Welcome to my first United Counties League column for the Northants Telegraph – my thanks to Jon Dunham for asking me to share my thoughts on the local UCL scene in the area.
I’m sure most of you will remember when the newspaper was daily, which meant plenty of column inch space for UCL coverage six days a week, but since it is now sold weekly there is limited space to promote the league and keep it’s readers informed.
I’m sure many people used to buy the ‘ET. (as it was known then) mainly for the football coverage and interviews, transfers, match previews, match reports, and even squad lists for the Saturday or Tuesday night (first team and reserve) were published so people knew who they were up against.
Then came social media...
With the emergence of Facebook, and then Twitter, people got their UCL news for free via their computers and phones, instead of having to buy a paper.
A few years ago, I thought of the idea of setting up an ‘unofficial’ UCL Facebook page to get instant results, news, interviews and match reports as matches were finishing in the local area (East Northants).
I expected it to gain around 200 followers at best, but it soon passed the 1000 mark, and as word spread around the grounds in the UCL, people started following not only from far and wide within the UCL (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire etc), but it also gained a following from people across the world – ex UCL players and managers.
A few years on, it isn’t far off reaching the 10,000 mark.
While running this page I also chose to do it anonymously as I was managing Irchester United Reserves, and as the page covers the Reserve League as well, I didn’t want opposition managers of players treating me any differently because I ran the page.
I wanted honest match reports from people who were managing or playing against my team.
I’ve followed the UCL since the late 1990’s as a teenager watching Irchester United, going to grounds that are no longer a part of the league such as Higham Town, Eye United and Kempston amongst others.
Over the years it has been interesting to see how clubs have either improved or declined, whether that be on the pitch or off it – most of it being down to money.
Managers have come in with funds and spent money on players to help teams get promoted (Irchester included), and clubs have generally improved facilities through grants.
Surfaces have gone from “park pitches” to near enough bowling greens, changing rooms and showers are now a lot better at most clubs, and things have a slightly more professional feel to it than a few years ago.
Saying that, the standard hasn’t changed too much in my opinion, in fact it has probably slightly declined, but more on that another time.
I’ve been asked by Jon to review UCL football in East Northants and this week I’ll give a little round-up on each club in the area.
Manager Chris Bradshaw had a great start to the season, but perhaps their good FA Vase run has taken its toll on their league form slightly.
They’ve dropped down to 10th, and their recent form seems to be win one, lose one, win one, lose one…
They have two tricky games coming up against Leicester Nirvana and Cogenhoe United, which may determine whether they can get anywhere near their impressive fourth-placed finish last season.
Having their reserve team fold recently may also have a big impact on their run-in if they have many injuries, suspensions or players unavailable.
Corinthians finished last season on 48 points and they have already amassed 42 so far this season and are well on course to improve on their 16th place finish last term.
Having said that, they haven’t won in their last seven games and co-managers Shaun Sparrow and Jim Scott will be looking to avoid defeat at high flying Wisbech Town who have scored an impressive 15 goals in the last two games on Saturday.
Jordan Henson is in fine goal scoring form with 14 goals in 33 games, with Calum Plowright also chipping in with nine in 28.
The Doughboys are in a transitional period after the recent resignation of manager Stuart Goosey, although new boss Nathan Marsh, previously in charge of Sileby Rangers earlier this season, has had a fine start to his managerial career at the Dog & Duck with a 5-0 win against Sleaford Town and a 2-1 success against Eynesbury Rovers.
The capture of Deven Ellwood from next door neighbours Whitworth has proved fruitful for Wellingborough, with 13 goals in 24 games.
Recent signing from Sileby Nathaniel Ansu has hit four goals in six games and they could be a formidable partnership going forwards.
Wellingborough have announced they will be having a reserve team next season, which will help transition for their young players from the Under-18s into the first team.
In their debut season in the Premier Division, Whitworth got off to a flying start but lack of depth in their squad has hit them hard this year and they’ve slipped to 18th in the table.
Goals seem to be their downfall this season with their top scorer on eight goals (Cavell Jarvis), with Jordan Pendered chipping in with 7.
