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Tuesday 5th January 2016 ko 19.45

Isthmian League Division One North

BRIGHTLINGSEA REGENT 4 (Read 20 27 Kelly 43 Malton 56)

WALTHAM ABBEY 1 (Daveney 79)

Att 107

Entry £8

Programme £1

I do enjoy my visits to this part of the world. Whether its Felixstowe & Walton on the Suffolk side, or the likes of Clacton and Harwich & Parkeston on the Essex side, and the latter is an absolute must-visit by the way, there’s a vibrancy about the clubs even if sometimes their circumstances are less than ideal. Brightlingsea proved to be a case in point. 

The port of Brightlingsea has an interesting historical quirk, it is the only town not in Sussex or Kent to have a Cinque Ports Liberty, it’s treated as a limb of the Kentish town of Sandwich. Not that you see the sea when you visit North Road, and especially on a filthy night when games falling to waterlogged pitches bore testament to the Brightlingsea pitch’s excellent drainage.

The club have come a long way in a short space of time. Formed in 2005 from a merger of Brightlingsea United and youth club Regent Park Rangers, the club were playing in the Essex & Suffolk Border League Division Two. The Eastern Counties League was reached in 2011 and a second place finish in the ECL Premier in 2014 saw the club promoted to the Isthmian League for the the first time, including their antecedents.

In recent years the East has supplied no lack of clubs upwards, starting with AFC Sudbury in 2006, then with the likes of Dereham, Wroxham, Brightlingsea, and others following. That’s proved to be good for the pyramid in general but has weakened the Eastern Counties League. Just look at their second tier with a vacancy and 6 reserve or quasi-reserve sides in it. That’s no reflection on the league itself, more on the fact that another step has been added to the pyramid with few clubs able or willing to step up from the Anglian Combination or Essex & Suffolk Border League to fill the holes.

That elevation has meant major changes to North Road, and has become the kind of ground you can see which promotions have necessitated which improvements. There’s the modular stand for Eastern Counties ground grading but the biggest changes were needed for the Isthmian League. There’s the scaffolding stand  referred to as the “Ebay Stand” that was bought online from the Isle-of-Wight with the buyer collecting but the most problematic area was securing the ground on two sides. It’s created a handy new car park, but the access is tight.

Under those circumstances I was surprised at just how at ease with themselves Brightlingsea are. There’s an active Twitter feed, and when I wanted a teamsheet, a drink, or something to eat, there was a friendly face to help. It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many clubs fail to get the basics right.

Of course it helps that on the pitch the club continues to be successful. They’re mid-table, scoring goals, and they needed the minimum of fuss to see off rock bottom Waltham Abbey.

You wonder how far Brightlingsea can progress, particularly if they remain based at North Road. Home is where the heart is, but I can see the club’s progress making the club make some difficult decisions.