After finding the start of the 2020/21 season tough, Barnston found themselves towards the bottom of the Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division. Having played eight games, they sit 15th having won three and lost five.
“We had a rough start to the season and we were poor,” said first-team manager Josh Hutchings. “It took a while for the lads to understand what me and Callum [Bolger] wanted, but I think the league is the strongest it has ever been. As tough as the league is this year, it’s nice to see the Premier Division in such a strong place.”
The club had failed to win their opening two fixtures as they were beaten by Stanway Pegasus and Little Oakley Reserves, being well beaten in both fixtures before their first win came against West Bergholt as they received a walkover. They failed to push on as they faced further defeat to White Notley, Felixstowe & Walton United Reserves and Alresford Colne Rangers before they fortune turned around against league-leaders Gas Recreation as they won 3-2 before they picked up another win against Dedham Old Boys. Although they had started off badly, their target of a midtable finish was still achievable, but that didn’t rule out the target of a higher finish either.
“Callum and I are always aiming to push ourselves and I think the lads realised that the hard way. Realistically, from where the club have been in the last few seasons, a midtable finish would be respectable but we are always aiming for more.”
Josh hadn’t been the manager for long and before his takeover at the start of the season, Barnston had found themselves 14th after 25-games during the unfinished 2019/20 season. They held a 9-point gap over bottom Brantham Athletic Reserves so weren’t destined for a drop into Division One but they were also 17-points off the promotion places. The seasons before that 2016/17 to 2018/19, 13th-15th-15th, finishing bottom twice. That gave the management team something to work towards but first, they needed to pick up the points.
“When we originally took over Barnston, a lot of players had left and we only had 9 players remaining from last season. Our biggest issue was the fact we had to rebuild the team and get them to understand what we, as a management team, wanted while also gelling with each other. I know at this level, players may not stay forever as they are attracted by money, but its tough trying to get the squad to gel season after season. I have noticed a lot of the other clubs have kept players because they’re all mates, but myself, Callum and a lot of the players are not local to the club, so there is a lot of travelling from different areas.”
He felt their poor start to the season warranted where they sat in the table, but they knew they could turn the season around with plenty of games still to come. “The way we started and based on the results which stand, yes we are where we deserve to be.”
While the first lockdown had delayed the start to the new season, starting in September instead of August, further postponements had certainly taken the opportunity for Barnston to build on their form. The last two wins for the Essex side had come against Gas Recreation who hold a 19-point lead over them while they had also beaten Dedham, who sit 5-points above them. “The lockdowns are a pain for multiple reasons and all the lads love getting together on a Saturday and trying to bring home the three points,” he said. “But weirdly for us, before every lockdown, we came away with a win so I’m not sure if they’re our lucky charm or not.”
“If you look at the teams we have beaten in the last 2-games and their positions, I think it shows we are capable of much more and can beat anyone on our day. We are very capable of climbing the table and be in a better position.”
The introduction of a Tier Four for Essex meant Barnston were again forced to suspend their football but it also affected training. Without being able to train as a team, it was up to the club and individual players to maintain their fitness as well as working on weaknesses away from the squad. For Josh, he had faith in his players maintaining their own fitness levels. “We trust the players to maintain their own fitness but we also hold online sessions, courtesy of one of our own players, who leads the fitness sessions.”
With no date in sight for the return of football, it was hard to know how to plan but for Josh and his team, upon their return, their focus was on climb the league table and add to their run of two wins. “We want to pick up from where we left off and climb the table to where we believe we should be. We want to show what we can achieve, providing the virus doesn’t keep interrupting the season.”
Although they hadn’t been at the club long, they were already planning for a future with the club. While they wanted to build results on the pitch, working off it to build a strong and sustainable club was also on the agenda. “When we took over, the club told us they were looking for people to stay a while, build the club and potentially help the club to grow. We believe we have done this with the first team and we are still pushing to better the club, as much as we can. This is not without the help of everyone who works behind the scenes so we definitely cannot take credit for everything as much as we might want to.”
“Our long term goal is that we take each day as it comes. We can only thank the club for the patience, trust and support they have shown but we have always said we would love to progress in the game and push ourselves as far as we can. Funnily enough, we had this conversation with a friend of ours recently and if an opportunity was to arise and it is right for us, we might consider it. On the other hand, if we can push the club higher and go with the club, then we would love to do that as well.”