All posts by Emma Murphy

Dear Lord, The battles we go through in life, we ask for a chance that's fair, a chance to equal our strides, A chance to do or dare. If we should win, let it be by the code, with faith and honor held high. If we should lose, let us stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by. DAY BY DAY, WE GET BETTER AND BETTER! UNTIL WE CAN'T BE BEAT! WE WON'T BE BEAT! ROLL TIDE!

East Kent Mavericks 26-6 Essex Spartans

The Essex Spartans are now 2-2 following their away defeat at East Kent Mavericks.
The Essex Spartans are now 2-2 following their away defeat at East Kent Mavericks.

It was a turbulent sixty minutes that saw the two 2-1 teams battle for the majority win, in which the Mavericks took a very early lead and eventually quashed the visitors 26-6.

East Kent started with a powerful tackle on Spartans #24 Dwayne Ferdinand, who fumbled the ball which was recovered by the Mavericks. On the next play a long pass to their WR went straight into the red zone and put the first points on the board inside the opening minute.

The Spartans offense continued to struggle as a further fumble was recovered by the Mavs to gain possession again, which was quickly returned for the second touchdown of the game, plus conversion, extending Kent’s lead 14-0.

There was a delay after a holding incident was called by the Spartans coaching staff but no such call was ultimately given; play continued with the Mavericks leading an impressive 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Spartans gained a first down straight off the bat in the second, but no further progress was made and the Mavericks offense returned to the field, gradually gaining yardage on every play.

Spartans #5 FS Kunle Omisakin saved the Spartans from further despair as he tacked the ball-carrier right on the end zone, and with the Spartans’ offense return to the field, #11 Norris Owusu made an 80-yard push to win the TD for the Spartans; #84 Mitch Arthur missed the conversion.

A seemingly rejuvenated Spartans were quickly despondent again as the fierce Mavericks offense made a third touchdown right on the two-minute warning. Spartans #13 Felix Olu earned a first down as the whistle blew, leaving the Spartans trailing 20-6 at the half.

The second half saw a barrage of knocks and injuries on both sides of the field, whilst Spartans defence held the Mavericks to a stalemate throughout the entire third quarter with no change to the score. The Spartans looked likely to have a man ejected after a personal foul was committed by #77 Steve Clements but the penalty came in lost yardage and the game continued.

A controversial incident in which the Spartans called adamantly for a severe block in the back was dismissed by the officials; the significant yardage gained was enough to earn Kent their final touchdown in the next play to seal the Spartans’ fate. The offense made a final push in the dying minutes to minimise the score gap, but ultimately nothing more could be done and the East Kent Mavericks took the victory 26-6.

3-1 East Kent return to training for two weeks ahead of their next game on 2nd July, whilst the Spartans have one week to prepare for a home visit from London Blitz B next Sunday 25th June.

London Blitz B 19-3 Essex Spartans

It was a sobering day at Finsbury Park for the Essex Spartans.
It was a sobering day at Finsbury Park for the Essex Spartans.

The winning streak was short-lived for Essex Spartans as missing crucial players meant they failed to maintain their lead and conceded 19 points in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Blitz ‘B’ Team.

The game began badly for the Spartans on the first play as #11 Norris Owusu fumbled the catch and the ball was intercepted straight away by the Blitz. Spartans quickly found their feet however and #35 Oli Page tipped the ball for #51 Harry Shelton to recover, putting the Spartans offense back on the field.

Both sides looked equal for the majority of the first quarter; Spartans #13 Felix Olu looked likely for a TD with a powerful run through the Blitz defense but was brought down at 15 yards.

Spartans #19 Ashton Lord then stepped up and ran the ball to the end zone, but was flagged for being out of bounds and the points were not given. The visitors took consolation in a superb field goal from #84 Mitch Arthur on the fourth down to give the Spartans a 0-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The two sides barely moved from between the 30-yard markers during the second quarter, with one or two first downs being achieved but with no real significant yardage gain. Arthur sacked the Blitz QB in the dying seconds for a big loss and the half ended with the Spartans leading perilously by three points.

