Eastern Junior Alliance League History
After an initial feasibility study into the formation of an Under 18s youth football league, 9 senior clubs attended a meeting on the 1st June 1987 with 8 committing themselves to the future Eastern Junior Alliance League for the coming season. Officers were duly elected, a sponsorship deal announced and the clubs agreed to play each other four times to ensure sufficient games over the course of the season. It transpired that only 7 teams started the first league season but, despite this depleted start for the Eastern Junior Alliance, it still gave rise to concerns in the April over a fixture ‘pile up’. This first end of season audit showed a balance in the Leagues accounts of just £280.
By the following year the ranks of clubs wishing to be involved had increased to 14 and an increase in the subsequent season to 18 clubs.
Despite now only playing just two games i.e. home and away fixtures, a meeting in March showed clubs playing midweek fixtures in order to complete the scheduled fixtures. Also in this year, an increased sponsorship deal was announced and the name of the League changed to the (Westside) Eastern Junior Alliance.
By 1991 the League could boast 576 registered players and it was during this season that the Eastern Junior Alliance had the first of many successes in the F.A. Youth Cup, Chelmsford City reaching the 2nd Round and taking Colchester United to a replay before losing to the odd goal. In the following season 1992, with 25 teams taking part, a spell of bad weather caused 140 postponements to fixtures.
On the plus side Billericay Town was able to boast of two players to be selected for England in a game against Holland at Leicester City’s ground, Filbert Street.
Over the years, Eastern Junior Alliance clubs have competed in numerous outside competitions with great success. Apart from those very early years, the League consistently attracted around 24 teams each season and was sanctioned by both the Essex and Suffolk County Football Associations.
With the coming of the 1994/95 season the League increased in size, with 36 teams taking part and it was during this period that a number of Eastern Junior Alliance players were selected to represent England Schools under 18’s squad.
Testimony to the quality and worth of the Eastern Junior Alliance is perhaps best illustrated by the number of former and indeed current players who now regularly perform at senior level. Others have gained YTS or apprentice places with professional clubs and some late developers or who were studying for exams/university have been signed directly into the ranks of the professional game.
Several players in the Eastern Junior Alliance have been selected for England Schools under 18’s, including Greg Dalley of Collier Row who was capped five times.
Dominic Ludden signed initially for Leyton Orient before transferring to Watford for £850,000 in season 1995 and was also on the fringes of the England under 21’s squad.
Neil Harris, formerly of both Great Wakering Rovers and Maldon Town, is now a regular goalscorer for Millwall, whilst Ian Renshaw, from the all conquering Basildon United team, was signed by Stockport County.
Another ex Eastern Junior Alliance player to make the grade was Martin Grainger who is the first from the league to play in the Premiership with Birmingham City and played over 200 games for them. Martin retired from football on January 1, 2005, having spent 13 years as a player. His goal-scoring appearance against Manchester United, on April 10, 2004, proved to be his final professional fixture.
In addition, the number of former players who regularly feature in senior non-league sides but most notable is perhaps another ex-Basildon United player, Ashley Harrison who kept a clean sheet in goal when Canvey Island lifted the F.A. Trophy at Villa Park in May 2001.
He was again in the squad for The F.A. Trophy final in 2003, again at Villa Park, when Canvey Island were second best but had the consolation of winning promotion to The Conference. So on the same weekend that Neil Harris captained Millwall in the F.A. Cup Final, we had another ex-EJA player in another major F.A. final at Villa Park, a feat unlikely to be repeated.
Other success stories are Jerome Sobers and Ben Patten who were signed from Ford United by Ipswich Town in season 2003/2004.
It is to be hoped that the Eastern Junior Alliance can go on and continue in providing quality players who will not only achieve their own personal ideals but who can also further enhance the senior teams to which they are allied and who will, furthermore, add to the growing reputation of the Eastern Junior Alliance for the excellent, competitive football on offer.