IT has been a season of ups and downs for the non-league sides of south Essex.
The players know it, the fans know it and the managers certainly know it. So we have asked the managers of the four teams in south Essex non league – Concord Rangers, Billericay Town, Canvey Island and East Thurrock United – what they made of their sides campaigns – which began way back in August.
Here is what they had to say...
CONCORD RANGERS: SKRILL SOUTH. FINISHING POSITION: NINTH
Skrill South outfit Concord Rangers surpassed the expectations of many this season (including themselves!) to finish ninth in their debut season in the division. Danny Cowley’s side won the Essex Senior Cup final this week to top off what has been a memorable season for the Beachboys.
Manager Danny Cowley said:
WHAT a season it has been – our first at Conference South level. We knew when we were promoted just how difficult it was going to be as it is such a big jump to go from the Ryman Premier to this league.
Both Billericay and Hornchurch went up and were relegated the season after and Whitehawk, who won the Ryman Premier last year, only survived on the last day.
The consistency and durability shown by our players is what has impressed me so much. Our away form has been so consistent and is the joint-second best in the league and we have picked up wins against sides fighting for the title all year – such as Bromley and Eastleigh.
We have eclipsed what we managed last season as we surpassed all our pre-season objectives – and won the cup.
The players can look back on this season with immense pride.
The challenge will be keeping this group together as there are a lot of clubs showing an interest and rightly so.
But I will do my best to sure we are in as strong a position going into next year as we are at the moment.
We have a winning mentality and that is crucial in any successful team. We hope to carry that forward and continue to achieve.
Performance of the season: Concord 2 Braintree 1 (Essex Senior Cup final)
Manager’s end of term grade: A
BILLERICAY TOWN: RYMAN PREMIER LEAGUE. FINISHING POSITION: 10th
Blues were our highest-placed side in the Ryman Premier Division, but many of their points were indebted to their excellent away form, picking up more points on the road than at New Lodge.
Manager Craig Edwards said:
LAST summer started well for both Billericay Town and myself with the news that Steve Kent would once again take control of the club.
They say the most important relationship at a club is the one between chairman and manager and he has been a very big part of the success I have enjoyed here.
After coming down from the Conference South, it was even more important to rid the losing mentality that had come with the relegation.
The spirit in the dressing room is as good as anything I’ve known. We only kept a chosen few from the previous season and added some young, hungry players and that fills me with optimism for the future.
The season has been a bit up and down. Our form against the top seven has been very good. But this has been balanced by dropping far too many points against the so called “lesser sides”.
We won three of the four games against the top two and our performance away at Kingstonian was as good as any in our league winning season.
We only have two players over 24 – Glenn Poole and skipper Richard Halle – and they have been great examples to the younger lads.
I feel we are so close to being a very good side, we have retained the large majority of the squad and with a few quality additions I am very confident we will see an improvement next season.
Our pre-season programme looks to be the best since I’ve been here and I’m already itching to get back.
Hopefully next season will see us fulfil our promise and be back in the hunt for silverware.
Performance of the season: Kingstonian 0 Billericay 2 (League, March 1)
Manager’s end of term grade: B
CANVEY ISLAND: RYMAN PREMIER LEAGUE. FINISHING POSITION: 13th
A season of ups and downs was possibly best exemplified by The Gulls. Danny Heale’s side hit a purple patch in late February – early March when they won six games in seven matches. However, they had a poor finish to the season winning only once in their last nine league games and scoring only one goal in their final five matches.
Manager Danny Heale said:
THIS is my first managerial job and I feel we have had an up-and-down season.
Our start to the season wasn’t ideal as we only managed to keep four players from the season before and we didn’t get off to the best of starts.
But we finally found our feet and put together a decent run of results that showed what we were capable of.
We had a great ten game unbeaten run after Christmas and beat some really strong sides, including the likes of Wealdstone, Dulwich Hamlet, and beating Billericay 4-1 away in the local derby. We also had a strong run in the FA Cup but fell just short losing 1-0 away to Biggleswade Town FC in the last qualifying round before the first round proper.
It was incredibly frustrating to lose a player like John Sands after he broke his jaw on his debut – he scored twice as well – but these things happen and it’s how you react that matters.
We have had a major rebuild of the squad this year but, at present, I feel we have a settled and decent squad together and if we can keep the majority of what we have and add a bit of quality and experience to what we have in place I believe we can get off to a good start and have a good go at it next season.
I would like to thank the supporters for their support over the year and we all look forward to the season ahead.
Performance of the season: Billericay 1 Canvey Island 4 (Ryman Premier League, March 11)
Manager’s end of term grade: C
EAST THURROCK UNITED: RYMAN PREMIER LEAGUE. FINISHING POSITION, 20th
The Rocks had the Rookery Hill faithful pulling out their hair all season, only securing their status as a premier league side on the final day. John Coventry’s side seemed destined for the drop as they went 14 games without a win between November and February. But a late surge – including 10 points from their last four games – saw them survive on goal difference.
Manager John Coventry said:
THE season started poorly as we had to totally rebuild the side from the previous season.
Although we won three out of our first six games – which included wins against Grays, Billericay and Carshalton – you could tell we were nothing like the team we ended the previous season with.
By November 26 we had only managed to win two more league games and it wasn’t until February 25 that we won our next game against Kingstonian, ending a very poor run.
With lots of games being postponed due to the bad weather and having been on the receiving end of some more defeats, our league position was not looking very healthy.
I knew I had to do something and I managed to sign Nicky Symons, Lewis Smith and Sam Higgins, who all made a big difference.
Even though we were not always winning games you could see an improvement and I always believed we had enough to get out of trouble and, even though it took us to the last game of the season to prove that, none of us ever stopped believing.
Our last game against Bognor showed what a good side we ended up with as they produced our best performance of the season.
Performance of the season: East Thurrock Utd 4 Bognor Regis Town 2 (league April 26)
Manager’s end of term grade: D