S20-21 Round-ups: Essex Olympian League & Cups (Wk 11 – Sat 12 Dec) [EOFL 20-21 13.12.20]

EOFL crest [Credit: EOFL/Twitter]

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

Hello and welcome to the return of the Essex Olympian League round-up, here on my blog, looking at the league action from Saturday 12th December plus a round-up of the Essex Premier Cup action. My thanks to Rob Lilley (Offside Photography) for the photo. Thank you for reading.

EOFL Premier Division

In the only match in the Premier Division this weekend, Hutton got their fifth straight league win with a 3 – 2 success at home to Shenfield AFC. Perry Robinson and Ben Absolon netted for the visitors, but it was their local in-form rivals who got the points thank to Brad Freeman’s double and one from Joshua Seal. Hutton go up to fourth spot and are unbeaten since the opening day of the season, way back in September.


EOFL Division One  – no matches this weekend

EOFL Division Two

We had a solitary match in Division Two as well, with Ryan getting a 3 – 1 at May & Baker ‘A’. Joe Holt, Scout Bown and Lewis Page got the goals for the visitors, with Arminas Gricius scoring for ‘Bakers. The win is their first since the opening match of their league season and sees them rise up to eighth spot. The Bakers’ development side are in 10th, four points clear of bottom side AS Rawreth.

EOFL Division Three

There were five matches in Division Three, with ACD Utd making it seven wins from seven matches after a 6 – 0 triumph over Leigh Town Res at Westlands. Michael Wade and Sam Payne both notched braces here, with Connor Lambert & an OG accounting for the other goals. Player-boss Wade reached 15 league goals for the campaign here & his side remain five points clear at the summit.

Nearest challengers Manford Way Res also garnered their way to a big win, 5 – 1 at home to Buckhurst Hill Ressies in a match moved to the Peter May Sports Centre in Wathamstow. David Hornsby plundered four goals here, to take his league tally up to ten this term, with Dominic Esty-Wilkinson the other goal-scorer. Collier Row also defeated Toby Res 2 – 0 to go up to third spot. Hutton Res also got a fine away win with a 2 – 1 success over Wakebury at Shoebury Park. Jack Shaw and Harry Lane both struck for the visitors, with club stalwart Chris Gore netting for Matt Cardy’s side, who drop to fourth.

Finally, Lakeside Utd got a second successive victory at home, winning 2 – 0 over out-of-form Corinthians Res, with Daniel Stokes and Dayo Kayode the heroes for Ben Crounch’s side.

Essex Premier Cup Round-up

The lack of League action was mainly down to a smorgasbord of ties in the Essex Premier Cup. Despite some matches being postponed due to weather, there were still some great results for Olympian League sides. Harold Wood Athletic got another win on the board , winning 2 – 1 at fellow top-tier side Kelvedon Hatch. Rob Whitnell and Connor Hartwell got the goals for Alex Goldstone’s side as they progressed to the next round. Catholic Utd warded off a very spirited performance by hosts Chingford Athletic before winning 4 – 3 at Town Mead. Goals by Luke Trice, Louis Robinson, Rhys Fatt plus an OG edged Stuart Marshall’s side to the win at the Division One side.

Catholic Utd forward Rhys Fatt celebrates his winning goal at Chingford with fellow ford Brad Rowland [Image Credit: Rob Lilley]

Elsewhere, Old Southendian Res had a day to remember with a 5 – 1 triumph at Essex Senior League Reserve side Walthamstow Res. George Borley struck twice for player-boss Oliver Tatton-Bennett’s side. Jack Pagett, Luke Stillwell and Jared Brand all also netted here as the Division Two side went through. Rayleigh Town were also given a scare before getting past Division Two team Epping Town 5 – 3 at Chigwell Sch 3G. Michael Okafor nabbed a brace, with Bailey Moss, Ollie Hanlon and Harry Talbot also on the score-sheet for Paul Higgins’ side. Finally for our focused matches, Ongar Town notched another fine win with a 4 – 2 success at Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier side White Notley. Joe Lilly grabbed two goals, with Frank Goodall and Aaron Blair also on target, with the latter hitting twenty goals in all competitions.

