Season 20 -21 Club In-Focus – Wakebury [CIF early July 2021]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League & EOFL Writer

Hello and welcome the final article of the current series looking back at 2020-21 season from the clubs’ perspectiveand their favourite moments, matches and more. First up is Essex Olympian League side Wakebury, who were battling in the promotion race in EOFL Division Three until the later stages of the season and got the nod thanks to four sides being elevated into Div Two in June.

In this piece, Club Chairman & First Team manager Matt Cardy sheds some light on how they felt the season went, and looks forward to the club having an expanded presence in the Olympian Divisions from August. My thanks to Matt for his time during a busy close season.

Wakebury compete in the EOFL {Credit: EOFL]

SW: Hello Matt, thank you for your time. 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?

MC: Of course it was challenging for everyone in walks of life but for us in local football it made what is already a tough job, that little bit harder. We are very well prepared and plan well advance for a season so this disruption challenged us to adapt. We’ve taking some really good learning from this season in how we work and do things so although challenging you can always find positives. And naturally being promoted to EOFL Division Two is a fantastic achievement for our club!


SW: What was the favourite match of the season and why?

MC: Very easy. The very first match of the season away to Chingford Athletic in the League Cup. We had 12 players and a few regular starters missing. We were 3 – 1 ahead at half time after putting in a fantastic first half performance. The players following our tactical game plan to the letter and we were able to win a penalty shoot-out and beat a side who in my view should have been in the EOFL Premier after having such a successful 19/20 season. It was bit of a ‘giant-killing’ so to speak so it was a great day for the club.


SW: On or off-the-pitch, what was your most memorable moment/s from this season?

MC: As mentioned, away at Chingford was a great day for us all. This season has obviously been a challenging one but we have continued to develop young players, and positive for us is seeing players such as Billy Bonham – Dare and Will Wheeler join the club and make a real impact, both players have shown great potential and are improving all the time. This excites us as we look to build for the future.

I also enjoyed our last league game of the season against Hullbridge A. I felt this performance was one of our best in terms of the control we had in possession especially in the second half but also, you could see every single player giving their maximum for the club, this gave a sense of pride ad that win probably secured our top four finish which got us promoted.


SW: Wakebury did take part in midweek matches towards the end of the campaign. As an Olympian League club, what are those like to compete in?

MC: Yes, midweek games are always nice. We like to include a couple of mid-weekers into our pre-season schedule as well. For some reason any midweek game always had ‘big game’ feel to it so its always enjoyable to play mid week games.


SW: Having now competed in EOFL Division Three for the last two seasons, how would you summarise the strength of the division?

MC: Obviously in the our first season in the EOFL to actually finish high enough to gain promotion out of the division was a great achievement, this was obviously blocked due to COVID and the league being null & void! But the league this season has improved. The addition of Manford Way Reserves and the improvement Hutton Res and Basildon Town Ressies has made the league tougher in our opinion. I expect all of the promoted sides to continue to progress into Division Two, I’d not be surprised to see a couple of them up the top come next May.


SW: Looking on now to the 2021/22 season, you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d like to get your Reserve side into the EOFL system, will that happen in the near future?

MC: Our new reserve set-up, led by player/manager Brett Deeming will be entering the EOFL next season. This is a great step forward for our club. Having two sides in the EOFL when the club is just five years old is an outstanding achievement and is testament to all the hard work we as a club have put in. We are confident Brett will do a great job in building a competitive side that will look to develop players for our first-team set up.


SW: Finally, what other developments are on the way for the club in the future that you’d like to share?

MC: Well in addition to our new Reserve side, we are working very hard away from the pitch to improve the entire infrastructure of the club. We are aware of what we need to take the club on as we look to climb the EOFL system. Everyone at this club is fiercely ambitious and we have plans in place that will be huge for us and our long-term future. Once everything is in place, we will of course make an announcement via the clubs social media channels. We have also been able to connect with ex Leigh Town & Basildon Town manager Gareth Cleverly, who is going work closely with myself & (First Team assistant boss) Dan Blewett over the next few months, this is a great thing for us as a management team but also the club. Gareth has a wealth of experience and an outstanding managerial CV we are looking forward to working with him [Congrats to Gareth, I wish him well in his new role – Ed]

We are excited about the new season as we enjoy new challenges, Division Two looks to be a really competitive league again, and we are going to work our hardest to ensure we are competing at the right end of the league once again.


My thanks to Matt, Chairman of Wakebury & I wish the club well going into next season. If you’d like to contact the club, a reminder that you can find them @Wakebury_FC on Twitter or by email at wakeburyfc@gmail.com

2021 Club In-Focus – Dagenham Utd [CIF June 2021]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League & EAL Writer

Hello and welcome to a ‘bonus’ instalment of ‘In-Focus’ blogs for Summer 2021. In this fourth article, I caught up with Essex Alliance League (EAL) side Dagenham Utd, who also competed in the group-only Essex Alliance League Cup since the resumption of Football in March this year.

The ‘Daggers’ have had a side in the EAL divisions since 2017, and although their first team are a more recent addition after coming over from the Olympian League.

In this article, I’m pleased to be joined by First Team player-boss (and Adult Section Chairman) Chris Mascall (CM) and First Team Secretary & Physio Jamie Mascall (JM) 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 both for their time & Jamie for the Action images shown here.

Dagenham Utd compete in the Essex Alliance Lge (EAL)

SW: It’s fair to say that the 2020-21 campaign has been disrupted by the various lockdowns, but what positives would you all take from this campaign?

CM: “It’s a pleasure Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk to us also.” 

“It has been a frustrating campaign again in terms of the stop start of lockdown etc., but we do take some positives from the last lockdown as it allowed a couple of our key players to return from substantial injuries they suffered at the start of the season which disrupted our season towards the Xmas period. 

