Ensign on the up, up, up

White Ensign could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at the FA’s decision to cut the 2019/20 season short, when the majority of clubs had played over 75% of their season games. Brett Munyard’s men had found themselves 5-points ahead of second-placed Athletic Newham, having played 3-games more and were 10-points clear of Holland FC, just outside the promotion spots. With 9-games to play, he was confident they could have seen it over the line.

“We were obviously gutted it got cut short as we felt we would be promoted. I think we had a strong enough lead over those outside of the promotion spots with 9-games left and it was very hard to take for us,” he explained. “I think if the season continued, it would have come down to the next game versus Newham to see who would be champions.”

Despite coming off the back of a curtailed season, clubs prepared for the 2020/21 season, with the hope the season would be completed. It was exactly the same for Brett and Ensign’s ambitions remained the same. Although there was hope the season would be completed, the thoughts of another lockdown had to be pushed to the back of the mind as Munyard’s men looked to get the job done on the pitch.

“Our ambitions were very much the same the following season. Getting promotion was essential for the team and although we didn’t amazingly, we had still put ourselves in a great position to achieve our goal.”

“To be honest we really tried to focus on the playing side of things. We obviously knew that there could be another lockdown, but we also always thought worse case they would extend the league until the matches would be played as voiding two years would be to damaging for clubs.”

Clubs didn’t get the chance to play out the season after the country came back out of the November restrictions and December lockdown, as the 2020/21 was curtailed by the FA. White Ensign sat in the promotion spots again. Third this time, but two-points off the leaders Newbury Forest after the same amount of games and a point behind Athletic Newham, with two-games in-hand. Despite not being able to finish the season, Brett expected promotion to still be up for grabs. The only thing he didn’t expect was how that promotion would be decided.

“We were confident of being promoted. With four teams being promoted, we knew we’d have a great chance again. I have to say, I didn’t expect it to go to points-per-game. I assumed it would be voided again once it was cut short.”

Project non-league had taken the lower levels by storm. A suggestion to the FA to promoted based on a combined season table, from the 2019/20 and 2020/21 season, which would also allowed for the Football Association to go ahead with their restructuring they had planned for the 2020/21 season.

In the combined season table for the Eastern Counties League Division One South, White Ensign sat top of the tree. After collecting 75-points from 35-games over the two curtailed seasons, they had a PPG of 2.14, 0.06 over Athletic Newham and 0.08 over Little Oakley. Although this didn’t guarantee they’d be promoted, it put Ensign in the best spot to receive an upward movement. The PPG made up 75% of the criteria, while an additional 25% on off-field requirements would also be factors. “Once we were told we could apply on PPG, knowing we were first in the combined table, we were very confident we would get promoted. Although, until it’s in writing, it’s always a nervous wait.”

Towards the end of May, the club got they news they had hoped for as the FA confirmed their passage into the Essex Senior League, Step-5 of the National League System, along with Athletic Newham and Little Oakley. It wasn’t the way they wanted to be promoted, but it was a deserved one nonetheless. “We were delighted! The team have been together a while and have worked very hard to get to this league, so it was a great day when it was announced. Not only that, but it was an incredible achievement for out club.”

He didn’t want to get carried away with his ambitions for the clubs debut season in the ESL. Although no one expected them to challenge from the off, going into the season with a winning mentality would certainly help them along the way. “I thought I’d get asked about this,” he joked. “Our ambitions are hard to gage being our first season at Step 5. What I will say is we approach every season and game the same as we have always done – to win. We arrive with caution, but no fear. We know what we are capable of!”

The Senior League offered Ensign a far tougher challenge than what they faced in the Thurlow Nunn. Although the Division One South was tough, and any side could finish in the promotion spots, the ESL offered a chance to play in the Isthmian League, making the reward up for grabs more appetising. Still, they were looking forward to it.

“For sure it’s going to be a lot tougher! I don’t think there is any game in the ESL that will be straight forward. Teams in the league have far more resources and there are some high quality players who could be playing higher. It’s going to be very tough but it’s a challenge we relish.”

Along with the announcement of promotion, came the announcement of retiring from the Ensign squad for Brett, to focus on management in the Senior League. It was never going to be an easy decision to step away from playing, but with the club heading in a good direction, it was important he did.

“It was a tough decision but the correct one! It’s very demanding to be playing and managing and the step up in leagues and quality made that decision for me. I think it’s a boost for the players because it’s very difficult managing while being on the pitch, so maybe it takes something away from my management, but now I can be fully focused on improving the team.”

The Essex Senior League also offered different opponents to face for Brett and his squad. With Hashtag United promoted to the Isthmian League North, there would be plenty of sides battling for the title and promotion, following them up the pyramid. Munyard was looking forward to facing friends, some of the title favourites and a local derby ahead of the new season.

“I think there are some teams who make a lot of noise on social media and I have some friends at them clubs, so I’m looking forward to playing them. The likes of Enfield , Walthamstow and Saffron Walden seem to be very active with signings, so it will be interesting playing them sides and of course, Southend Manor will be a big local match too.”

Photo: Andy Wilkins Media (@wilkins_media)