The following article is my first to be published on Togganet ("the No.1 Resource for Amateur Football In Yorkshire")...
|Gavin Thurkettle scores the fifth goal in the 9-1 win over Welbeck |
Sam Huteson was the star of the show. The young winger scored a hat-trick and claimed three assists as ‘The Eastenders’ put daylight between themselves and the bottom club.
While the victory was certainly enjoyable, more importantly it provided vindication – if any were required – of the club’s decision not to pull the plug on its CML membership; something that had appeared a distinct possibility as recently as August.
Had they done so, they would have followed the likes of Hutton Cranswick United and, further back, Kingston Amateurs as teams from the East Riding of Yorkshire who found the move from grassroots local to regional football a step too far. And many would have said, “I told you so”.
The Easington I am referring to (there are, to my knowledge, at least four in England) is a small village on the Yorkshire coast, situated some six miles north of Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber Estuary. To the outside world, it is probably known for little except its historic Tithe Barn and the nearby Gassco, Perenco and Centrica terminals, through which roughly a fifth of the country’s gas is piped ashore.
Easington is located in an area known locally as the “east end of Holderness”, hence the club’s nickname which was formally adopted to mark their 50th anniversary in 1997.
Formed in 1947 as Easington AFC & CC, the football and cricket sections went their separate ways eleven years later. The moniker “United”, which had been used from the start in reports to encompass the surrounding villages from which players were drawn, was now formally adopted.
Following a brief period in the now-defunct South Holderness League, the club spent the majority of its existence in the lower reaches of the East Riding County League where it is still represented today by its second and third teams.
Under manager Mike Wilson (a near legendary character in these parts) the club embarked on a swift rise up the league, beginning with the Division 3 title in 1990/91.
The Eastenders were beaten finalists in both the League Cup and South Holderness Cup that same season, an achievement made all the more remarkable by the tragic death in March 1991 of the then record goal scorer Melvin Douglas.
|ERCFA Intermediate Cup winners 1998/99 (Colin Brammer)|
Further promotions followed, culminating in United reaching the Premier Division for the first time in 1998/99. The same season saw the club achieve its first ever East Riding County FA Cup success, courtesy of a thumping 5-0 win over AFC Darleys in the Intermediate Cup Final, played at Hall Road Rangers’ Dene Park ground.
As members of the East Riding County League Premier Division the club was invited to become founder members of the FA’s new Supply League for the area, the Humber Premier League, for 2000/01.
Initial problems with facilities at their Low Farm ground threatened to derail the Eastenders’ hopes but these were overcome thanks to a short-term move to Humbleton. Their efforts in overcoming these problems were rewarded when the club was invited to play in the League’s inaugural match, against Hall Road Rangers Reserves on August 16 in front of 320 spectators.
The club returned to Low Farm in 2002 and the following season proved the most successful yet. Having stepped up to succeed the retiring Wilson during the summer, new manager Sean McLaughlin steered United to second spot in the Humber Premier League and success in the League Cup, the South Holderness Cup and the Dave Iley Memorial Trophy.
Easington United were no longer anyone’s “whipping boys” and were becoming a real force in local football.
Frustrated by what they saw as the League’s lack of off-the-field progress, in 2009 the club successfully applied to join the Central Midlands League. They followed fellow East Riding clubs Westella & Willerby and Hutton Cranswick United, who had made the same move the previous year.
In their maiden campaign Easington narrowly missed out on promotion from the Premier Division. However, a disappointing second season and subsequent league reorganisation on regional lines has since seen the club struggle.
Successive final placings of 10th and 11th in the North Division led many to question the feasibility of remaining in the competition, especially as the HPL could now offer the same Step 7 status and was geographically more suitable. This came to a head in the summer when poor attendance at pre-season training and weak squads fielded in the opening friendly fixtures prompted the Management Committee to state its intention to resign from the competition with immediate effect.
As a lifelong resident of the village and someone who has been involved with the club since the mid-Eighties this came as a major blow.
Over the years Easington United has become known as a club that is keen to progress and has often overcome adversity in order to do so. Never boasting a glut of technically accomplished players (although that 2003/04 side came pretty close) the club has always attracted the “muck or nettles” brigade, willing to make-up for any shortcomings in ability with big hearts and a never-say-die attitude. In August 2013 it was finally accepted that this alone may not be enough to see us through. The following options were therefore put before the members.
One was that we promote the bulk of last season’s Reserves into the senior squad and continue in the CML; as “sink or swim” as you can get.