In terms of positives on the pitch this season, we had a strong showing in our league division, pushing at the top of the table for promotion for the majority of the season and picking up some very good results along the way. The restart of the league cup groups yielded some of our best results as we introduced a new system and style of play, which lead to us winning all of our cup group games bar one, narrowly missing out on silverware” 


SW: What was the favourite match of the season and why?

CM: “There have been some great matches this season but for the neutral, there’s only one that can really spring to mind. We had a home game early on in the season (on October 3rd 2020 – Ed) vs Forest Green which ended 5 – 4 to us with a winner in the 88th min, an outrageous goal from our winger Rodeny Dos Santos Varela whom cut in on the edge of the box and curled one into the opposite corner lobbing the keeper and leaving him stranded, the absolutely scenes that followed were amazing as it was pure euphoria and a goal worthy of winning any game at any level! Our Reserve team were playing at home too that week and won their game also and so the joint celebrations that took place immediately after the games were fantastic with both teams coming together to enjoy the results in what was a great show of the real family feel we have at this club.” 


SW: On or off-the-pitch, what was your most memorable moment/s from this season?

JM: “I would say it would have to be the game Chris just mentioned , the togetherness of the teams and the pure elation they both had for each other’s results was beautiful to see. It was a lovely day weather-wise, both teams winning in spectacular fashion and really felt like it was one of those moments that makes all the hard work running and organising these teams worth it. It was a real ‘this is why we do it’ moment.” 


Action Still (Dag Utd in Blue & White Stripes) [Image Credit: Jamie Mascall/Dagenham Utd]

SW: I vaguely remember the club’s first team being among the sides competing in Essex Olympian League (EOFL). How has it been competing in the Alliance League (EAL) since you came over at Division Two level?

CM: “Yes that’s right, our first team used to compete in the Essex Olympian league and moved across to the Alliance League last season. After transferring to Dagenham, I started my journey as First Team Captain and then moved into a management role with the Reserve team whom were entered into the Essex Alliance League in 2016/17 season I believe it was. It was a real ‘start from scratch’ project. I then moved into the First Team Managers role and the Adult Section chairman position, setting out a five-year progression plan for the men’s teams to aim towards. This was when we entered First & Reserve teams into the Alliance, comprised of a few key players from the Reserve team and a lot of new additions whom were eager to join the exciting project and we haven’t looked back since as I enter my 5th season managing within the EAL. 

In terms of abilities of the teams within the respective leagues, I genuinely don’t see much difference In quality, and the EAL have some great teams and players amongst the leagues.”


SW: You competed in Group D of the hastily-convened Essex Alliance League Cup finishing in third spot, two points behind leaders Cowley Community. How was it to return to playing after such a long lay-off?

CM: “To be fair, as I mentioned earlier, the break almost done us good in a sense that it allowed injured players to return, but of course you then loose the momentum of the team being together etc. What did really impress me however was that a large number of the first team especially took up 1-2-1 coaching with myself and really looked after themselves during the break, which was evident when we returned to action, where as I mentioned, we were unbeaten, bar one.” 

“The final Cup table makes for a slightly distorted view of the way the cup unfolded. We were joint-top along with Unitey after 3 games, both sides winning three a piece going into our encounter with them. We proceeded to draw that game which opened the door to Cowley to sneak up the mini group. We went into the final game of the season against Cowley joint top but with 3 less goal difference then Unitey, meaning we either required Unitey to draw or for us to beat Cowley by a four-goal margin at least, should Unitey win for us to lift the title.  I think this lack of clarity slightly affected us in the final fixture and we deviated from the way we had been playing so successfully since the restart, ultimately losing the final game 2-3 to Cowley, with Unitey drawing their final game a result that would have been ideal, meaning Cowley sneaked in and took the title. 

Absolutely full credit to them for clinching the title as the ‘dark horses’ when it seemed like race between two sides, they are a nice bunch of lads who were simply better on the day, but we take pride in the fact we were so close to silverware and intend to make sure we get our hands on some ourselves next time around ha!”


SW: It was announced recently 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?

CM: “It’s fantastic news for the league and all those whom make it tick and fully deserved for all their hard work in getting to that level. On a personal note, Barry [Fitzgerald], Rob [Parker] and Alan Spike for example have been extremely supportive towards us as a team and me personally, and this is evident in the piece you did with Rob a couple of weeks ago, where he name-checked Dagenham United as being one of the big teams that are looking likely progress up the footballing ladder, which is a great compliment to read [Pleasure to assist! – Ed). 

In terms of step 7 for us, absolutely, we’ve made no secret of hiding the fact that is very much the plan, to keep climbing up the footballing ladder and into the Non League system etc. We are delighted that we have gained promotion for the coming season to the Premier Division (next season’s EAL second-tier, below the Senior Division) from Div 2 and again feel it shows our progression as a club and our intent to wake what I feel is a sleeping giant of a club.” 


Dag Utd GK in action [Image Credit: Jamie Mascall/Dagenham Utd]

SW: How important is it that the EAL matches are covered by Independent amateur media, particularly with the said focus elsewhere on other divisions higher up the Non-League pyramid?

CM: “I think it’s fantastic that people like yourselves are starting to shine a light on grassroots football and highlighting the hard work that goes into these teams and the quality that Is actually within these leagues that very often get missed. As you mention, coverage higher up the pyramid is strong, but at this level is few and far between, but what it does mean, is that when independent amateur media like yourself do take the time out of your days to cover and focus on teams, you have the chance to really build relationships and respect from the teams and leagues you are covering, which I think is a great thing on a personal level, as often in football, especially higher up, that personal touch element often gets missed and it becomes very business orientated.” 


