‘Looking Forward To When This Nightmare Situation Is All Over’ – How Have The Leagues Responded To COVID-19?
Three months into the new decade and the UK has been thrust into the greatest socio-economic challenge the country has faced since WWII. The violent nature of the virus outbreak has placed the world on pause and indeed too, the ‘beautiful game’. How are our favourite athletes and our favourite teams dealing with quarantine? How will the clubs cope? When will we next see a live match? Questions we want answers to, but some questions I feel haven’t been asked are ones including the governing bodies, the leagues themselves, the organisations that run the football we watch day in and day out. Luckily enough for me, I was able to ask some of those questions; a fortnight into the lockdown I was in contact with Michelle Dorling, Honorary League Secretary of the Essex Senior Football League (ESL), and in week five of the lockdown I spoke to her non-league neighbour Nick Robinson, Chairman of the BetVictor Isthmian League.
What makes the world go round? Money. The first and foremost concern right now is the health and wellbeing of our kin, that goes without saying, but something of this magnitude is going to make a mammoth mark monetarily.
If anything, the adjective ‘mammoth’ understates the ESL’s predicament, as Dorling explained potently the sheer suddenness of this pandemic: her proactive action of undertaking “additional delivery of this season’s footballs, excess to our contracted order”, on the 26th February, costing the league “just over £8,000”, has abruptly come back to bite: “clubs were starting to run short of balls and with six to seven weeks still to play of the season we anticipated that a great deal of those balls would have been sold”. “We are now stuck with personalised old stock that we cannot recoup full costs on for next season as we are contractually bound to purchase a new design for our third year of our three-year agreement with the manufacturer. We are therefore also liable for the purchase of a further five-hundred balls and must pay a 50% deposit very soon”.
She explained that the league has “lost revenue from cup finals” and that “having already ordered” they are “therefore” “liable for the cost of trophies and medals for those cup finals”. “The estimated losses are £29k taking all of the above into account to the league alone, without revenue that grounds would have lost for not hosting the cup finals; food/beverage stock that will now go out of date as now left unsold”. Especially worrying with each passing day, that figure will only increase, bearing in mind our conversation took place on the 8th April.
To conclude, as bleak and blatantly as Robinson, the leagues “have no income, same as the clubs. We have no income coming into the league”, particularly since, as he points out, a major source of income is player registrations: in which “up to the last Thursday in March there will be registrations, every club registering a player has to pay”, has ceased.
An adjacent dynamic of the inevitable loss of income as a result of the virus outbreak is a concept vast swathes of the country have had to become accustomed to: ‘furlough’. And when commenting on whether the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme had had to be exercised, whilst the ESL “operate on a volunteer basis so do not have any paid staff”, Robinson and the Isthmian league, from a team of four, unfortunately “have furloughed two of our staff”. “If this goes on we may have to put a third one on furlough”, but to their credit, have paid “100% of the salary” for the first two periods of furlough, and are “staying” at that figure.
Strikingly, the financial severity of the pandemic and how the leagues have been affected fiscally is where the similarities between the ESL and Isthmian League, end. The sheer unrest and uncertainty that grips the nation is what ironically, unifies us all, we can take comfort that, as cliché as it is, ‘we’re all in this together’, or so we’d like to think.
Though claiming to “understand very closely” the impact of closing the league on the local community, how “our clubs are the hub” and “would not survive without the support of their community, it’s not just going through the turnstiles on a Saturday or a Tuesday… the bars are open”, “grounds aren’t just used for football matches, there’s wedding receptions, funeral wakes… all sorts of things that happen during the average week of a football club”.
A veneer of pragmatism ultimately eclipsed Robinson’s warming sentiments of football’s societal stitching; what underlay all of this was that it’s “not our job” to help the clubs, “we don’t have funds to help them financially”, “we wouldn’t do that anyway, if we do it for one we have to do it for everybody”. “Our function is to run the league”, it’s “not our job to sustain a club that is not sustainable”.
The alarming possibility of non-league clubs going bust as a result of Coronavirus is something both Dorling and Robinson recognise. Robinson believes that “yes there probably will be casualties” as “the longer it goes on, the more difficult clubs will find to fund what they have. With no revenues streams, and overhead still there, clubs will find it very difficult. If it’s three months then directors may find the ability to fund it, if it’s six months, that’s more difficult”. Dorling explained that “some clubs/leagues will not survive if they lose too great a number of their volunteer network as there are very few volunteers from the younger generation” (the lack of replacement younger volunteers being something she claims as “another problem” “grassroots football face[s]”). She added that, “financially many of our clubs have lost their only source of revenue, particularly in a league with sixteen ground-shares amongst nineteen Premier Division clubs who charge admission for games. Some clubs may not survive if they don’t receive grant funding or other sources of revenue. It is estimated that many ground-share clubs have lost in excess of £18k in revenue from gate receipts, bar or food booth takings and/or raffles”.
