On the road again

A look at some of the summer restructuring movements in the ESL and further afield.

Get your A-Zs out, because it’s time to look at some of the changes to the National League System the Football Assocation has made this summer.

The FA’s intention of creating a ‘true’ pyramid of 1-2-4-8-16 divisions has been their goal for a few years now, and are now making progress after two seasons cut short by the Covid pandemic. The changes mean the introduction of an eighth division at step 4 and two further divisions at step 5. The new division at step 4 will be administered by the Northern Premier League, and the two new divisions at step 5 will be run by the Combined Counties and United Counties League.

The restructure will see 107 clubs in total upwardly moved within the pyramid, and while it appears on the face of it that travelling has reduced for the majority of teams, there will always be those outliers who feel they have been given the short end, and appealed the FA’s decision; most often in vain.

Starting with our own Essex Senior League; Hashtag United, as expected, have been promoted to step four. They’ll they’ll have trips to Felixstowe and Stowmarket to look forward to, in the North Division. At the other end of the table, Sawbridgeworth Town and Woodford Town were given the chance to fight another day, as no teams were relegated.

We’ll be up against some new opponents at Wadham Lodge this season too. Athletic Newham make the jump from step six, having been near the top of the Eastern Counties League Division One South last season. They are a relatively new team, having only been founded in 2015, then being known as Lopes Tavares. Newham share Terrance McMillan Stadium with Clapton.

Clacton had initially been placed in the Essex Senior League two seasons ago, but won an appeal, staying in the Eastern Counties. We last played Clacton in 2014, beating them 3-0 in the Essex Senior Cup. We met in cup competitions seven times between 1995 and 2003, but only managed one win – a 4-0 replay win in the 1995-6 FA Cup. Please, please, check if we’re playing ClaCton or ClaPton before making any away journeys this season.

Little Oakley’s rise up the leagues has been just as quick as Athletic Newham’s, and just five years ago were still playing in the Essex and Suffolk Border League. Based in a village just outside Harwich, Oakley were also promoted from the Eastern Counties League Division One. Last year they took part in the FA Cup for the first time, losing 4-2 to Saffron Walden Town.

It’s a 150-odd mile round-trip from E17 to Little Oakley (illustrated in the background image), and one of the longest league trips we’ve had to make since our Isthmian League days. At least we didn’t get them away on a Tuesday evening (starting the season away at White Ensign wasn’t far off though).
After two seasons away, Stanway Rovers return to the Essex Senior. They finished 15th in their one and only Essex Senior League season to date (2018-19) and were managed briefly by Stow joint-manager Terry Spillane. We ended up playing Stanway twice in four days that season, after our planned home match was postponed three times before eventually going ahead. We won both games (2-1 away and 2-0 at home), which will hopefully be a good omen for when we meet this season.

Finally, White Ensign make up the trio of promotions from the Eastern Counties Division One. Based at Great Wakering’s Burrough’s Park, Ensign have had credible finishes over the last three years.

After two years, we say goodbye to Hadley, who return to the Spartan League.

When Hadley were first placed in the Essex Senior League at the start of the 2019-20 season, they appealed the decision, and were told by the FA that they’d only be here for one campaign. It looks like two half seasons makes a whole, and they’re back to more familiar ground now. This time around, they appealed being moved back to the Spartan League, but again lost their appeal. Cockfosters were also initially placed back in the Spartan, but won an appeal and will be in the ESL again. Only five miles separates Hadley and Cockfosters, so the decision to separate the two sides is an interesting one.

There was an expectation from some that two strong community teams from the step six would join the Essex Senior League. However, Cypriot club New Salamis and Greek club St Panteleimon were both played in the Premier Division of the Spartan League.

Locally, Buckhurst Hill, who we played a couple of seasons ago in the Eastern Floodlit Cup, have finally earned promotion from the Essex Olympian league, up to the step six Eastern Senior League Division One South.

Hill have a very tidy little ground down Roding Lane, and are well worth a visit. There’s a few familiar faces there too. Ben Cooper who made 32 appearances for us over two seasons between 2001 and 2003 is Hill’s assistant manager, and Joel Sapiro is involved in the youth set-up.

Former tenants at Wadham Lodge, Clapton CFC ‘s promotion application was turned down, but London
Samurai and Hilltop were both promoted from CFC’s division.

Their spot at Wadham Lodge will be taken by West Essex, who return to their home borough of Waltham Forest after a long stay at Barking.

Spare a thought for Mousehole (yes, that is their name, we checked) and Keynsham Town in the Western League. Just the 400-mile, eight-hour round-trip when those two meet.

With three new clubs in our division, and many more at step five and six of the pyramid, we can hope for some enjoyable awaydays in the league and the FA Vase. I’m sure the Beer Hunter will look forward to ‘researching’ some of our trips!

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