SW: In my research for this article, I saw you are one of a number of clubs now who film highlights of matches & then put them on your YouTube channel. How important do you feel doing things like that are to raise the profile of the club (and perhaps the League) as a whole?

CM: “I actually believe we were one of the first to really push the filming of fixtures, investing in a Veo Camera prior to pre-season to automatically record our games and create highlights of match days and other media content. The social media aspect is huge in today’s day and age and by far one of the easiest ways to attract interest in the club as it’s a physical representation of your team and whom you are and allows you to express your identity”

JM: “We not only use the filming of games to create highlight pieces etc, but use the footage for tactical analysis of games which has been crucial throughout the season in being able to Identify any areas of improvement whilst also highlighting the positives for individuals that many players often don’t have. Even at a good semi-pro standard, until recently very few games were recorded and so lots of players don’t have the opportunities to see themselves play and identify these areas to work on.” 

CM: In terms of the league’s social media coverage, I genuinely believe they are by far one of the best at any level in terms of engagement with their teams and individuals in the divisions and are very supportive of the social media content put out by clubs. The filming of the games from the league can only be a positive and shows their desire to offer that extra ‘personal touch’ each week. 


SW: What do you believe is the main difference between Intermediate/Grassroots Football and the top four steps of the Senior Non-League game?

CM: “Finances. Pure and simple in my honest opinion. Grassroots football has come under so much pressure with lack of help for funding, with costs rising exponentially each year for facilities especially, as quite simply there will always be more teams then there are good venues, meaning most places of hire can charge what they want, with very few teams owning or having leases to their own grounds at this level, every season you see the same story, teams folding left, right and centre, majority of the time simply down to lack of finances. I genuinely believe there are a lot of clubs out there, ourselves being one of them that have real potential to climb the footballing ladder, but football costs money and many are unfortunately ‘priced out’ of progression.” 

JM: “I agree, finances play a huge part in the gap between the standards of the senior non league game and grassroots football. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the financial strains get placed upon the managers of these teams to keep the teams afloat let alone progressing forward. 

Thankfully, I’m fully supportive of Chris’s plans for the teams and the ambition he has to keep building the project, meaning the adult section have been fortunate enough to have the financial backing from ourselves to keep progressing. We take pride in the fact we can match what a lot of senior non-league teams can in terms of kits, equipment etc but that ultimately comes down to the passion and drive to want to be able to do this as-well, as we see the teams and the players as extended family and feel that is another of the key differences between the levels.” 


SW: Looking on now to the 2021/22 season, what are the short-term aspirations of the club?

CM: “To get some silverware under our belt and ultimately to gain promotion to the Senior Division, after a positive year this season which culminated in a promotion from Div 2 to the Premier Division. 

We would like to add some fresh faces to our current teams that believe in the project we have and can appreciate the progression we have made and to compliment the existing players we have. We have keen focus of developing young players and providing a pathway into men’s football as well, a luxury which is often not afforded. In our last game for example, we had four 17 year old players in the first team squad, with another 3 under 21’s and that is something we are committed to continue doing in the 21/22 season.”


SW: Finally, what other developments are on the way for the club in the future that you’d like to share?

CM: “As cliché as it sounds, We’ve got some really exciting plans in the pipeline that will elevate the club to another level. We have transferred to a 4G pitch for our men’s first team to ensure we have a better standard of playing surface to compliment the attractive football we play, whilst also securing a partnership which sees us gain the use of a clubhouse and bar for post-game socials, something we had been sorely missing in the last few seasons.” 

“With our ambitions to progress into the Senior division and continue up the footballing pyramid, we are in positive talks to secure a stadium and pitch for the 2022/2023 season [Readers, Ground-grading is a factor in Step 7 divisions – Ed] and have a secure home base with the fantastic current owners whom we are building a good relationship with.” 

End

If you’d like to catch up with the others article in this ‘In-Focus’ series relating to the Essex Alliance League, you can find them here

Essex Alliance League – The Future: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/11/2021-in-focus-essex-alliance-league-the-future-eal/ 

Club In-Focus – Chadwell Heath Spartans: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/14/2021-club-in-focus-chadwell-heath-spartans/  

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Catholic Utd [20-21 CIF 1.12.20]

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.

Image from Catholic Utd 3 – 1 Rayleigh Town from November 5th [Image: Scott W]

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.

End

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.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Southend Manor [20-21 CIF 29.11.20]

Southend Manor club crest

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome the sixth and penultimate 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 caught up with Southend Manor boss Craig Waters who took the post about a year ago. Manor had a tough season last time out but are holding steady in mid-table at time of writing.

SW: 1. Hello Craig, firstly can I thank you for your time. We’ll begin with marking the first anniversary of your appointment at Southend Manor, along with your assistant Garry Pond. How has the journey been so far in that time? 

CW: The journey so far has been tough but also enjoyable, I have really enjoyed my time at Southend Manor so far and have also enjoyed working with Garry [Pond] and all my management team as well as all the players.

SW: 2. How has the first two months of the season been as a management team, under the shadow of Covid-19 rules?

CW: Coaching under the Covid rules has been very different and challenging at times but everyone at the club have been fantastic and we are getting through it. the same as every other club.

SW: 3. At the season break, Manor are in ninth place on sixteen points, just four points away from the top three. Which sides have stood out for you in Essex Senior in the first two months of this campaign? 

CW: “For me, Walthamstow have stood out so far this season, they play some nice football at times and with the attacking players they have, they won’t have any problems scoring goals, they will surely be in the top two come the end of the season I feel”.

———-

SW: 4. For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Luca Frankis and midfielder Ben Allen have both amassed three league goals so far this season. Who are the players in the side that really make the team drive on?

CW: To be honest there’s not one stand-out player who drives the team on, all the lads play their part and the togetherness and team spirit is fantastic which has shown with some of the results we have had so far this season.