Herein lies the stark contrast of stances; the two respective leagues are juxtaposed; whilst Robinson categorically states “we are a conglomerate of eighty-two clubs, we can’t select one club over another, whatever we do has to be for the benefit of our eighty-two clubs”, “we shouldn’t get involved in the actual running of member clubs, we could be accused of inter-meddling” and that “that would be silly”, Dorling explains that ESL are “trying to maintain the status quo by supporting our members/committee/referees in as many ways as possible” “to ensure their survival” as the “thought that” “some clubs may not survive” and “that the National League System may be irreparably altered as a result of loss of leagues/clubs” is “heart breaking”. The thought of that impending doom has spurred the ESL into “working behind the scenes to support our members/committee by providing them with a number of avenues to raise funds”, as Dorling claims “it may be necessary to employ or at least pay expenses for volunteers to fill any gaps in their volunteer network”. And so, the ESL have been “liaising with grant making organisations; providing advice and guidance; and on occasions assistance with grant applications” as well as waiving “outstanding league debt owed by clubs and not” invoicing “clubs for player registrations from 31st December 2019 to the end of the season”.
She ends her battle rhythm with a rally cry: whilst “there are no guidelines on mandatory support, we are supporting our clubs/committee/referees willingly, as we are fully aware that their survival, and indeed our own, depends on how well we are able to support our members”. Interesting how one pandemic has the ability to distinctively distinguish the difference in attitudes between two organisations, effectively, doing the same job.
The brutal but nonetheless fair centrality of Robinson and indeed the Isthmian league’s outlook, is personified through his explanation to dismiss the season. Robinson revealed how “a number of clubs” had written to both the league and FA “because they did not agree with the decision that we took to terminate the season and expunge the records”.
Before our conversation, it was my understanding that the decision to dismiss the 2019/20 season was an FA one, upon querying him, Robinson enlightened me “the way it works is that the FA sanction our leagues, and the leagues each have a representative on the committee”. After informing me of his position: “I am a FA Council member, and I sit on the Alliance Committee”, Robinson went onto explain that “the Alliance Committee made the decision, after consultation with each of the Boards. I went back and discussed it with my Board, we all went back we made a decision, for a sub-committee, the sub-committee then went to the main-committee and the main-committee decision then went to the council for main approval, or for confirmation. So, yes the FA made the decision, they decide when football can start and finish, but it was done after consultation with us”.
“The clubs concerned” (those who had written) “are those who are not getting promoted who thought they should do”, and they thought that “we should have gone out with a greater consultation, but we didn’t. I have eight club representatives on my Board, and we took the view that we would not send out a voting paper to every club”.
Another point of comparison typifying the difference in methodology and viewpoint under quarantine between the two Leagues, as Dorling believes “the decision wasn’t made by the League or the FA, but ultimately the Government when they instigated this partial lockdown. The decision wasn’t really the FA’s to make as it all unfolded quite quickly, the Government putting the country into lockdown effectively ended the season. Whilst the FA has shouldered the responsibility, they didn’t really have any other option”, explaining that “the FA took the decision to conclude the season during a Web Ex meeting on Tuesday 24th March which was later announced by the FA on Thursday 26th March”.
Earlier I emphasised how in spite of how peculiar this state of standstill may be, we can take re-assurance in that we’re all united as a collective, but after speaking to Michelle and Nick, it’s safe to say something else unites us, for the football world at least, we can stand in union together over our longing for the return of the beautiful game.
Written by Aman Ahmed. 19. Essex. Undergraduate studying Football Business & Media at UCFB University.
Hashtag United: possibly the most revolutionary and modern football club the sport has seen, typified perfectly by their name. Though they may not be as heralded, historical and humongous as the European heavyweights that dominate the game, they most definitely set precedent and serve as a metaphor for the technologically social climate we live in.