It is difficult not having a budget in the Premier Division, but manager James Mallows has done a fine job with the resources he has available.
They have a home clash against fellow strugglers Sleaford on Saturday, which Mallows must see as a good chance of gaining three points to get their season back on track.
The Shopmates are enjoying their best season for many years, currently sitting in second place.
Saturdays narrow 1-0 defeat against leaders Pinchbeck United may end up handing them to the title, but I’m sure Jim Le Masuriers side will push them all the way.
One huge impact at Kiln Park this season has been the signing of Ty Clark from Irchester United. He has registered 22 goals in 28 games so far.
Raunds have only conceded two goals in the last five games and that must count for promotion form if they can keep it tight at the back for the rest of the season.
RUSHDEN & HIGHAM UNITED
Wayne Abbott has assembled a decent footballing side over the last 18 months, with a good mixture of youth and experience.
In the games I’ve watched them play this season they try to keep the ball on the floor as much as they can rather than pump it long and I’ve enjoyed watching them.
Eighteen-year-old striker Dylan Wilson is in great form with 23 goals in 27 games so far.
They’ve several players that have come through their Under-18s such as Jory Mann, Barry Deacon, Louis McMahon, Jayden Carter and Alex Paterson, which should be the aim for any club at this level.
The majority of their players are Rushden-based, so it is good to see them doing so well, currently in fourth place.
It has been a rollercoaster season for Steve Sargent’s Romans.
After a fine start, they hit a bad patch and struggled to get a win for several games, then went on a long unbeaten run, and also a great run in the NFA Junior Cup.
Irchester are currently 13th and will aim to match or succeed their eighth-placed finish last season.
Nathan Heycock has been particularly impressive with nine goals from midfield, and the new strike partnership of Ryan Lovell and Alfie Taylor will look to push Irchester back up the table after losing last season’s top scorer Ty Clark to Raunds earlier this campaign.
Thrapston finished 10th last season on 55 points, but are currently way off that mark in 14th on 29.
Their top scorers are on six goals, which says a lot about their season so far.
Jedd Whiteman scored 12 last season but is currently on only three from 18 games, and manager Ian Walker must look to rectify their goal-scoring problems if they are to improve on their current standing.
They’ve also struggled to name a full bench recently, and they travelled to Pinchbeck with a bare 11 recently, so folding their reserve team at the end of last season seems to have had an effect this term.
BURTON PARK WANDERERS
It has been an eventful season for the Black and Blue at Latimer Park, with Dave Dent resigning after their 15-0 loss against Harrowby United in only the second game of the season.
Current manager Daren Young had to almost start from scratch with players signed elsewhere, but has added several of his former Sileby players such as Paul Caswell, Mark Forbes, Stuart MacMichael, Dominic Okanu, Michael Byrne (who has since moved on to S&L Corby!) amongst others.
Recent hammerings (6-1 at Rushden & Higham and 5-1 at Moulton) won’t have pleased Young and Friday night’s 2-1 defeat against fellow strugglers Thrapston will add to the frustration.
Burton travel to Young’s former club Irchester on Saturday where he will hope to turn things around and get back on track.
STEWARTS & LLOYDS
It has been a horrendous couple of years for the Corby club, who couldn’t buy a win.
Former manager Ian Benjamin tried to build with youth, but wasn’t rewarded with commitment and dedication and struggled to keep a group of players together for long.
S&L recently appointed Desborough Town Reserves co-managers Derek Simmons and Sean Mason, who are no strangers to Occupation Road from their previous spells at the club, and their aim is to attract more Corby-based players to the club.
Two notable signings are Michael Byrne from Burton Park Wanderers who will add to their firepower, and young central defender Dean McBride who has made appearances for Corby Town’s first team this season, and played for me at Kettering Town Under-16s a couple of years ago before progressing to adult football at Harborough Town.
S&L have 115 players currently signed on, which says a lot about their story this season. Hopefully brighter times are on the horizon for the club.
Thanks for reading (if you got this far), and hopefully this weekly column with help give a little more exposure to the UCL.
Dan Beaman is the administrator for the unofficial UCL Facebook page, which you can visit by clicking here