RYMAN LEAGUE DIVISION TWO
In June everyone at Broad Lane was hit by the sad news that club stalwart Frank Large had passed away following an 18 month battle with cancer of the pancreas. Frank was a popular figure and had been involved with the Dragons over the years as both a committee member and grounds man. It was his love of Wivenhoe that saw him continue to work around the ground despite his illness almost until the very end and his contribution to the club has never been forgotten.
Having finished the previous season in 6th place the Dragons came into the new campaign still under the joint management of Julian Hazel, Steve Pitt and Joff March. New arrivals included goalkeeping duo Jon Cardy and Simon Morden to replace the USA bound Ollie Sanders plus the returning Simon Gray (back for a 3rd spell) and left back Robbie May who had arrived back via Harwich & Parkeston. Pre season games had included a superb 2-1 home win over Colchester United’s full first team, but there was an air of uncertainty over the Ryman League’s standing in the non-league game as it’s four division set up put it at odds with the rest of the pyramid which was due to undergo further restructuring with the Conference League only wanting two divisions feeding into it. Threats of Ryman Premier Division clubs breaking away to “go it alone” or joining forces with “rebel” clubs from other leagues certainly gave league “supremo” Alan Turvey a headache and the rumblings of discontent cast a cloud over the dawn of the new season.
There was also an air of gloom at Broad Lane as injuries and suspensions held over from the previous season saw the Dragons travel to Windsor & Eton on the opening day with no less than NINE players unavailable. With a patched up side it was therefore an unexpected surprise to record a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Levi Willis and Simon Gray, then go on to achieve two 2-2 draws at home to Banstead Athletic and Marlow. Preliminary Round exits in the League Cup (0-1 at Marlow) and the F.A.Cup (1-2 at Wingate & Finchley) were followed by a 1-4 defeat at Leighton Town where Julian Hazel was sent off, however, the rot was stopped at East Thurrock United on Saturday 9th September as goals from Gray, Willis and Jimmy Clewley gave us a 3-1 victory. Ex Colchester United player Paul Abrahams was signed from Chesham United and he made his debut in a 2-0 win at home to Hungerford Town (scorers Gray & Hazel), a result that pushed the Dragons up into 2nd in the table.
It seemed that no sooner had one player returned to the side then another would become unavailable with Levi Willis’ 35 day suspension (held over from his previous club Wokingham Town) and Simon Gray’s early departure doing little to help matters. A 2-1 F.A.Vase win at Felixstowe thanks to a rare Kevin Hughes goal and a close range finish from Abrahams was followed by the news that winger Sean Campbell had joined the club and he made his debut in a 1-4 defeat at Molesey (as did Jon Cardy who replaced the injured Simon Morden). League victories over Leyton Pennant (3-0 home) and Edgware (4-0 home) plus a 2-2 draw at high flying Barking were countered by disappointing Cup exits at Gt.Wakering 0-1 (Essex Senior Cup) and East Thurrock 0-3 (F.A. Vase) before big spending Hemel Hempstead arrived at Broad Lane on Tuesday 31st October. A corking Julian Hazel goal gained us a share of the spoils and kept us in 5th place. Little did we know that the weather would suddenly take a turn for the worst and almost constant rain would mean we would only play four more games over the next two and a half months !!. During this time Tim Tricker worked tirelessly on the ground and at one point pumped the pitch clear of surface water on five occasions in two days only for it to return. Then came the snow !!. In addition to associated cash flow problems due to postponements, the club’s floodlights failed their two year lux check. And so began the saga of trying to install four new bulbs as no lifting equipment could be placed on the sodden pitch surface. Eventually a company using harnesses replaced the bulbs…but we again failed to reach the required lux value. In the end 4 additional light heads were fitted to the corner pylons at a cost of £3,000, money the club could ill afford with its income stretched. At this point the Ryman League Management announced that the set up was to be changed in the summer to Premier Division/ Division One North/ Division One South and a 2nd Division which would eventually be reduced to “feeder” league status by 2005.
When the Dragons returned to action on Saturday 13th January at Leyton Pennant we were 11th in the table and had only played 14 matches of a 42 game programme !!!. Second from bottom Leyton raced into a two goal lead but the dismissal of their captain for violent conduct turned the tide and a rare goal from Andy Smith laid the foundations for a 4-2 victory thanks to 2nd half goals by Hazel, Abrahams and Campbell. If we were “ring rusty” in this game what followed 10 days later was utterly woeful as we crashed 1-5 at home to East Thurrock. A 0-0 draw at Marlow and a 2-4 home exit from the Associate Members Cup at the hands of Hemel followed before “rain stopped play” again until Saturday 10th February when we visited Banstead Athletic. With Jason Clewley and Lee Abrehart missing with flu, a gutsy performance saw goals from Alan Day and Scott McInnes record a narrow 2-1 victory despite having “Jules” sent off for retaliation following an appalling challenge by a home defender. “Daisy” operated as a lone striker after we went down to 10 men and terrorized the home back line, even when he was up against four on one situations !. This was the beginning of a run that saw seven straight wins that propelled the Dragons up from mid table and into the promotion race and landed Hazel, Pitt and March with the Manager Of The Month award for February. Sadly the rain continued to be a major problem and limited us to just two games in the whole of March, though we were heartened by the news that the outstanding Danny Roberts turned down a move to Braintree Town and “Jules” netted his 100th goal for the club in a superb 4-1 win at Hungerford Town (Abrahams, Day and Steve Henson also on target).
