Pics: Matt Bradshaw
IRONICALLY, despite finishing fourth in the Vanarama National League South table, the 2016-17 season could’ve gone better for the Essex-based Chelmsford City FC. After missing out on a chance at promotion to the top tier of Non-League football, losing 2-1 to a weakened Ebbsfleet United in the recent play-off final, the Clarets have seen three departures from the club in the past few days, including talismanic striker Louie Theophanous.
There’s probably a broken mirror or two at the Melbourne Stadium. In April, Chelmsford confirmed that a takeover deal with Jade Global Group, a London construction firm, had collapsed, leaving the side temporarily short of cash. On the field, though, it was hard to see much wrong; the Clarets lost just six matches all season, going unbeaten in their last five games prior to their defeat to Fleet last month.
Chelmsford owe some of their postseason success to ex-St. Albans man Theophanous, who scored seven goals for the side in 13 appearances, including five in his first six matches. Oddly enough, following his departure from the side after just two months in Essex, the 25-year-old will now drop down a division to join the Ryman League’s Billericay Town, where he will team up with former Chelmsford midfielder Ricky Modeste.
It’s perhaps no surprise; Billericay Town, the “best Non-League team on the planet”, according to boss Glenn Tamplin, is a major contributor to Non-League football’s recent surge in popularity, along with Sutton United and Lincoln City’s performance in the FA Cup last season. The latter side reached the quarter-finals of the storied competition, a feat no Non-League side has achieved in more than 100 years.
The FA Cup title almost inevitably went to a Premier League team though, with Arsenal beating Chelsea 2-1 to break a trophy duck that lasted two years; although, the Blues remain favourites in the early football betting for next year’s campaign, at 5/1 with 888sport to the Gunners’ 8/1. With momentum behind the likes of Lincoln, though, betting on a Non-League side to make the later rounds isn’t a hare-brained idea.
Given Chelmsford’s high-scoring run to the playoffs, netting 12 in April alone, the loss of Theophanous is likely to cause brief consternation at most, especially given the talents of long-serving strikers Elliot Buchanan, Shaun Jeffers, and Chris Dickson. Perhaps of greater concern is the Clarets’ single goalkeeper, ex-Bolton man Ross Fitzsimons. While he’s doing fine between the posts, Chelmsford purged their reserves of back-ups Joe Welch and Colan Balkwell last September.
The Clarets are also waving goodbye to Matt Young (the scorer of that Boxing Day goal) and the injury-plagued Max Cornhill, with neither player linked to a new club yet. Cornhill’s situation is unfortunate; the midfielder – another FA Cup hero, having scored the only goal against Macclesfield in the second round back in 2011 – only re-joined Chelmsford in the summer of 2016, but struggled with a groin injury. At 30 years old, he might well be on his way out of football.
It was a disappointing end to the season for Chelmsford but still an incredible achievement on the previous, when the Clarets finished 15th.