Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]
Hello and welcome the seventh and last 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 edition, I caught up with Catholic Utd boss Stuart Marshall, who made a welcome return to Non-League in this area in the close season. The ‘Super Hoops’ play in the Essex Olympian League Premier.
SW: Hello Stuart, firstly can I thank you for your time. We’ll start with your move to the “Super Hoops” in the summer. Local Non-League fans may recall your time at Essex Senior side Southend Manor a few seasons ago. What made you decide to take a new challenge at Catholic Utd?
SM: Hello Scott thanks for the opportunity. [Re: the move to Catholic Utd] It wasn’t something I was particularly looking for if I’m honest and wasn’t looking to get back involved. I had a conversation with [Commercial Manager] Leon to start with and he told me about the plans for the club and his plans. I followed this up with a meeting with Pav [Chairman James Paviour] and it went from there. In fairness when I was at Manor I got told Catholic were a local rival even though we were in different leagues. I’ve always kept a watch on results and having played them during my time at Thurrock and coming a poor second. Catholic seem to gain a lot of attention from other clubs which is somewhat strange but I suppose that’s a compliment.
SW: Before the season began, we heard about the ground move which saw you leave landlords Bowers & Pitsea to play at the Len Forge Centre (artificial pitch) where your Reserve Team played last term. Was this move made out of necessity?
SM: I think our deal come to an end at Bowers and they received a greater offer from Hashtag Utd [the Essex Senior side who made the move across from Tilbury’s Chadfields]. It is a shame as Bowers is a great facility but the Len Forge (Centre) is a good facility and we have to adjust.
SW: As it stands at the season break, Catholic Utd are handily-placed in third spot, seven points off Basildon Town at the summit. Which sides have stood out for you in EOFL Premier in the first two months of this campaign?
SM: It’s a hard one as we haven’t played all the teams as yet. I echo other comments and have said this is the past that this league is tough. I believe many teams could compete in the leagues above. Look at White Ensign should have won their league [Eastern Senior League South at Step 6] last year but Covid put pay to that. This year they have started strongly again. Buckhurst Hill are outstanding in fairness and they beat us this season by a margin. It was a close game for an hour but silly mistakes and fitness killed us. Basildon have started strongly so fair play to them, we are 3rd and if I’m honest we’ve not really been consistent. Leigh Ramblers are very strong and could beat anyone on the day.
SW: For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Aaron Baldwin has already amassed three league goals in six league starts. Who are the players that really make the team drive on?
SM: It’s a hard one as we have lots of players that have played at a higher level and should still be. “Balders” (Baldwin) has done alright and should have 6 or 7 goals but that will come, getting in the right places. Max Kent has been outstanding for us this season in every game, he has quality on the ball and wants to win. Pat Kearney goes very unnoticed but never allows his performance to drop and has had a great start for us. In fairness it’s a good group, Harley Kee also adds a lot to us. Mike Summut is another one who does a great job for the team in a very unselfish way. Louis Godwin Green is outstanding in goal and lets the players know when he isn’t happy.
SW: Looking longer-term, what are the club’s plans for the next two to three years or so?
SM: I think the plan is to play as high as possible. The club have long-term plans in building not just the first team but the actual club, as a whole. They are pushing girls football and Eastern Junior Alliance [EJA] teams which I’m led to believe will be in place for next season. We are looking at possibly adding another development team into the Senior set-up as well. Getting out of this league is very difficult as we are seeing this season. I would say within three years we want to be playing in a higher division.
SW: Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?
SM: Golf, I suppose. I enjoy watching cricket but with football and work you don’t get much spare time.
SW: You’re a big supporter of Non-League Football in the area. How would you rate the Essex Olympian League Premier as a division? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?
SM: The Olympian League is a strong league and I agree that it is dismissed by teams and people never involved in it. Look at the players and managers involved in this league, lots could and should be at a higher level. I’ve mentioned them already but Buckhurst Hill would be in the top five in the Essex Senior League without doubt. Bishop’s Stortford Swifts have Billy Cove, Allan Fenn and George Young it’s hard to get a much more senior management setup than that. These have managed at a higher level and properly should be.
Alex [Goldstone] at Harold Wood has been involved with Romford for years and has lots of connections in local football. I strongly believe the top 6 in this league would hold their own in step 5. Teams are in the [Essex] Senior League by default and I believe this should be looked at by the bodies that run football.
SW: Finally, how do you assess the strength of Non-League Football in Essex?
I believe that Football in Essex is flying. I’ve been involved at several clubs and believe Essex is one of the strongest (counties). Look at the FA Cup and how the teams performed, (such as) Canvey Island & Concord Rangers.
Hashtag made it on to the BBC from Step 5! (v Soham Town Rangers), White Ensign topped step 6, Tilbury are strong this season and Aveley got to the last 8 I believe in the FA Trophy last season.
I’d like to thank Stuart for his contribution in this article and I wish him and Catholic Utd well for a good season. That also brings to an end this series of the ‘Club In-Focus’ blogs for November 2020, I appreciate the support and thank you for reading.