Away from the pitch in mid February the Football Association vetoed any move by the Ryman League to go ahead with their proposed restructuring plans for the summer and announced that the changes could not happen until the 2002/03 season. This left Wivenhoe in the situation that bar gaining automatic promotion at the end of the current campaign, remaining in Division Two would effectively mean a whole “dead” season of meaningless fixtures for 2001/02. To say we were all less than chuffed was an understatement. Dragons Chairman Kevin Foskett teamed up with Molesey’s Norman Clark, Windsor’s Peter Simpson and Banstead’s Terry Malloy to urge the F.A. to change their mind and approached F.A. Chief Executive Adam Crozier and Sports Minister Kate Hoey in a bid to get the ruling overturned. Twenty Ryman League club chairmen attended an initial protest meeting with written support received from thirty other clubs however, with league chairman Alan Turvey and secretary Nick Robinson failing to attend and show any support, it was all doomed to failure.
(Above Player-Manager Julian Hazel shields the ball)
As April began Wivenhoe still had 18 games to play in less than five weeks !!. It was a punishing schedule and the league refused pleas by some desperate clubs to extend the season by ten days (the Eastern Counties League being one of the competitions who undertook this sensible move). Amazingly quite a few clubs voted AGAINST the extra days as they feared that their players, only being contracted to play until 5th May, would refuse to play after that date if it meant not getting paid their full wages or being asked to, god forbid, play for nothing (strange how some players want to play for “ambitious” clubs until asked to turn out for a couple of games for a few less dollars). So, with injuries, suspensions and a couple of departures to contend with, the Dragons embarked on the most outrageous fixture schedule they have ever had to endure as a senior football club with a 4-2 home win over Wembley on Tuesday 3rd April. Two days later table topping Barking were held to a 2-2 draw before our eleven match unbeaten run finally came to an end with a 1-3 defeat at the hands of Horsham in West Sussex. The remainder of the run-in was a real rollercoaster ride with highlights being a 4-0 thrashing of Horsham (Ian Kershaw coming off the sub’s bench to net a hat trick to add to a Gary Hudson penalty) followed by a 3-0 victory over Leighton Town the next night thanks to a brace from Lewis Baillie and a strike from “Daisy”, plus a 1-0 home win over F.A. Vase Finalists Berkhamsted (scorer Baillie) achieved without a recognised keeper, centre back Andy Partner having to play the entire match in goal as Cardy was suspended and we had not registered another keeper before the deadline !. Despite some gallant performances keeping us in the mix, fatigue finally caught up with us as we crashed 0-5 at Champions Tooting & Mitcham on Thursday 3rd May. That said it was probably the 2-2 home draw with Windsor two days earlier that cost us a promotion place as we established a two goal lead through Abrahams and Hudson, missed a host of chances and were then pegged back under the most controversial of circumstances. We finished the season with a 3-1 win over Tooting in front of 312 spectators (a rare good home crowd in a season of disappointing attendances) thanks to a brace from Abrahams and an Alan Day header but our failure to go up and the forthcoming “dead” season soon had its knock on effect as, within a few weeks, the entire first team squad (with the exception of “Daisy”) and management departed. Before that, at the club’s award night, Robbie May picked up both “Manager’s Player Of The Year” and “Players’ Player Of The Year” while Andy Smith won “Clubman Of The Year”.
The season also saw the club embark on an ambitious venture by joining forces with the University Of Essex and making their Colchester & East Essex League First XI our Reserves. With Dave Williams (director of physical recreation at the Uni) becoming Reserves Manager (as well as Sports Science Director on the club’s committee) the team enjoyed a highly successful season by winning the Essex & Suffolk Border League Second Division Championship. It all went down to the very last day and the Title was won by virtue of an 8-1 victory at Little Oakley Reserves while outstanding midfielder Lewis Baillie went on to become a first team regular and Phil Otum finished leading goal scorer with 20 goals in 21 appearances.
FIRST TEAM APPEARANCES (SUB APPEARANCES IN BRACKETS)
46 (+1) Kevin HUGHES, 43 Steve HENSON, 41 (+2) Danny ROBERTS, 39 Jon CARDY, 39 Robbie MAY, 36 Paul ABRAHAMS, 31 (+3) Gary HUDSON, 30 (+2) Lee ABREHART, 29 (+2) Lewis BAILLIE, 26 (+3) Sean CAMPBELL, 25 (+4) Julian HAZEL, 24 (+1) Alan DAY, 20 (+16) Andy SMITH, 17 (+11) Scott McINNES, 17 Jimmy CLEWLEY, 12 (+9) Danny SMITH, 12 (+3) Jason CLEWLEY, 10 (+3) Simon GRAY, 9 Simon MORDEN, 8 (+2) Joff MARCH, 7(+1) Jason DOWNEY, 5 (+10) Ian KERSHAW, 3 (+5) Levi WILLIS, 3 Lee RACE, 2 John KEMP, 2 Andy PARTNER, 2 Chris SENK, 1 (+2) Junior JONES, 1 (+1) Jamie COTTEE, 1 Andy TAYLOR, 0(+2) Dave GREENE,0(+1) Lewis HARRIS, 0 (+1) Tolo TAYLOR.
FIRST TEAM GOALSCORERS
14 – Paul ABRAHAMS, 10 – Jimmy CLEWLEY, 10 – Alan DAY, 8 – Julian HAZEL, 7 – Steve HENSON, 7 – Gary HUDSON, 6 – Scott McINNES,4 – Lewis BAILLIE, 3 – Simon GRAY, 3 – Ian KERSHAW, 2 – Kevin HUGHES, 2 – Andy SMITH, 2 – Danny SMITH, 2 – Levi WILLIS, 1 – Lee ABREHART, 1 – Sean CAMPBELL, 1 – Dave GREENE, 1 – Robbie MAY, 1 – Lee RACE, 2 – Own Goals.