Tuesday 23rd October 2018 ko 19.45
Eastern Senior League Division One South Cup 1st Round
WHITE ENSIGN 0
BENFLEET 2 (Delieu 51 G Unwin 52)
Att 33 at Basildon Sporting Village
For this season the FA has taken steps to iron out one of the quirks of the footballing pyramid, in that until now there hasn’t been a league to link the Step 5 Essex Senior League and the Step 7 Essex Olympian League. They had a blueprint; the Kent Invicta League was formed in 2011 to bridge the gap between the Kent League and the Kent County League. The Invicta League eventually was swallowed up by the Kent League and the result is now the two divisions of the Southern Counties East.
Here the new league has been set up as a joint venture between the Essex Senior League and the Eastern Counties League, although the latter are administering the league. You’ll find the fixtures on the Eastern Counties League’s website. The name takes elements of both leagues’ names so the Eastern Senior League sounds like a fair compromise. But then it all gets a little odd.
The Eastern Counties League have rebadged their lower division Division One North, that makes sense, the 4 clubs that left the division to join the Eastern Senior League have given the two Step 6 divisions a north/south split. But why have the Eastern Counties League rebadged both as Eastern Senior League Divisions 1 North and 1 South? After all the joint venture only applies to the southern division.
But back to that blueprint. Like with the Invicta League the clubs were given 3 years grace to get their grounds up to the correct grading, in essence they need to be floodlit, enclosed and have 150 seats. For some, like Lakenheath in the north, that’s an ongoing process, for the opponents here Benfleet, that meant an immediate groundshare at Canvey Island, but White Ensign have chosen to move to get a suitable ground. The question is how suitable is it?
As their name would suggest White Ensign have a background in the merchant navy and were based in Southend-on-Sea. Until this season first XI games were played at the Len Forge Centre, at a 3G pitch in a cage in Eastwoodbury Lane with only one side available for spectators. It was and is a ground thoroughly unsuitable for Step 6 football, and with little to no chance of making the place complaint, the club have obviously decided to move now rather than wait the for the maximum 3 years.
It means the first XI are now playing 12 miles away from the rest of the club, to the Basildon Sports Village. The first XI are the only part of the club that have moved, all other teams play, and even the first XI still train back at Eastwoodbury Lane. It is therefore a real marriage of convenience.
I suppose the club explored sharing at the likes of Southend Manor or Great Wakering and rejected them as unsuitable. But any casual visitor will look at the Basidon Sporting Village, and wonder whether it was worth it all? Yes, the club are well resourced, but have a look at what’s here.
The stadium in it’s current guise dates from 2011, but the original dated from the 1950’s when the then Gloucester Park Bowl was slated to be a 25,000 capacity athletics stadium. Now the single stand seats 750 a long distance from the running track, never mind the very small looking pitch, and just like at home there’s is only one viewable side.
The club set up their hospitality in the press room, but if a spectator wants a drink or something to drink that involves a walk from the back of the stand, past the squash courts and the swimming pool to the vending machines in the foyer. It’s a stadium that’s hosting football, but it really isn’t ideal.
But White Ensign seem to be making it work for them. They may have surprising lost this game, but as I type, they’re top of the table, and then the thinking becomes whether the ground is suitable for Step 5? Perhaps it’s handy that the name White Ensign evokes nothing more than a naval background. Could the club move on again?
But for all the problems any pyramid football club are going to have playing here in exile I greatly enjoyed White Ensign’s company. They are a friendly, outward looking club, and true to form my presence saw them lose, on a bumpy pitch that made passing difficult if not impossible.
The hopper in me no doubt will treat the Basildon Sports Village as a tick, and one unlikely to be revisited. The football fan will wonder if White Ensign can make this place work for them in the long term. The pedant in me will wonder what the correct nomenclature of the league is?