The Blitz came immediately into play and put the lead in danger as they earned a first down right away and lined up at 5 yards. A 5-yard penalty was awarded for delaying the kick-off and so they were pushed back to a still-uncomfortable 10 yards, but the Spartans defense clung on and made it to the turnover with their lead intact.

Not for long however, as the Spartans fumbled on their second down and Blitz recovered, and scored their TD close to the boundary with no conversion. The remainder of the third quarter continued very much in the way of the second, with a handful of small yardage penalties and continuous turnovers with little progress either way.

Blitz B went for the TD early in the fourth as #11 Will Bentley battled through a tiring Essex defense for the six points. Just minutes later, Blitz QB #3 Timothee Liechti did the same and with a one-point conversion kicked over the bar, the game was wrapped up at 19-3 with two painful minutes left on the clock.

The Essex Spartans return to practice in Grays before their second home game of 2017 against the East Essex Sabres on Sunday 4th June.

Essex Spartans 17-0 Ipswich Cardinals

The Spartans go two for two following yesterday's win over Ipswich.
The Spartans go two for two following yesterday’s win over Ipswich.

The Essex Spartans made it two for two on Sunday with a clear win over Suffolk-based Ipswich Cardinals.

Two touchdowns from #11 Norris Owusu, plus a field goal and two conversions from #84 Mitch Arthur saw the Spartans open scoring in the second quarter, finishing the half 7-0 up and scoring ten additional points in the second.

The first half was all drama as initially two rushes on the opening drive from Owusu and #1 Dwayne Ferdinand saw the home side gain two consecutive first downs; the Cardinals then recovered a fumble to send their offense to the field.

Spartans defense held the visitors to a single set of downs and fought a hard fight against a rejuvenated Ipswich defense, in which a fumble from #9 Steve Cox was recovered by QB #8 Tom Macfarlane to save the drive.

Early in the second quarter when still 0-0, Spartans #3 Ryan Lines was tackled with such force that his helmet was removed. Players on both sides intervened and the game was delayed by several minutes as the officials briefed both Head Coaches as to the consequences of the incident. Lines was unhurt and not involved; Cardinals #76 was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct and Spartans #9 Cox and #92 Ricky Pease were also ejected for leaving the players box and entering the field.

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The mood quickly improved for the home side as Owusu ran twenty yards for the touchdown and Arthur converted afterwards with ease. The two-minute warning was given on the Spartans third down and the half finished 7-0 in favour of Essex.

Ipswich returned with force as their #85 ran for twenty-five yards for a first down and put the pressure on Essex right away. However Spartans defense held the position and a turnover put Arthur back on the field for a timely three-point field goal to extend the Spartans lead to 10-0 by the middle of the third quarter.

Owusu again made it a double as he slipped passed defense at 30 yards to make the touchdown, with Arthur again converting to bring the Spartans’ lead up to 17 points to nothing.

Early in the fourth Owusu crossed the line with the ball for the third time, but the TD was flagged for holding and he couldn’t repeat the feat at the next play. The Cardinals received a late penalty of fifteen yards and a first down to Essex for roughing the kicker, but no further points on the board came of it and the match ended amicably with the Spartans taking their second win of the season.

The Essex Spartans travel to London Blitz B on Sunday 14th May for their third league fixture, and return home on Sunday 4th June for an Essex derby against the East Essex Sabres.

 

East Essex Sabres 14 – 20 Essex Spartans

It was a savage opener on a blistering day for the two BAFA south Essex teams on Sunday, with the result being decided in the final seconds of the game.

The first fixture of the season for the Essex Spartans and the first official league match ever for the East Essex Sabres, headed up by coach Lee Joseph, things started slowly for both sides as enthusiastic series followed enthusiastic series but with no scores in the first quarter.