Other Results (Essex Premier Cup):
Barkingside Res  3 – 1 Herongate Athletic  (AET)

Beacon Hill Rovers  0 – 3  Saffron Walden Town Res

Canning Town  0 – 4  Springfield

Great Bentley  4 – 2  Corinthians

Hutton  H – W Aveley Res

Manford Way  H – W  Holland Res

Old Southendian  2 – 2  Sungate*  (Sungate won 5 – 4 on pens)

Toby  3 – 1  White Ensign Res

Wakering Sports  0 – 2  Buckhurst Hill

Witham Town Res  1 – 2 Old Chelmsfordians

———-

EOFL Division Four Results

Catholic Utd Res  6 – 1  Galleywood Res

Hashtag Utd Dev  4 – 4  Leytonstone Utd

Old Chelmsfordians Res  2 – 2  Canning Town Res

Wakering Sports Res  5 – 4  Chingford Athletic Res

——-

EOFL Division Five  Results

Bishop’s Stortford Swifts Res  5 – 2  Epping Town Res

Runwell Sports Res  4 – 4 Shoebury Town Res

Wakering Sports ‘A’ 2 – 1 Collier Row Res

End

S20-21 Match Report: Cockfosters 4 – 0 Sporting Bengal Utd (Sat 12 Dec) [ESL 20-21 13.12.20]

ESL crest

Essex Senior League

Venue: Chalk Lane

Attendance: 100

2020 -21 Season – Match 20

Saturday 12th December 2020 – 3pm KO

Cockfosters: Red Shirts, Red Shorts, Red & White Socks

Sporting Bengal: Blue Shirts, Blue Shorts, Blue Socks

Second-half goal blitz sees ‘Fosters to victory over Sporting Bengal

Cockfosters 4 – 0 Sporting Bengal Utd

Match Report & Photos by Scott W (Twitter: @ScottMHC14)

With the continuing uncertainty this Football season, I decided to make the long trek to North London and Chalk Lane for this Essex Senior encounter between Cockfosters & Sporting Bengal Utd. Ryan Wade fielded Brad Robinson between the sticks with an attack-focused full-back pair of Luke Marshall and recent signing Vinny Durrant, with a front two of Carl Mullings and James Verney supported by George Beattie. A threadbare bench featured fellow recent signing Kyle Roberts and Matt Turpin, who scored in the London Senior Cup in midweek. Sporting Bengal have had a tricky start to the campaign and named skipper Rokib Choudhury at right-back, Tanvir Ahmed at left-back and D’Norfe Diaz Vaz and Chaka Barnett on the flanks, supporting Soulyman El Amri and lynchpin Joel Ramos in attack. Among their replacements were technical winger Carlos Hubner and defenders Raul Gazi and Manraj Gill.



The match got underway with a flourish from the hosts, with some early crosses giving the Bengal defence one or two nervy moments. Those nerves continued on five minutes as home full-back Vinny Durrant broke through the visiting defence and stroke home crisply from close range, with Sporting stopper Aires Ferreira unable to keep it out despite getting a hand to it. Bengal responded with forward Joel Ramos blasting over the goal frame from thirty yards out, but on the quarter-hour winger George Beattie played the ball in to Durrant but he twice couldn’t find the target, on his weaker foot. Sporting Bengal did find their way into the contest in the second part of the half as winger Chaka Barnett spurned a half-chance by shooting wide of home custodian Brad Robinson’s right-side post when in a promising position.

On twenty-six minutes, Ramos was in the action again as a free-kick from about thirty yards was well-struck and needed Robinson to superbly tip the ball onto the post as it was sliding in. Bengal’s speedy and good passing moves were gaining momentum at this point, with midfielder Gianfranco Mici also blasting wide from twelve yards when he could’ve done better. At the other end, eight minutes from time during another probing attack from the hosts, another fine centre from the right flank from Marshall found tall forward Carl Mullings though he was well thwarted by visiting skipper Rokib Choudhury’s challenge with the striker poised to strike.