The other was that we could withdraw from the Central Midlands League and field our first team in the Premier Division of the East Riding County League. This would effectively mean taking the place of the Reserves who had clinched promotion last spring and also signal the end of the Casuals (third team) with the Reserves dropping to Division 4.
Neither proposal appeared that attractive and even talk of a possible last-minute possibility of returning to the HPL, thus maintaining our Step 7 status, failed to lighten the mood.
In the event it was mainly the efforts of one man that ensured neither of the above options had to be taken. Andy Graham, our player/asst-mgr, was determined not to let “years of hard work” go to waste.
After conversation with him – and with just eight days to go before we were due to open the season at home to Thorne Colliery – I contacted the league and managed to secure a three-week deferment, meaning we would now start the season at ClayCrossTown on August 31.
I haven’t seen Andy’s phone bill for that period in early August but I can hazard a guess at it. I’m just thankful it all proved worthwhile.
Not that there weren’t still doubters even as the new start date loomed large, among them me and team manager McLaughlin. The latter, a Teessider who married and settled in the area after initially coming here to work, had returned to the post of manager following the resignation of Dave Mackay-Dundas in the summer of 2012.
McLaughlin, known as “Sumo” for what should be obvious reasons, had been encouraged by a decent finish to the 2012/13 campaign.
But he took the slow start to pre-season personally. With some players jumping ship, others absent and several anticipated signings not materialising “Sumo” simply couldn’t see how the squad at his disposal could compete with the likes of AFC Mansfield. Worse, he predicted nothing short of embarrassment should we even try to do so.
His view was reinforced when a team cobbled together largely by Graham was swept aside with some ease by HPL side Sculcoates Amateurs in our final pre-season friendly.
It completed a hat-trick of defeats, in which McLaughlin had at no time been able to select from more than five or six “core” first-teamers.
However, for Graham (and me) the Sculcoates game had the opposite effect. We agreed that while the result, a 6-2 loss, wasn’t great and that there were certainly shortcomings all across the park, there was nevertheless something in the attitude on show that suggested Graham might be on to something.
On Tuesday, August 28 a brief Committee meeting granted permission for me to contact the League and confirm our intention to fulfil our league fixtures. “Andy Power” had won the day.
The following Saturday we boarded the “Pistol Pete Express” (the 17-seater LDV minibus that has served as our regular away match vehicle since entering the league) and headed to Derbyshire, with a squad including a sprinkling of fresh-faced youngsters new to this level of football.
From a personal point of view, we couldn’t have wished for better opponents following such a traumatic summer. ClayCrossTown are rightly considered one of the friendliest clubs in the CML and those associated with them appeared genuinely delighted that we’d overcome our problems.
Their Mill Lane ground also offers a pleasant introduction to Step 7 football – as does the post-match Woodthorpe Inn with its fine selection of cask ales (but that’s for another post).
Although beaten 2-0, there was enough in the United performance to suggest our decision to continue was fully justified. Another defeat, a home to Phoenix, was accompanied by a similarly encouraging display and when we picked up our first point, away at joint leaders Westella the following Tuesday, there was the sudden realisation that not only could we hold our own this season but we might just be able to surprise a few people.
The squad was coming together at last and despite sustaining two serious injuries in the 1-1 draw, four days later we still managed to field a team that pushed the aforementioned title favourites AFC Mansfield all the way before succumbing 2-1.
The downside of such a heartening start – we’d played the top three and the 6th-placed club – became apparent when struggling Glapwell arrived at Low Farm the following week. Perhaps believing that we only had to turn up to claim our first win, a 5-1 reverse soon reminded everyone that no games are a given in this competition. Thankfully, this was taken on board and despite the first genuinely disappointing display of the season at home to Sherwood Colliery a week later, the players showed the necessary determination to fight back from two down to claim a point.
And so to the Welbeck game when at the seventh time of asking the “Farm Faithful” finally celebrated victory. But it was more than just 3pts, it was hope that a corner has been turned and that when we return to action at home to Thoresby Colliery Welfare this Saturday (Oct 19) it will be as a team now set on securing a final place in the top third of the competition.
At risk of being accused of getting ahead of myself, it must be said that perennial strugglers Welbeck are hardly the ideal yardstick for the season. Still, such a resounding win combined with the overall performances thus far really does offer hope that the summer of 2013 could yet prove to have been a defining one.
We’re not ready to join those clubs who tried – and failed – just yet.