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

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

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

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

Wakebury compete in the EOFL {Credit: EOFL]

SW: Hello Matt, thank you for your time. It goes without saying that the 2020-21 campaign has been disrupted by the various lockdowns, but what positives would you all take from this campaign?

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In this article, I’m pleased to be joined by First Team player-boss (and Adult Section Chairman) Chris Mascall (CM) and First Team Secretary & Physio Jamie Mascall (JM) to give their thoughts on how the recent League Cup has been to compete in, the season as a whole, the inside track on the club and their thoughts on the change coming for the EAL next season. My thanks to them both for their time & Jamie for the Action images shown here.

Dagenham Utd compete in the Essex Alliance Lge (EAL)

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


SW: It was announced recently that the Senior Division of the Essex Alliance League has been given Step 7 status by the FA, putting it on par with the Premier Division of the Essex Olympian League. Is reaching that division an ambition of the club & what is your reaction to the news as an EAL club?

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

End

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

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

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

2021 In-Focus -Essex Olympian League: The Writer’s View [EOFL June 2021]

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)


Who’s Who?

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/

2021 In-Focus – Essex Alliance League: The Future [EAL June 2021]

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

Hello and welcome to the first of my Summer In-Focus articles (marking Five Years for me as a Non-League writer), speaking to various parties in Non-League about the season just gone or about the future. In this article, I’m delighted to welcome Essex Alliance League (EAL) Media & Registrations Secretary Rob Parker [RP] to talk about the Essex Alliance League & its future after being announced as a Step 7 (Regional NLS Feeder) League from the forthcoming 2021-22 season, joining the Olympian League & Essex & Suffolk Border League top-tiers at that level.

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SW: Firstly, thank you very much for your time Rob. Many congratulations to you, the Essex Alliance League & all involved in achieving the new status for the forthcoming campaign. Could you tell us a little about the process that was required (Talking to the FA, your clubs etc) to gain this elevated status?

RP: “Talks around the idea began back in 2018 between the league’s Management Committee, our clubs and Essex County FA to discuss the issues that we felt were hindering the progression of clubs in our region. We put together a formal proposal which we presented to our member clubs in 2019, the result of which was resounding support of the proposal. Further talks then took place with Essex County FA before we lodged our application to the FA in December 2019 with all of the supporting documentation.

Following this application, we were then invited up to Wembley to put our proposal directly to the FA’s Leagues Committee, to discuss various aspects of the barriers our clubs face when trying to progress and also impact on football in the wider, regional context. The feedback we received was very promising and we were therefore hopeful we may be approved in time for 2020/21 season. But COVID then struck a matter of days later and, as we know, the season was voided across most levels of the NLS (National League System – the tiered approach in Non-League) which scuppered our short-term hopes. We weren’t deterred however and our application went in once again in November 2020 following which, after a long wait, we finally received the great news at the end of May this year.”

SW: It must be inspiring for clubs that have petitioned to be included within the Alliance League divisions, to see that one day they could have a chance to compete in Step 7, with a potential opportunity to battle for promotion into Senior Football. As a neutral, which clubs do you feel might find their way into your Senior Division in the next two-three years?

RP: “It certainly is a big draw for our league to have gained Regional Feeder League Status as it now enables us to provide a full pathway for our clubs, potentially starting out in our lower divisions as a brand new club, perhaps just a group of friends having a kick about in the park, to playing football within the National League System (NLS) in just a few seasons given the right sporting experience and structure in place. This is a progression route which we feel so passionately about and now avoids clubs having to venture well out of the area just to fulfil their ambitions of joining an NLS competition.

There are plenty of clubs who have the ambition to move up into Senior football. Almost every team we have interviewed this summer with a view to joining the league has been enthused about the opportunity ahead of them and it’s fair to say our existing clubs are equally looking forward to the challenge. When you have a look at our divisions beneath the Senior Division, there are some big, local clubs who are all chomping at the bit to move forward, sides such as Dagenham United, Frenford A, Barkingside A and plenty more will be joining us for the coming season. What is most exciting is the opportunity for all of our clubs to now recruit ambitious players who want to be part of the journey up the ladder.”

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SW: In my view, Essex having three Step 7 Leagues (the Essex Olympian League & Essex & Suffolk Border League being the others) now does show the strength of Intermediate Football in the Essex & East London area. How do you see participation growing in the area in the medium term as we emerge from the Covid pandemic?

RP: “Essex is already one of the best represented counties in terms of number of teams and player participation across the whole country with a dense population in the Metropoilitan Essex and East London areas particularly. It’s perhaps for this reason alone, along with many others, that this proposal benefits football in the region as there will always be a proportionately higher number of clubs seeking progression. I think that it’s a real feather in Essex’s cap to be producing and sustaining such a strong quality of football in the county and long may that continue.

There are still plenty of challenges coming up, particularly those around increasing the availability of senior standard football facilities to remove that obstacle over time but also with the effects of upcoming ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) charges for travel in east London which is going to add additional costs for some participants, in a time of financial uncertainty for many. As partners at the upcoming Parsloes Park developments, we hope to alleviate part one of those concerns at least and the other key thing that we are doing is to offer the best football product that we can to continue to increase participation and interest within our sport. The effects of the pandemic have been felt very acutely within grassroots football but it is clear that there remains a very strong level of interest and we hope that the new season will be a real celebration after some difficult years.”