SW: 5. Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?

CW: Football and family that’s all I do these days, I don’t have time for anything else but I wouldn’t change anything.

SW: 6. And finally, How competitive do you feel the Essex Senior League is as a division this season?

CW: I think this season is very competitive, with the results so far this season it shows anyone is capable of beating anyone which is great to see. We will definitely be trying to get as many points as possible and hopefully cause a few more upsets along the way.

End

I’d like to thank Craig for his thoughts in this article and I wish him and Manor well for a good season. Thank you for reading.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Springfield [20-21 CIF 27.11.20]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome the fifth 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 speak to Springfield manager Dan Williams [DW] who took the post in January 2020 but has been around the EOFL for many years. Springfield play in the EOFL Premier Division and are currently in mid-table.

SW: Hello Dan, firstly can I thank you for your time. You were appointed in January 2020, replacing Glen Wilkinson who moved up to Head of Football Development. How do you assess your time at the club so far? 

DW: “Thanks Scott, and thank you for the opportunity to speak about Springfield FC and my time at such a great club. Yes, I was approached not long after I left Rayleigh Town Reserves, and to be honest it was a no brainer. As soon as I met John Meates (Chairman) and Dave Wareham Snr (Secretary), I knew that this was going to be my next home as it’s an unbelievable club with a great committee backing my every move. I took over from Glen as he stepped into the role of overseeing the development of the club. Glen did an amazing job with the first team before I took over, and he does an even more amazing job now behind-the-scenes and helping me out off-the-pitch.

I was stepping into the unknown, as I did not know any of the players. But that gave me a fresh start in the Olympian Premier where I wanted to be. My time so far has been really good and I’m enjoying every minute of it as the players are a dream to manage and welcomed me with open arms.”

SW:  Before the season began, what was the main goal for the First Team this season? [Springfield finished in sixth spot last term, three points adrift of the top three]

DW: “Before the season began Scott, we knew that this year was going to be tough. There was a lot of new managers coming in, and also these managers were stepping down from Isthmian League and Essex Senior League football. So, we knew we had to build a strong side, and that started with my backroom staff. I bought in Mark Brook who does the coaching with Billericay Town Youth set up, and Neil Robinson, who has a wealth of experience and also is a coach/scout for Tottenham. We sat down through pre-season and said that our aim is to build a structure within the next 2 seasons to take us to the Thurlow Nunn (Eastern Senior League South) and we still believe this is possible, whether it is this year or next season.”

SW: As it stands at the season break, the ‘Field reside in seventh spot with eight points from seven games. Which sides have stood out for you in EOFL Premier Division in the first two months of this campaign? 

DW: “Yes, we are sitting comfortably in seventh, but we are disappointed with the results because our performances have been brilliant, but we have not been getting the ‘rub of the green’ and taking our chances effectively. Buckhurst Hill are by far the best team we have played so far. They are a well-drilled side and the way they play football and their movement on and off the ball is proof that Mark is doing a great job with his players.”

——–

SW:  For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, you have stalwart Dave Wareham, who is a highly-rated forward. Could you take us through some of the squad that is integral to the spine of the team?

DW: “Yes, We have Dave Wareham Jr, what an unbelievable player he is. Not only is he a great player, but his experience in the game is key with what we want to achieve at the club. He was unlucky last season, as he was sitting top of the goal- scorers table  [with 15 League goals in eighteen games] and I believe he would have stayed there. This season he has struggled through injury and has only played 45 minutes so far. But, with him in and around the changing room and training, the boys love it as he brings a massive boost to the whole squad.

Other than Dave, we have some really good players.  Ryan Batchford, Andy Elgar and Jack Mundy who won the Olympian Premier with Springfield a few seasons ago. We have Josh Bards, Charlie Nichols and Jack Gifford who signed from Hutton FC. Ollie Evans and skipper Nav Arain who stayed on with me from Glen’s team last season. Denzel Adebiyi is on loan from Grays Athletic. And we have two goal keepers, Adam French and Joe Williams (yes, he’s my Brother). We have also secured the signing of Jake Clarke who is a massive signing as he is a proven goal-scorer in the Olympian League with (former club) Sungate FC.”

SW: Looking longer-term, what are the club’s plans for the next two to three years or so?

DW: “The club’s longer-term plans over the next two seasons are to get into the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Senior League South (Step 6) and build from there. The committee are working endlessly behind the scenes and have recently got an under 13 and under 14 side in the Eastern Junior Alliance (EJA) League, which as you know is massive for a club like Springfield. The foundations are there for us now, and as a whole. Its looking great for the future of the club.”

SW: Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?

DW: “Other than Football which takes up a lot of my time, I enjoy my boxing. I used to box as a kid and find it a good way to switch off from football, especially after a bad result. Other than that, I don’t really have enough time to like anything else, I have three kids and run a business, so that takes up most of the time.”

SW: How would you rate the Essex Olympian League Premier as a division? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?

DW: “The Olympian League this year is the strongest that it has been for a long time. As I said above, there are a lot of players and managers stepping down now because they can’t do the travelling or the commitment because of work issues or family. So, they are stepping down to play. To be honest Scott, I really don’t think that some observers think it’s under-rated. I think managers now are taking notice that the league is very strong.”

SW: Finally, you’ve been around the Olympian divisions for a while now so as a manager – which teams & managers do you particularly enjoy pitting your wits against?

DW: “Yes, I’ve been around the Olympian now for fifteen or sixteen years as a player and manager. Most of them years have been playing at Hutton FC. So, I enjoy going back there. And Shenfield AFC (also a club I managed).”

End

I’d like to thank Dan for his thoughts and insight in this article. Springfield are certainly in a highly-competitive division and I wish them well in their ambitions. Thank you for reading.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Ongar Town [20-21 CIF 25.11.20]

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.” 

