Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League & EAL Writer
Hello and welcome the another of my latest series of ‘In-Focus’ blogs for Summer 2021, marking five years for me as a Non-League writer. Second in the series is Essex Alliance League (EAL) side Chadwell Heath Spartans, who competed in the group-only Essex Alliance League Cup since the resumption of Football in March this year.
The “Spartans” are an ambitious club built from Day 1 by the Hunwicks family, soon after Neil Hunwicks decided to leave Hullbridge Sports who at that stage had just won the Essex Senior League title. But for the Hunwicks family, setting this club up was an altogether more personal venture. The Action image below is courtesy of @ABridgeTooFar16, used with thanks.
In this article, I’m pleased to welcome Chairman & photographer extraordinaire Neil Hunwicks (NH), who is joined by his sons, Spartans player-boss Aaron Hunwicks (AH) and player & Media Officer Ray Hunwicks (RH) to give their thoughts on how the recent League Cup has been to compete in, the season as a whole, the inside track on the club and their thoughts on the change coming for the EAL next season. My thanks to them all for their time.
SW: It goes without saying that the 2020-21 campaign has been disrupted by the various lockdowns, but what positives would you all take from this campaign?
NH: “As a family we are all still learning, not just about the club and the team, but also about working with each other. Trying to keep ourselves motivated in these difficult times was hard enough, but trying to keep the entire club engaged and motivated was a big challenge for us.
The campaign was good while we were playing and we probably were playing the best football in our short history, but the downtime during lockdown and the thought of another season being ‘null and void’ always loomed large at the back of our minds.
As Chairman, our biggest positive off the pitch was us becoming a ‘FA Charter Standard’ club. We always try to do everything in the right way and although a lot of the standards for the award were already in place, the League and County supported us getting things over the line.
On-the-pitch it has certainly been difficult to keep players motivated and interested in football with the stop start season that the clubs have faced, but the lads on the whole have been great. The support they have given the club on and off the pitch is all that we can ask for from our players and we just hope that we can complete a full season for 2021/22 and see how we go”
SW: What was the favourite match of the season and why?
NH: “There could only be one match for me and that was away the Woodford East FC in October of 2020 I believe (Indeed it was – October 17th to be exact – Ed). Trying to take photographs and watch an unbelievable game was very difficult.
Woodford East were top of the league and unbeaten, we were third I think at the time and unbeaten. Both teams had a tight defence and had conceded few goals before the Spartans headed over to Woodford’s ground on that Saturday afternoon.
We had good support on that day as the game had been built up as a clash of the two top teams in the division and a chance of the unbeaten record of one of them going. It was the first time I had really felt nervous before a game, and I felt a bit of those same nerves around the camp. Aaron and Niru had done a good job preparing the team and leading up to the game the training sessions had been very good. The boys were all up for the clash and we had a strong squad available for selection.
Well without boring everybody with the details, it was an unbelievable game ending 6 – 5 to the Spartans and the celebrations at the end you would maybe have expected from a Cup final. It was sheer relief beating easily the best team we had played in the league and probably the strongest contenders for the title, had things got that far!
Looking back I think the Woodford East lads would agree that it was a real battle between two competitive sides and their dejection at the loss was the opposite to our elation at the victory and I’m sure if things were round the other way we would have felt their pain.”
SW: On or off-the-pitch, what was your most memorable moment/s from this season?
NH: “We have a positive and a negative for this really and they were both off-the-pitch. Let’s get the negative out of the way first! It was when we were told for a second time that the season was off, ‘null and void’ again! We couldn’t believe it! We had been robbed of the title in our first season as we were one win away from winning EAL Division Three before things were called off, but for things to be called off again was ridiculous and when you think we all played tournaments when we came back, we could have easily finished the league, but don’t get me started on the FA, I’ll shut up now.
The positive was great for us and as I have already mentioned we achieved Charter Standard, which was great for us as a new club. We have always tried to do things the right way and getting Charter Standard was a big plus for us as a club and it was that little piece of the jigsaw that we wanted to get done in season two.”
SW: It’s been two seasons since the Spartans were formed, what has it been like starting your history competing in the Essex Alliance League in that time?
NH: “The League is good and they have always been very supportive towards us, but at the same time we have tried to support the league. Ray is our secretary as well as playing and he always tries to make sure we do everything properly and on time. If he doesn’t win Secretary of the Year for last season it will be an absolute travesty, not that we are biased!” (Of course not! – Ed)
“The league also asked clubs to support them by obtaining Charter Standard and so we went ahead and put the work in to do it. Although we attended all the meetings back in the old days when people could still meet up, we always know that we can call or message any of the league committee and they will always get back to us with a helpful answer. That is what a new team needs because although me as the Chairman and Aaron as the player / manager having quite a few years background in the game, we have always done things for others and never had our own team, so it was a big learning curve for all the family. We thought for the last two seasons (although we haven’t actually finished one yet due to Covid-19) that we were in the right place & the right league and that has been confirmed recently when it was announced that the league had finally achieved one of its big goals by achieving Step 7 status.”
