In an emotional and dramatic climax to the Essex Spartans‘ disappointing 2013 season, head coach Marc Saunders stepped down after their ninth defeat this year at home to the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders.

Guidance | Former Philhadelphia Eagles star Cecil Martin flanks two Essex Spartans players. (Image | Emma Webb)

Guidance | Former Philadelphia Eagles star Cecil Martin poses with two Essex Spartans players. (Image | Emma Webb)

The team were also visited by Sky Sports analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Cecil Martin, fresh off the plane from running youth camps and football clinics across the continent.

The Spartans struggled from the off this year, with some moments of great game play but no visible results for their efforts.

Repeated losses seemed self-perpetuating as they led to a severe drop in team morale. Attendance at weekly training sessions plunged to all-time-low figures, and a full squad for game day became difficult to find.

After holding a fast Bedfordshire offence to just 0-7 at half time on the final day, the Spartans went on to lose 0-13 overall and finish second bottom of their seven-team league.

Saunders had announced earlier in the day that he planned to put on pads for the final time during the clash, after more than 20 years of dedicated playing time.

Following the defeat, he gathered the players on the pitch and delivered an emotional speech to reveal his decision to resign as head coach with immediate effect.

He said: “It’s the end of a 27-year journey, I live for playing the game. I’m not knackered, I can still run rings around these whippersnappers! It’s just time.”

Reflection

Following an extremely successful visit to the Spartans youth team back in April, Martin paid the men’s side a surprise visit on the final day. He took the time to connect with the players, as well as the supporters on the sidelines, offering advice and obligingly posing for fans’ photographs.

Martin, 38, has recently travelled between Germany and Belgium, organising training camps for youth teams abroad, but rushed over from Heathrow Airport to support the Spartans at their season closer in Billericay.

With the campaign now over, the Spartans have little intention of letting the events of the past year be forgotten. Secretary Steve Watson said: “It’s time to go back to our normal lives for a bit and reflect. Then, we’ll be back.”

There are exciting times ahead for the youth team as well, who have developed tenfold under coach Steve Mitchell this year. On the youngsters’ progress, he said: “The Kent Exiles have asked us for a game because they enjoyed how competitive we were when we played them before.

“We’re competing in a tournament in September in Farnham against four other teams, and looking to register with the league in time for next year. It’s very exciting.” Formal training for the Spartans senior team has now ended, and will restart early next year.

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