End

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.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Corinthians [20-21 CIF 21.11.20]

Corinthians logo (Image: Corinthians FC/Twitter)

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.”

  

Image from Corinthians 2 – 2 Epping Town back in late September 2020 [Image: Scott W]

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.”  

End

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.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Hutton [20-21 CIF 18.11.20]

Hutton FC club crest [Credit: Hutton FC/Twitter]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome to a second of the current mini-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.

I’m pleased to continue the new series by welcoming Hutton manager Matt Singh [MS]. Matt was the club’s Reserve Team Manager in EOFL Division Three last season before being promoted to the first team (who play in the EOFL Premier Division) in the summer.

Thanks also to @fitinaflash1 for the match photo.

SW: Hello Matt, firstly thank you for your time. We’ll start with this extraordinary season being your first as Manager of the Hutton First Team. How has the last three months been, dealing with all the uncertainty that Covid has presented at the same time looking to keep Hutton in a really tough division?

MS: “No worries at all Scott, It’s a pleasure considering the amount of time you spend covering our lower leagues. It has been a very difficult season to start with a new side. I know there are a number of other managers in the same position who are in our division and I am sure they will agree. Pre-season was a challenge for many with pitches being unavailable for most sides, players quarantining every time they went on holiday (largely due to Covid-enforced rules) and teams not being able to field a side, but we all got through it. We have some top people running our club and they made mine and Rob’s (Lorkins – assistant manager) job a lot easier. Greg Hall (Secretary), Darren Hall (Chairman) and John Hall (Facilities Manager) along with Kevin Lorkins (Treasurer) have been great and allowed us to focus on the football side of things rather than COVID issues.

In terms of the division – We knew it was at probably the strongest it has been in a number of years. There are some very good managers and players involved, with a lot of experience at other levels and I am sure it will be an interesting one to watch.”

SW: As it stands at the season break, your side sits in a creditable sixth place after wins in your last three games. How do you feel the season has started?

MS: “Considering the side finished in the bottom two last season, we are very happy with the current position with two games in hand. Unfortunately we got off to a slow start against a very well-organised Basildon Town side, who are surprising many this season. Since then we have had so many injuries mixed with Covid interruptions, but that aside I must give a lot of praise to our lads. They have all bought into mine and Rob’s ideas and the results are starting to show. We are now really looking forward to getting back to try and pick up where we left off.”

SW: The EOFL Premier Division is a strong division and arguably getting stronger each season. Which sides have stood out for you in EOFL Premier in the first two months of this campaign?

 MS: “As mentioned already, Basildon Town were a very strong side. I am happy Marcus [Bowers] is doing well there. We have had a few conversations since pre-season, as we were two new faces to the division, taking over two sides that were fighting relegation last season. He has pulled in some experience mixed with talent and they will be a tough side to beat. As everyone knows Buckhurst Hill are always a very strong side. I have watched them a few times over the past few seasons and they have some very talented players. The way they play considering they are in a physical division is a credit to their players and more so their manager! We are really looking forward to two tough games against them this season.”

Will Marlowe (#10) about to strike v Rayleigh Town [Credit: @fitinaflash1]

SW: For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Will Marlowe has netted three league goals so far this term. Who are the players that really make the team drive on, in your opinion?

MS: “Yes, Marlowe was starting to find some form. We all know what he is capable of, it’s just getting the best out of him. We are hopeful he will score and create many more goals for us. This season we have used all nineteen players on a regular basis. We have had numerous Man of the Match awards and have spread the goals across the whole squad. It will be a real tough call to pick the squad when we finally get everyone fit and available. We have a good mix of young teenagers to experienced Olympian League players. Our two older players – Adrian (Faherty – Goalkeeper) and Vice-Captain Kyle (Linzell) have been excellent characters for the side. Their attitude and hunger to win at training and on match days is right up there for the younger players to see. If we are to achieve our goals this season, every player in our squad will be needed to do so.”

SW: I’ve heard that plans are in progress to advance the facilities for the club’s future, could you tell us a bit more about that and on the same lines, what are the ambitions for the club in the next two-three years?

MS: “You’re correct that the club have plans for a new ground and training facility but this is based at a larger site in Shenfield. It’s a really exciting project which will hopefully include multiple pitches. We are also hoping for a 3/4G artificial pitch (commonly known as “astro turf”) to be placed next to the main grass pitches. This is a long-term plan that will hopefully be completed in the next two to three years. The hope is that the first team can maintain their Essex Olympian Premier Division status or push higher between now and then. We are also in the first season of Eastern Junior Alliance (EJA) Football at Hutton and along with others, I hope this helps to progress our youth players into our first team.

As a club, we are also looking to have a real drive on Girls’ football and Disability football. As one of the largest clubs in South East England, it’s vital we get this facility sorted, to ensure all 67 (!) teams are catered for. We have grown so big that we need somewhere to continue to provide the quality that we do. As someone who coaches the U6’s, multiple youth sides, EJA sides and the Men’s first team on a weekly basis, I get to see just how important it is for us as a club.”

SW: And finally, as you’ve previously headed the Hutton Reserve team, you’re well-placed to gauge the quality further down the EOFL divisions. How do you think the quality of the top-four Essex Olympian League divisions has progressed in the last two to three years? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?

 MS: “Last season was my first season in management with our reserves. I am really pleased we done it as myself and Rob learnt a hell of a lot. The division was tough and had teams of different abilities. One reason I left academy football was to get a taste of needing to win three points each week. I had it briefly as assistant at Witham Town but it is different being the manager. I can safely say that division three of the Olympian was certainly the place to do that. It took a few weeks to get used to the needs at that level but we ended up in a county cup final and climbing the league before Covid kicked in. One thing that was pleasing to see was how much Reserve sides are looked after by certain clubs.

