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 Club In-Focus – Chadwell Heath Spartans [CIF June 2021]

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

Hello and welcome the another of my latest series of  ‘In-Focus’ blogs for Summer 2021, marking five years for me as a Non-League writer. Second in the series is Essex Alliance League (EAL) side Chadwell Heath Spartans, who competed in the group-only Essex Alliance League Cup since the resumption of Football in March this year.

The “Spartans” are an ambitious club built from Day 1 by the Hunwicks family, soon after Neil Hunwicks decided to leave Hullbridge Sports who at that stage had just won the Essex Senior League title. But for the Hunwicks family, setting this club up was an altogether more personal venture. The Action image below is courtesy of @ABridgeTooFar16, used with thanks.

In this article, I’m pleased to welcome Chairman & photographer extraordinaire Neil Hunwicks (NH), who is joined by his sons, Spartans player-boss Aaron Hunwicks (AH) and player & Media Officer Ray Hunwicks (RH) to give their thoughts on how the recent League Cup has been to compete in, the season as a whole, the inside track on the club and their thoughts on the change coming for the EAL next season. My thanks to them all for their time.

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

NH: “As a family we are all still learning, not just about the club and the team, but also about working with each other. Trying to keep ourselves motivated in these difficult times was hard enough, but trying to keep the entire club engaged and motivated was a big challenge for us.

The campaign was good while we were playing and we probably were playing the best football in our short history, but the downtime during lockdown and the thought of another season being ‘null and void’ always loomed large at the back of our minds.

As Chairman, our biggest positive off the pitch was us becoming a ‘FA Charter Standard’ club. We always try to do everything in the right way and although a lot of the standards for the award were already in place, the League and County supported us getting things over the line.

On-the-pitch it has certainly been difficult to keep players motivated and interested in football with the stop start season that the clubs have faced, but the lads on the whole have been great. The support they have given the club on and off the pitch is all that we can ask for from our players and we just hope that we can complete a full season for 2021/22 and see how we go”

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

NH:  “There could only be one match for me and that was away the Woodford East FC in October of 2020 I believe (Indeed it was – October 17th to be exact – Ed). Trying to take photographs and watch an unbelievable game was very difficult.

Woodford East were top of the league and unbeaten, we were third I think at the time and unbeaten. Both teams had a tight defence and had conceded few goals before the Spartans headed over to Woodford’s ground on that Saturday afternoon.

We had good support on that day as the game had been built up as a clash of the two top teams in the division and a chance of the unbeaten record of one of them going. It was the first time I had really felt nervous before a game, and I felt a bit of those same nerves around the camp. Aaron and Niru had done a good job preparing the team and leading up to the game the training sessions had been very good. The boys were all up for the clash and we had a strong squad available for selection.

Well without boring everybody with the details, it was an unbelievable game ending 6 – 5 to the Spartans and the celebrations at the end you would maybe have expected from a Cup final. It was sheer relief beating easily the best team we had played in the league and probably the strongest contenders for the title, had things got that far!

Looking back I think the Woodford East lads would agree that it was a real battle between two competitive sides and their dejection at the loss was the opposite to our elation at the victory and I’m sure if things were round the other way we would have felt their pain.”


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

NH: “We have a positive and a negative for this really and they were both off-the-pitch. Let’s get the negative out of the way first! It was when we were told for a second time that the season was off, ‘null and void’ again! We couldn’t believe it! We had been robbed of the title in our first season as we were one win away from winning EAL Division Three before things were called off, but for things to be called off again was ridiculous and when you think we all played tournaments when we came back, we could have easily finished the league, but don’t get me started on the FA, I’ll shut up now.

The positive was great for us and as I have already mentioned we achieved Charter Standard, which was great for us as a new club. We have always tried to do things the right way and getting Charter Standard was a big plus for us as a club and it was that little piece of the jigsaw that we wanted to get done in season two.”

SW: It’s been two seasons since the Spartans were formed, what has it been like starting your history competing in the Essex Alliance League in that time?

