The bad weather had abated meaning there was a good selection of games to choose from for this particular midweek football fix. My choice was largely based on travel distance and the unanimous appraisal from those ‘in-the-know’ that they are ‘a very friendly bunch’. My visit to Brentwood, however, came with an extra bonus. The like of which you’d only get in non-league football. In between previewing the game and sending me a welcoming message, the club announced on social media that one of its favourite sons would be moving on to Concord Rangers in the Conference South.
Andy Freeman came through the Blues youth set up, established himself in the first team and won player of the season in 2016. The 21 year old had now decided to try his hand two steps higher. The warmth of the club’s endearing pre-match presentation for the popular player, and the acclaim of the loyal fans chanting his name enlightened a cold, misty January evening. Freeman signed off with his 23rd goal in his 126th appearance for the club. Blues fans and followers of the Bostik league will keep a keen eye on his progress over the next few years.
Freeman’s final game now forms part of an eventful history for the club that was founded in 1954. They started out as Manor Athletic, somewhat in the shadow of the original Brentwood Town club. The original holders of the BTFC name turned professional in 1965, reached the Premier Division of the Southern League and had several successful FA Cup runs. In 1970, however, they merged with Chelmsford City. After the merger Manor Athletic became the premier club in town. They became Brentwood Athletic and then Brentwood FC in 1972, ensuring there was still a club bearing the town’s name.
Brentwood FC joined the Essex Senior League in 1974, winning the League Cup three times in the following 17 years. The great Jimmy Greaves played his final game for the club in their first triumph in 1976, joining Chelmsford City during that long, hot summer. In 2001 the Blues won the ESL and promotion, but sadly their rise only lasted one year before they returned to Essex Senior level. They regained the Brentwood Town name in 2004 and won the League again three years later, returning to the Isthmian North Division and qualifying for the promotion play-offs in 2009 and 2011. They finally earned promotion to the Premier Division in 2015, and whilst their stay there was short lived they would very much like to return there in the near future.
This fixture against Sudbury was Brentwood’s first home game since 2 December. The Blues had shown some patchy form during their run of five away games (and indeed, if we’re honest, across the entire season so far). Two defeats and two draws were punctuated by a memorable 4-3 win over league leaders AFC Hornchurch. Manager Craig Shipman’s programme notes lamented their ability to kill games off. Brentwood had a six point cushion between themselves and the bottom two sides, whilst todays visitors sat four places and six points above, unbeaten in their last four games- although they had drawn three of them.
The midweek traffic was kind to me during my trip down the M25, and I soon saw the Brentwood Centre complex on my right and its large car park. The pitch at the Brentwood Arena looked great, thanks perhaps to its enforced break of just over a month. Both sides warmed up on the pitches behind the ground in order to maintain its pristine condition.
The Brentwood Arena has a distinctive wooden main stand that acts as a front for a large bar area. The majority of the crowd sheltered here from the cold and the drizzle until the teams appeared. There is also a large terraced area at the end closest to the car park, where a committed follower erected a large flag pledging its support for the home team. Next to the terrace is a block of modern temporary seating that provides a good view down the length of the pitch. There were plenty of spots to get a good vantage point of the action and get out of the light rain.
Sudbury started the game well, looking to spoil Freeman’s night. Young striker Mekhi McKenzie looked impressive from the outset and had an early chance to give the visitors the lead. His powerful, quick shot was well saved by Anthony Page. Brentwood looked to build steadily from the back and get their wide players into the game. Hilton went close for the home team and fizzed a couple of dangerous looking crosses into the Sudbury area.
It was the visitors, however, who scored the only goal of the first half. McKenzie played an excellent one-two with Holland and raced through on goal. He finished well to cap an fantastic first half performance. Brentwood came out with more intensity and accuracy in the second half and they were soon level. Pressure led to a loose ball in the Sudbury box and man of the moment Freeman was on hand to level the scores. Unfortunately, for the home team, Sudbury regained the advantage shortly afterwards, when Peters curled in an excellent free-kick and Dettmar rose to head the ball in off the underside of the bar.
The home side were visibly perturbed by being behind again and it took them a little while to regain their swagger. As the minutes ticked on Brentwood began to push forward and create chances. A speculative ball was played in and caught the Sudbury defence flat footed. Price reacted fastest and headed the ball past the onrushing keeper. It was a dramatic finish to the game, but a draw felt like a fair result from a well contested game.
The Blues’ heartfelt tribute to a product of their youth setup was a nice touch that added to a fun first visit to the club. Brentwood provide a friendly welcome in person and online. They also play great football and their entertaining style will hopefully see them pick up some more wins in this very competitive division.
Louis has his own website, here, where he writes about his groundhopping exploits. There are a number of other Bostik League matches featured, so we recommend you check it out!