Like ourselves, reserve sides like Toby, Corinthians and Buckhurst Hill all had talent in their ranks and were well-prepared. That Toby reserve side are now playing for the First Team in Division One and holding their own. We promoted five of our reserve team players from last season and all have had an impact in the Premier . It shows just how much quality there is in the lower divisions. Above that, I was looking at some up and coming sides last season like Chingford and Ongar Town, who were smashing Division One. I know a lot of the young Ongar players and hear good things about their manager. They will make our division even stronger next season which will be exciting for all.

I would confidently say that some sides in the Premier (Division) would give many Step 5 or 6 teams a good game. You see many players switching between those levels now – which demonstrates how close the gap is. There are even players being loaned by Isthmian League teams which I think speaks volumes. Olympian Premier clubs are starting to realise they are in a strong position with the investment into facilities, coaching staff, players and physios too at many clubs.”

End

To close this second article I would like to say a big thank you to Matt for his thoughts here as one of the newest managers to the top division of the Essex Olympian League. Thanks also to Matt for supporting those who do watch and write about this level of the Non-League/Grassroots game.


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.

S20-21 So Far: Club In-Focus – Buckhurst Hill [20-21 CIF 16.11.20]

Buckhurst Hill crest [Credit: Buckhurst Hill FC/Twitter]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League Writer

Hello and welcome to a new mini-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. I felt “Lockdown II” was a good time to bring the blog series back after doing a few of these articles after the end of the 2019-20 curtailed campaign.

I’m pleased to begin this new series by welcoming Buckhurst Hill manager Mark Williams [MW]. Mark has been the managerial anchor to the club’s consistent success in recent years and many consider the side to the best team outside of the senior Non-League game and have done for at least the last two seasons.

Thanks also to Pete Dudley (@ped1980) for the match photo.

SW: Hello Mark, firstly thank you for your time. We’ll start with developments off-the-pitch, Buckhurst Hill have been campaigning to improve the facilities at Roding Lane, including floodlights and a small seated stand – to increase the chances of being accepted into higher divisions. How far along have you gotten with that?

MW: “We have been trying to go up for the last couple of years as you know Scott but have always run into trouble in one way or another. Buckhurst Hill’s Roding Lane ground is situated on a flood plain and on green belt land so the local parish has always been reluctant for us to develop the site . We have worked very closely though in the last couple of years with the local Parish Council and Epping Forest Council who they report to, to compromise on what we needed to do to be compliant with the ground blending in with its natural surroundings. 

We want Buckhurst Hill FC to be an integral part of the local community and open up the club to everyone not just the members. Some of the councillors came down to our opening last September 2019 to see the work we had done on switching the pitch round and the new barriers and fencing and were very impressed  .We applied to go up to Step Six and senior football for the first time in the club’s history. The club also applied for a Football Foundation grant towards the cost of the flood lights and stands which was approved so we were all set.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 came about and we went into lockdown, itting 3rdin the league and with 9 games in hand over top of the table we felt confident of achieving our goal. But all football rightly so with the terrible virus that was afflicted on us was declared null and void . We then went to the council for planning permission in July and it was voted unanimously to award us permission with a few stipulations on the stand colours blending in with the natural colours”.

SW: Let’s roll back to September now and the start of the season, after circumstances in the last two seasons had prevented you from getting promoted to Step 6, what was your feeling this term – is promotion & the Essex Olympian League Premier title a must?

MW: “September 2020 the season started and we also started work on the new fencing and car park and also to lay foundations for new stands . Even though we won the first few games having lost four players to higher divisions and a season-long injury to Sam Sollosi in a pre-season game we  struggled to find our form and had to work hard to get the victories. Our normal flowing football wasn’t there. But convincing wins over Catholic United 5 – 0 and Springfield 8 – 3 put us back on track until we lost away at Canning Town. We got back to winning ways with a less than convincing win away at Harold Wood on a dog of a pitch. But that’s the way we have to treat this campaign. Work hard and adapt to every surface we play on and accept as current champions you’re there to be shot at.”

Image from B Hill 5 – 0 Catholic Utd (Credit: Pete Dudley)

SW: From what I’ve seen in my research, you’ve kept the majority of the squad from last season and it appears the team has stayed together for a while. What do you feel are the main reasons for the why the team has stayed together as long as it has?

MW:  “The boys off-the-pitch are a very close group and that helps with the way we play as they all work hard for each other. The ones that went higher were actually reactant to leave as they loved the group and the way we played .  Some of the players have also played for Buckhurst Hill at youth and senior level. They have gone off and come back which shows you that they love the club and want to be part of the future.”

SW: As it stands at the season break, it’s you and Basildon Town locked together on 21 points at the summit. Which sides have stood out for you in EOFL Premier in the first two months of this campaign?  

MW: “Even though we haven’t played Basildon Town yet I’ve been very impressed with the start they have had .Marcus Bowers has built a very good squad with a lot of players who have played at a higher level and they have shown they are the ones to beat having played 7 and won 7. We haven’t had one easy game so far.

Kelvedon Hatch are a brand new team and I know Steve and Mark from their time at Brentwood U23’s and even though they have struggled to start I was really pleased they picked up their 1st win last week. Leigh ramblers away at Belfairs Park has been our toughest away fixture …it’s a really hard place to get a result and they played really well against us especially in the 1st half , so it was great to get a win there. Rayleigh have improved from last year and we are finding teams this year much harder to break down.

