Currently second from bottom of the second tier of the National league, the Essex Spartans have suffered five losses and only picked up one win so far this season.

WORD | Caption. (Image | Emma Webb)

Struggle | The Essex Spartans have only picked up one win out of six games so far this season. (Image | Emma Webb)

Kicking off back in April with a brand new and enthusiastic committee, a thoroughly rejuvenated youth squad and a roster of 58 senior players, the Spartans took to the field with every confidence that this season belonged to the Black Tide. So where did it all go wrong?

Head coach Marc Saunders said: “The results speak for themselves, but they don’t paint the full picture.

“One win and five losses: you can never say that is a good thing, but I think that the team is in a better place than the results suggest.”

The Spartans’ first game of the season was away on April 14 to the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders, who currently sit comfortably in mid table. The 6-0 defeat was an enormous success story for the fresh Spartans defence, which only conceded one touchdown throughout the entire match.

Nonetheless, this opening-day loss seemed to become self-perpetuating as the season progressed, with the Spartans losing the next three consecutive games home and away.

An opportunity to turn things around came with the arrival of rock-bottom Maidstone Pumas on June 9. Neither side had yet won a match as they faced each other for the first time.

It turned out to be a highly spirited and skilful display from the Spartans offence, with the hosts’ taking an early lead and obliterating the developing Maidstone defence to take the game 66-0.

Yet the magic could not last against current league champions Colchester Gladiators, who visited the Spartans on June 29. Described by Saunders as “a totally new kettle of fish” for his side, opposition running back Casey Campbell ran a one-man show to destroy his opponents 51-6, continuing the Gladiators’ unbeaten run for this year.

Such frequent losses have understandably impacted on morale among the Spartans, with numbers dropping significantly at weekend training sessions. Just 16 senior players, or 28 per cent, of those registered made it into pads last Sunday.

Defeat against the Gladiators is disappointing for both the training staff and Spartans committee, and potentially destructive for the remaining few that now have to fill the empty spaces left on the field.

Nonetheless, morale does not appear to suffering at all on the sidelines, as Spartans home games are even more popular than ever despite the recent run of results. Crowds now regularly exceed 150 spectators, with watching Spartans clashes now a serious family event.

Likewise, the team’s simple game day programme proved extremely popular from the beginning of the season onwards, and has grown into a professional document that comes close to selling out every game.

Saunders said: “The support is phenomenal. The game day experience as it is takes a lot of work from a lot of people, but all we want to do is to try to grow it.”

With this in mind, it is far from all doom and gloom for the Spartans, despite such disappointing losses. With staunch support and four games to go, the Essex lads still have a chance to turn the situation around.

The new committee has been working hard to nurture interest in the sport in the local community, and coaching staff have been involved in nearby schools and youth groups to offer more young people an opportunity to learn about American football.

The Spartans’ next game is this Saturday, July 13, away at Watford Cheetahs. The two sides are yet to meet this season and the Cheetahs have only won one more game than the Spartans, which should make for a hard-fought battle.

On his team’s preparation for the run in, Saunders said: “Love the game and keep playing, that is all we need. Do it for the love of the game, not the result.”

Essex Spartans remaining fixtures:

Watford Cheetas, July 13 | Milton Keynes Pathfinders, August 3 | Colchester Gladiators, August 11 | Bedfordshire Blue Raiders, August 18

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