Half-Time: Cockfosters  1 – 0 Sporting Bengal Utd

It was still well-poised at the interval though Ryan Wade’s side did need to ‘up the ante’ after the break. They certainly started the second half as they did the first. Moments into the half, ‘Fosters winger Rueben Campbell spotted a chance to chip from the right flank and it needed Ferriera to be alert and parry it over with Campbell’s effort arrowing towards the top right corner. Centre-back Marcus Crowther also headed powerfully off-target moments later which only endorsed the home side’s keenness to seal the points. With the hosts still strongly in command, forward James Verney played in strike partner Mullings though only a strong interception from Bengal centre-back Shayan Ghamarinezhad denied him. Perhaps it was the hosts’ day as just after the hour mark, a rare blemish from Robinson allowed Bengal substitute Carlos Hubner to rob him of possession by Hubner could not make him pay as he lobbed his strike over the crossbar.

The chances that Bengal had were to further highlighted as midway through the half, ‘Cockfosters doubled their goal tally. Mullings sprinted down the right channel and fed Beattie though Ferriera was able to block his close-range strike, only for Verney to be in ‘the right place at the right time’ to poke home from close range. ‘Fosters added a third goal only four minutes later as another fine cross by Marshall evaded everyone but found Mullings ghosting in at the far post to fire home well, past Ferriera to more or less seal the win there and then.

Wade’s side then added further pain on the visitors on seventy-one minutes as Beattie ghosted past the Bengal backline to slot home. It was harsh on Bengal but it underlines the fact that you can’t ‘switch off’ against this sort of quality for any period of time. To their credit, Bengal did not allow their heads to drop, with Ramos denied by substitute Charlie Morgan’s tackle with four minutes remaining. Verney then missed a decent opportunity soon after, clipping the ball wide at the near post. Then, with full-time approaching, Bengal replacement Abraham Richard-Tagoe breezed past the tackles of the home defenders but couldn’t get his strike away with any venom to test Robinson.

Full-Time: Cockfosters  4 – 0 Sporting Bengal Utd

In summary, Cockfosters deserved the win in the end on a tricky surface, although in parts of the game Bengal did show their speed and technical ability, particularly in attack. Unfortunately though for the visitors, defensive lapses cost them dearly here and conceding three goals in six second-half minutes absolutely snuffed out any chance of getting something from the game. Manager Imrul Gazi will know that you cannot gift chances to the calibre of players that the ‘Fosters have they can take positives from this encounter.

For my stand-out performers, the hosts were livened up by a strong front three of James Verney, Carl Mullings and chief support George Beattie who were a threat all match but really forced the pace after the interval. Right-back Luke Marshall also put in some superb crosses which added to the visiting defence’s problems and also showed good energy levels too. Lastly, custodian Brad Robinson made a terrific save before the half-hour when Sporting had a good phase of the match.

For the visitors, forward Joel Ramos was their chief outlet going forward and he also did well looking to stretch the home backline by going into the right-side channel and was unfortunate to not get on the score-sheet. Full-backs Tanvir Ahmed and Rokib Choudbury also showed good willingness to support their attacks and also made good individual interceptions under pressure. Midfielder Gianfranco Mici also showed some neat passing and finally, centre-back Shayan Ghamarinezhad also made some well-time tackles to stifle the strong home forward line at times.

Finally, I’d like to thank Cockfosters for their welcome, particularly Deputy Chairman Mike Bell. It was great to return to Chalk Lane, which is a ground with its own character and is good to visit. Was good also to catch up here with both management teams as well. I wish both sides well for the rest of the season.

