbled upon him. A wonderful young man and a superb talent that we hope will go a long way in football and everyone at Ongar has high hopes for him.
But this team isn’t just about one player though. We are blessed with superb young footballers all over the pitch. Our midfield group are all technically superb and full of quality and goals, so much so I can’t name check them all. Don’t want to warn our opposition! [Sound logic, to be fair! – Ed]
Defensively, we are strong. We’ve added Eamon Payne to our squad and got him seriously fit. A well-known player in Non-League Football. He’s flying and really learning his game properly now. Big edition to the squad and has had such a positive impact. I expect big things from him over next season or two.
Connor Jones also joined us in pre-season and has been wonderful. What an attitude this young man has! Impressed me from the first minute and he’s given real impact in whatever role he’s been asked to play in. He has become a massive part of the team very quickly. But there are so many quality players in this squad and they’re a joy to coach and be a part of each week.
As a club we are blessed throughout. I’ve spent a lot of time creating and coaching our recently new (last season) reserve side and we now have some seriously good younger lads coming through the ranks between the ages of 16-20, that will progress into the first team over the next couple of seasons. A new reserve team manager is about to come on board as well. So the club is in a wonderful state and we are so excited as to what we can achieve moving forward with the quality coming through.”
SW: Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?
RP: “Besides cleaning all the kit after the weekend’s games, my interests away from football are watching my sons play their chosen sports. Love my Sundays chilling out watching them both! Also, I am a big Rugby Union fan and enjoy watching autumn internationals and the Six Nations, cannot wait for that!”
SB: “I love sport in general, some more than others. My interest in cricket has risen watching England and I also love basketball. Another sport I played as a youth in the Harlow League. Football is and always will be my first love.”
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 ambitions of Ongar Town in the next three to five years or so?
SB: “We think it’s clear what our ambitions are for the next three to five years. We want to progress as far as we can. Firstly to move to the Thurlow Nunn [Eastern Senior League South at Step 6], with our next main aim is being a Step four team. There will be unseen obstacles to overcome, like the pandemic and others that are known, like having your own stadium, increased sponsorship, funding etc. But that’s also the challenge. Football is played off the pitch as well as on it. We have the management and the players to begin the journey.”
SW: Finally, how do you think the quality of the Essex Olympian League has progressed in the last two years? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?
SB: “The Essex Olympian League has in our opinion improved greatly over the last two years. If you look at the County cup winners or finalists, you will always find EOFL clubs. Evidence it is the strongest of the leagues at our level. Some people think the top division might have been stronger in the past, but we doubt it. This is our fourth season and we can see an improvement. If some under-rate the EOFL, they do so at their peril.”
I’d like to thank Simon and Richard for their contributions to this article. It is unfortunate that I haven’t been to see them in person yet but you can see that they are hugely ambitious for the future and that they are well-placed to progress up the Non-League ladder. Thank you for reading.