SW: You competed in Group B of the hastily-convened Essex Alliance League Cup with mixed results, finishing in third spot. How was it returning to playing after such a long lay-off?
NH: “It was great to get back and see everybody again and although we had some of the team who contracted Covid-19, everybody came through the other side and we’re safe!
Aaron (AH) had his own plans for the tournament, so I’ll let him explain…”
AH: “We were extremely pleased that there was some sort of Cup football to return to, although admittedly we were disappointed that the league couldn’t continue two seasons in a row. It was a difficult period for us as a club as the lockdowns left us and I’m sure many other clubs without players returning and with injuries. This made some of our games really challenging, but we did use the cup competition to experiment with some things we wanted to test, without points or league positions on the line and this has given us loads of ideas going in to next season to take the club forwards.
SW: It was announced last week that the Senior Division of the Essex Alliance League has been given Step 7 status by the FA, putting it on par with the Premier Division of the Essex Olympian League. Is reaching that division an ambition of the club & what is your reaction to the news as an EAL club?
NH: “Well, I’ll cover the reaction first as we were so pleased for the league and especially all the committee members who we knew had worked so hard on achieving this status. The league deserves it and it’s great for all the clubs that have stuck by the Essex Alliance League and haven’t jumped ship. Some of the clubs that have left the league may now want to come back, which will only strengthen the league, but I’m sure like the Olympian (League), the clubs coming in will now have to earn their place in the top flight.
As far as our club goes, as Chairman I can only guide my committee on what my own personal thoughts are about playing at Step 7. Our committee is made up of myself as Chairman, Aaron as player / manager, Niru as player / coach and Treasurer, he’s the numbers man. We then have Ray who plays as well as being the club Secretary and also the media wizard, so he arguably has the toughest job in the family and finally we have John who is a family friend from when the lads were at school, he is sometimes the voice of reason amongst the strong-willed Hunwicks family!
I think the pressure sits firmly with Aaron as manager and Niru as coach on this one, as they have got to be confident that they can put together a team that can compete at Step 7, Aaron continues on that note…
AH: As manager, my thoughts on Step 7 are that it is a fantastic opportunity for us as a club, should we be able to meet the requirements. It’s also a great opportunity for the players to compete at this level and test themselves against the best teams in the league. We are excited to see what the new season brings us as we are always trying to better ourselves and bring in new talent to help us reach our goals.”
(Above) Action Still from CH Spartans v CSM London in EAL League Cup from May 2021, image by @ABridgeTooFar16
SW: Looking on now to the 2021/22 season, what are the short-term aspirations of the club?
NH: “Off the pitch I think we have loads of goals as we want to secure some longer-term sponsorship deals. This gives the club more stability, but it also gives us the opportunity to work with local businesses. We are big on getting the local community involved in the club, as we feel we represent them. Our history is local, and the family grew up here. We have a lot of local lads that went to Mayfield School which is where our home ground is now, so we are tied to the community, and we want the community to be tied in with us.
You will have noticed that we try very hard to get some good media out weekly. It’s not just about my photographs, but also a lot of work goes in to our videos and Ray (RH) is your man for that, so I’ll leave this bit to him…”
RH: “As the media man, striving to get better never stops for me. I’m continually challenging myself to put out better content on all platforms and as a small club I think we do very well. We sometime get criticised for missing a goal, but we make every effort to get it right and change things up as often as we can.
On the pitch, Aaron, Niru and John want the club to be playing at Step 7 status and to be able to hold our own in a very strong Premier Division. We want to bring in new blood that maybe won’t get a look in at the bigger clubs, but we are a team of opportunities, and we want competition for every position we have!”
SW: Finally, what other developments are on the way for the club in the future that you’d like to share?
NH: “We have a few things in the pipeline, but nothing we can share at the moment as our future is in the hands of others, but we are really confident our hard work will pay off, so watch this space!”
That’s all from this In-Focus article, again my thanks to the Hunwicks family for their time & I wish the Spartans well next season. If you’d like to find out more about the club, they are on Twitter – @CH_SpartansFC or on Facebook at @CHSpartansFC. Hope you enjoyed the article.
Update (June 16) – After this article was published, it was announced via EAL’s constitutions that the Spartans will compete in the Senior Division (Step 7) from August 2021. Congrats to all at the club.
If you’d like to catch up with the first article in this ‘In-Focus’ series on the Essex Alliance League’s future, you can find it here: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/11/2021-in-focus-essex-alliance-league-the-future-eal/