Teams

Cockfosters  | Player-Manager: Ryan Wade |  Assistant: Nick Mountford

1. Brad Robinson (GK), 2. Luke Marshall, 3. Vinny Durrant (14 Charlie Morgan 58’), 4. Matty Thomson (Capt), 5. Danny Haigh, 6 Marcus Crowther, 7 Rueben Campbell, 18. Kaidyn Michael, 9. Carl Mullings (12 Kyle Roberts 73’), 10. James Verney, 11. George Beattie

Goal-scorers: Vinny Durrant [5’], James Verney [65’], Carl Mullings [69’], George Beattie [71’]

Booked: Mullings | Sub Not Used: Turpin

Sporting Bengal    |  Manager: Imrul Gazi

1. Aires Ferriera (GK), 2. Rokib Choudhury (Capt), 3. Tanvir Ahmed, 4. Anthony Murray-Bruce, 5. Lee Sharpe (17 Manraj Gill 66’), 6. Shayan Ghamarinezhad, 8. Gianfranco Mici, 14. Chaka Barnett (7 Carlos Hubner 60’), 9. Joel Ramos, Soulyman El Amri (12 Abraham Richard-Tagoe 73’), 11. D’Norfe Diaz Vaz

Booked: Ghamarinezad | Subs Not Used: R Gazi, Konjuvca

Referee: Alistair Potter

Assistant Referees: Andy Tregoning & Katie Dorling

S20-21 Match Report: Ilford 2 – 4 Colney Heath (FA Vase R2) [FAV 20-21 5.12.20]

The FA Vase – Second Round Proper

Venue: Cricklefield

2020-21 Season: Match 19

Saturday 5th December 2020 – 3pm KO

Ilford: Blue & White Hooped Shirts, Blue Shorts, Blue Socks

Colney H: Black & White Hooped Shirts, Black Shorts, Black Socks


Ilford 2 – 4 Colney Heath

Match Report & Photos by Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

The first match after the enforced month-long break in November saw me travel to Cricklefield for this intriguing FA Vase Second Round tie between Essex Senor side Ilford and unbeaten Spartan South Midlands side Colney Heath. Ilford were missing a few of their squad for this one including both the Djotzi brothers and the likes of full-backs Bailey Pryce and Sean Ekila but lynchpin skipper Steve Sylvester was in the back four, alongside Ronnie Bullen and full-backs Charlie Hannam and Naseer Ishanzadeh. The potent front three of Dion Lewis-Kirwan, Yemi Adelani and Mo Kargbo all started with forwards Larry Akanbi and Fred Agyemang along with Ian Vangu and Caleb Steele on the substitute’s bench. Colney Heath are second in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division at present and they would start as favourites here. Matt Evans was the glovesman, with a front three of returning skipper Spencer Clarke-Mardel joined by Jack Woods and league top-scorer George Devine. Options from the sidelines included Marcus Mealing, Danny Fitzgerald, Bailey Stevenson and Aaron Jewell.

The early stages of this contest were a bit subdued as both teams looked to set their stall out to gain the early advantage. Colney forwards Jack Woods and Spencer Clarke-Mardel looked to drive down the flanks to arrow in crosses to test youthful Ilford goalkeeper Josh Blackburn. The first real chance came on the quarter-hour for the visitors as a fine right-wing centre found forward George Devine those his header lacked the power to bypass Blackburn. No matter though as the Magpies did break the deadlock with twenty minutes played as forward Jack Woods made no mistake with a calm, low finish after breaching the Foxes backline. As it turned out, Adam Peek’s side were only behind for four minutes before a deep cross from creative forward Dimitri Christou superbly picked out the run of rapid forward Dion Lewis-Kirwan who rose to fire in an equally superb header right into the top corner with visiting custodian Matt Evans understandably beaten. It was a terrific goal.  

Much to their credit, Colney Heath were looking as solid and organised as you would expect given their exploits this season so far, and their persistence of firing crosses into the Ilford eighteen-yard area continued, with Foxes full-back Charlie Hannam fortunate to slice a clearance beyond his near post, it could have gone anywhere. Both sides were also conceding free-kicks with alarming regularity. On thirty-six minutes, one such free-kick for the Magpies ended up falling to central midfielder Harry Shepherd and he confidently blasted low into the net to once again give Ryan Thompson’s side the lead. It could have been worse for the hosts as Heath had a goal chalked off for as Woods was deemed to have fouled stopper Blackburn who couldn’t prevent the ball going into the net, three minutes before the interval.

