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Saturday 13th July 2013 ko 15.00

Pre-Season Friendly

ERITH TOWN 1 (Quartey 21)

THURROCK 3 (Griffin 25 Grimaldi 67 Perkins 90)

Att 62

Entry £5

Programme None

Played at Badgers Sports & Social Club, Eltham (Cray Valley Paper Mills FC)

If my first game had a tough of the agricultural about it, then the second was definitely suburban! A quick blast along the A20 changed the locale completely, although there’s no lack of open spaces, the Civil Service Sports Ground is the other side of the road after all.

Its been a few years since I saw Erith at their home ground, The Erith Stadium. It’s not ideal, being first and foremost an athletics stadium, so the uncovered seats were a long way from the action, and the necessity to have a players tunnel made ground grading difficult. The seats did get covered, but nevertheless the club decided to move and groundshare at Cray Valley for this coming season.

Its not difficult to see why, as it’s a well-appointed ground that has clearly been improved massively over the last few years. In fact to give you an idea, here’s what the ground looks like on Google Maps!
Yes, it relies heavily on the type of prefabricated stands you can see at so many non-league grounds, but their use is well thought out. It seems obvious to me to place floodlight poles behind stands, and dugouts away from sight lines, but this is one of very few grounds where such basic planning has taken place. Try watching from a seat at Chinnor FC

On a day where the temperature was oppressive I did make one wonderful discovery, the clubhouse has air-conditioning. I was grateful in the heat and humidity, but I do wonder how often it will be needed!

For once the interest was more for the opposition. Thurrock escaped relegation from the Isthmian Premier by just a solitary point, but then it was discovered that former player Joel Barnett had played Sunday League football for a club in his home town of Batley who had folded due to unpaid fines to the West Riding of Yorkshire FA. As is normal procedure those unpaid fines were split between the players, in this case £16 per player with any not paying his share facing a ban.

And here is where the problems started. Barnett claimed he couldn’t have possibly known about the unpaid fines, as he was in prison at the time, serving a 16 month sentence for affray committed during the League One play-off final between Huddersfield vs. Peterborough at Old Trafford in May 2011. The affair cost Tilbury FC 18 points, and Bishops Stortford a fine, but the 3 points it cost Thurrock meant they were the only one of Barnett’s former sides who it actually cost a place in a division. And of course if the player doesn’t know, how can his new club?

The club appealed unsuccessfully to the FA so as it stands will be playing in Isthmian League Division One North, but the club have issued a notice of arbitration to the Isthmian League. That still leaves manager Mark Stimson with an unenviable task, building a side for a division that as yet isn’t known.

The game was a good test for them. If we assume that Thurrock’s relegation is confirmed Erith Town play one step lower, in the Southern Counties East League. That league is the rebadged Kent League, to reflect that league accepting clubs from outside county boundaries. On the basis that football administration is never straightforward, two sides from the Sussex County League, Rye, and Crowborough Athletic were moved across by the FA , but they both successfully appealed so, the new SCEL is still very much a Kent League!

Thurrock took time to get going a were surprised when Kofi Quartey fired Erith into the lead. Stung, they soon equalised through Frank Griffin racing on to a through ball, and took the lead in similar fashion through Danny Grimaldi. The last-minute winner from Lewis Perkins produced a fair scoreline on the balance of play.

I headed back to Oxford feeling as if I’d witnessed several entities all at their own personal crossroads. How long will Erith stay away from home, will the SCEL become more than a Kent League, and more urgently in which division will Thurrock find themselves in? As ever, several things to keep an eye on!