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Saturday 3rd July 2021 ko 11:00

Pre-Season Friendly

BENFLEET 2 (37 57p)

REDBRIDGE 3 (Trialist 24 34 38)

Att 22 at Woodside, Manor Road

The count may have switched over to the 2021/22 season but in truth my close season was from December to April so a pre-season friendly didn’t feel like, well, pre-season even if both of the clubs hadn’t played a game this year. Then there was the strand of the hobby that doesn’t like friendlies to consider. I’d normally prefer a competitive game, but the friendly does throw up a opportunity, and I don’t just mean the chance to visit Britain’s first mini roundabout, opened in 1970….

Benfleet are a classic example of a club who only ever play First XI home games at their home ground in pre-season, for the rest of the time they’re based at Canvey Island FC. Its a classic example of a club having to move to progress, the formation of the Eastern Senior League (now Eastern Counties Division One South) in 2018 giving Essex clubs a Step 6 league to bridge the gap between the Essex Olympian League and the Essex Senior league. 

For Benfleet FC that meant a three-division jump from the Olympian League Division Two, and the need to provide a suitable home for their new level. They had time, the likes of Hextable-based Sutton Athletic slowly improved, but that wasn’t a luxury enjoyed by Benfleet. Woodfield is accessed via a narrow lane on Manor Road so creating a stadium capable of catering for a crowd would likely attract the ire of the town planners. There are plans and proposals but improving here won’t be easy. 

But what is at Woodside is rather charming. The tea bar/ cafe is as good as your see anywhere, the breakfast rolls and tea were excellent and in the end what else is there I’m sure will boil down to what you feel you’ll need. All I need is an unrestricted view and I certainly got that! I suspect in more normal times the pitch would be marked closer to the clubhouse if only to make use of those dugout abutments!

The game provided a surprise for me, and that’s just how long its been since I saw Redbridge play! They are now primary tenants at Oakside Park but I saw a Barkingside FC game there, and the only other time I’ve seen Redbridge play is another friendly, but at a rather unusual location! Redbridge these days play in the Essex Senior League so this tie was a one division mis-match.

It went as the form book would have suggested, although that was down almost entirely to the efforts of a trialist. His 15 minute hat trick included a spectacular free kick, so I can well imagine why they were keen to keep his identity quiet! 

It was a far better experience than I’d expected both in terms of ground and game, and I even managed to largely avoid the showers too! I do wonder how Benfleet will manage to square the circle of their ground and their league status, but all the best to them as they try.