Ilford did importantly get back level a minute before the break as Christou was banking the assists again, with his left-sided corner finding full-back Naseer Ishanzadeh who powerfully headed past the Colney defence.

Half-Time: Ilford  2 – 2  Colney Heath


Ilford showed a lot of grit and spirit to keep themselves in this tie, and immediately after the break it was the hosts who got at their opponents with pace and strength going forward. Five minutes in to the half, Mo Kargbo did well to release forward Yemi Adelani but unfortunately he could only find the side-netting with only Evans to beat. Ishanzadeh had another chance to add to his side’s tally as a corner was well recycled in the Colney eighteen-yard box but his effort was skewed wide. Those chances would prove to be telling as just past the hour, Jack Woods was at well-placed again at the back-post to nab a tap-in from mere yards out as the Magpies led for a third time. The visitors were gradually getting their way back into the driving seat in terms of play moments before that goal. With twenty minutes remaining, substitute Ian Vangu’s goal-saving clearance earned him the plaudits of his goalkeeper.

Blackburn was to be in the action again with fifteen minutes remaining as a firm strike from Colney substitute Marcus Mealing needed the Foxes stopper to claw it away. Unfortunately for the Foxes, Colney did rubber-stamp their progression to Round Three of the Vase as Martin Standen’s late goal vanquished any chance of a comeback with four minutes left.   

Full-Time: Ilford  2 – 4  Colney Heath

To be fair to Ilford, they showed a lot of industry and pace going forward but they also have a knack of conceding goals and that is what ultimately cost them here. All in all, Colney Heath did deserve to go through and forward Jack Woods has to lead the honourable mentions for me, given his work-rate down the right channel and two goals helps a bit too. Full-back Dominic Knaggs and midfielder Harry Shepherd also did well for Ryan Thompson’s side.

For the Foxes, Dion Lewis-Kirwan was again a tough prospect to deal with his his pace, movement and passing. Fellow forward Yemi Adelani also gave the Colney defence problems and full-back Charlie Hannam did a solid job in lessening the threat of the visiting forward line. All that’s left for me to do is wish Colney Heath well for the rest of the season & in the Vase and thank Ilford for their welcome today.

Teams:

Ilford    | Manager: Adam Peek 

1 Joshua Blackburn (GK), 2 Charlie Hannam, 18 Naseer Ishanzadeh (12 Larry Akanbi 65′), 4 Jerold Cobblah, 5 Steve Sylvester (Capt), 6 Ronnie Bullen, 7 Dion Lewis-Kirwan, 8 Alfie Walker (15 Ian Vangu 13′ replaced by 14 Fred Agyemang 79′), 9 Yemi Adelani, 10 Dimitri Christou, 11 Mo Kargbo

Goal-scorers: Dion Lewis-Kirwan [24’’], Naseer Ishanzadeh [44’]

Booked: Adelani, Bullen | Subs Not Used: Sarr, Steele



Colney Heath   | Manager: Ryan Thompson 

1 Matt Evans (GK), 2 Dominic Knaggs, 3 Max Jessop, 4 Jay Lovell, 5 Yasin Boodhoo, 6 Martin Standen, 7 Chris Griffin, 8 Harry Shepherd (14 Marcus Mealing 46′), 9 Jack Woods, 10 George Devine (15 Aaron Jewell 62′), 11 Spencer Clarke-Mardel (Capt) (16 Danny Fitzgerald 46’)


Goal-scorers: Jack Woods [20′, 64′], Harry Shepherd [36′], Martin Standen [86′]

Booked: Clarke-Mardel  | Subs Not Used: Stevenson, Walsh



Referee: Ivan Gelov

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.

Season 2020-21 So Far: Essex Senior League [ESL 20/21 23.11.20]

ESL crest

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome to an article looking back at the Essex Senior League 2020-21 season so far, as part of my content during this enforced break of November 2020.

