Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League & EOFL Writer
Hello and welcome a to a special one-off article looking at what it’s been like watching Essex Olympian League matches this season (2020-21), which as we know has been disrupted by several Covid lockdowns at different points through the campaign.
I’m delighted to say that joining me [SW] in giving our views on EOFL matches are fellow Non-League writers Aaron Moore [@aaron_moore25] [AM] and Peter Dudley [@ped1980] [PD], from the writer’s perspective (Quite the team I hope you will agree!). Thank you for reading, the pictures are archive ones from the season by Scott.
Firstly, thank you all for your time. During the course of the season, we’ve all been to watch & write about several Olympian League matches. In your respective opinions, what is the principal difference watching clubs in Intermediate Football in these divisions compared to clubs higher up the Non-League Pyramid?
SW: “It is true that there is a different vibe compared to being in stadiums with tannoy announcements, big seated stands and the like, but in another way you do feel ‘closer’ to the action itself being at smaller venues. Then there is the connection you can feel with clubs and the various different people that represent their club, you do sort of feel like you’re watching them on a journey, whether you’re writing about clubs in individual matches or from afar doing other articles (ie. Division-by-division Round-ups). To be succinct, Buckhurst Hill have been on a journey which has perhaps now finished its first chapter (with their promotion) of potentially many, but then other clubs like Wakebury, Ongar Town, Leigh Town and even ACD Utd are also on upwardly mobile journeys, which is fascinating to see.
Clubs higher up in the Non-League pyramid have the likes of the Non-League Paper to show their exploits and justifiably so, though at this level it’s a bit different and it is a privilege to write about their stories.”
PD: “I feel first of all that it is very much more Grassroots then senior football, some games are played in public parks with a rope around it, so proper grassroots, and also you can see a very good standard of football for nothing, and also at some venues get a lovely cup of coffee in an actual mug, so it feels quite homely watching it too.”
AM: “Many of these clubs (in the EOFL) play with next to no supporters and the ones that do, generally play with very few numbers watching them, so the players are able to play well without a lot of noise cheering them on. That is one reason why lower non-league football is certainly played for the love of the game.”
Still from Rayleigh Tn v Harold Wood Ath in Premier Division (early May 2021)
What have been your favourite matches to watch in the Essex Olympian League this season?
AM: “I had never thought I would watch any Olympian League football this season, but when it was one of the only leagues to return in April, I decided to ‘dip my foot in’. I covered ten games from April 3rd, from the Premier Division, right down to Division Five. It was a game in the bottom division that I enjoyed covering the most. Bishop’s Stortford Swifts Reserves faced Roydon at Silver Leys, which saw the hosts come back to seal a 3 – 2 win late on. The game was a great advert for Olympian League football and showed that there were quality games right at the very bottom of the league.”
PD: “I’ll go with two recent ones since we came back at the start of April, Wakerbury’s 6 – 4 home win over Corinthians Reserves which was very entertaining, and I even sat on the bench for the hosts!!!
Also, Ryan 5 Epping Town 5 over at Wadham Lodge’s side-pitch on a crazy evening, getting there was no fun, but the awful journey was made worthwhile by an absolutely mental game of football, marvellous!!!”
SW: “Honestly, there are many games I could mention but I will restrict it to three of them in chronological order. First, going back to October 2020, seeing Leigh Ramblers win 3 – 1 at Catholic Utd and the level of performance from the visitors was impressive. Secondly, in what was one of the matches of the season in all competitions to see, Corinthians 3 – 3 draw with Old Southendian Reserves. The score-line could’ve been 5 – 5 and then some, both sides were really fired up that day & a draw was a fair result for both sides who have contrasting styles. Finally, seeing Buckhurst Hill being tested by a determined Hutton side before losing 4 – 3 to the champions at Polo Fields in some ways was a really good to end the season on.”
Which teams have impressed you (That you’ve watched live)?
SW: “Genuinely, this is a tough question and that is a compliment to many teams in the league. Aside from the matches I highlighted in the previous question, Shoebury Town played well despite their problems towards the end of the season. I would add Hutton Reserves and Rayleigh Town among the many sides who I didn’t get round to watch that finished the campaign strongly, including Bishop’s Stortford Swifts, Ongar Town, Galleywood and Beacon Hill Rovers.”
