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Frenford made history by becoming the first ever Essex Veterans Trophy Final winners, and Manager Amin Levitt believes their strength in depth and “team spirit and hard work” got them through an entertaining encounter with a resilient Chipping Ongar side.
Frenford led 2-0 thanks to Rob Sharpe’s 13th-minute penalty and Roy Furlonge’s strike on 33 minutes. Ongar levelled with a goal either side of the interval, David Gipp converting a spot kick in first-half injury time and Pat Barnett netting in the 58th minute. In a frantic finale, Sharpe scored another penalty and Anthony Chuck put Frenford 4-2 up, followed by a late Gipp consolation.
In his programme notes, Levitt described his team environment as “the best changing room I’ve ever been involved in” in 30 years of football. He explained that the celebrations were quite special after the match: “We’re a very proud team. We didn’t play particularly well but our team spirit and hard work got us through it.”
“They played better than us - I’ve got to be truthful. It meant a lot to us to win that. They were great celebrations and we were delighted. I said to the guys that this isn’t going to come around very often. Enjoy it, and take everything in. You’ve won the County Cup!”
Ongar had started the season strongly and, although some inconsistent results have seen them fall behind in the race for honours, they sit safely in mid-table in the Essex Veterans League Premier Division. Meanwhile, Frenford are second in the same division with games in hand, which could claw back ground on leaders, Bishops Stortford Community.
The expansion of the veterans’ game in Essex over recent years hasn’t gone unnoticed and, with a thriving Over 45s set-up now in place within the Veterans League, the Essex County FA are delighted to now be able to offer a County Cup to accommodate Over 45s teams, with a really healthy 41 entries this season showing the depth of the local veterans game.
Frenford are a part of that success, and they took the lead on 13 minutes when they earned a penalty after a foul in the box and Sharpe made no mistake from the spot. This advantage was further extended in the 33rd minute courtesy of Furlonge, who latched onto a long ball forward, nudged it past goalkeeper Ryan Karrer and slotted into the net.
However, Chipping Ongar had no intention of surrendering, and they went close as half time approached. An indirect free kick was awarded after long-serving Frenford goalkeeper, Geoff Hurrell, picked up a backpass and Micky Boland's shot had to be bundled clear from the goal line.
They did halve the deficit five minutes into first-half injury time. Referee Christopher Hockett blew his whistle for another penalty as Terry Hughes was fouled in the area and Gipp dispatched the spot kick to reignite Ongar's ambitions. Chipping Ongar had only drawn once in the league this season - 2-2 against Frenford - could it happen again?
Levitt was wary, commenting: “We gave away six or seven free kicks on the bounce around the edge of the box and they scored right on half time. The game and the half time team talk just change. They come out in the second half and their tails are up.”
Nine minutes into the second half, Chipping Ongar had Frenford biting their nails as a looping effort from Boland dropped onto the roof of Hurrell's net. The game was intensifying further and Ongar finally restored parity with a 58th-minute leveller. Barnett, Ongar’s extra-time hero to win 1-0 in the Third Round, angled a shot across goal which found the net. The comeback was complete.
“When they scored their second goal with 20 minutes to go, I thought we were in real trouble for the first time in a long time,” Levitt recalled. “We weren’t playing well, but the one thing we’ve got is strength in depth. Our substitutes who come on, all should start. They can come on and improve the team. Every sub who came on played a major part in winning that game.
“That’s where we’ve most probably got the advantage over anyone else in that league - the boys who are on the bench are as good as the boys who are on the pitch. It doesn’t weaken the team in any shape or form - in fact, it improves the team. We’ve got this inner spirit and belief somewhere - I don’t know where it comes from - to get ourselves out of it. We were clinical.”
Despite the game continuing in a competitive manner, it wasn’t until five minutes from time that the deadlock was broken once more. And it was amid dramatic scenes when ‘keeper Karrer saved Sharpe's penalty kick, but it had to be re-taken and Sharpe eventually put Frenford back in front at the second attempt, with time running out for a reply.
And Frenford effectively denied their opponents another comeback just a minute later. Roger Burgess provided the cross and regular game-changer Chuck's diving header looked like it had sealed the silverware.
Levitt was relieved, claiming: “When it went to 3-2, we then took control of the game again, and the fourth goal was a fantastic goal. If they were going to take their chances at two-all, there it is. But, at 4-2, they’re not going to get us back from there.”
Ongar had other ideas, though. Five minutes into stoppage time, Tom Aitkin tried his luck with a looping shot which caused 'keeper Hurrell problems. Gipp tucked away the loose ball to give Frenford another late scare, but they held on this time around.
The occasion was particularly special for Frenford as long-serving player, Jimmy Watson, died suddenly in December, and the players paid tribute to him with commemorative warm-up shirts, while the match was also watched by Jimmy’s family, who lifted the trophy at the end.
Levitt reminisced fondly as he spoke of a popular player and friend, explaining: “Jimmy was a massive part of Frenford Football Club. He was a fantastic guy and we’ll never forget him. It hit us hard. That was always in the back of our minds - this trophy was for him.”
Chipping Ongar: Ryan Karrer, Ollie Kopel, Tom Aitkin, Jim Belford, Pat Barnett, Terry Hughes, Micky Boland, David Gipp, Tom Harland, Dean Ince, John Lawrence. Substitutes (repeated): Eric Macarthey, Paul Morton, Terry Demmon, Roy Mansi, Sean Adamson.
Frenford: Geoff Hurrell, Matt Fowles, Deep Banghard, Anthony Busby, Ernie Bentley, Michael Gonzague, Rob Sharpe, Dave Spicer, Roy Furlonge, Darren Gray, Chris Swift. Substitutes (repeated): Les Brace, Mike Lesporis, John Kennedy, Roger Burgess, Anthony Chuck.
Referee: Christopher Hockett.
Assistant Referees: Stephen Hatwell and David Michnowiec.
Fourth Official: Roddy Morrissey.