NH: “The League is good and they have always been very supportive towards us, but at the same time we have tried to support the league. Ray is our secretary as well as playing and he always tries to make sure we do everything properly and on time. If he doesn’t win Secretary of the Year for last season it will be an absolute travesty, not that we are biased!” (Of course not! – Ed)

“The league also asked clubs to support them by obtaining Charter Standard and so we went ahead and put the work in to do it. Although we attended all the meetings back in the old days when people could still meet up, we always know that we can call or message any of the league committee and they will always get back to us with a helpful answer. That is what a new team needs because although me as the Chairman and Aaron as the player / manager having quite a few years background in the game, we have always done things for others and never had our own team, so it was a big learning curve for all the family. We thought for the last two seasons (although we haven’t actually finished one yet due to Covid-19) that we were in the right place & the right league and that has been confirmed recently when it was announced that the league had finally achieved one of its big goals by achieving Step 7 status.”

SW: You competed in Group B of the hastily-convened Essex Alliance League Cup with mixed results, finishing in third spot. How was it returning to playing after such a long lay-off?

NH: “It was great to get back and see everybody again and although we had some of the team who contracted Covid-19, everybody came through the other side and we’re safe!

Aaron (AH) had his own plans for the tournament, so I’ll let him explain…”

AH: “We were extremely pleased that there was some sort of Cup football to return to, although admittedly we were disappointed that the league couldn’t continue two seasons in a row. It was a difficult period for us as a club as the lockdowns left us and I’m sure many other clubs without players returning and with injuries. This made some of our games really challenging, but we did use the cup competition to experiment with some things we wanted to test, without points or league positions on the line and this has given us loads of ideas going in to next season to take the club forwards.

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

NH: “Well, I’ll cover the reaction first as we were so pleased for the league and especially all the committee members who we knew had worked so hard on achieving this status. The league deserves it and it’s great for all the clubs that have stuck by the Essex Alliance League and haven’t jumped ship. Some of the clubs that have left the league may now want to come back, which will only strengthen the league, but I’m sure like the Olympian (League), the clubs coming in will now have to earn their place in the top flight.

As far as our club goes, as Chairman I can only guide my committee on what my own personal thoughts are about playing at Step 7. Our committee is made up of myself as Chairman, Aaron as player / manager, Niru as player / coach and Treasurer, he’s the numbers man. We then have Ray who plays as well as being the club Secretary and also the media wizard, so he arguably has the toughest job in the family and finally we have John who is a family friend from when the lads were at school, he is sometimes the voice of reason amongst the strong-willed Hunwicks family!

I think the pressure sits firmly with Aaron as manager and Niru as coach on this one, as they have got to be confident that they can put together a team that can compete at Step 7, Aaron continues on that note…

AH: As manager, my thoughts on Step 7 are that it is a fantastic opportunity for us as a club, should we be able to meet the requirements. It’s also a great opportunity for the players to compete at this level and test themselves against the best teams in the league. We are excited to see what the new season brings us as we are always trying to better ourselves and bring in new talent to help us reach our goals.”


Image from CH Spartans v CSM London (in EAL Cup in May 2021. image by @ABridgeTooFar16)

(Above) Action Still from CH Spartans v CSM London in EAL League Cup from May 2021, image by @ABridgeTooFar16


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

NH: “Off the pitch I think we have loads of goals as we want to secure some longer-term sponsorship deals. This gives the club more stability, but it also gives us the opportunity to work with local businesses. We are big on getting the local community involved in the club, as we feel we represent them. Our history is local, and the family grew up here. We have a lot of local lads that went to Mayfield School which is where our home ground is now, so we are tied to the community, and we want the community to be tied in with us.

You will have noticed that we try very hard to get some good media out weekly. It’s not just about my photographs, but also a lot of work goes in to our videos and Ray (RH) is your man for that, so I’ll leave this bit to him…”

RH: “As the media man, striving to get better never stops for me. I’m continually challenging myself to put out better content on all platforms and as a small club I think we do very well. We sometime get criticised for missing a goal, but we make every effort to get it right and change things up as often as we can.

On the pitch, Aaron, Niru and John want the club to be playing at Step 7 status and to be able to hold our own in a very strong Premier Division. We want to bring in new blood that maybe won’t get a look in at the bigger clubs, but we are a team of opportunities, and we want competition for every position we have!”

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

NH: “We have a few things in the pipeline, but nothing we can share at the moment as our future is in the hands of others, but we are really confident our hard work will pay off, so watch this space!”

