By Colin Goodwin
SCROLL down for history of the Premier title, and prospects for all divisions in 2019.
Although the Devon & Exeter League , in which two of Lyme Regis Football Club play, League been in existence since 1900, nearly 120 years ago, in reality the league is currently engaged in their 107th season because of the years taken up by the two world wars.
All levels within the league are important but the Premier has to be regarded as the pinnacle and yardstick. Division 1 was our top flight with 14 seasons completed before the First World War, but renamed Premier when football restarted in 1919. A further 20 seasons were played between the two wars taking the number to 34. Since then 26 seasons have been played as the Exeter & District League and now 46 years have gone by operating as the Devon & Exeter League.
Statistics show that Friernhay can be regarded as our most successful ever side, with 13 Premier titles, and it was a sorry day that the club finally folded in 1988. The next most successful team are St Lukes College with 11, Exeter City with eight and Exeter University with seven coming next, Heavitree United and Tiverton Town have six each, and Dawlish Town have five. Altogether 56 Premier championships shared between just the top seven with the other 50 titles spread as follows among 33 clubs.
Budleigh Salterton, Ilfracombe Town, St Martins and Topsham are three time Premier champions, with nine clubs winning twice, i.e Alphington, Barnstaple Town, Buckland Athletic, Cullompton Rangers, Dolphin United, Exeter Civil Service, Exmouth Town, Sidmouth Town and St Loyes (renamed from Tap & Barrel).
On a point of interest our current referees appointments secretary Terry Atkins was a player with Friernhay, as was his Dad, and Terry is hugely proud of this place in the league’s history. Mike Webb of Topsham is also on the league committee and many will remember Mike as the manager of the hugely successful Dolphin team in the 1970s.
So we are left with 20 clubs who have acheived the league’s biggest prize just once including a one season share. In time order they are: Exeter United (our first ever champions), 112th Battery, 113th Battery, 15th Brigade RA, St Leonards and 149th Battery (shared), 138th Battery, St Thomas Church, Devon General, R.E.M.E, Newton Abbot Spurs, Ottery St Mary, Torrington Town, Crediton United, Newton St Cyres, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Axminster Town, Thorverton, Feniton, Honiton Town and Elmore.
Moving on, a new name is almost certain to appear on the trophy this season and whoever is eventual champions they will join a glowing list of clubs from the past. The eventual winners will also become just the 41st club to celebrate the Premier title which just goes to prove how hard it is to claim the league’s biggest prize. So where do we stand for not just this season but the future?
Most East Devon grassroots football followers will have realised next year is likely to be a game-changer. Discussions are taking place to re-organise both the many Devon and Cornish leagues, although nothing has yet been decided. From Step 6 status which would encompass the leading SWPL teams, then Step 7 and down to the recreational level the D & E operate at, clubs will have little idea as to what to expect for the 2019-2020 season. In the meantime the Macron Devon & Exeter Football League, turn into the new year with the anticipation of some some thrilling campaigns looming up, not least in Premier where at least five clubs are looking at the prospect of winning the championship for the first time ever.
Newly promoted Colyton, Exwick Villa and Newtown all sit on 32 points with half the season out of the way. Cronies have matches in hand and most would feel they are good enough to play catch-up and with Lyme Regis getting into stride what a finish is in prospect. Upottery and Clyst Valley may be just off the pace but if they get a good run going then who knows.
In the basement the bottom three – Seaton Town, Topsham Town and Okehampton Argyle – have found life hard going this season, but the trio are all capable of getting away from danger.
Kentisbeare have never been in Premier but they proudly lead the Division One table and look strong enough to hold on. Its over 20 years since their closest rivals Lapford enjoyed Premier status but they could be on the way again if they maintain their current form. Chagford and Hatherleigh Town in third and fourth place look to be the other title contestants and it promises to be quite a finish here despite the reduction in numbers which hit this division, followings exits by Cullompton, Perry Street and Woodbury.
It is hard to see any other teams challenging for the Division Two championship than leaders Royal Oak and their city rivals Whipton & Pinhoe. Thorverton look an outside bet but they cannot afford to take life easy in the New Year.
The top six in Division Three down to Winchester all look good enough to step up their challenge and Lympstone in eighth place cannot be ruled out as they have only completed seven league games to date.
Alphington and Elmore are neck and neck for the Division Four title, their main rivals Teignmouth and Lyme Regis Reserves are both doing well but struggling to keep up.
Upottery, Exmouth Spartans and Devon Yeoman are the front runners in Division Five, but any of the next half dozen teams are still within range and could get in the mix if they get a run going.
None of the leading trio in Division Six, Kentisbeare, Spreyton and Cheriton Fitzpaine have tasted defeat this season, and it looks odds on the title will go to one of them.
New boys Cowick Barton head the Division Seven table and they too have not yet lost a league match. Fellow newcomers Village Inn and Broadclyst are in their wake, and both East Budleigh and Okehampton Argyle will still fancy their chances despite having played a match or two more.
Both Dawlish United and Elmore have yet to drop a point in Division Eight, so again it is hard to feel that any other rivals could contest this title.