Spartans #24 Earl Gorman looked likely in the 2nd with a drive in excess of twenty yards,  but the effort came to nothing and with the Sabres recovering a punt and beginning to show their dominance, the Spartans suffered as a string of penalties left them struggling for yardage at the far end of the field.

After almost the entire first half remaining scoreless, it was newcomers East Essex Sabres who finally opened scoring with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the last seconds of the first half, leaving the experienced visitors despondent and 8-0 down at the break.

The Spartans emerged a different team for the third quarter as a quick dash for a 1st down and an interception from #52 Tom Kitchen leading to a touchdown finally opened scoring for the Spartans. The conversion was missed but the Spartans quickly recovered a Sabres fumble and were on the front foot once again.

Both sides attempted field goals to manipulate the scoreline and both were missed; Spartans #1 Dwayne Ferdinand made a 30-yard dash to close the quarter and was tackled twenty yards from the end zone.

The final quarter saw the score transition from 8-6 to 14-20; Spartans #11 Norris Owusu took advantage of the proximity to run in the touchdown and a one-point conversion saw the Spartans take the lead for the first time all game.

The Spartans recovered another Sabres fumble but the home side were quick to retaliate with an interception on the five-minute warning, causing the Spartans to lose a good deal of earned territory. Refusing to let up despite the lengthy match, the Sabres snatched back the lead with a second touchdown and missed their conversion to pull the score just one point in their favour, 14-13 with two minutes to go.

Visiting Spartans dug in and after a difficult game, QB Tom Macfarlane pitched to Rob Jelly with less than 30 seconds on the clock, to secure the final touchdown and one-point conversion to claw back the victory from the very pressing jaws of imminent defeat.

An immensely challenging game from both sides in which the underdogs so nearly had their day; the Sabres return to the field next weekend to take on the Ipswich Cardinals, whilst the Spartans return to training to face the Cardinals on 7th May.

Take a knee! HC Benton speaks 

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(from 5 April 2017)

Less than a week from their opening game of the 2017 season, aspirations are high for the Essex Spartans seniors as they hope for a winning season and a return to the playoffs.
Following a frustrating 2016 campaign that saw just two victories from ten games in a multitude of circumstances and tight score lines, the Thurrock-based outfit have dusted themselves off and are looking forward to big things.

“As always we had healthy attendance at this year’s Come and Trys, and the best retention rate through the Football 101 course we’ve ever had,” said Head Coach Seán Benton.

“We’ve also had excellent player retention from last season, several returners who sat out the 2016 season for various personal reasons and additional varsity-level recruitment that is going to be invaluable.

“My aspiration for this upcoming season is a winning one. We want everyone fit and well and we want a return to playoff football.”

The Spartans opening game is away at league newcomers East Essex Sabres on 9th April, now the third American Football team in Essex along with the Spartans and the Colchester Gladiators.

The Sabres entry into the league was 18 months in the making and they will be based primarily in Benfleet.

“We’re excited to have a new county rivalry!” said Benton. “A local derby is a going to be great season opener for all of us and we welcome them to the league and our level of football.”

All ten games for the 2017 season are Sunday afternoon kick-offs, notably missing the ‘Saturday Night Light’ games that have in previous years been so popular with fans.

“Like all American Football teams at our level, we share facilities,” explains Benton, “we are extremely grateful for the excellent home ground facility we have but this year the dates just didn’t work out for any Saturday games unfortunately.

“They will certainly make a return for 2018!”

With a 12-strong coaching team comprising split co-ordinators on Offence and Defence, along with seven positional coaches and a Strength and Conditioning expert, recruitment and development hasn’t stopped with the players.

“We’re very serious about promoting from within and it’s great to have Harry Shelton as a player-coach at Co-Ordinator level. We have also been joined this year by Joe Cartwright, who is busy learning all three sides of the ball to move into a positional role next year.

“We’re very lucky to have an outstanding team of coaches who do a fantastic job week in, week out.”