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Regular round-ups of Alliance League action have been provided by Rob to radio shows like the Grassroots Football Show on East London Radio for some time now.

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SW: As an Intermediate (or ‘Junior’) League, how important is it going forward for the EAL to be represented in Independent Media (ie Writers/Radio & Social Media feeds)?

RP: “We’ve always taken a proactive approach to media as it it provides a real outlet for showcasing our clubs and the league itself to the outside world. When we interview new clubs, almost all of them say that they’ve seen our website and follow our social media presence and were impressed enough to apply to bring their own team into the league which is great feedback. Alongside that, we make regular contributions to local newspapers, podcasts, radio shows and independent media which, although it takes a lot of time, ensures we reach to as wide an audience as possible.

I’ve always spoken quite strongly on this topic as I firmly believe that if you aren’t publicising your work to the world, it’s possible that you are going to miss out on many opportunities. That could be new clubs or perhaps sponsorship/partnership opportunities. While social media can be a real challenging arena at times, it still remains a hugely effective platform for delivering a message and a good Media Manager is now almost as important as any other Management Committee role.”

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SW: I have to mention a word on the EAL’s history, could you take us through the journey from your beginnings from the merger of the Ilford & District League and the Essex Business Houses League in 2014, to the present day?

RP: “Back in 2013, the landscape of local football was vastly different and comprised of a number of local “district” leagues that were each facing their own battles with keeping clubs afloat and needing to find sufficient volunteers to run multiple leagues. At the time, I believe that the Ilford & District League was on the verge of being down to just two divisions and that the Essex Business Houses League was similarly looking at a one division set-up, neither of which were particularly thriving. While the leagues had very different backgrounds and therefore some different views, both shared some common objectives which proved to be fundamental when senior committee members of the two leagues got together to discuss the idea of a merger.

As 2014 was upon us, after a period of consultation, it was decided that the most appropriate way forward was for resources to be pooled and for a new league to be born, forming an alliance from the two predecessor competitions. With the two committees combined into one, roles allocated and buoyed on by many new clubs being excited enough by the idea to join, the Essex Alliance League was formed and things have really spiralled from there. From season to season, we’ve grown in membership to well over double the original size and football is once again thriving in the region. In a time of dificulty in finding volunteers to run leagues, it is perhaps a wise move for smaller competitions to work together to form new partnerships where resources can be pooled together.”

SW: I’ve heard that the new-look EAL Senior Division will likely be comprised of 14 clubs, what effect will that have on fixtures and when games will be played? 

RP: “That’s right – Regional Feeder Leagues are required to have at least 14 teams within those divisions and that’s the number we are looking at for the first season to not overburden our clubs unnecessarily, taking into account other competitions that the clubs will also be involved with.

Midweek football will be an inevitability for our clubs, particularly those without access to floodlights who will need to make good use of the natural light when British Summer Time returns in April next year.  We’d also expect a small smattering of midweek football throughout the season too as we do have almost half of our Senior Division clubs playing on venues with lights.

SW: When will the EAL divisions start in Season 2021-22?

RP: “Our Senior Division is planned to commence on Saturday 21st August given the extended length of the season in the division. The other divisions will begin on the first weekend of September as per usual.

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

RP: “Our greatest focus for the coming season is really to consolidate on what we have achieved in the past few months and ensure we work closely with our clubs to keep them in the best shape they can be post-pandemic. We are working hard to establish ourselves as an FA Charter Standard League in the coming seasons, soon to be known as England Football Accredited, and that will remain a focal point for development.

Additionally, as mentioned previously, we are a partner organisation for the new Parsloes Park development in Dagenham which is due to open in the final quarter of 2021 and we are very excited to be involved with that site going forward both for use as a key match venue but also as a site for our clubs to train, especially important given a real shortage of quality and affordable training facilities locally.”

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SW: Finally, how do you see this new adventure going in the next 12 – 18 months?

RP: “We certainly hope that this development is a real watershed moment for football in Metropolitan Essex and East London, providing greater, local opportunities for clubs and participants alike to realise their potential within the non-league football pyramid. Only time will tell on whether the availability of suitable senior facilities locally means that we can offer sides a regular chance of promotion to Step 6 competitions but, if the ambitions of our clubs are anything to go by, we hope to see at least one or two of our clubs operating at that level in the next couple of seasons. Whatever happens, these are certainly exciting times for the Essex Alliance League and the region.”

End


Update (June 16) – Here are the constitutions for the EAL divisions in season 2021-22 (Credit: @EssexAllianceFL)

Again, I’d like to thank Rob for his time and you have to agree that it could be a really fascinating season in the history of the Essex Alliance League starting in August. I wish all the League Committee & EAL clubs well. You can follow them on Twitter @EssexAllianceFL or on the web at essexallianceleague.com

Next in the ‘In-Focus’ series will be an EAL club interestingly, as I catch up with the Hunwicks family who built their club – Chadwell Heath Spartans, who played in Division One in the curtailed League season just gone. Thank you as ever for reading.