When the UK went into another lockdown, no one imagined that the wait for football would take 3 months but the roadmap out of the latest one means football can return from March 29. Like many grassroots leagues at step 7 and below, the Essex Olympian Football League has opted to restart the 2020/21 season from April 3 across all divisions following a vote with clubs.
While many clubs played their last game on December 12, some had played at late as December 19 before all non-elite football was halted. Leigh Ramblers had progressed past Runwell Sports in the Essex Premier Cup, Galleywood had also progressed with a 2-0 win over Rayleigh Town Reserves while Corinthians Reserves, Hullbridge Sports A, Leytonstone United, Sungate Reserves, Old Chelmsfordians Reserves, Hashtag United Development, Ongar Town Reserves, Wakering Sports Reserves, Old Barkabbeyans, Collier Rows Reserves, Runwell Sports Reserves and Leigh Ramblers Reserves were all in league action from Division Three and below.
Before the season was halt, Buckhurst Hill and Basildon Town led the way in the Premier Division, having won 7 and lost 1 each while Catholic United and Hutton sat 4-points behind the top-two sides. While the majority of clubs have played 8-9 games already this season, Sungate, sitting 6th as it stands, have only played six games alongside Rayleigh Town and the bottom two sides have only played 7. At the bottom end of the table, a point separates Kelvedon Hatch and Old Southendian with both sides having only picked up one win in their opening 7-games.
Key game: Kelvedon Hatch vs Rayleigh Town. Although this matchup affects the bottom of the table, it’s one of the games that see positions change directly from this match. 13th-place Kelvedon sit two-points behind Rayleigh Town but the visitors have a game in-hand. A win for the hosts could see them leap-frog Rayleigh and move up to 10th, knowing their opponents have a game in-hand while a win for Rayleigh Town could see them leap up to 8th and opening a gap of 6-points over the bottom side.
Ongar Town led the Division One standings when the break in the season came, leading Runwell Sports by 3-points and holding a 5-point lead over 3rd-place Galleywood. Although Ongar Town have a somewhat comfortable lead at the top-of-the-table, the chasing pack are still very close. 6-points separate 2nd to 7th, Runwell to Toby which could change in a matter of games. At the other end of the table, Shoebury Town hold a narrow lead over Chingford Athletic, with a point separating the two-bottom sides who have also only won one game, having played eight.
Key game: Manford Way vs Toby FC. While two-points separate Chingford Athletic and Rayleigh Town Reserves at the bottom end of the table with both sides going head-to-head on the first weekend back, Manford Way hosting Toby has more of an influence at the top end of the table. 5th-place Manford Way have played 6, winning 4 and losing two while their opponents sit in 7th after 9-games, having won 3, drew 2 and lost 4. A win for Manford could put them within 5-points of the leaders and move them up to 3rd while Toby could leap-frog their opponents and move up to 4th in the table, making the chasing pack even tighter.
4-points was the difference between Beacon Hill Rovers and the chasing sides as the season was brought to an abrupt halt. Rovers, sitting on 21 points after 9-games, hold a 4-point lead over Leigh Town and Laindon Orient while Corinthians are a further point behind them. Towards the bottom end, AS Rawreth sit rock-bottom having lost their opening 6-games and already have to make up a 4-point gap over Harold Wood Athletic Reserves and May & Baker ‘A’.
Key game: Corinthians vs Leigh Town. Another top-of-the-table clash would see 2nd-place Leigh Town travel away to 4th-place Corinthians. The hosts sit on 16-points, having won 5, drew 1 and lost 1 while Leigh Town have 17-points, having won 4 and drew 3. Leigh will hope they can remain unbeaten at the restart and close the gap on Beacon Hill Rovers to a point while Corinthians could move into second and two-points off the top with a win over their opponents.
ACD United sit pretty at the top of Division Three having won their opening 7-games and hold a 5-point lead over 2nd-place Manford Way Reserves and Collier Row in 3rd-place. Just below Manford Reserves, 4-points separate 2nd to 6th, the Reserves to Lakeside United. At the other end of the table, Leigh Town Reserves sit rock-bottom having gone the other way from the leaders and lost their opening 7-games, putting them 4-points behind Toby Reserves and 6-points behind Buckhurst Hill Reserves.
Key game: ACD United vs Manford Way Reserves. A clash between the top-two awaits the restart as the league leaders host 2nd-place Manford Way Reserves. With a game in-hand, United hold a 5-point gap over Manford Way Reserves with the chasers win 5, drew 1 and losing 2 of their opening 8-games. A win for ACD United could see them move 8-points clear of their opponents and the same amount of points over 2nd-place while the Reserves could close the gap to 2-points with a win and could open a 3-point gap over Collier Row.
Catholic United are another side who remained unbeaten before the season was paused. Having played 7-games, they sit on 21-points, giving them a 2-point lead over Hashtag United Development, with the tags winning 6, drawing 1 and losing 1. Below Hashtag Development, Wakering Sports Reserves sit in 3rd with 16-points, with 6-points separating 3rd-place and Old Chelmsfordians Reserves in 8th-place. Canning Town Reserves find themselves bottom with 2-points from their opening 7-games behind Shenfield AFC Reserves who have 3-points from their first 8-games of the season.
Key game: Catholic United Reserves vs Hashtag United Development. Another 1st vs 2nd clash sees Catholic Reserves welcome Hashtag Development on the first weekend in April. With only two-points splitting the two-sides, a win for either could be vital in the chase for the title. A win for the hosts could put them 5-points clear of their title rivals and would continue their winning start to the season while a win for Hashtag United Development could take them top by a point, having played a game more.
Collier Row Reserves hold a 5-point lead over Shoebury Town Reserves, Wakering Sports ‘A’, Old Barkabbeyans and Bishop’s Stortford Swifts Reserves, who all sit on 13-points and are split by goal-difference. Both Shoebury Town and Wakering have two-games in-hand on Collier Row, giving them a good chance to go for the title when the season gets back up and running. Towards the lower end, AS Rawreth Reserves sit bottom having won one and losing 5, but not having any points (due to an adjustment) and sit 3-points behind Epping Town Reserves.
Key game: AS Rawreth Reserves vs Epping Town Reserves. A tie at the bottom end of the table could be key to the survive or either team. With three points separating the two sides, a win for either would be most welcome. Victory for the hosts would lift them level on points with Epping Reserves with a game in-hand while a win for Epping could see them move up to 10th and open a 6-point gap over the side below, giving them a sense of relief going through the season.