The club, initially set up as a group of friends playing a charity match to honour a childhood friend, was founded in 2016 by YouTube creator and personality: Spencer Owen. The next two years were spent playing friendlies and exhibition matches across seven countries against pro-football staff teams, fellow YouTube creators, sponsor/brand teams, non-league and Sunday-sides in an innovative league format devised by the founder himself. The team had points targets set for a group of games and if these targets were met, the team would be rewarded by ‘The Chairman’ and would progress to the next level. These games were filmed and uploaded to their YouTube channel, a channel which today has a following of close to half a million subscribers. In 2018, the club was granted a place amongst the football pyramid and entered the glorious world of ‘non-league football’ as they stepped into the National League System and joined the Eastern Senior League for the 2018/19 season; transitioning from exhibition team to a competitive club in the tenth tier of English football. In what was their first ever campaign as a non-league football team, under the stewardship of Jay Devereux, Hashtag won the league, winning twenty-six games from a possible thirty-six, drawing six and losing just four.
In their short existence, Hashtag have made considerable and quite simply astounding strides: their legitimacy as a football club was certified as former academy player Scott Pollock signed for League Two side Northampton Town where he made his competitive debut in the 2018/19 season, and the creation of their own Hashtag United E-sports team, in which three members of the club’s roster competed in the final 32 of the FIFA eWorld Cup, personifies the club as a genuine leader in truly valuing and appreciating the digital atmosphere that engulfs the modern era.
But it doesn’t stop there, on the 20th April 2020 the club announced their merger with one of Essex’s top women’s clubs, AFC Basildon, bringing Women’s football to the Tags. In light of Hashtag’s recent announcement declaring their evolution as a football entity, I felt it would only be right to profile two of their major components who will without doubt be key in their foray in to the women’s game: Manager Jason Stephens and striker Kelly Wealthall.
“It’s no genius formula here, it’s all about good timing”, is how Stephens described the merger. He explains how a mere twelve months ago when he joined AFC Basildon at the end of the season they had lost “pretty much every game” and had just been relegated from the third tier. AFC, who were at the time known as C&K Basildon, had some tough decisions to make; contemplating whether to merger with the suitors at the time: Aveley FC and Canvey Island, or stay with C&K. Stephens asked for time as he had faith in his own ability, telling them “trust me on the pitch, I’ll get it right”, allowing the club to “put a plan in place to make it a little bit more of an attractive product off the pitch”. So, twelve months later after beating Leyton Orient 2-0 in the last game of the season, the same question resurfaced: stick or twist? As fate would have it, “that following Saturday Spencer put out a post on Hashtag asking for female teams to contact him if they were interested in merging, could you believe it? The timing!” AFC had also been approached by Concord Rangers and Cheshunt Men’s who had offered “a very attractive package”, but a quick chain of events followed; Hashtag and Basildon gauging the other’s intentions, and despite one-hundred and thirteen other clubs contacting Owen, the only team to meet the founder was AFC Basildon: “very good timing, a bit of luck but at the same time, maybe just a little bit of foresight a year ago to believe in what you were doing”.
As they say, the rest is history. Or in Hashtag’s case, the rest is the future, a future which looks very exciting. Something special is brewing, Stephens told me that he has interviews lined up with the Guardian and even a group from Qatar, “we’ve got professional players offering support and wanting to get involved with the project”. “We’ve already got more followers on Hashtag than eight of the WSL (Women Super League) clubs, only Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have more”. There’s clearly huge expectations, so much so that Hashtag are “providing a three-year starter package”, a less than fifty percent contribution needed to operate the club. But if anyone understand this weight, it’s Stephens, he knows “just how potent the Hashtag brand is globally” and understands that he’s not just representing the Hashtag brand, but women’s football itself.
For an adventure as daunting and as thrilling as this, Hashtag should count themselves considerably fortunate; the sheer amount of pedigree Stephens and Wealthall bring with them, is quite simply immense. They boast stunning CVs: Wealthall, whilst being just nineteen, having started out playing for her local Sunday League boys team, Wickford Town, has over a decade of experience in the game. She joined West Ham at the age of eight after impressing in the Under 10’s trials, progressing through the junior academies, eventually reaching the first team at the age of sixteen, finishing her last season with the club as the team’s top goal scorer. She then joined a football college, Barking Abbey, where she studied her A-Levels and BTECs whilst representing both Barking and England Colleges (ECFA), travelling Las Vegas, Memphis and Madrid. Upon completion of her studies and as a result of injury, she joined AFC Basildon where now, she spearheads the team into their first season as Hashtag United Women. So many different groups and sets of players she’s combined with: something that she categorically states as a crucial component to her success, “I definitely say it’s made me the player I am today”. Stephens, as he puts it, has “always been involved in football”. In the early 2000s he worked with Charlton Athletics’ Academy working on their community programmes, establishing one-hundred and fifty satellite centres throughout the South-East of England, he then moved to Brazil in 2005 teaching Brazilian children at Sao Paulo Academy English and futsal, before working in the United States as a Strength and Conditioning coach for the San Francisco 49ers and Portland Timbers. He also headed the Inter Milan Academy for the Under 17’s before starting his own street soccer business working with Manchester United and Qatar, until he was headhunted as Technical Director for the Cook Island’s Football Association. Vast experience and incredibly well-travelled, but the best thing about their glittering CVs? Their experiences in the game intertwine. Stephen coached Wealthall at West Ham Under 16’s and then also at Barking Abbey, before convincing her to join Basildon too.
