We completed the first third of our season at the end of October last year, sitting in 12th place in the Bostik League North Division after fifteen league games. We were looking forward to at least one more FA Trophy game, and matches in the Velocity Trophy and Essex Senior Cup, as well as another thirty-one league fixtures.
We have now played another sixteen league games and five cup ties. In the league, we have won six, drawn six and lost four. In the cups, we lost an FA Trophy replay, lost in the Velocity Trophy, won two and lost one of our three Essex Senior Cup ties.
We started the second phase of the season with a 2-0 home defeat in the FA Trophy against a strong Cray Wanderers team on 1 November. After being two goals up in the first game on the previous Saturday and conceding two poor goals, we were unable to get the better of our wealthy Bostik South opponents, who ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. We had another two cup ties in the month where we fielded mixed squad sides. We won on penalties in the Essex Senior Cup in a competitive game at Essex Senior League Stansted after drawing 1-1 after ninety minutes. We fell well short at Hendon in the Velocity Trophy, who ran out comfortable, if not entirely convincing, 5-1 winners. Back to the league and we had a three-match run which produced just two points from 2-2 home draws with Cheshunt and Mildenhall and a poor display in a 3-0 reverse at promotion hopefuls, Canvey.
There was a marked improvement towards the end of November and we went on a run of six unbeaten games. Two clean sheets and single goal wins came at home to struggling Soham and away at high-flying Dereham. A thumping 4-1 win at Witham showed that on our day we were capable of beating anyone at our level. December also brought an exciting 2-1 Essex Senior Cup victory over a strong Dagenham & Redbridge team, to put us through to the quarter-finals. We followed that up with a narrow 2-1 home win against struggling Norwich United, who had taken a deserved lead in the first half, after Jack Fowler was sent off for a challenge which led to their goal from the free-kick. We fought back well in the second half with a penalty from top marksman, Kieran Bishop and a stunning Joao Carlos left-foot strike, to lift the three points.
A late point followed at Bury in a 1-1 draw that turned ugly at the end for all the wrong reasons, when home supporters decided to take out their venom on our players and physio, Peter Josling. This was the best it got before Christmas. Away at a young and enthusiastic Maldon & Tiptree side, we were comfortably beaten 2-0. It could have been worse had young keeper, Joe Simmonds, standing in for the injured Lamar Johnson, not saved a penalty, after somehow being penalised for the clearest dive from an opponent I have witnessed this season. Four days later, a very poor home performance saw us on the end of a 4-0 hammering to a Waltham Abbey side who completed a league double over us.
The three-game Christmas/New Year week confirmed, if confirmation was needed, that the one consistent aspect of our season, was our inconsistency. A draw, a win and a defeat was scant reward. The 1-1 Boxing Day draw at our landlords, Aveley, left us ruing missed chances and a late equaliser saw us fail to complete what would have been a notable double. Our last game of 2017 saw us at promotion-chasers, Potters Bar, who had taught us a footballing lesson in October with a 3-1 win after 16 year-old Kai Brown, who was beginning to settle into senior football, gave us an early lead at Parkside. The return match at the wet and muddy, but just playable, Pakex Stadium, had us defending against a strong wind for the first half, where we held out well and looked likely to score when we did get in their half. With the elements in our favour in the second half, we rattled in three goals, before disappointingly conceding a late consolation after the Scholars had been reduced to ten men.
Two days later, on New Year's Day, a Romford side who hadn’t played since 23 December, due to waterlogged pitches, were fresher and sharper than us and scored two goals through our former reserve player, Jay Knight. Although we got back in the game through an excellent strike from the evergreen, Glenn Poole and laid siege at Romford’s goal for much of the second half, defensive frailties had let us down.
The defensive curse hit us again at Heybridge Swifts. The Swifts, under former, if rather short-term, Blues’ boss, Jody Brown had been the talk of the division with their FA Cup and Trophy exploits this season. After avoiding relegation to the Essex Senior League on the last day of last season, they were now a very different team, with a substantial financial bonus coming into the dressing room from, I understand, the sale of some land. In 14th place in the division, but with thirteen games in hand of the then 11th placed Blues, they set about us with a flair and determination that we had not experienced very often this season and they made us look very heavy-legged on a soggy surface.
A 3-3 draw was a creditable outcome, with a last-minute goal for them from our recently released Tim Monsheju and an added-on-time penalty, coolly slotted home for us by Kieran Bishop. Unfortunately, by this time we had been reduced to ten men when Tre Zialor, who had looked promising when he started in the Essex Senior Cup match at Stansted and coming on from the bench in recent games, lost his cool and reacted badly to some physical treatment from his more-experienced and street-wise opponent. He left the fielding slowly, contemplating his misdemeanor.
We moved on to our second encounter in ten days against Romford, with an Essex Senior Cup quarter-final tie at Ship Lane. This is how one of our players summed up our 1-0 defeat - “Disappointed isn’t the word after tonight’s performance!!! Feel sorry for the fans that travelled - we must do better! Only the league to focus on now!!!” I’ll leave it at that, too.
Two more league games followed before today’s game. A home game against AFC Sudbury presented an opportunity to right some wrongs from the Romford debacle against a young team who had a game in hand on us, but were five points behind us. An attractive game ensued which ebbed and flowed for 42 minutes until Kieran Bishop struck. From inside our half, he powered his way past two defenders, turned and curled a magnificent twenty-five yard shot past the static 6 foot five inch keeper. A narrow lead became more comfortable in the second minute of the second half, when Player of the Month for December, Joao Carlos got behind hid full-back in the penalty area and was tripped as he ran passed him. Ade Cole, rather than Bishop took the penalty, which he stroked past the wrong-footed keeper.