The Essex Spartans organisation also features a flourishing Academy with two competing teams, the younger of which last year made their way to the BritBowl finals in September and were named 4th best team of their age group in the country.

The U19 team, absent from the competitive circuit last year, are back in full swing and several players have made the transition from Academy to seniors in recent years.

“The kids and young people in the Academy programme are all outstanding,” says Benton, who himself began his career in youth football at the age of 15.

“Seeing young people enjoying the game is massively important to me, and rising up through the ranks to senior level, and playing for their university teams, is what we’re all about.

“It’s really encouraging to have the U19s back on the field. Every player we’ve had come up to us from the Academy has done a great job and I have no doubt that more will do so.”

So if it’s not the promise of silverware, Championship rings and sure-thing victories under the lights, what is it that keeps men and women coming back to the Essex Spartans year after year?

“We do things in the right way,” says Seán, “we have fun but we’re not a hobby team; we’re serious about development, we’re serious about running this organisation in as professional a manner as possible behind the scenes.”

“We have strong traditions and high standards, and Tony’s [Palmer] legacy was all about building upon and maintaining those standards. That’s the single most important thing that we’re trying to do.”

The Essex Spartans regular season runs from Sunday 9th April to Sunday 6th August 2017; anyone interested in joining should email info@essexspartans.co.uk .

Streakers

The Spartans Academy, home to the currently undefeated Under 17s.
The Spartans Academy, home to the currently undefeated Under 17s.

Do you believe in winning streaks?

What about losing streaks?

I am a lifelong, and long-suffering, fan of West Ham United (I know, right…) and so YES, I really believe in winning and losing streaks. My whole life has been unbelievable Cup runs and devastating relegations in virtually the same year; epic runs of clean sheets that our gaffer gets Manager of the Month just before getting sacked. What about that time in the 2011/12 season, when we had four red cards in as many games?

I’m telling you, it’s real.

And it’s happened here this year – mega streakers. Not the good kind that make it along with their pixelated pecker onto national tea-time news and enjoy a lifelong ban from their club thereafter.

Our Under-17s won their division on Saturday after an unbelievable run of nine wins out of nine games, across three tournaments. It didn’t even cross my mind that on Saturday they would do anything other than win all the games because, well, that’s what they do. That’s what they’ve done all year, and they very nearly did it last year as well.

The Seniors won this weekend too, away at the Ipswich Cardinals. There was a time when I know teams used to go to Ipswich, or be visited by them, and assume it was a given that they’d win because the Cardinals didn’t win, hardly ever. They’d had a losing streak that had lasted three seasons, and they weren’t even a bad team. They have a great ground, great staff, nice players, lovely kit – but they were on a hideous losing streak and couldn’t seem to break it.

But last year they did – they beat us. Nearly four seasons without a win and they beat us. They broke their streak – and they deserved to. Our friends at Double Coverage predicted at the start of the season that the Spartans seniors ‘were likely for the wooden spoon this year and in direct contention with the Cardinals to get it.’

When the seniors lost their opening game of the season this year against London Blitz B, it was on the last play of the game in the last three seconds. It couldn’t have been worse. When we lost our second game, we conceded four touchdowns in the space of about ten minutes. There was absolute dissemination in the ranks. It was horrible.

As our Under-17s went 6-0, the seniors went 0-6. And no one, not really, was playing badly. We prattled about poor decisions and injustice; we recruited 35 new players this year before the season opener and we still weren’t even playing everyone. No one could say being a ‘young team’ was holding us back. We just couldn’t win. We could be a sheet of glass away from the end-zone and still not get the ball in.

But Sunday, we did, and we faced up against the Cardinals who had been having the same losing streak this year as we have; someone was going home with the W and someone was keeping their streak. And again, the Cardinals didn’t play like a losing team, they never do; but then, neither did we. The 0 had to go. And if this victory turns into a new winning streak that plays out, we could potentially finish the season with a better overall result than last season.

IF.