It gets even better, experience is nothing without results, and luckily enough for Hashtag, Stephens and Wealthall back up their talk with a proven track record of success. During their time working together, the pair have won a combined eight trophies, with the Under 16’s at West Ham winning four sets of silverware only to move to Barking Abbey and repeat the exact same feat yet again. Maybe Wealthall is the cherry on top of the icing on the cake, she tells me her best ever performance was the National Final for Barking Abbey against huge rivals Oaklands where not only did she net a hat-trick and “get to keep the ball and got player of the match”, she bagged the winner with five minutes to go.
It would be an extreme disservice to these two fantastically talented characters to say that Hashtag United Women are in ‘good hands’; extremely experienced, potent in their performance and brilliantly bonded, but above all, they’re dazzlingly driven. Wealthall understands that maximising this opportunity “depends on how we use this to our advantage, getting all this behind us” as Stephens rounds off faultlessly stating, “we want to be a club that is sustainable in the community in fifty years time, because there’s too many women and girls clubs that appear and disappear in a short space of time so we want to be an integral part of that community lifespan over a period of time”.
Written by Aman Ahmed. 19. Essex. Undergraduate studying Football Business & Media at UCFB University.
This pandemic will be without doubt, the biggest upheaval in peace time, sport, not just football, will face. Rarity and magnitude combine to create a situation as complicated and unprecedented as this; a spotlight should be shone on how our non-league football clubs are dealing with such an encounter. I cast the net and contacted a number of non-league clubs to explore the affects of the virus outbreak and was thankful to be met by Andy Wilkins (Media Officer for Southend Manor FC), Norman Posner (Secretary of Hornchurch FC), Anthony Mercer (Secretary of Tilbury FC) and Greg Lake (Chairman of Billericay Town FC).
Once the nation was resigned to the confines of their own homes the ensuing weeks were filled to brim with rumours, headline stories and breaking news of the damaging financial effects of COVID-19, with high profile Premier League clubs exercising (and in some cases reversing) the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, placing their staff on ‘furlough’ in a bid to dampen the severity of the coinage consequences. Transfer market budgets reduced, season ticket prices frozen, sponsorships terminated, the list is endless and quite frankly decimating; one can’t bear to think of just how alarming this must be for those in the lower echelons of the sport.
“It’s a disaster” is how Mercer damningly describes it. “Since everyone was told to close down the club has been shut, literally shut, not been opened since”. Posner explains that “we have no income coming in, no income at all. Our normal income is obviously gate receipts and functions held in our club house, and then on match days – use of the bar. None of that is happening, no income is coming in”. This is a situation synonymous with the landscape of non-league football and will ring true for all non-league clubs as they attempt to steady the same boat. This exact dynamic will duplicate up and down the country. In fact, Wilkins outlines to me just how terrifying this horror story really is: “COVID-19 has hurt us badly in the pocket financially with an anticipated £2500 plus lost in our own gate fees over the course of March and April’s home fixtures we were due to play. Coincidentally, we were due to host YouTube side Hashtag United on March 14th and that would’ve brought in about a predicted £1000 at least from sales in the bar, gate and programmes due to the monumental size of their fanbase. We also predicted our home games against Saffron Walden and Woodford Town to bring in at least £350 plus apiece if not more due to the size of their fanbases.” He adds that “we were also scheduled to host a few more league games involving our tenants Clapton with Hashtag set to come play them as well at our ground later on in March, that game potentially making us miss a good £300 plus. I predict the loss of finances from those Clapton games has resulted in a loss of about £1500. We were also due to host a few cup finals and charity matches so we’ve lost an added £250 to £500 there as well. So in total, I predict in general we’ve lost about near enough £5000 at least, due to the season being cancelled early”. The pains are exacerbated as Mercer points out “the season was going really well , so the worst thing for the club and for the players and supporters is that we weren’t able to finish the season, hopefully in the playoffs: where we would have had a play-off semi-final at the end of April and a play-off final in May. The idea was to try and get promotion, that’s affected the club, it’s a real dent, we were going really well”. Time and energy has been wasted, and Posner explains, investment too: “you invest, we’ve had an investment to do what we’ve done this season, whether you think that investment has been wasted, maybe it has because we haven’t got anywhere. We wanted to get promotion to the Conference, but we haven’t, and we won’t, so we go back”.
