The further you go down the pyramid the more the lines between senior football and amateur park football begin the blur. This weekend I made my step 6 debut and despite the odd joke with friends and family that I could have subbed myself on, it was as a viewer rather than a player. In all seriousness, the standard at this level is still way above anything I ever played but the surroundings began to feel a little more familiar.
The game I saw was Frenford v White Ensign in the Eastern Senior League, the feeder division to the Eastern Premier and Essex Senior leagues. There were several options for me in this division over the weekend. Hackney Wick, relegated from the Essex Senior last season were at home to Lopes Tavares and there was also a game at Barking Rugby Club between May & Baker and Holland FC. In the end, I opted for Frenford as…well…the parking on Google Maps looked a little easier.
Competition: Eastern Senior League
Ground: The Jack Carter Centre
Programme: Included with ticket
Dogs spotted: None
Who are ya, Frenford FC
Frenford were formed during WWII as a senior team for the Frenford Sports and Social Club. They played locally in Ilford for the majority of their existence until the 1990s when they joined the Essex Intermediate League. The club gradually rose through the league’s divisions and won three senior cups in the process.
In 2006 the league was renamed the Essex Olympian League. Six years later Frenford won the first of two back-to-back Premier Division Championships. They remained in the Premier Division until last season, finishing second in their final season before they joined the brand new Eastern Senior League which kicked-off in August 2018.
The Jack Carter Centre
Frenford are currently playing their home games at the Jack Carter centre in Ilford. It’s easy to reach by taking the A12 exit at the Redbridge roundabout on the North Circular. Turn right onto the Drive and the sports centre is a few hundred yards further on. The pitch is essentially a cordoned off pitch that’s part of the main playing fields. The club have done a good job of blocking the view of the pitch so that any potential viewers can’t see the action for free. You can see it through the fence on Wanstead Lane, however, where I parked for the afternoon.
It’s only £5 for entry and a decent programme, so I’m not sure why anyone would want to avoid paying. There was a good-sized crowd of 56 several of whom were groundhoppers who had checked in on the groundhopper app. There are currently no floodlights at the ground which was caused an interesting discussion between the two benches during the game.
“What do you guys do when it gets dark?”, inquired a member of the White Ensign coaching staff.
“We get the [flourescent] bibs out”, Frenford’s manager wittily responded.
“What about midweek games?”, the visitor continued his line of questioning.
“We find a way”, seemed to be the closest we’d all get to an answer as the home side seemed tight-lipped on there potential alternatives. “I think we’ll be alright today, though”.
All square and two cracking goals
Frenford were comfortable in midtable before kick off. They sat in ninth place, 16 points behind White Ensign who were fourth. The Basildon side were still in contention for the league. They were eight points behind leaders Hashtag United with two games in hand. The gap between the two sides in the league wasn’t that obvious in the early exchanges as Frenford started well. Their promising start to the game also contradicted their recent form. Frenford had only won once this so far this year, a 2-1 victory over Holland. They’d lost the rest of their four games.
The visitors struggled to deal with Frenford’s overlapping fullbacks in the early exchanges but did look brighter when they broke forward. White Ensign had won three of their four games since the turn of the year with their only defeat coming at the hands of league leaders Hashtag. They also welcomed former Great Wakering Rovers striker Nathan Dewberry into the team. They managed to keep Frenford at bay in the early exchanges and a tactical tweak to match the home side’s 4-3-3 formation saw them gain parity in the midfield areas.
The first half was a bit of a tactical battle with some good football played but both sides lacking the clinical edge in the final third. Then went into the half time break and the long walk back to the changing rooms all square at 0-0. The teams soon appeared in the distance and returned for the second half which started with a bang.
A game that was lacking in the finishing department was lit up by a goal from all of 40 yards. White Ensign midfielder Brad Gates turned on a bouncing ball and drove a dipping lob volley (the best kind of volley) into the top corner. It seemed to spend a while in flight allowing mutterings of “hang on”, and “what’s this?”, from both benches before it rippled into the back of the net.
Frenford were slightly shocked having put in a good performance during the first half. They did well to recover, however, and Luke Woodward, in particular, continued to cause problems for the White Ensign defence. The game became increasingly tense and tetchy as challenges begun to fly in. The tension increased as Frenford drew level with a wonder goal of their own. Woodward picked up the ball near the corner flag and found some space near the corner of the box. He then unleashed a wonderful curling effort into the top corner for a goal that would normally comfortably the goal of the game.
The final exchanges were tense but a lot of fun for the crowd. Newberry seemed to get off lucky as he aimed a kick, off the ball, at a Frenford defender and then grab a second defender by the throat as they discussed the previous flashpoint. The ref only saw it worthy of a yellow card and Newberry was promptly substituted by the visitors.
Both sides had chances to win the game in the end but 1-1 felt like a fair result for what had been a decent game and a good advert for the new step six league. White Ensign lost a little bit of ground on the leaders while Frenford remain in ninth place. There are a few teams in the league with multiple games in hand so the table could look a little different later in the season. I look forward to seeing a few more games in this league over the next few months.