End

That’s all from this In-Focus article, again my thanks to the Hunwicks family for their time & I wish the Spartans well next season. If you’d like to find out more about the club, they are on Twitter – @CH_SpartansFC or on Facebook at @CHSpartansFC.   Hope you enjoyed the article.

Update (June 16) – After this article was published, it was announced via EAL’s constitutions that the Spartans will compete in the Senior Division (Step 7) from August 2021. Congrats to all at the club.

If you’d like to catch up with the first article in this ‘In-Focus’ series on the Essex Alliance League’s future, you can find it here: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/11/2021-in-focus-essex-alliance-league-the-future-eal/ 

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 – Springfield [20-21 CIF 27.11.20]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome the fifth article in this current series of  ‘Club In-Focus’ blogs where figures in the Grassroots & Non-League game fill us in on their season so far and also recite some chosen moments from recent seasons too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

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

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

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome the fourth article in this current series of  ‘Club In-Focus’ blogs where figures in the Grassroots & Non-League game fill us in on their season so far and also recite some chosen moments from recent seasons too.


In this blog, I speak to Ongar Town Chairman Simon Boultwood [SB] and manager Richard Ponsford [RP] who have both played a part in the club’s rise in recent seasons. Ongar play in EOFL Division One and are currently leading the division by five points.

SW: Hello Richard and Simon, firstly thank you for your time. We’ll start with developments off-the-pitch, Ongar Town elected to move to the Lakeside Sports Ground artificial pitch in Thurrock, effectively replacing the folded Lakeside First team in playing there. What prompted that move?

RP: “Our move to the Lakeside 3G pitch wasn’t an elected one to be honest, we were actually left without a choice, in fact we were nearly without a pitch, until the chairman (Simon Boultwood) worked miracles by finding not just one, but 2 pitches at Lakeside, for the First team and our Reserve side also.

Our previous home ground at Fyfield was great. We’d turned it into a bit of fortress and the playing surface was fantastic and really suited our style of play, but we were totally unsupported within the immediate community and, when our rental period was up, were told by the local council the agreement wouldn’t be renewed. This left us without a home ground. Similarly, we were also told after the first lockdown that our Reserve side were being kicked out of their home ground at Love Lane in Ongar by Ongar Sports Club, (the charity set up in that area to promote sport in the local community) due to the team not spending enough money behind the bar after games. We were shocked by their decision, thus leaving the entire club scratching around for pitches eight weeks before the season started.

Simon worked incredibly hard in finding a home for us and it has worked out brilliantly in my opinion, the size and quality of the surfaces at Lakeside really suits our game and we’ve really settled in well there. The management of the Lakeside facility have welcomed us with open arms. We even have a following of local residents [Honorary Ongar fans, good to see – Ed]

As a club we are fully aware of how important it is to be playing in our local community, especially now as we are doing so well. We have a lot more local interest in the club. We have two very good sponsors from Ongar’s business community, who supported us last season, with another to follow soon. With Kelly Stone becoming our social media/digital marketing Manager, our profile has increased immensely with a healthy following online, including Olly Murs as we are his local side.”  

SB: “We have so many lads who play for the club that live within the town, in both squads and we are very hopeful that we will be playing our football in Ongar again next season and give the town a football team to be proud of. Our success can continue with the clear abundance of local talent. We as a club have big ambitions and need the support of our town to keep achieving.

Going back to the question though, we literally didn’t have a choice in the move to Lakeside, totally out of our hands as a club and quite a sad situation. But we turned that disappointment into a positive.”

SW: Let’s roll back to September and the start of the season, after finishing third in Division One in the curtailed 2019-20 season, what was the aim for the season before a ball was kicked?

SB: “Our aim this season is promotion. Simple as that. This squad is so talented and this group deserve to be playing at a higher level and have showed their quality over the last two to three seasons with the success achieved from a group considerably younger than most.

Last season, in our opinion we were nailed on to gain promotion and were looking good for another County cup final appearance as well but then the world went a bit wrong and Football took a back seat of course understandably.

Our aim is to be promoted as soon and all involved in the club are focused and driven to achieve this. When the club started the original plan was to be a step 6 [aka the Eastern Senior League South] club in five years. So far, so good.”