Sudbury got a goal back from a free-kick on the edge of our box, conceded by sixteen-year-old Callum Thompson, who otherwise had a very impressive game. The kick was despatched with aplomb, via the underside of the bar. It made for an exciting last 30 minutes. Bishop made the game safe, with a last-minute third goal. After some slick one-touch passing, he flew past the last defender, drew the keeper and slid ball home to confirm our first victory of 2018. From the video coverage, the penalty award in our favour was perhaps generous and Bishop looked a yard offside when he ran through for our third goal. Such is the margin sometimes between a win and a draw, but with our season flagging, it was a very welcome three points.
Last Saturday, we visited Haringey Borough, who were strong contenders for at least a play-off place. A sluggish first-half performance saw us create very little and concede a goal in the 45th minute, when we failed to cut out a cross from the left. I suspect some strong words were said in the dressing room as we came out for the second half in a much more determined mood. After Ade Cole’s headed effort was well saved by their keeper earlier in the half, we put together an eleven-pass move in the 74th minute, which Ade finished off with a stunning 35-yard strike that left the home custodian clutching at thin air as the ball nestled in the left-hand corner of the net. It was his thirteenth goal from midfield this season and a goal that our hosts described as the best goal they had conceded so far this season. High praise indeed. A 1-1 draw was a fair reflection of the 90 minutes.
In summary, before this weekend’s round of games, we sat in 10th place in the league, with forty-one points from thirty-one games, seven points shy of the play-off area. In a tight division, the fact that we have played three or four games more than some of the teams immediately above and below us, suggests we may slip a little lower down the league, unless we can beat those teams around us in our remaining games.
Our most recent twenty-one games in this second third of the season have produced eight wins, six draws and seven defeats with 29 goals scored and 35 conceded as shown below:
Competition Won Drew Lost Goals For Goals Against
League 6 6 4 25 25
FA Trophy 0 0 1 0 2
League Cup 0 0 1 1 5
Essex Sen. Cup*2 0 1 3 3
TOTAL 8 6 7 29 35
*Drew 1-1 at Stansted and won on penalties.
We move into the final stage third of our season with a league game against Hertford Town. We lost the away game with a late, controversial penalty against ten men and then again after an extra time F A Cup replay which we finished with ten men. I’m sure our team will be determined to make the most of this opportunity to get a win on the board against them, as we welcome them to Parkside.
We also have fourteen other interesting league fixtures ahead of us. There are six Essex derbies with Maldon, Witham, Brentwood, Barking, Romford and Heybridge – four at home and two away. We also have lengthy trips to Mildenhall, Soham, Norwich and Sudbury to test our resolve on out travels and four other games, three at home against play-off hopefuls Bury and Dereham and relegation-threatened Ware and an away game at Cheshunt, who will be hoping to improve on their disastrous season so far, now they are under the guidance of their recently-appointed manager, former Blues’ boss, Craig Edwards. There is still much to play for, but for the time being there is a degree of disappointment, with our inconsistent form leaving us off the pace to put us in contention for the play-offs.
Now, more than ever, is the time for everyone to pull together, with major challenges both on, and off, the pitch. We need more people to become shareholders and we all need to spread the word about getting involved with our community club. Unfortunately, many shareholders have not renewed their annual membership and have lost their voting rights within our club. Membership is our life-blood. It would be a shame if, after all the hard work put in by so many people, the club were to falter due to a lack of interest from those whose initial enthusiasm for a “supporter-owned club” enabled us to gain the approval of the Football Association to become the custodians of our club. The message really does need to get through how important it is to take the opportunity to become a member and shareholder of the club for the annual £30 fee.
As well as annual membership, the purchase of “Community Shares” in the club will determine our medium-term viability. For any amount of £500 or more, you can enjoy free membership for years to come and retain your voting rights into the bargain. The club was very grateful to those who bought community shares when they were launched in June 2016.
It gave the club the confidence to meet with William Edwards School to confirm plans to work with them on their new “free school” project, which received Government approval in April 2017. The school and Thurrock Council had identified a land bank, which was ideal for educational and sports use. This large plot of land was then blocked for development, due to the proposal from Highways England for the routing of the Lower Thames Crossing. As recently as this week, the club has been advised that talks are taking place with Highways England to see if they will reconsider their use of this site, so that it may still be considered for school and sports community use. Other nearby sites in the area have also been identified for possible use. We hope there will a positive announcement soon.
There is now a pressing need to build more local interest in our club again and raise funds to take us forward. Key decisions concerning the future of the club will need to be taken soon and it is important that our supporters play their part. If a vote is needed on any major topic, a supporter must be a member to enable them to vote. Let’s make sure there are enough of us who can all work together to improve our chances of survival as a community football club. Please remember. It’s your Club – our Future!
I found this quote recently and I hope it will resonate with all our supporters:
"Football isn't a tv show, it wasn't invented by Sky in 1992... It's the click of the turnstile - the taste of Bovril - the reading of the programme - the coldness of the crush barrier - the smell of the burgers - the sun, wind & rain on your face - the cheering your team -meeting your mates - the warmth of the scarf on your neck - the memories you make - the terraces you stand on - the hope and despair - nothing beats being there..."