In the meantime, we’ll all sit tight and watch the Under-17s have a real punt at an undefeated, 12-0, perfect season.

It’s been done, you know…

Guest Blog: Liz Speaks

One of these wrote this.
One of these wrote this.

I’m a woman who plays American football.

For a men’s team. It’s not exactly what I set out to do, or planned on happening, but it’s how things have turned out. And what has really surprised me is that it’s been ok. Not exactly the training, that can be bloody hard graft at times, especially motivating myself to go for a run or do weights at 5 in the morning.

What has surprised me is the lack of sexist comments, or ‘pampering’. I saw and was at the arse end of plenty of that when I served in the territorial army, and it’s depressing. It’s depressing that in this day and age a woman who wants to do something seen to be in the masculine realm is still relegated to sit on the edge, dipping their toes in the pond because they are held at arm’s length or taunted there.

This isn’t a rant to the male of the species. In fact more women have fallen into this category than I would like to admit. The women who fluttered their eyelashes and got a fella to do the heavy lifting because they could. The women who wouldn’t give 100% and still passed because they tried hard, aw bless ‘em. The women that ask me what I’m going to do about my son whilst I’m at training, who’ll look after him, what about the house work, you must really struggle to get it all done and be a good mum. By contrast the men in my life and whole heartedly supportive. Husband, Dad, Cousins, Uncles.

So when I joined the Spartans on a trial session in the rain and wind on a muddy pitch with guys a lot bigger than me I was expecting someone to ask if I’d made a mistake, if it was really for me. That didn’t happen. It hasn’t happened. And now knowing how the team operates and their ethos towards the sport, I know they never will.

I’ve been coached alongside everyone else with the same drills, the tackles, the same encouragement. It has been a place where I have felt utterly equal. I get the aggression and the comradery. I’m with the jokers, not at the end of a punchline.

I’m a Spartan.

So the ironing can wait. The vacuum cleaner can chill out for another day. Because I get to come home knowing I’m bettering myself on the pitch, and it makes for a better me off it as well. Plus I get my morning cuddle no matter what I’ve done on a Sunday afternoon.

New Dawn

The catch!
The catch!

The night before my first game for the Spartans I had this dream (I know, blogs about people’s dreams are just the worst… )

I was standing on the sidelines, which is where I belong, except I was being called on. I wasn’t kitted up, I wasn’t even sure girls were allowed to play. I don’t cross that painted line, ever.

The coaches were shouting at me, Emma, GO, Go Now, before you lose us the game.

“I don’t know the rules.”

“Yes you do.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Yeah you do.”

Then I was standing in the middle of the pitch with the ball in my hands. I couldn’t remember how to hold it – your thumb goes somewhere specific but I couldn’t remember where and anyway, I’m left-handed, so I must be doing it wrong because I’ve been holding stuff wrong my ENTIRE life because I’m left-handed.

The pitch was empty except for me, though, and it was dark now, no floodlights on. If I threw it, or kicked it, it wouldn’t matter and no one would see anyway. I shut my eyes and threw it.

When I opened them, I said, “Did we win?”

And woke up.

My game face is the only one with lipstick on it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous. My games for the Spartans aren’t as a player; I stand at the side with an iPhone connected to Facebook and Twitter (HOPEFULLY), a notepad (usually rain-soaked) and maybe a beer if I could get one from somewhere.

I still run up and down though; still shout at them, laugh at them (er, with them I mean), completely lose my rag when we don’t win and drive home either relentlessly singing or with the steaming hump.

It’s here – at last.

ROLL TIDE!

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The Off-Season: Withdrawal Level – Phall

Absolute stunners
Absolute stunners

I had to Google to find a curry hotter than a vindaloo, by the way, but I’m made this theme work for a long time so I’m not going to punk out on it just yet.