RP: “From my point of view as a coach, our pre-season was spot on and we learned so much about ourselves, playing against two teams from Step 5, winning one and losing one. We played a Step 4 club as well, where we were taught a bit of lesson in terms of game management and experience. The rest of the fixtures we were superb and absolutely destroyed a few teams in and around our level within the EOFL divisions, giving us real confidence and belief going into the season start.”

SW: As it stands at the season break, you’re five points clear at the summit of Division One, remaining unbeaten in your seven league games so far. How pleased are you with your start?

RP: “Obviously our start has been really good but as a Coach you’re never happy. There have been games where we have been irresistible, scoring superb goals and dominating games from start to finish and then there have games where we haven’t been quite at it for whatever reason and had to graft through difficult periods.

Our recent spell over the last month of games (in October) we haven’t been quite right. This, off the back of a dominant performance against a seriously good Snaresbrook side, which we won 6 – 0 and could’ve been more, yet the following week we were woeful from the first minute attitude wise and ended up drawing the game [at Toby]. We were quite awful on the day, finding ourselves behind and chasing it for periods because our mentality wasn’t correct going into the game.

This has since been addressed and whilst we still haven’t been at our flowing best, we’ve still out worked the opposition and been strong enough to win games, most notably away at Galleywood, which was our last game before latest lockdown. Awful conditions, one-nil down and not competing properly, then down to ten men and we still had enough fight and quality to come from behind to win the game convincingly.  So all things considered, our start has been good and we’re very pleased with our lead at the top.”

SW: For those that aren’t that familiar with your squad, forward Aaron Blair has already reached 15 league goals this term. Who are the players that really make the team drive on?

RP: “Yes, Aaron Blair is a special talent, born to score superb goals that lad. He’s been sensational since the day I stumbled upon him. A wonderful young man and a superb talent that we hope will go a long way in football and everyone at Ongar has high hopes for him.

But this team isn’t just about one player though. We are blessed with superb young footballers all over the pitch. Our midfield group are all technically superb and full of quality and goals, so much so I can’t name check them all. Don’t want to warn our opposition! [Sound logic, to be fair! – Ed]

Defensively, we are strong. We’ve added Eamon Payne to our squad and got him seriously fit. A well-known player in Non-League Football. He’s flying and really learning his game properly now. Big edition to the squad and has had such a positive impact. I expect big things from him over next season or two.

Connor Jones also joined us in pre-season and has been wonderful. What an attitude this young man has! Impressed me from the first minute and he’s given real impact in whatever role he’s been asked to play in. He has become a massive part of the team very quickly. But there are so many quality players in this squad and they’re a joy to coach and be a part of each week.

As a club we are blessed throughout. I’ve spent a lot of time creating and coaching our recently new (last season) reserve side and we now have some seriously good younger lads coming through the ranks between the ages of 16-20, that will progress into the first team over the next couple of seasons. A new reserve team manager is about to come on board as well. So the club is in a wonderful state and we are so excited as to what we can achieve moving forward with the quality coming through.”

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

RP: “Besides cleaning all the kit after the weekend’s games, my interests away from football are watching my sons play their chosen sports. Love my Sundays chilling out watching them both! Also, I am a big Rugby Union fan and enjoy watching autumn internationals and the Six Nations, cannot wait for that!”

SB: “I love sport in general, some more than others. My interest in cricket has risen watching England and I also love basketball. Another sport I played as a youth in the Harlow League. Football is and always will be my first love.”

SW: What isn’t that well known is there are many clubs in Essex Olympian League who are ambitious to progress up the Non-League Pyramid. With that in mind, what are the ambitions of Ongar Town in the next three to five years or so?

SB: “We think it’s clear what our ambitions are for the next three to five years. We want to progress as far as we can. Firstly to move to the Thurlow Nunn [Eastern Senior League South at Step 6], with our next main aim is being a Step four team. There will be unseen obstacles to overcome, like the pandemic and others that are known, like having your own stadium, increased sponsorship, funding etc. But that’s also the challenge. Football is played off the pitch as well as on it. We have the management and the players to begin the journey.”

SW: Finally, how do you think the quality of the Essex Olympian League has progressed in the last two years? And do you think it is under-rated by some observers?

SB: “The Essex Olympian League has in our opinion improved greatly over the last two years. If you look at the County cup winners or finalists, you will always find EOFL clubs. Evidence it is the strongest of the leagues at our level. Some people think the top division might have been stronger in the past, but we doubt it. This is our fourth season and we can see an improvement. If some under-rate the EOFL, they do so at their peril.” 

