With the 2019/20 season brought to an abrupt end, it has been just under 5 months since a ball was kicked in Non-League. The FA had made a quick decision on levels 3-6 of the non-league system meaning clubs had played their last games in March. The announcement from the Football Association in the last few weeks means football is nearing resumption. The 2020/21 season will certainly be like no other. Teams will use pre-season wisely to get the fitness and chemistry of new and old players as we edge towards a September start for the new season.
The Essex Senior League was no different to the rest of the non-league pyramid as clubs who had been fighting for promotion were left disappointed whilst those at the bottom were sparred their fate. The opening months of the new season will certainly be more competitive than we have seen before, it is just a matter of time before we find out whether those levels will drop off as the season gets older.
Saffron Walden Town, Hashtag United and Walthamstow were all in contention for a promotion spot as well as the title. It wasn’t clear whether one or two spots were up for grabs at the end of the 2019/20 season so the three teams had to do their best to finish top of the league to guarantee their promotion. When football was stopped, Saffron Walden sat top by a point over Hashtag United and three points ahead of Walthamstow in third. The disadvantage for Walden was the fact that both Hashtag and Stow had three games in hand over the Bloods. Hashtag had won a key battle with Walthamstow in the final game of the 2019/20 season, winning 2-1 in horrible conditions in early March. This meant that had both Walthamstow and Hashtag won their remaining games, Hashtag would have finished top with Walthamstow two points behind and Walden having to settle for 3rd.
The chasing pack
Behind the top three were a chasing pack of clubs that had started to find some form later in the season but had struggled earlier on. Hadley, Stansted and Takeley were off the pace to challenge the top sides, however, they were battling for the best of the rest. Hadley were 6-points off Walthamstow and seven ahead of Stansted (who were themselves ahead of Takeley by 7-points) but would have found it different to make up the gap with Max Mitchell excelling in his short time at the club.
The midfield of the Essex Senior League saw a number of teams battling for their best possible position. Hoddesdon Town (7th) were right on the tail of 6th-placed Takeley but faced tough opposition from Redbridge (8th) to hold that spot. The further down the table you went, the tighter it go. Woodford Town (9th) and Cockfosters (10th) were level on 34 points with West Essex (11th), Clapton (12th) and Ilford (13th) right behind those clubs. Towards the bottom, there was still a clear gap between Ilford and those below but these clubs were also safe from relegation with the gap to 19th huge. St Margaretsbury (14th), Sporting Bengal United (15th), Enfield (16th), Southend Manor (17th) and Tower Hamlets (18th) all had mid-to-low 20 points but Hamlets were only 4-points off 14th, meaning a close battle between those clubs would entail.
Only one club was facing relegation when the season was null and voided. Sawbridgeworth Town sat on 9 points after 28-games having only won 2 and drawn 2 games . The gap to Tower Hamlets in 18th was a massive 14-points although the teams above had games in hand over the strugglers. It wouldn’t have been easy to make up that gap, nor did many think it was possible. Sawbridgeworth were saved from relegation thanks to the null and void decision otherwise they’d be going down.
Saying goodbye and no new hellos
Ahead of the 2020/21 season, the ESL said goodbye to Tower Hamlets. The young outfit had moved on from Mile End meaning they also moved on from the Essex Senior League. The decision was made to progress the club further rather than be held back by ground grading.
The ESL also won’t welcome any new teams after FC Clacton had their application denied. The Essex club were looking for a sideways movement to the ESL ahead of the new season but were denied by the FA. The decision to not allowed the lateral movement means the ESL will have 18 competiting teams instead of 19 or the hopeful 20.
It’s hard to say how different the new season will be to the previous one. The FA are looking to have a full season this time round so clubs can rewarded for their good work on the pitch. Several teams could be competing for the title and promotion whilst many teams could struggle. It will be an interesting season!