In this article, we look at the Essex Senior table in general and experiences of watching the division in the opening two months or so pre-break. Also in a new feature, I’ll be joined by an expert reporting panel of fellow Non-League writers to pass on our views on the ESL. They are Matt North [MN]  (@MattNorth_) and Aaron Moore [AM] (@aaron_moore25). My thanks to them both for their time & contributions in this article.

First up, we have the full table at the time the enforced break came in (on November 5th) which will be followed by our panel looking at how their tips pre-season are doing so far and respective experiences of the Essex Senior as well.

Essex Senior table (as of Wed November 4th – Lockdown)

Panel insight regarding Season 2020-21 So Far:

Key: Scott = SW, Matt = MN & Aaron = AM

Which clubs did you tip to be in each of the following areas of the table in August & have those clubs started the campaign in the vein you felt they would and why? (a) Top Six (b) Mid-table (c) Bottom Six

AM: (a) Top Six – “I think we are all in agreement of who will be the winner as Hashtag seem to find a way to win regardless of how they play. The other five will be a fight and tough to predict. Stansted because of the start they’ve made and they look very good. Saffron Walden have built a strong team, Hadley have games in hand and are one of the toughest teams to beat as are Walthamstow as I think bringing players back has boosted them!

(b) Mid-table – I think ‘Fosters, Hoddesdon and West Essex will be at the top of the mid table sides based on their starts and the teams they are beating. Takeley had a poor start so will struggle, I don’t think Manor can keep up with their form throughout the season and Redbridge and Sawbo win some but also lose important games.

(c) Bottom Six – I think the bottom six will pretty much stay the same to what is it now. Woodford have made it hard for themselves already and will find it tough to recover, Clapton & St Margaretsbury find it hard to get wins and I think too many draws will cost them, Ilford and Enfield have decent teams but again they are so inconsistent and I think they will struggle after their start and Sporting Bengal will get limited wins again and I think they will be in the bottom six.”

SW: (a – Top Six) “Before the season began, I thought the likes of Walthamstow, Hashtag Utd and Saffron Walden Town would be up there given all three sides’ keenness to progress up the Non-League ladder and their consistency last season, which the FA might have voided officially but for writers and fans etc, it is anything but meaningless. The way that the Tags have started tells you they mean business but their levels of experience, their management team led by Jay Devereux and their togetherness are all good reasons why they could be the team to beat. Saffron Walden have started to find their rhythm after a tricky start sitting in fourth spot while Walthamstow have made strides to further improve their squad, enticing back two-time winner of the Essex Senior ‘Golden Boot’ Dwade James after a brief spell at Hendon. Their management team led by player-boss Max Mitchell and Terry Spillane also have nous & vast experience.

(b – Mid-table) Going back to last season and the way they play, I would not have ruled out Hadley, Cockfosters, Stansted, Hoddesdon, Takeley and West Essex from being mid-table sides this term, if not better given how they all can ‘trouble the scorers’. Stansted and Cockfosters have started well and are again tough sides to beat with ‘Fosters goalkeeper Brad Robinson among the best custodians in the division.

With regards to the bottom of the table, I was intrigued how the likes of Sawbridgeworth, Enfield and Southend Manor would improve on last season’s tough respective campaigns. Manor in particular have shown grit and form at Southchurch Park in patches this term but they also have shelled a few in some damaging defeats thus far too.”

MN: (a – Top Six)  “Before the season even started, I knew that Hashtag United were going to be competing at the top and are certainly clear favourites for the title. I expected it to be the same four sides as last season in the title race in Hashtag, Saffron Walden, Walthamstow and Hadley purely because of how strong those sides are. Although the majority aren’t right up there at the moment, I can still see those four being up there when the season resumes. I did think Stansted would be around the top six positions and have been in a much better position than I thought. From watching them a lot this season, I feel as though Stansted will be another side to challenge for the title. As for 6th place, I thought that position would be very open in my eyes with the likes of Takeley and Hoddesdon being around there. Hoddesdon are currently sitting 5th so I may be spot on with that whilst Takeley are 8th so I them being around that area of the table as well.