PD: “I watched Hutton Reserves twice at Polo Fields and was very impressed by them, their run of form after the comeback in April was nothing short of outrageous, and I was actually impressed at how much AS Rawreth fought in their match at Corinthians in another midweek contest over in Stambridge, rock bottom of the division and starting the game with nine players after some late arrivals, you feared the worst for them, but they made the hosts work so hard for the win and only went down 3 – 1 in the end, so well done to them in that one.”
AM: “Ongar Town have been one of the sides that impressed me. Their attitude in every game (and training) is exactly what you’d expect right up the National League system (also known as Steps 1 – 6 – Ed). They were so close to going unbeaten throughout the season, but still impressed through their promotion season. I was also impressed with Bishop’s Stortford Swifts Reserves. Although they lost their first game under the management of Dean Perrett, they soon turned their season around and finished on a high, winning 10 – 0 in their final 2020/21 season game.”
Still from Corinthians v AS Rawreth in Division Two (late April)
Taking into account the teams you’ve watched, how would you assess the strength of the top three tiers of the EOFL? [Top-three tiers are Premier Division, Division One & Division Two – Ed]
AM: “The top-three tiers are extremely competitive, and any side could win any day. While some end-up running away with the title or get left behind at the bottom, every team has to be on top form in order to get the result. Galleywood showed that (to get the win) against Ongar Town on the final day.”
SW: “I’ve said for a while now that the Premier Division isn’t that far below the Regional Step Five and Six divisions in terms of quality. You have to have a lot of consistency and have the ‘knack of winning’ as well to be successful on-the-pitch, as well as a lot of organisation off-it. It will be fascinating to see how the three promoted sides [Ongar Town, Galleywood and Manford Way] do in the top-tier in Season 2021-22, especially given the slightly enlarged division of 16 sides which it now is for one season only, according to the EOFL.
As for Divisions One & Two, they are hugely competitive divisions. Yes, the consistency may not always be the same, but you cannot fault the teams’ endeavour to entertain and in some ways, they are writing another bit of their history whether it be a club that has played at this level for years or clubs that are progressing up the divisions. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a surprise or two in Division Two this term, as we stand now it looks a pretty open division to me.”
PD: “I would say that certainly in the Premier Division some clubs could easily compete with sides at Steps Five and Six, there is a big pool of talent in the Olympian League and as I said some teams, even ones from Divisions One and Two, would give higher more established Senior sides a run for their money, so I would say pretty strong indeed.”
A word now about Premier Division Champions Buckhurst Hill – They have been consistently a strong side in the last three seasons or so, how do you see them progressing in Eastern Senior League South (aka Eastern Counties League Division One – at Step 6) next season?
PD: “Buckhurst Hill’s record in their last four seasons has been phenomenal, and I am so pleased they have finally been given what they deserve and promotion to Step Six and the Eastern Senior League South (aka Thurlow Nunn League Division One South), and I would not be surprised if they went straight up and into the Essex Senior League, they are that good, and if they can keep that squad together and add more depth to it then they will certainly be right up there I feel.”
AM: “The Eastern Counties League is a tough division. During the 2019/20 season, the majority of the teams could have still finished in a promotion spot, which makes it incredibly exciting for the neutral. The sides that finish bottom, typically aren’t bad sides, but unlucky that two-sides have to finish in the bottom two. I think Buckhurst Hill could really cement their place in the division and some early wins next season could take them a long way.”
SW: “The club and manager Mark Williams deserve a lot of credit, not just for the quality of Football they play but also keeping the majority of his squad together for three seasons or so – that is unusual at this level. They may find themselves taking a little time to adjust to the teams in their new division (it is a tough division, it would be remiss to say otherwise), but if they do find their rhythm and consistency, then don’t be too surprised if they push for a top-six finish, which would be superb in their first season as a Senior club. To see them get awarded the Olympian League trophy in May (pictured below) was also an unexpected bonus for me and goes back to a lot of these clubs being on journeys as I mentioned earlier.”
Which EOFL clubs do you like watching and why?
