Many Essex non-league clubs can spend the festive Christmas and New Year spell looking back on 2018/19 with a degree of fondness as several moved up the football pyramid, some retained their existing status and others moved through the rounds of knockout cups.
There was late-season drama for both of Essex’s Football League teams at the end of the campaign but, ultimately, the status quo was maintained as Southend United dramatically ensured their League One survival with Steven Humphrys’ 87th-minute winner in a televised fixture against Sunderland at Roots Hall on the final day.
Colchester United were seconds away from earning a play-off place in League Two after crushing champions Lincoln City 3-0 at Sincil Bank. However, Jamille Matt netted an 87th-minute equaliser for Newport County away to Morecambe and the Welsh club pipped The U’s by a point.
There was little for the county’s clubs to cheer in the National League. Dagenham & Redbridge completed the campaign in 18th position, whilst Braintree Town’s stay in the top tier of non-league football lasted just one season. Despite a late rally, the Iron finished six points from safety.
Chelmsford City qualified for the National League South play-offs for the third year in succession, but they were defeated 3-2 by Welling United in the semi-finals. Concord Rangers finished sixth, missing out on a play-off place due to ground grading regulations, with Billericay Town in eighth. The Blues failed to reach the play-offs by one point on the final day of the season.
East Thurrock United’s three-year life in the National South ended as they were relegated to the Isthmian League Premier Division, where Brightlingsea Regent had just enjoyed a best-ever finish of 13th. AFC Hornchurch placed two positions lower, but Harlow Town were relegated to the South Central Division, finishing bottom. Essex held a monopoly over the top North Division positions.
Bowers & Pitsea were crowned champions by twelve points, earning promotion to Step 3 for the first time. Aveley, Maldon & Tiptree, Coggeshall Town and Heybridge Swifts qualified for the play-offs, with Swifts defeating rivals Maldon on penalties in the final. However, due the reorganisation of Step 4 football, their ‘points per game’ record was insufficient to see them promoted.
At the opposite end of the table, Romford were handed a reprieve from relegation due to North Ferriby United folding at Step 3 during the campaign. They would be joined in the North Division by Hullbridge Sports, who won the Essex Senior League. Step 4 football in 2019/20 would represent the highest level they have ever competed at.
Barkingside and Leyton Athletic were relegated to Step 6 from the Essex Senior League, but there was promotion at the first time of asking for Hashtag United, who held off the challenge of Coggeshall United and Halstead Town to claim the Eastern Senior League title.
In the FA Cup, Billericay Town reached the First Round Proper, losing 3-1 to National League outfit Chesterfield in a replay at New Lodge. Southend United, who entered at that stage, were beaten 4-2 by Barnsley in the Second Round, whilst Colchester United lost 1-0 away to Accrington Stanley in the First Round.
Dagenham & Redbridge prolonged Essex participation in the FA Trophy to the Second Round before losing 2-0 at National League Salford City. Brightlingsea Regent reached the Third Qualifying Round but lost 2-1 in a replay at North Road against Hayes & Yeading United. Aveley progressed from the Extra Preliminary to the Second Qualifying Round before losing to Beaconsfield Town.
FC Clacton and Hullbridge Sports represented Essex in the Third Round Proper of the FA Vase, going out to Deeping Rangers and Newport Pagnall Town respectively. Step 6 side May & Baker Eastbrook Community enjoyed their first outing in the competition as they reached the Second Round Proper before losing 1-0 to Swaffham Town.
There were impressive runs to the First Round Proper of the FA Youth Cup for Hullbridge Sports and Brentwood Town before both were beaten by Football League opposition. Hullbridge were defeated 2-0 by Peterborough United at Lower Road, whilst Brentwood enjoyed a trip to Kenilworth Road, where they lost 4-1 to Luton Town.
Southend United were knocked out in the Second Round by Charlton Athletic. Meanwhile, in the FA Women’s Cup, there was a superb run to the Third Round Proper for Billericay Town Ladies before they were edged out by Loughborough Foxes, 4-3, at New Lodge. C & K Basildon, who entered in the Second Round Proper, were beaten 8-3 by Keynsham Town.
For more information on grassroots Essex football, browse the menus above, follow @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and search for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.