In the mid-table places (7th-12th), I expected sides such as Cockfosters, West Essex and Redbridge to be occupying those positions. However, Cockfosters have had a much better start, sitting 2nd and look like challenging towards the top. However, Redbridge and West Essex are in a similar position to what I expected whilst I would have backed Woodford to be in mid-table but they sit bottom with just one win out of 11 games. Finally, St Margaretsbury was a side I thought would be sitting towards the bottom part of mid-table but are in 16th having made a poor start.

The sides I thought would be sitting around the bottom six are currently occupying those positions. Sawbridgeworth, Enfield, Ilford and Clapton were the four sides I thought would be near the bottom considering how those four got on last season. Sawbridgeworth had a very poor season last time out but this campaign they are in a much better position this time round and look unlikely to be right at the bottom. The other two sides I expect to be near the bottom but aren’t there this season are Southend Manor and Sporting Bengal, who both sit comfortably in mid-table territory. Manor are in 9th and doing much better than I thought whilst Bengal are 12th so they could still slip into the bottom six. Apart from that, I have been near enough spot on with my predictions for the bottom six at this early stage.”

Image from Southend Manor 0 – 1 Cockfosters (in FA Vase, Credit: Scott W)

2. Which clubs have surprised you with their start to the season and why? 

SW: As I mentioned earlier, Cockfosters have to be mentioned given the strides they’ve made to improve their defence as well as their attacking options. Saffron Walden and Hoddesdon have been buoyed by their recent form too and cannot be underestimated. Finally, Southend Manor and Redbridge have had an upturn to their form in general, with the latter really finding their feet since the appointment of George Christou in terms of wins.

In the bottom half of the standings, Sawbridgeworth Town already have four more points than they got by the end of the shortened season in March. That being said, their goal difference is the second worst in the division at this point so that may count against them as the season goes on. Finally, Woodford Town are bottom of the standings, having played the vast majority of their games thus far away from home, as they have had to wait for their new home at Ashton’s to be ready. I’ve seen them a couple of times at the start of the campaign and I wouldn’t be that surprised if they get a few wins to evade the bottom three by February, but again they do leak a few goals.

MN: Cockfosters have surprised me with their brilliant start to the season, which I think many others would have said as well. Considering they were around mid-table last season, Ryan Wade’s side have really stepped up this season and have become serious title challengers this early on in the season. However, time will tell to see if they can continue to keep up this form but for now, they are looking good. Stansted have slightly surprised me too as I didn’t expect them to be as high as they are now in 2nd but I feel as though have put themselves in a very good position. Meanwhile, Southend Manor have made a good start to their campaign and sit comfortably in 9th and picked up some great results whereas other people have tipped them to be near the bottom. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Saffron Walden and Walthamstow have both had difficult starts to the season and many would have seen them to be competing with Hashtag at this early stage. However, with that being said, we are only around 1/4 of the way through the season so there is still plenty of time for those two sides to get a good run of form going.

AM: I think Cockfosters surprised everyone with their start to the season. It was superb from them and put them in a good position for the rest of the season. Southend Manor was another surprise with the win over Stow and drawing with Hashtag. Woodford Town, Saffron Walden Town and Enfield are probably the other end of the scale. No one expected the Woods to be bottom nor did they expect Walden to have only won five out of their thirteen games this season and Enfield brought in a better calibre of players but are still struggling.

All things being good, if the season resumes in December, which sides do you believe are well-placed to go further up the standings and why?

AM: Walthamstow and Hadley will certainly rise up the table with the games in hand they have on the top five.

MN: I believe that Hadley can easily go further up the standings considering all their games in hand on other sides around them. The Bricks have won six out of their seven games this term but sit 6th so if they keep that run going, I see them competing with Hashtag United at the top. Meanwhile, at the bottom, I feel as though Enfield are well placed to get further up the table judging by their form since Jamie Cureton became player-manager. The E’s are only five or so points off the top half so the ball is very much in their court. Finally, another side who look likely to rise up the table is Redbridge. Before the start of the second lockdown, the Motormen had won four on the bounce and with games in hand on sides around them; I wouldn’t put it past them to push towards the top 6 places.