We then got two decent home wins putting five past Catholic who were in the game for an hour but tired and we took advantage , then Springfield we beat 8-3 when it was the Suley [Zuhdu] show as he scored five very well-taken goals. Again, Springfield played some good stuff but we were clinical on the day . We then went to Canning Town and I felt we took them for granted . They are a very young honest team and worked very hard. We missed a lot of chances and it was poor management by myself as at 1-1 with ten to go I pushed us up too far and it left gaps and they scored a great goal to win it .

We learnt a bit about ourselves that day and it will help us cut out the complacency going forward . Having not played some other teams yet I would say out of who we had played Leigh Ramblers should be up there at the end of the season . For me Sungate are always a strong team and Basildon Town’s results speak for themselves.”

SW: For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Suleyman Zuhdu netted ten league goals last term, and has already surpassed that total this term. Who are the players that really make the team drive on?

MW:  “I always believe the spine of a side makes the real difference when it comes to the makings of a good side . For example, My goalkeeper Dan Blockley, I always admired in youth football but despite me driving his Dad mad to join me at Buckhurst Hill for over 10 years I had to wait till four years ago when I took over the First team for him to sign for me. He’s a top top keeper and were lucky to have him. When it looked like I’d lost 90% of our team to Newbury Forest at the beginning of last season he was only 1 of 5 players to commit to stay .

Loyalty means a lot to me and even though I’d never stop a player going higher to better himself he was prepared to stand by me  as he believed we would rebuild and the club could deliver on the promises made of developing the ground and moving into senior football. Henry Day, Alfie Harris, Max Nicholson and Liam Foster are all very versatile and can play anywhere across the back line. Jonah Gregory has played up in League 2 for Hereford but he’s been blighted by injuries but is a born leader and when he plays at centre-back we are a different side. He’s out again now injured and I’m hoping the extended break will give him time to come back to full fitness.

Josh Banfield and Louis Wynter are our “midfield engine room” backed up by the very experienced Ben Cooper who is also my assistant [manager]. Even though I’ve lost the very skilful Sonny Shilling to Bowers and Pitsea we have some really exciting youngsters coming through.

Zach Davidson [ex-Springfield and Sungate] is only 18, Jack Griggs has also come in from Writtle and with Brandon Hubbard who has stepped up from the reserves, they are ones to look out for the future . Tyler Dolan who was an ex-Southend Utd Academy player who also player for Buckhurst Hill at youth level has really come on this season. He was always a very skilful player but has added strength and goals to his repertoire.

Nathan and Sam Sollosi are the two attacking midfielders that no one wants to play against. Both travel so well with the ball and both footed defenders often can’t work out which side the will attack on . Sam ruptured his hamstring badly in a preseason game so has been out so far but is ahead of schedule on his rehab and hopefully back in January where it had looked like he would be out for the season . Reece Tranter is a proven goal scorer at any level and has played many games at Step Four.

And lastly, Suley Zuhdu is an enigma – he can win a game on his own and is the team Captain. A very loyal player who was one of the five that stood by myself and the club and believed the dream our Chairman Simon Cornwell put across to him about the future development of the club.”

SW: Away from Football, what are your sporting interests?

MW: “Away from football is a tough one Scott as it’s 24/7 for me. I also referee mostly on Sunday’s for the Eastern Junior Alliance. The standard is very high and it’s a pleasure to officiate in it. I’m a keen golfer when I get the time, well more of a hacker! I also like Horse Racing and go to the big meetings when they don’t coincide with football.”

SW: And finally, you are a big supporter of Intermediate or Grassroots Football. How do you think the quality of the Essex Olympian League has progressed in the last two to three years? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?

MW: “Yes I am a big supporter of grassroots football and as much as it’s a competition I believe in helping out other clubs when needed. We are all this together and sometimes need to work together to make the league stronger.

The EOFL I feel was at its strongest about five or six years ago with the likes of Frenford, Harold Wood, Kelvedon Hatch, White Ensign and Hannakins Farm (now defunct) all being top-class teams who were more than capable at the time of playing in the Essex Senior or the like (Frenford & White Ensign are now in Eastern Senior League South at Step 6 – Ed).

I think it was diluted somewhat when they left but they all had older squads so if they had stayed they faced big competition from the likes of Catholic United and ourselves.

The year we won it (EOFL Premier) for the first time in Season 2018/19, we had a very strong squad who only lost two matches the whole league campaign . and one of those was when we had already secured the title . I’m not saying the competition wasn’t as good but we were very good on our day and our young naïve squad the season before had learnt how to handle anything thrown at them .

The following season (Season 2019/20), I felt the competition got much stronger. Sungate emerged as a top team and also the emergence of Leigh Ramblers and of course Catholic united were still in the mix. This season again I think its got stronger again with Basildon Town setting the early pace and what I like about this season is the number of clubs that have taken on young managers and given them a chance. Matt Singh at Hutton, Alex Goldstone at Harold Wood , Connor Lane at Old Southendian have all come in and done well. And other clubs who have gone for experience also.

Marcus Bowers at Basildon, Billy Cove at Bishop’s Stortford Swifts. Both were top players in their day and Marcus still plays. Stuart Marshall has come in at Catholic and tried to blend Catholic’s vastly experienced older players in with some talented youngsters. The EOFL Committee work tirelessly to improve the league and make it in my opinion the best NLS Feeder league in Essex and arguably the surrounding counties. 

The EOFL have won the Essex Premier Cup in the last few years and also through Catholic United’s success the ART Trophy that pits the best of Essex , Middlesex and Hertfordshire together in Intermediate Football.

Kevin Lorkins (League Secretary) is always in contact asking how  as a member club, how we can take the league forward . If we manage to go up this season I will have to say a massive thanks you to him and the EOFL Committee for all their help and advice.”

End

All that is left to say is a big thank you from me to Mark for his thoughts here and also for being one of many people at this level who consistency support likes of myself and many other colleagues in Non-League as we try to ‘do our bit’ in telling the story, it is always appreciated. It may be a different scope from the National League (Step 1) but the stories are no less enthralling at times.

