Final Day Shoot-Outs In The Ryman League
It is not that often that league title races are open enough to go to the final day of the season with the whereabouts of the championship trophy still undecided, but this season two of the divisions of the Ryman League will end with five clubs still hoping to win automatic promotion as champions of their division. In the Premier Division, the race is already over with Billericay Town having clinched the title and promotion to the Blue Square Bet last weekend, but the two divisions below this, no less than five clubs will go into the final day with the hope amongst hopes that they could still avoid the play-offs and lift a piece of silverware.
In the Division One North it is a straight two-way battle between Leiston and Enfield Town, but even this is a race that perhaps should have been over sooner. Leiston had managed to pull clear a little at the top of the table, but they then stumbled and last weekend travelled to North London to play an Enfield side that had been doggedly hanging on in their slipstream. In front of a season-high crowd of 602 and with the clock ticking past ninety minutes the score was goalless. It looked as if Leiston were going to hang on for the point that they needed to secure the title, but a penalty in stoppage time for Enfield was converted by the division’s top scorer Liam Hope to put off Leiston’s champagne on ice for another week.
Leiston should theoretically still win the league this weekend. They are at home against eleventh-placed Potters Bar Town tomorrow afternoon and a win will guarantee them the title. Should they slip up again by drawing or losing this match, however, the door will be pushed ajar again for Enfield and a win for them from their trip to East Thurrock to play Grays Athletic would be enough to deny Leiston the championship and push them down into the play-offs. With Potters Bar having the proverbial “nothing left to play for”, Leiston remain the clear favourites to lift the title, but if the events of last weekend at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium prove anything, then surely it is that a match isn’t over until the referee’s whistle blows for full-time.
The situation at the top of Division One South is even more convoluted, with the three teams at the top of the table, Whitehawk, Dulwich Hamlet and Bognor Regis Town, going into tomorrow’s final round of fixtures separated by just two points. Brighton-based Whitehawk are at the top of the table (and would already be the champions had they not had three points deducted earlier this season for fielding an ineligible player), have won eight and drawn two of their last ten matches and have a home match tomorrow afternoon against mid-table Chipstead. This should, on paper, be a routine win for Whitehawk, but if they do happen to slip then one up the two sides below them in the table might have an opportunity to overhaul them.
Dulwich Hamlet, formerly giants of the amateur game during what some would regard as non-league football’s golden years, are in second place in the table and, with eight wins, one draw and one defeat from their last ten matches, are just a single point behind Whitehawk. If the Hawks slip up, Hamlet would need a win away to second from bottom Burgess Hill Town. Burgess Hill do need a result, though. They are two points above Whyteleafe at the foot of the table but with a vastly inferior goal difference to the team just below them and could do with a win to guarantee not finishing bottom of the final league table.
Should Whitehawk and Dulwich Hamlet both draw or lose, however, a chance will have opened up for Bognor Regis Town to snatch the title at the death with a win from their trip to Maidstone United. Although Bognor start the day in third place in the table, they have the best goal difference of the three clubs (having scored over one hundred league goals this season) and three points could yet see them leapfrog to the top of table. Things aren’t quite that clear, though. Bognor were clear at the top of the table, but they have only won five of their last ten matches and in addition to this Maidstone United are in sixth place in the table and need a win to have any chance of snatching the last play-off place from fifth-placed Godalming Town, who they are two points behind in the table.
There are further complications which affect the importance of winning tomorrow for the teams involved. The Ryman League play-offs are played as one-off matches with the higher placed team at home in the semi-finals and – if they win – the final. As such, even if Whitehawk beat Chipstead tomorrow, there is still a degree of importance to the results of the other matches being played. In a reflection of the modern age in which we live, it seems likely that many people will have their smart phones pressed into their hands, trying to find out the latest scores from elsewhere. It is upon such tensions that the entire season may come to stand or fall, and it promises to be a fascinating afternoon.
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