The replication and dismantling of clubs, in the same manner as Bury FC, is a daunting but nonetheless inescapable possibility that may well come to fruition for many non-league football clubs as a result of the pandemic. Mercer accepts that “if it goes on for a long period of time, clubs at this level may go out of existence”, which he believes is “demoralising really”. Wilkins states that “I don’t wish this on any clubs but I think we will see a lot of clubs realising after this pandemic that they can’t spend outside of their means anymore and what you say is your budget for the season will need to be reimbursed, whether it be via cup run money, gate money or sponsorship money”, adding that, “I can see a few clubs in non-league withdrawing from their current league to go in a lower division as there won’t be the budgetary problem in some of them, unlike if they were to stay in a certain league they’re in. But the complications will be crazy and monumental should any fold or even withdraw between now and the start of the new football season, once the constitutions are drawn up”. Times like this cry out for optimism and Norman put forward a more sanguine view in his reply to the same question, “to be honest, no I don’t. But, football will be different. I think clubs will survive, somehow, you do, you do survive. And I mean the word ‘survive’, I don’t think there will be any clubs at our level that will go bust, that will go out of business, no I don’t think so. Because the people that run the clubs want to keep the club going, if they can’t pay X pounds, they’ll have to pay X divided by two, and get that type of player, to keep that club going. I think most clubs would want to keep going, I don’t think they’ll just pack it in – that’s a personal opinion there”.
But it’s not just this season that’s affected, or indeed defected, but future plans and ambitions are seemingly being halted too, as Lake explains, “we are on record saying that we were going to replace our pitch with an artificial one next season and build a second artificial pitch on adjacent land. We have no idea if we can continue with that major investment. At the moment, we might still need the current pitch to finish the season. Will people even be allowed to do the work? Will there be a second period of isolation for everyone which impacts the start of the next season and the revenue to pay for those pitches? Would anyone invest a hefty sum of money in football or sport in general with the current uncertainty?”. Again, this cautiousness is parroted, as Mercer explains that “the club are going in the direction of building a new ground, we’re just waiting on planning permission from the local authority. The plan was for that to go the local authority in the summer, but unfortunately that will get delayed. The plan is to build a new ground and then houses and flats to be built on the current site, but if we get into any kind of recession, that will slow the process down”.
It’s clear how prevalent the sympathy pains between each club are, they stand in union showcasing the same scars, but one area in which there seems to be less of a consensus involves the decision to null and void the 2019/20 season. Posner believes that though “we would have definitely got a playoff place”, “I think the league made the correct decision to call it null and void”, as he adds “you’re going to upset some people whatever you do. I don’t see what else they could do”. Mercer believes that “I don’t think there was any other decision really, because the season has to finish by the first week of May and that’s never going to be, so it’s the same for everyone. We as a club, we spoke and we said that it’s out of our hands, if that’s what they decide then we go with it”. He explains that “unfortunately, the Premier League and the level we’re at, in a way in my opinion, it’s a different sport because money talks in the Premier League. If you can/going to null and void it, you should have started from the top and go straight to the bottom, but what’s happened is we’ve gone from our league up to the National League and the Football League and the Premier League are having their different way of dealing with it”. Whilst feeling the decision to null and void was fair, Mercer points out that “when there was talk about the season being null and void, I would have thought the FA, and it’s not the League’s issue, I thought the FA may have wanted to get a straw poll of what clubs wanted, but they left it to the Leagues. I thought we would have had more communication from the Football Association on it, but it wasn’t to be. I thought the FA may have asked for the views of the clubs, but they didn’t, they left it in the hands of the League, and we’ll support the League, we’ve supported the League in their decision”. Wilkins echoes this by categorically stating that, “I don’t support the decision by the FA at all and I feel somewhat like they’ve disregarded us at Steps 3-7 like nothing more but little squashes of air in fairness. I will feel very annoyed should the Premier League and even the EFL be allowed to finish their seasons given we weren’t exactly given a choice for us to say we’ll finish our season in June or July which I know many have wanted for a decision”.