End

I’d like to thank Simon and Richard for their contributions to this article. It is unfortunate that I haven’t been to see them in person yet but you can see that they are hugely ambitious for the future and that they are well-placed to progress up the Non-League ladder. Thank you for reading.

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

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

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome to a second of the current mini-series of ‘ Club In-Focus’ blogs where figures in the Grassroots & Non-League game fill us in on their season so far and also recite some chosen moments from recent seasons too.

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

Thanks also to @fitinaflash1 for the match photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

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


If your club (at Essex Senior or Essex Olympian level) would be interested in contributing to this blog series then please DM me on Twitter. Thank you. Hope you enjoyed the article.

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

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

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

Hello and welcome to a new mini-series of ‘ Club In-Focus’ blogs where figures in the Grassroots & Non-League game fill us in on their season so far and also recite some chosen moments from recent seasons too. I felt “Lockdown II” was a good time to bring the blog series back after doing a few of these articles after the end of the 2019-20 curtailed campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

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

If your club (at Essex Senior or Essex Olympian level) would be interested in contributing to this blog series then please DM me on Twitter. Thank you. Hope you enjoyed the article.

Season 2019-20 – Club In-Focus: Old Southendian Reserves [EOFL 19/20 I-F 28.5.20]

Old Southendian FC
OS emblem (Image: OS/Twitter)

Written by Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome to the latest of my ‘Club In-Focus’ blog series, where we ask Clubs how they felt their 2019-20 season went. This time around, it’s the turn of EOFL Division Two side Old Southendian Reserves, who play on the 3G at Garon Park, which opened this season. I caught up with Manager Ben Manley (BM), his assistant (and brother) David Manley (DM) and last season’s captain Olly Tatton-Bennett (OTB), representing the players’ viewpoint.

My thanks to all for their time and thanks for reading. You can find the team on Twitter: @OSFCReserves

 

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

BM: To be honest a lot of teams came up with us from Division 3 which we had won the previous season so our aim was to secure a 3rd consecutive promotion.

DM: We’ve also played teams in leagues above us in cup games over the last couple of years and generally faired pretty well against them. We also have a lot of quality and depth in the squad so another promotion was always the goal.

What was the favourite match of the season and why? 

BM: I would probably say Corinthians away which you yourself attended Scott. I thought we played some great football that day coupled with a lot of grit and determination which is what our side is all about and we also scored some great goals. I also really enjoyed Barnston away. It was our first game in the Essex Premier Cup having won the Essex Junior Cup the previous season. We had several players out that day and I even had to start in goal! We came from behind a couple of times and were really up against it but ended up winning on penalties with some heroics from our goalkeeper George Dugdale after drawing 3 – 3 aet.

DM: I’d agree with the cup game Ben mentions as that was an epic battle of two teams going for it. I wasn’t at the Corinthians win but the home game against them where we scored an equaliser in the last minute was great and we actually had a chance in the last seconds to win the game which would have topped everything else!

What was your best performance away from Garon Park this season?

BM: Along with the game at Corinthians, probably Epping away although we did end up drawing. We were unfortunate to play them twice towards the beginning of the season when they were very strong. They had already turned us over at our place and had won all their games up until playing them away. We played them off the park that day, squandered a lot of chances and as always happens when you can’t put a team to bed, we conceded a last minute equaliser!

DM: Yep, this was by far the best football we played on a nice big pitch.

What was your best performance at Garon Park this season?

BM: I would have to say our home game against Beacon Hill Rovers. Up until that point, I think they’d only lost once and we really needed to win to keep us fighting at the top end of the table. It was a real battle but we fight hard and scored some fantastic goals including a worldy from top scorer Molsy (Greg Molford), a free kick from Tatts (Oliver Tatton-Bennett) and 18 year old Lewis Telling scoring with his first touch for the club!

 

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

DM: I actually think one of the great memories personally was when the final whistle went in our first game of the season against Wakering Sports. We’d put a lot of effort into our pre season and knew it was so important to get off to a good start.  It was a really tough game but getting that first win as new managers was a great feeling!