It is so, so, SO nearly April that it’s not even funny. Although it doesn’t particularly seem like almost 8 months since we wrapped up the 2015 senior season with the game against the Stallions, 7 months since the Academy coaching staff missed this particular media officer’s wedding to attend the play-offs in Cornwall (I forgive you… ), 5 months since the lovely awards where I made a terrible impromptu speech (by accident) and 4 since the Come & Trys started, I am assured that this is in fact the case.

As I’ve said before, us ‘back-roomers’ and the coaches don’t have much of a ‘break’ anyway, but it’s funny how the old routine comes around again and it’s like it never stopped. I hopped back on to Phoenix Radio last Saturday for our annual pre-season catch up with the sports show, by which time the Academy had already been on the road for the first time for the Kent Exiles ‘Festival of Football’ and made a stand in the name of Essex.

Last Sunday the seniors went on the road for the first time in 2016, new rookies and old timers in tow, to play a friendly scrimmage against the East Kent Mavericks. We were there last year, late summer, for an Associate game against the Maidstone Pumas (welcome back guys!) and it was nice to see the place again / have some time in The Bat & Ball on Old Dover Road (it’s a looooooong wait for them to get changed, you know?).

I suppose it was a nice break back in for me; closed scrimmage means no press coverage and it was REALLY cold, so I watched some of it from the side lines and most of it from my nice warm car, didn’t have to keep score or anything, and apart from a broken finger and a twisted ankle I think everyone came out of it OK. It was great to see our rookies kitted up and in their Spartans jerseys at long last, and see them get a bit of game time and understand exactly what they have got themselves into.

They seemed happy about it!

And then I woke up with a start at 3am on Tuesday realising I hadn’t filed my match report. You know, the one I didn’t have to write because it was a closed scrimmage. It took a few minutes for the penny to drop and I felt relieved, and then kind of disappointed, and then totally desperate for our first ‘proper’ game when I have to stand in the rain with a phone and a pencil writing illegible rubbish like a total twit.

It’s good to be home.

Senior Fixtures Announced

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The Essex Spartans senior team have announced their 10-game fixture list for 2016.

This season sees the departure of last year’s champions Bury Saints, who completed their 2015 season 10-0, and the arrival of the Cambridgeshire Cats down from the first division.

The Spartans will enjoy a delayed start on 17th April away at the London Blitz (B team) following the season opening weekend the week before.

A trip to fierce rivals London Hornets on 29th April precedes a visit from last year’s playoff visitors Wembley Stallions, before a three-week break from the competition and then a second run of away games.

The six-team South East conference is completed by long-standing team the Ipswich Cardinals, whom the Spartans will play on 26th June and 23rd July.

The final regular fixture will be held at the Spartans seniors’ new home ground of Thurrock Rugby Football Club on Sunday 7th August against the London Hornets.

Senior team Head Coach Seán Benton said: “Now that the fixtures are released, the club is more geared up than ever for the coming season.

“We’re pleased to see the Cats make a return to the division; we welcome them and wish them well.

“As always we’ve got a young team to represent us, but our very positive pre-season training promises excellent results on the field from all of them; returners and rookies.

“We’re really excited – see you there.”

The full fixture list for the Essex Spartans senior team can be found below.

 

Sunday 17th April 2016 – AWAY – Essex Spartans @ London Blitz B

Sunday 24th April 2016 – AWAY – Essex Spartans @ London Hornets

Saturday 7th May 2016 – HOME – Wembley Stallions @ Essex Spartans

Saturday 4th June 2016 – HOME – Cambridgeshire Cats @ Essex Spartans

Sunday 12th June 2016 – AWAY – Essex Spartans @ Wembley Stallions

Sunday 19th June 2016 – AWAY – Essex Spartans @ Cambridgeshire Cats

Sunday 26th June 2016 – AWAY – Essex Spartans @ Ipswich Cardinals

Saturday 9th July 2016 – HOME – London Blitz B @ Essex Spartans

Saturday 23rd July 2016 – HOME – Ipswich Cardinals @ Essex Spartans

Sunday 7th August 2016 – HOME – London Hornets @ Essex Spartans