What is for certain, is that for all football clubs in the non-league pyramid, this is an ever-changing and fluid state of disorder and turmoil; we can only hope that whenever the new normal surfaces, that there are as few casualties as possible.
Written by Aman Ahmed. 19. Essex. Undergraduate studying Football Business & Media at UCFB University.
Worthing find themselves five points clear at the top of the Isthmian Premier Division and will approach their latest test with confidence as they anticipate the visit of 18th placed Cheshunt Saturday afternoon. Worthing have more than double their opponent’s point’s tally so far this campaign and know a win will build further belief that they can end the season on top-spot.
Title rivals Folkstone Invicta face Corinthian-Casuals knowing anything less than a win could see Worthing pull away out of sight. Folkstone Invicta will need to show drastic signs of improvement from their latest showings, without a win in three and go into the tie off the back of a 4-3 defeat at Bognor Regis.
There is also a relegation dogfight on the cards as bottom side Wingate & Finchley welcome second bottom Brightlingsea Regent. Just two points separate the sides, the hots will see this as good a chance as any to lift themselves out of the basement of the table. An interesting statistic to note going into the game, Wingate & Fichley possess the second worst defensive record in the league, but Brightlingsea Regent are the divisions worst at finding the net.
In the isthmian South-Central division League Leaders Westfield F.C welcome 7th placed Barking in a tie that if Westfield run out victors will see them maintain their position on top spot. It is a very tight affair up at the top end of the South-Central division, with just four points separating the top four teams. Westfield have been a cut above the rest in terms of making themselves difficult to beat. Succumbing to defeat just twice, however, the stars have aligned perfectly as one of the two teams who HAVE beaten Westfield this year is Barking – who ran out 2-0 victors when the sides met back in October.
At the opposite end of the table, rock-bottom Ashford Town welcome 11th placed Harlow town. With a goal difference of -39, Ashford Town have had serious issues at both ends of the pitch. Shipping 60 goals they have the second worst defensive record in the league – but it is finding the net where they are at their most dire. Notching just 21 goals this campaign, they are also bottom of the scoring charts. Harlow come into the tie in terrible form, picking up one win in their last six efforts placing them 16th in the form table.
Waltham Abbey will fancy their chances of breaking into the top five when they take on Northwood Town at home this Saturday. Northwood have lost all six of their last fixtures, and won’t make the trip to Abbey with much confidence scoring just twice in those games. Tooting & Mitcham will be aiming to strengthen their bid for the top four when they travel to Wheatsheaf Park to take on a Staines Town side that find themselves sitting in 18th without a win in six.
Meanwhile in the Isthmian North Division Heybridge Swifts look to tighten their grip on top spot and extend on their two-point cushion. They will go into Saturday’s tie brimming with confidence as they welcome 18th placed Basildon United, who approach the game without having found the net in their last three attempts.
Maldon & Tiptree don’t find themselves with league duty until next weekend, after they fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Tilbury ending their impressive unbeaten run. Bottom-placed Romford don’t feature until Monday when Glenn Tamplin’s side take on Hullbridge Sports in a game that is vital to their survival hopes. Already eight points adrift, Romford simply can not afford any more slip-ups if they want to get themselves off the foot of the table.
Tilbury welcome Bury Town in a contest that see’s fifth meet fourth respectively. The Dockers will be in high spirits after their fantastic victory over Maldon and Tiptree last weekend and know a win will see them leapfrog their guests into fourth.
Over in the Isthmian South East division, leaders Hastings United will be aiming to increase their already significant gap over second placed Ashford United when they travel to Sevenoaks Town. Hastings haven’t conceded a goal in their last three fixtures, whilst Sevenoaks sit 13th in the form table after picking up just one win in six. 2nd take on 5th when Ashford United visit Cray Valley with 3 points being essential for both. Ashford need the win to keep the pressure on Hastings whilst Cray Valley could potentially go above Whyteleafe into 4th with a win themselves.
Down the other end of the table, 20th placed East Grinstead Town welcome Ramsgate as the hosts try to cut the deficit at the bottom to just two points if they secure their first win of the season. 20 games in and without a victory, East Grinstead Town find themselves five points adrift at the foot of the table. A win for Ramsgate will potentially see them level on points with Three Bridges as they try and climb up the table.
In what has already been an action-packed festive period for the Isthmian League, we enter this latest batch of fixtures with Folkestone Invicta sitting pretty at the top of the table on 44 points. The old cliché goes that attackers win you games, defences win you titles – The seasiders are by no means bucking that trend, a large reason as to why they reside in top spot is their fantastic defensive record – conceding just 21 goals so far. That kind of defensive resilience is contributing to the goal difference (+20) that is setting them apart from title rivals Worthing, who sit in second with an identical record of 13 victories, five draws and three defeats.
