Sunday, 14 February 2016

13/02/16 Review: Canvey Island vs East Thurrock United

Canvey Island 2-4 East Thurrock United (Ryman Premier League)
The Frost Financial Stadium

Valentine's Weekend, the ultimate opportunity for couples to display their affection towards each other; a time of love, a time of happiness, a time of football. After planning the weekend off to travel to Southend for a family Birthday meal, I decided to make the most of a chance to visit the original sanctuary of romance, Canvey Island.

Some people refer to The Frost Financial Stadium as "Cupid's Love Nest"
Joking aside, Canvey Island has always been a side that I've kept an eye on over the years, ever since I managed to take them from the Conference Premier to the old Division One on LMA Manager back in the day. Yes, you read right, the Islanders were once in the same elite group as current League One high-flyers Burton Albion and hosted Conference matches for the best part of three years between 2004 and 2006. Unfortunately for the club, the main financial broker at Canvey, Jeff King, left the club for local rivals Chelmsford City and the club was forced to voluntarily resign from the league in the 2005-06 season. In a season which also included the relegation of the original Scarborough F.C, it was clearly a very troubled year for the two seaside clubs. So troubled, in fact, that Canvey were relegated (despite finishing 14th) and bottom-side Altrincham were spared relegation because of the financial issues of other clubs. Amazingly, Altrincham also had the same fate in the next two seasons, as they finished in the Relegation Zone on both occasions but survived the drop because of a double relegation of Boston United in 2006-07 and Halifax Town in 2007-08. The mid 00's were an odd time in the lower leagues- with teams like Canvey, Scarborough, Boston and Northwich Victoria all struggling, we also saw the rise of teams like Burton, York and Stevenage. Canvey now sit right in the middle of the Ryman Premier League, planted in-between Leatherhead and the Met Police's Football Team.

In 2001, Canvey overturned Northampton Town here. Could they battle past East Thurrock today?
Today's opposition, East Thurrock United, were in the hunt for the league title still, and having beaten Canvey 4-0 in the reverse fixture last month they would be feeling confident of taking the spoils in the derby I've labelled "El Essexo", and as I arrived in the ground I would predict a firm 3-2 win for Thurrock as they continued to try and topple Hampton & Richmond from the leading spot. I expected goals, glamour and plenty of use of the Essex cursive tounge to leave me with a different experience of the beautiful game. As I entered the Corner Flag Pub to catch the end of Sunderland edging out Man United in the day's early kick-off, I was pleasantly surprised at the packed out clubhouse which stored many of the home support.

I felt as cosy as a tin of Canvey Sardines
Following a swift pint, I went for a look around the ground and at this stage I came across the Club Shop. Much to my pleasure, I spotted a large stack of 2015/16 Canvey home shirts on sale for the deliciously cheap price of £10! I couldn't resist, so I purchased one and put it straight on and therefore added another thin layer of clothing on this very cold day. The naming of Canvey's ground, The Frost Financial Stadium, never seemed so apt and all that I can say is that I was so glad that I was able to find an undercover seated area to place my ground-hopping hiney. Before taking a seat, I had an extensive chat with the Canvey saleswoman at the stand and she explained that the lower than anticipated numbers today at the ground was probably down to the Islanders losing a few games of late, and also because it was cold. It's sad but it's true, the non-league clubs attendances are often restricted by weather and form. Us footy fans are so fickle. Nevertheless, the hardcore fans started to file into the ground just before kick-off and they were intentionally just on time for kick-off.

For the third time in a row, the home side lining up in Yellow and Blue
After watching triumphs for Sporting Khalsa and Warrington Town on my previous two outings, I wasn't feeling as confident for the home side today, again in yellow and blue, as they faced a tough East Thurrock side who came into the match with a good record (Only one loss in 2016 so far, and that was their last match). Nicknamed "The Rocks", ETU have been members of the Isthmian League as of 2011-12, and in the 2012-13 season they almost went one further when they had a chance to make it to the Conference South. A defeat to Lowestoft Town stopped that, but this season they would look to make the leap up the non-league ladder. On the pitch, where it really matters, the players looked ready to kick-off and the announcer read out the two team's line-ups. Following this, he also gave a special shout-out to Three-year old Billy, the mascot for the afternoon, who apparently was "too cold so he's not coming out to the pitch". Fair enough.