OTB: Personally a moment that sticks out for me is actually Andy Cable hammering home right near the end of the game to bring us back to 3-3 against May & Baker Reserves. It was raining heavily at Garons and I think we had been behind three times in the game before pulling it back again to level up. Typical gritty performance but really showed our commitment!

 

Were there any low points of the campaign for you? 

BM: Losing at home to Epping 5-1 was a horrible day for me. I think we got our tactics wrong that day and didn’t really turn up but I learned a hell of a lot from that defeat and I think it really helped me improve for the rest of the season. Tatts breaking his collarbone was also a particular low point for me as he’d been having such a fantastic season, grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and I know the rest of the team really fed off him throughout.

DM: Agree with the Epping result…I was away at the time but hearing we’d lost did put a huge downer on the weekend!

OTB: Definitely breaking my collarbone!

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

BM: I think our division was extremely strong and a lot of teams wouldn’t be out of place in the Essex Olympian Premier division as can be seen by some of the results in the Essex Premier Cup. Epping were strong both times we played them as were Chris Stoneham’s Corinthians. I thought Laindon Orient were also very good when we played them and we were very fortunate to get a point from that game and of course Leigh Town had a fantastic season and are great at finding a way at getting a result. We always seem to have cracking games against them.

DM: I agree, Corinthians and Leigh Town are very similar to us in terms of their playing styles, and like us they play with a bit of bite about them so it always makes for a great game against us.

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

BM: The job you do along with others is so important. We play at a really good standard with players and management having to travel quite far at times and most of us paying for the privilege! There is also so much hard work and volunteering that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t always see, so I think it’s great that we get the kind of recognition and coverage that you give. I know everyone at the club really appreciates it as well.

Ben, you’ve indicated you’ll be stepping aside as Old Southendian Reserves boss in the summer, what are your favourite moments from your tenure as manager of this team?

BM: I think generally watching the lads buy into and implement the subtle changes we’d made to the system was great to see. Some of the team goals we scored as a direct result were superb. Generally speaking as well, seeing some of the youngsters come through and improve in confidence week in week out, particularly Lewis Caplin and Nick Skinner, was one of the most rewarding parts of managing last season.

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

BM: We’ve made our links with Southendian Youth more official which is an exciting time for the club and it gives their players a real path into men’s football as we’ve already seen some of their guys such as Lewis Caplin make the step up. Aside from that, we have Olly (Tatts) and David along with Josh Bambury taking the team forward next season and I know they have very ambitious plans for next season! I’m very much looking forward to supporting them and seeing how far they can go.

End

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

 

2019-20 Season – Club In-Focus: Wakebury FC [EOFL 2019/20 I-F 29.4.20]

Written By Scott W  [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]

Hello and welcome the first of a possible series of blogs which clubs themselves give their thoughts on the 2019-20 season and their favourite moments, favourite matches and more. First up is Essex Olympian League Division Three side Wakebury, who joined the EOFL last summer, after a spell in the Southend Combination League.

In this piece, manager Matt Cardy and assistant boss Dan Blewett (MC & DB) and club captain Chris Gore (CG) giving a players’ viewpoint, shed some light on how they felt the season went. My thanks to Matt, Dan & Chris for their time, you call find the club on Twitter: @Wakebury_FC

Wakebury FC
Wakebury emblem (Image: Wakebury FC/Twitter)

 

  • Going into your first Essex Olympian League season at Division Three level, how did you feel the side would cope with the opposition?

MC & DB: Looking back and reflecting now, we are really pleased with the progress we made through the season. We stepped up to most challenges put in front of us. The players bought in to how we want to do things and as the season went on we felt we was getting better all the time. Joining the EOFL was a big step for a club of our size and we was aware we would be “punching above our weight” and be underdogs in the majority of games so to be sitting in a promotion spot at the close of play is really pleasing and we are glad to have achieved the clubs’ highest-ever finish in this fashion. This level of progress motivates us more to get better and improve all aspects of the club.

 

  • What was the favourite match of the season and why?

MC & DB: We’re going to go a bit ‘outside the box’ on this one. It was Basildon Town Reserves (away) in our first-ever EOFL league game. We won the game 3 -1 after going 1- 0 down to a penalty in the first half (which is still a mind-blowing decision thinking about it now!) we had made a big effort in the summer to bring in better characters to make us mentally stronger, this was a test of that in the first game and we was able to turn it around in style and win the game, this set us up for the rest of the season as we demonstrated how much character we have on a number of occasions.