Folkestone take on Merstham on their travels as their first game of the new year, where they will go in as overwhelming favourites – Merstham have picked up just one win in their last 6. Worthing visit Bognor Regis Town on New Year’s Day, a far sterner test as Bognor go into the tie off the back of a 7-2 home victory over Cray Wanderers.
Breathing down the necks of the top two is Horsham who are very much involved in this title race, just 4 points off the pace as we end the year. They welcome 16th placed Lewes to The Camping World Community Stadium, who have secured just two wins in their last 6. Horsham will know any kind of slip up could prove costly as they try and stay within touching distance of their title rivals.
Down the other end of the table, just seven points separate the bottom 5 placed sides. 18th placed Merstham have the small matter of welcoming league leaders Folkestone, whilst Cheshunt make the trip to King George’s Field today in what is set to be an interesting battle against fellow survival rivals Corinthian-Casuals. Bottom placed Corinthian-Casuals have picked up just one victory all season, yet only 6 points separate them from today’s visitors Cheshunt. Fans should not expect much in terms of goals galore, the two sides make up 2 of the three lowest scorers in the division, scoring less goals combined than any of the top 3 sides.
Second bottom Wingate & Finchley travel to Haringey Borough on the 1st as they bid to try and rise out of the relegation zone. Just one point stands between them and Brightlingsea Regent, but Wingate & Finchley will know if they are to make a serious claim in this relegation dogfight they will have to tighten up at the back, conceding 40 goals thus far gives them the second worst defensive record in the division. They currently sit bottom of the form guide, gaining just two points from their last 6 fixtures.
The other side in that bottom five, Brightlingsea Regent meet Hornchurch today aiming to improve their dire away record of just one win, one draw and seven defeats. All sides in and around the relegation area know that just one win could completely turn the tables, and Regent will be no different. Should they secure their second away win of their campaign – they could see themselves rise from 20th to 18th depending on other results going their way.
During the course of games both today and Wednesday, It’s sure to be a hectic period at both ends of the table.
FC Romania have had far from the dream season thus far, but they will be aiming to turn the tide when they welcome Westfield FC to The Cheshunt Stadium this Saturday.
The hosts currently sit at the foot of the Isthmian South-Central Division with just 2 wins all campaign. Their form guide makes for pretty grim reading too, losing 5 of their last 6 league fixtures.
Westfield F.C reside in 6th spot going into this tie, but they too have only picked up one win in their last 6 games, drawing 4 and losing the other. It’s clear this is a match-up of two teams with very contrasting ambitions for the season yet the same desperation for 3 points.
F.C Romania’s priority must lay with stopping the rot at the back. They have shipped 52 goals in 16 league games so far, and as a result find themselves with a goal difference of minus 28. However, they haven’t been as poor in front of goal as one might think a team bottom of the pile would be, and have actually outscored four other sides.
Adrian Hurdubei is the main talisman for the home side, notching 8 goals to his name thus far and will have to be at the peak of his powers to penetrate a Westfield defence that possesses the second-best defensive record in the league. Leaking just 15 goals so far, they come into this game off the back of a clean sheet with their 4-0 win over Chalfont St Peter.
The stakes are evenly matched for both sides, F.C Romania could get themselves off of rock bottom with a win, whilst Westfield may propel themselves into the top four, should they win and other results go their way.
The new-look Romford FC will aim to build on their latest victory over Felixstowe & Walton United when they welcome Hullbridge Sports in this latest round of fixtures.
Romford currently find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, though things could be looking up for new gaffer Glenn Tamplin & co. After taking over in November, his losing streak lasted just 2 games. The Blues didn’t secure that famous ‘new manager bounce’, stumbling to defeat in the first couple of attempts to Coggleshall and Dereham Town, however, they go into this tie off the back of just their second win all season. To give context, it took Romford until Mid-October to get their first set of three points this campaign, for Tamplin to take just 3 games to get the club’s second should not be scoffed at.
Standing in the hosts way of back to back wins is a Hullbridge Sports side that sit 15th, with their last 6 games making for as grim reading as Romford’s, the visitors have just 4 points out of a possible 18. Hullbridge’s fans haven’t had the luxury of seeing much action going forward, their side possessing the joint second worst attacking numbers, scoring just 18 goals thus far this season.