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.

Season 2019-20 – Club In-Focus: Buckhurst Hill Reserves [EOFL 19/20 I-F 3.6.20]

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Written by Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome to the third blog in my ‘Club In-Focus’ series. In this piece, I’m pleaed to welcome Buckhurst Hill Reserves, who played in Essex Olympian League Division Three in 2019-20. Manager Jason Murray (JM) & player Rhys Davies (RD) represent the team, looking back on their season in their own words.

My thanks to Jason & Rhys for their time and thanks for reading. You can find the team on Twitter: @bhfcReserves

Going into the Essex Olympian League season at Division Three level after promotion from Div Four the previous season, how did you feel the side would cope with the opposition?

JM: This season was my first campaign with this team, and we quickly overhauled the existing squad. We gambled on bringing in a group of young players who had never played men’s football before. In truth, I had no idea if they would cope, the plan was to try and adapt as we we went along.

What was the favourite match of the season and why?

JM:  There was some fantastic performances along the way but a favourite of mine has to be the 1 – 0 cup win against Aveley u23s. They came with a decent reputation and certainly didn’t disappoint, we had to be very good without the ball that day. I saw something new from this young group, the boys were disciplined whilst always carrying a real threat at the other end.

RD: I’d say the Essex Cup win over Aveley under 23s. They are a very good, young talented side and I think it really showed what we are capable of as a team.

What was your best performance away from Roding Lane this season?

JM: The best away performance would be the 3 – 2 win at Corinthians Reserves, we couldn’t have had a worse start. We only had 11 players through injury and working commitments, our Coach/Centre-Back Phillip Ferris had to stand in between the sticks Again. We also had one of our players who was giving two more a lift, stopped by the police on route! So we had 8 players with about 5 minutes before kick off. The lads were brilliant that day and stuck to the game plan, and we beat a very good side more convincingly than the 3 – 2 scoreline would suggest. I’d also like to mention the nice gesture from their manager who praised our lads in the changing room after the game.

RD:  I would say our first game of the season (at Hullbridge Sports ‘A’). We won 3 – 2 and I think we came from behind to win. It was good for me personally as I managed to grab two goals myself, one of them being the winner. There has been some good performances all season but I think that one will stick as it was our first competitive game as a team.

What was your best performance at Roding Lane this season?

JM:  I wouldn’t say it was our best performance but the 5-3 win against Leigh Town Reserves was well overdue. We felt we owed them one, after crashing out the cup via a goalkeeping error and a very dubious late winner. We were also well beat, in the league at their place to be fair,  our encounters tend to be a little more vocal than any of the other fixtures in the league.

RD: Will have to say Vs Aveley U23 again. It was just a solid and hard earned win.

On or off-the-pitch, what was your most memorable moment from this season?

JM: There has been lots of memorable moments from the matches we played and the performances the boys have put in. Still I can’t help but to laugh when I recall the Lakeside Goalkeeper sledging our coach Philip Ferris for his long coat the “Onesie” Comment was a real highlight for me.

RD: Scoring a 35-yard belter with my weaker foot. Lobbed the keeper into the top bins(top corner of the net). I’ll be honest – I didn’t aim for top bins though ha! (Modest! – Ed)

What was the low point of the campaign for you?

JM:  It would have to be our Cup exit’s away at Leigh Town Reserves and Wakering Sports reserves I really fancied us in both competitions to go a lot further.

RD: For me personally getting knocked out of the Essex cup after doing so well in that competition. Against a team we really should of beaten. One of those games where nothing went right for us.

Besides yourselves, which team do you believe played the best Football in your division this season?

JM: Toby were excellent against us in the first half but I’d have to say it was ACD United that played the most effective brand of football in the division. Our boys really looked their age against them and the 3 – 0 defeat in truth flattered us.

RD: I would probably say Collier Row or ACD. Both teams you can tell been playing together for a while. Both teams deserved to be at the top to be honest.

Which players (outside of your own club) stood out for you this season?

JM: Collier Row forward Ed Hart was first class in both games we played, he’s a real handful. The little fella at Toby, Marc Porter-Brown was also excellent against us and likes to play in those dangerous little pockets.

RD: Ed Hart (Eddie the Eagle) for Collier Row. Class player and I’m lucky enough to be playing with him on Sundays next season.

How important is it that the EOFL matches are covered by amateur media, particularly with focus elsewhere on other divisions higher up the Non-League pyramid?

JM: I think the amateur media coverage Is a very important part of the grass roots game. It highlights all the good work that’s going on lower down the football pyramid. I look forward to the match reports and divisional round-ups and try to get a feel of how the other teams are playing.

RD:  I think it’s great giving coverage as there are some truly talented players at this level that really could play in higher divisions and get paid to do so… I believe it could help players with their careers and development.

In your opinion Jason, what is the most important thing about managing a Reserve side?

JM: The role of a reserve team, must be to ultimately support the First team, however as in our case our young squad is some way off at present. This season we were introducing 16 -17 year old’s into the men’s game therefore I see the role slightly differently. We are developing a team to compete at our level, with the long-term goal to create players that will push for a first-team place.

Finally, any other exciting news for the future you’d like to share?

JM: This coming season I have added to the coaching team, bringing in some top coaches i have worked with over the last few years. I feel this is going to allow me to concentrate on the management side of things and help us be much better prepared for the next campaign. I also feel last season was a coming of age for most of the squad, and I am expecting even more from them this time around. We even have a few of them driving now!

End

If your club (at Essex Olympian, Essex Senior or Eastern Senior League South levels) would be interested in sharing your thoughts on your 2019/20 season then please DM me on Twitter by June 7th 2020. Thank you