It was pretty chilly, couldn't really blame the lad
Now, without trying to sound like a region-racist, I was intrigued to see what sort of football-style I would see from a non-league southern team. Having watched the rough and tough playing style of Warrington Town, Glossop North End and Scarborough Athletic in the North, and also the possession play from Midlands sides like Stafford Rangers, Kidsgrove Athletic and Newcastle Town, I was expecting step-overs and fancy footwork from this Essex derby. The concept of certain regions developing a type of footballing methodology based on teams that they look up to had definitely been evident in teams I'd seen this season. Having watched Warrington show a defensive grit similar to a once-great Bolton Wanderers side, I almost instantly saw Canvey begin to attack with the flair of Arsenal- and for a minute I could've sworn that I saw former-gunner Freddy Ljungberg tearing down the wing. As it was the legendary "El Essexo", the tempo began with that of any great rivalry. The ref set the scene for some questionable decisions to come, by giving the Rocks left-back a free-kick for a 50/50 challenge which had minimal contact. Upon winning the foul, the defender stood up and started chuckling with a team-mate, who asked him "is that three in a row now?". It was something, in my opinion, that would never have stood in the hardened northern leagues. It is almost always common courtesy in the lower leagues to give the ref some stick, and Essex was no different. A foul was given by the ref by the touchline and upon the whistle blowing, one young lad jumped to his feet and baled out "you what mate, you what?!" His anger turned to glee soon enough though, as ex-Hungarian Premier League forward Tony Stokes finished off a magnificent passage of play from the Islanders to put them 1-0 within the first 15 minutes. Canvey 1-0 Thurrock. The match was well and truly up and running with the opener and before the away side had time to settle and re-group, they were on the back foot again. Canvey continued to play free-flowing football and some poor keeping from Thurrock's Lockyer meant that top-scorer Martin Tuohy could stab home a quick-fire second. Canvey 2-0 Thurrock. Having lost a three-goal lead in their last match, the home side would this time be hoping that they could hold on and learn from the mistakes of last weekend.

An exciting match so far, who said the Ryman Premier League was wooden?
Following the howler from the keeper for the second goal, one of the Rocks midfielders showed his frustration at Lockyer when he came out to rush his clearance and waste possession again. "Pick it up, its in your facking box!", shouted his angered team-mate. The luck for the away side soon turned though as Canvey defender Lawrence Yiga committed a centre-backs suicide. Just before the half-hour mark, Yiga mistimed his header and left himself with it all to do in order to save the day. Alas, he didn't, he instead made a poor challenge on the United attacker and chopped him down in the box. A penalty and a red card meant that the chance was there for the taking. Higgins stepped up for the away side and calmly finished from 12-yards. Canvey 2-1 Thurrock. With over an hour left on the clock, I got the feeling it was going to be one of those days in Canvey Island. Unless the home side could get a third goal they would surely surrender the narrow lead they held, which is probably why manager Danny Heale didn't do too much to change his team's style. The poor defending at both ends meant that anything could happen, with Canvey's big goalie playing a great 70-yard punt to create a chance for his forwards. From assist-master to shot-stopper, Gough then managed to keep out the visitors with a fine save and from the resulting corner a defender headed a goal-bound ball away. As expected, both sides looked good in attack, and with the added ingredient of a local derby, it was turning into a good game of football.
End-to-end footy at The Frost Financial Stadium
As half-time neared, East Thurrock carried on knocking on the door and in the end the pressure paid dividends for them. A move which in most non-competitive forms would be referred to as a "Jew goal", but in the real world was as valid a goal as any, meant that a good piece of play from Antigua & Barbuda international James Walker would eventually be passed across the goal to allow his team-mate the easiest of tap-ins into an empty net. Canvey 2-2 Thurrock. The home team will have been disappointed to crumble just before half-time, which meant that it was time to run inside for another pint. Seeing that my favoured side, Macclesfield Town, were 3-0 down against the bottom-side in the league made me glad to be on the cold, below sea-level, Essex island of Canvey watching some entertaining play from both sides. During the break, I had a look through the programme and found an article which was very much what I'd expect in this part of the world.
Where else but Essex?
I returned back to my seat at the worn stadium and prepared myself for the temperature to drop further for the second-half. The teams jogged back out and got the game under way again, with an apparent change in tactics from Canvey. Goalscoring forward Stokes seemed to have dropped into the midfield, whilst the speedy left-winger looked more like a left-back for the final 45. The game was tense in the second-half as East Thurrock looked to capitalise again. As the ball went out of play, the newly converted left-back for Canvey went to take a throw-in. He was approached by the lino, who pointed at a hole in the pitch and told him, "from there, that mound there." With one red card already being shown, a couple of bookings followed and at the midway point of the second-half we'd seen no more goals, despite the chances created. The subs rolled on and the Rocks managed to score an offside goal, before the decisive moment in the 70th minute. Former Billericay Town centre-back Ellul whipped over a truly terrific ball into the mix which allowed Tom Wraight to slot home third for East Thurrock. Canvey 2-3 Thurrock. With the game seemingly won, United brought on a couple of subs to freshen the team up and with less than 10 minutes to play there was some daylight between the two sides. Following chants from a dozen or so of the away crowd of "2-0 up, and you fucked it up", Canvey well and truly fell asleep and surely enough conceded their seventh goal in two matches as a simple finish was applied by Higgins again. Canvey 2-4 Thurrock.

It's all gone downhill for the Islanders

There wasn't much more to follow, aside from some more referee abuse. One player was booked for telling the main man that he was embarrassing himself, whilst another simply looked at him and said "Aww just chill out, ref". He promptly blew his whistle and the game was brought to an end. The away side had got the crucial win they'd desired and had managed to notch 4 more goals past their Essex rivals. I popped back into the clubhouse whilst I awaited my lift, being greeted by the barstaff, who told me that I should've worn more clothes. With that, I supped a final pint and my ride arrived. A near-freezing afternoon at a very well-worn ground, mixed with an exciting, goal-filled, card-brimmed derby match meant that I went home satisfied and impressed with my second experience of football in Essex. A much more entertaining game than the two matches I'd seen at Southend United's Roots Hall.

Below sea-level, let's hope that Canvey don't sink again