SW: I have to make it “three from three” and say Hadley will be in and around the top three. If they can make Brickfield Lane a fortress again this season and get a few wins on the road, they may still have a say in who gets the title. Takeley may also move up a few places if they can keep their impressive goal-scoring (currently on 34 goals from their eleven games) going.

Image from Saffron Walden 1 – 1 Enfield (September 14th, Image by Matt North)

What have been your favourite matches to watch live this term and why?

MN: One of my favourite matches to watch this season has to be Stansted’s 2 – 1 derby win over Saffron Walden. A huge crowd, an entertaining match along with a last minute winner for the Airportmen which sent the supporters going wild! Other noticeable matches were Hashtag United defeating Sawbridgeworth 4 – 2 and Takeley 3 – 1. However, the majority of matches I have visited so far this season have been entertaining.

AM: I really enjoyed watching the 6 – 0 win for West Essex over Southend Manor as they attacking play was superb. It was great from a neutrals point of view but also the Hashtag vs Sawbo game as it could have gone either way.

SW: I enjoyed the dramatic midweek match in early October where Southend Manor roared back from behind to pinch a 3 – 2 over Ilford. Both sides had the energy and had some class finishing to go with it. Also, on the opening day in September, Hadley started the season as they did a year previous with a strong 4 – 0 win over Woodford Town. That was a long-awaited return to the beautiful Non-League game competitively after six months out.

As a neutral, what grounds do you like visiting as a fan?

SW: I have to nominate Cockfosters’ Chalk Lane first for this. Yes, the ground is comparatively small but it has its own character and the committee also give you a really good, kind welcome. Also, St Margaretsbury’s Recreation Ground is a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ as well. Same goes for Hadley’s Brickfield Lane, though the club have catered well for visiting fans with their seated stand & a covered terrace on the other side.

AM: I’d say Lowfield (Hoddesdon Town). It is a very nice ground which some superb hospitality.

MN: Personally, when it comes to the quality of the ground, I really enjoy visiting Catons Lane, home of Saffron Walden. It’s a very welcoming club with some excellent facilities and the overall visit is an enjoyable one. I also like going to Hargrave Park which is generally down to the friendly committee and supporters and a club I am quite close to.

How different has it been watching Essex Senior matches so far this season, with all the COVID-enforced restrictions?  Has it altered the atmosphere on match day at all?

AM: I don’t think it had hampered atmosphere because it’s what the fans make it. That being said, it’s still strange having to follow the procedures, especially if you forget a mask. It’s hard knowing whether you’ll get into a game with the limited attendance (Usually 300 at this level)

MN: I have seen a difference this season but only in a positive way. Due to the COVID restrictions, no one can visit elite level matches such as the Premier League so opt to visit games in leagues further down the Non-League ladder such as the Essex Senior instead. A lot more supporters have been attracted to games this campaign in comparison to last season which I find brilliant! Of course you have a limit to the amount of supporters allowed in but I feel there is a much better atmosphere to the games now. For example, my brother started going to a few Stansted games and now he has been going on a more regular basis. I feel as though clubs have done very well to follow the COVID guidelines in place.

SW: I think the biggest difference is all the Distancing regulations, it does feel a bit eerie. That being said, it is brilliant to see fans of professional clubs visit their local Non-League sides during the stadia closure in the Premier League & the EFL. If anything, I also believe the fans that have stuck with Non-League for years have savoured matches a little more this year and the fact that it is reflected in attendances for many Essex Senior clubs is a good thing and long may that continue.

End

My thanks to Aaron & Matt for their valued contributions to this article and here’s a few snippets of info on them.


Matt North is a Non-League writer focused mainly on the Essex Senior League and also is an avid fan of Chelsea. He’s on Twitter – @MattNorth_ and his blog is at https://mattnorthfootball.wordpress.com/ 

Aaron Moore is also a Non-League writer, mainly for Walthamstow FC in the Essex Senior League and also is part of the media team of Harlow Town Ladies. He can be found on Twitter – @aaron_moore25 and his blog is at http://footballreview.net/ 

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.