CG: For me personally, my favourite match of the season came away at ACD Utd – we went into the game with 12 available players, 2 – 0 down inside the first 10 minutes, then an injury put us down to 11, which included the manager & assistant! We managed to come back and grab a point with a last-minute free-kick. It was a great performance with all factors considered.

 

  • What was your best performance away from Shoebury Park this season?

MC & DB: Toby Reserves (away). Although we lost the game, this was 100% the turning point in our season. We all came away feeling hard done by and this brought the group closer together and saw us go on unbeaten. We played with 10 men for 35 minutes and battled against a top side heroically at times. This was our last defeat of the season and really got us moving in the right direction.

CG:  Our best away performance would be away at Leigh Town Reserves. Having lost to them a couple of weeks before and after suffering a couple of defeats we came into the game under pressure as we wanted to challenge at the top. We completely dominated the game from start to finish and came away with a 3 – 1 win.

 

  • What was your best performance at Shoebury Park this season?

MC & DB: Corinthians Reserves would be a stand-out home performance. We had billed it to the players as the ‘game of the season’. Make or break. I could feel it changing just before we went out for kick-off that the players were in the right frame of mind. We had really created a squad that wanted to step up and be involved in these pressure moments. We went 1 – 0 down just after half time and in our first season in charge, we would have collapsed. But this group used that goal as extra motivation to perform. We went on to win 3 – 1 and it was a great show of character and determination. We were proud of the players following that performance.

CG: Our best home performance would be against Corinthians Reserves. We knew going into the game that if we wanted to challenge for the league title we needed to win this game. I felt we was under pressure as a side and even more so going 1 – 0 down just after half-time. We managed to come back and win 3 – 1 which showed the amount of character we have as a side.

 

 

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

MC & DB: Generally speaking, we would say how we grew as side the longer the season went on. When you have an idea in your head of how you want your team to play and be, we really made some big strides this season to working towards that. Off-the-pitch, the players became a tight-knit group, the best group since we began four years ago. We built a side of not only good players but good people – that’s why we have had a good season.

CG:  Back to the away game at ACD, to steal a point with a depleted side and with the free-kick being the last kick of the game. The celebrations after the goal showed how much it meant to everyone. To go away from home with the side we had out on the day, it meant a huge amount to everyone.

 

  • Were there any low points of the campaign for you?

MC & DB: Home defeats. We lost two league games at home and both times we under-performed. Looking back, that is the only frustration of the season. We don’t like losing. Especially in games where we should be winning. The week following a defeat always seems to drag on a little bit more and you are just counting down to the next Saturday to hopefully right the wrongs of any defeat.

CG:  Lowest point would Toby Reserves (away) back in November. Probably our first big game of the season, after taking an early lead we had goal wrongly disallowed. After dominating we were hit with a ‘sucker-punch’ to make it 1-1 at half time. Early in the 2nd half we was reduced to 10 men and battled on a muddy pitch until the last minute when was beaten by a penalty. That day we showed so much character, and that was our last defeat of the season and was a real turning point.

 

  • Looking forward to 2020/21 season (whenever it starts), what are the aspirations for the club?

MC & DB:  We hope to rewarded how we feel we should be after a fantastic debut season in the EOFL. We hope the relevant people see sense and reward all sides across the divisions for their hard work. We are ambitious and will always strive to improve all aspects of what we do. From our coaching to how we deliver information to the players in preparation for matches, this period of lockdown has given us great chance to evolve how we work and we can’t wait to put some new strategies and practices in place for next season.

 

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

MC & DB: We have announced the launch of a new youth set-up. Wakebury Youth is a new strand of the club and something we believe is vital to having a long-lasting, stable football club. Football Clubs are all about young people so it will be great to see some young players coming over and represent the club. This being said, we are looking out for any coaches or volunteers that want to help and get involved in Wakebury Youth, so if anyone is reading this and wants to get involved do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you! This is an exciting time and we continue to grow on and off-the-pitch.

End

 

My particular thanks to Matt Cardy, Chairman of Wakebury for setting this piece up & 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

If your club (at Essex Olympian level for the moment) would be interested in sharing your thoughts on your 2019/20 season then please DM me on Twitter. Thank you. Hope you enjoyed the article & stay safe.