The away side know they will need their main talisman Joseph Wright to be firing on all cylinders, the striker responsible for 38 per-cent of all Hullbridge league goals. Though they currently sit 5 places above Romford with double the points tally, Romford are a side with their tails up. The Blues know a win could potentially take them to within one point of getting off of the foot of the table.
Burgess Hill Town will be aiming to continue their fine vein of form when they welcome Faversham Town to Leylands Park on Saturday afternoon.
Having won 3 times in their last 6 fixtures, succumbing to defeat just once – Simon Wormull’s side will know a win could be so important to the league table come the end of the season, with Faversham being one of the many teams alongside the hosts lurking in that area around the lower half of the table.
After beginning the season in scintillating fashion with a 7-2 home win over Hythe Town, The Hillians seemed to hit a fork in the road over the early autumn period and now have nine league losses to their name this campaign. Warren Mfula scored four that day and is his sides top scorer with 8 so far - a stat less impressive when you hear it in December and realise 50% of his goal tally came on the opening day.
Yet scoring goals hasn’t actually been Burgess Hill Town’s problem, the issue lies at the other end of the pitch. Conceding 34 goals, they have the joint worst defensive record in the division. Fans of The Hillians will be pleased to learn that their opposition on Saturday have the exact opposite problem – finding the net.
To give context to Faversham’s woes in front of goal, Burgess Hill Town’s seven opening day goals is more than half of the goals scored by Faversham so far this season. Though Faversham currently sit above Burgess Hill Town (14th & 16th respectively), The home side are just 4 points behind, and will be looking to heap further misery to their guests who are without a goal in 3 games, let alone a victory.
The two sides are so intriguingly matched it should make for an interesting tie, the joint worst defensive side against the lowest scorers in the division, something has to give.
Here are your weekly match reports from Essex Senior League matches covered by WDSportz.
West Essex 2-4 Walthamstow
Walthamstow have bounced back from late disappointment against Hashtag United two weekends ago excellently - beating Hoddesdon Town last week and hitting four at West Essex on Saturday.
A clumsy tackle on Crilley gave the visitors the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot and James made no mistake - planting his effort in the bottom corner.
‘Stow doubled their lead as Yexley’s cross found Ibe at the back stick. The forward showed great desire to get something on the ball and poke past the goalkeeper.
The visitors then capped off a great first-half and Yexley was the provider once more. His cheeky pass from a free kick caught the West Essex defence napping and James finished excellently for his second of the match.
As darkness fell in the second half there were some issues with the flood lights, but play resumed and there was an own goal to forget for the ‘Stow centre-half as he diverted a cross into his own net - 3-1.
But West Essex’s chances of a comeback were dashed as a foul on Ibe led to a second yellow for a West Essex shirt.
James and Yexley combined once more to restore a three goal cushion, with the latter picking up his hat-trick of assists after finding Francis at the back post to head powerfully home. Francis’ acrobatic celebration was straight off Fifa.
Callum Bloss’ terrific free kick pulled one back for the hosts in injury time and the final score was 4-2 at Mayesbrook Park.
‘Stow now trail Hashtag by one point, but the league leaders have a game in hand. Next up is a trip to Sporting Bengal on Saturday 14 December.
West Essex find themselves in mid-table in the league and they host Stansted in the cup on Wednesday 11 December.
Sporting Bengal United 1-1 Clapton
Sporting Bengal were held to a 1-1 draw by Clapton a week after Hoddesdon left Mile End with the same result.
Chances were hard to come by throughout the match, but Zakariya Muhammed opened the scoring for Clapton brilliantly. The winger cut in from the left with quick feet and rifled home into the far corner - 1-0 to the visitors.
But Bengal were able to hit back in the second half as the ball deflected off Clapton defenders into the path of Sporting Bengal skipper Rookie Choudhury - who scored powerfully to score his first goal for the club.
Sporting Bengal now sit 13th in the league ahead of the visit of second place Walthamstow.
A point means that Clapton stay in touch of the league’s other struggling sides. They are still second from bottom but have the chance to pick up a valuable three points when they face Sawbridgeworth Town - who only have five points this season - later in December.
Wingate & Finchley will host fourth placed Hornchurch F.C at the weekend as Steven Clarke’s men aim to improve on their dire home form that has resulted in them currently occupying the relegation zone as The Blues sit third from bottom in 20th.
Josh O’Brien is one of our sports journalists. He currently studies a multimedia sports journalism degree at the UCFB Wembley campus. His previous roles include writing for You are my Arsenal blog, The Sun’s Dream Team app and betting company Kwiff.