PD: “In terms of Footballing ability it had to be Buckhurst Hill, some of the football they played was out of this world, so they were always a good side to go and watch.
I also always have fun when watching Wakebury as their management duo Dan Blewett and Matt Cardy and his dad always make it enjoyable, and they also play some good attacking football as well, and also Corinthians [who play at Stambridge Memorial ground] as you always get a warm welcome there too, so you cannot fault them as a club. I’ll be honest though – I have always had a warm welcome to any club I visit so I tend to enjoy any Olympian club I visit because they always appreciate what you do for them and the league, so that always means a lot to us reporters and bloggers.”
SW: “It is hard to argue with Buckhurst Hill as Pete mentions, not just for their ability on-the-pitch but their humility and keenness to engage with us writers, that does also get noticed. However, there are also many other clubs who are gracious to me and my colleagues. Rayleigh Town and Leigh Ramblers are on that list of teams I like watching as they are ‘effort’ teams and when they are on-form, that are tricky sides to play. I’ll give honourable mentions on this also to Matt Singh’s Hutton who may surprise a few again in the Premier Division next term and Chris Stoneham’s Corinthians side who are entertaining to watch but need to find more consistency results-wise.”
AM: “I generally loved watching clubs from all the divisions as the quality runs throughout. Manford Way, Ongar Town and Bishop’s Stortford Swifts Reserves – are three clubs that have been a joy to watch.”
Peter, one of the pitfalls of Steps 5 & 6 in recent years has been the comparative lack of clubs in South Essex. With plenty of clubs in the area competing in the top three divisions of the Olympian League, are you optimistic that several years from now there may be more clubs progressing up the Non-League ladder?
PD: “I feel if the places are available then yes, because there are plenty of clubs who are very ambitious and given the tools and the chance to progress up the ladder, they would certainly have the structure in place in years to come to be able to do this, but whether they are given the opportunity remains to be seen, but I remain hopeful that this will happen and we see many more Junior sides from this league progress into established Senior sides in the years to come.”
Still from Buckhurst Hill v Harold Wood Athletic in Premier Division (late April)
Finally, do you believe the quality of the EOFL divisions will remain strong in the 2021-22 campaign and why?
AM: “The quality runs through all divisions and with promotion going ahead for next season, clubs are set to take their quality up the leagues. Ongar Town have replaced Buckhurst Hill in the Premier Division which will make that an interesting division, while clubs moved up from Division Two and below will hope to make the most of promotion, so should be up for the fight.”
PD: “100% yes, and we are in for a very exciting 2021-22 season, the Premier Division now has sixteen sides competing in it so that means a 30 game season, unheard of in previous years, whilst the divisions below have also seen strong sides promoted upwards too, so the leagues are going to be as strong and as competitive as ever, so it should be a fun league to cover next season, that is for sure.”
SW: “Yes, I do believe we’ll see a number of strong sides this term. As Peter mentioned, the expanded Premier Division really is a fascinating development (even if it is for one season) but also the clubs that are facing new challenges in all the other divisions as well make for a highly-competitive season which I’m looking forward to writing about.
I feel I should mention as well all the supportive messages that I and colleagues get from Olympian clubs/managers etc, it is appreciated so a big thank you to you all.”
Still from Ryan v Epping Town in Division Two (from late April)
Aaron Moore may be a fairly recent addition to the Non-League community of bloggers but he previously was as Match Reporter at Walthamstow and currently Reports as an Independent writer alongside reporting duties for Harlow Town Ladies.
His blog is at http://footballreview.net and on Twitter @aaron_moore25
Pete Dudley hardly needs any introduction, but the long-time prolific writer has seen matches in the Essex Senior, Eastern Senior League South, Essex Olympian League & more this season. He has also been a long-term co-presenter of the Grassroots Football Show on East London Radio and also was former Fixtures Secretary at local side Southend Manor.
You can find him on Twitter at @ped1980 or on his blog: http://pedroslocalfootiefix.blogspot.com/
End, many thanks to you for reading.
If you’d like to catch up on the first article of the Summer, looking at the make-up of the EOFL divisions for Season 2021-22, including a round-up of the changes compared to last season. it’s available here: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/09/season-2021-22-essex-olympian-league-divisions-eofl/