The Non League Paper today featured an article written by Steve Tervet about the rise of the SCEFL as a strength at Steps 5 and 6 of the Non League Paper. Mostly discussing the recent FA Vase successes of some of our teams the piece shows that in recent time we have at the least closed the gap on the Northern Leagues and the most can maybe call our 2 Divisions the strongest out there.
Have a read below and if you haven’t already consider a digital description to the weekly publication here.
For many years the Northern League dominated the FA Vase – but times are changing.
Such was their stranglehold between 2009 and 2017 that only once did the Vase trophy leave the north east, with Whitley Bay, Dunston, Spennymoor, North Shields, Morpeth and South Shields all triumphant at Wembley.
However, with three semi-finalists in the last two seasons coming from the Southern Counties East Football League, we are seeing a new force emerging at Step 5.
Corinthian’s first ever appearance in the last four this season follows Cray Valley PM’s run to the final last year – the Millers having beaten league rivals Canterbury City over two legs in the semi to get there.
Known as the Kent League until 2013, the SCEFL may not be a traditional powerhouse but they’re now making the Non-League public sit up and take notice.
“To have three semi-finalists in two years is awesome” said league chair Denise Richmond. “It shows how strong we are as a league. When I think of past years, the Northern League were always stronger because they have less Step 4 and Step 3 clubs in their area so players don’t want to travel, whereas the fact there are so many step 4,3, 2 and 1 clubs in our area shows we are a level of football strong players want to play at and teams are good at attracting them.
Teams in our league are better organised now and they take these competitions more seriously than they did in the past. Seeing Tunbridge Wells get to the final in 2013, it feels achievable”
Martin Larkin’s side were certainly trailblazers in that regard. With a long-term aim of growing their fanbase and laying the foundations for a future promotion push, Wells targeted the Vase and reached the last 64 in 2011, going one better the following year.
Few expected them to continue that progression when they faced holders Dunston UTS in the fourth round of 2012-13 but Larkin’s men defied the odds to win 1-0.
Wells saw off another northern side, Shildon, in a dramatic semi-final but Spennymoor at Wembley took things to another level.
The Moors had just won the Northern League for three years in a row and were about to embark on a remarkable surge up the pyramid. Last year they only just missed out on promotion to the National League – which would have been their fourth jump in six years – on penalties.
Larkin, whose side were edged out 2-1 said “You’ve only got to look at Spennymoor to see how strong that league is. They were in the middle of something special and that makes our defeat easier to swallow.
“When you look at how many SCEFL teams are going further these days, there must be an element of ‘if Tunbridge Wells can do it, why can’t we?’ The Northern League probably doesn’t hold the fear it once did. The more teams that win it outside of the Northern League, the less that aura exists.”
Like Tunbridge Wells Corinthian have made it to the sharp end of the competition without a playing budget. The man responsible for their rise is manager Michael Golding., who ran the under-15s, under 18’s and reserves before taking the top job five years ago.
He said “The SCEFL is a completely different standard now to when I was playing. The money being spent only improves the quality of players and the level of football and it doesn’t bother me who wants to spend what.
“The northern teams have historically dominated the Vase but the SCEFL is starting to show it is a strong league. It’s not just about the money , it’s about the professionalism of the league now. Clubs are looking after themselves, trying to progress and hopefully we can go with them.”
Cray Valley PM boss Kevin Watson agrees, “The standard of that level has improved – and the style of play,” he said. “Years ago there was more physicality but it’s a different brand of football now. To do well at that level, you have to pass the ball as well.
“The top of the SCEFL has some extremely strong sides – Chatham, Beckenham, Corinthian and Sheppey to name a few – and it’s full of good players with experience of playing at higher levels.”
Where the Northern League’s geography previously encouraged it’s clubs to reject promotion, the SCEFL’s proximity to London also has its advantages.
But this run has been no flash in the pan for Corinthian. They just missed out on promotion last season and the’re right in the title race again.
Golding siad. “It’s the perfect strom. The younger players have matured and the senior players like Jack Bath and Luke Tanner, who went through the tough times, have stuck it out.
“It’s consistency that sets us apart. We’ve only signed three new players this season. We’re not Man City but we play the level and try to play effective football. Boys are developing at the right time and we’re adding the right players here and there.
“To take some of the spotlight away from the northern teams is brilliant. Southern sides are competing. Bitton are also in the semis and Plymouth Parkway were favourites against Hebburn so the momentum is changing.”
Regret is hardly the word for Wells, given their 2013 opposition but Larkin’s pain took a while to ease. “For a couple of years I was pretty annoyed about it.” he admitted. “I’m finally at the point where I can look back and be really proud at what we did.”
“It was a fantastic six months with a really tight group of lads and that’s what got us through. We weren’t the best team team in the competition we all know that, but we were never going to say no.
“Cray Valley getting there brought it all back and it was great to see them go so close. With Corinthian there now, it does seem like the league is getting stronger.”
So what do the pioneers all have in common?
It’s not about how much they get paid, it’s about their team spirit, camaraderie and belief.” said Richmond. “Tunbridge Wells had that in abundance, so did Cray Valley and I think Corinthian have got it this year.
“We love having the spotlight. I know the Northern League clubs still get excited by the Vase and don’t take it for granted – but it’s good to share.”
Our thanks to Steve Tervet for the article and remember to keep buying the Non League Paper for more great content like this.