BRIGHTLINGSEA Regent stalwart Josh Gould says the club is “unrecognisable” now compared to his early days at North Road.
The defender is in his second spell with the Ryman League division north pacesetters, having even spent half a season playing for Brightlingsea United (the club’s former guise, before merging with Regent Park Avenue in 2005).
When he first arrived they were languishing in Essex and Suffolk Border League division three, playing on a “dustbowl” at North Road.
Turn the clock forward and Regent are proudly knocking on the door of the Ryman League premier division – step three of the non-league pyramid – and now six points clear at the division north summit, following Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Waltham Abbey.
“I’ve seen so many changes, from managers and players to improvements at the ground,” said Gould, who went travelling and then returned when the club were in the Thurlow Nunn League.
“It’s unrecognisable since I was first here.
“We’ve come a long way and it’s a great testament to everyone at the club, the committee and volunteers, that there’s been so much progression and improvement.
“It means a lot to me, especially because I’m a Brightlingsea boy.
“It’s great to know the club’s in such safe hands and we’ve got the right people in the dressing room to continue to improve.
“(Manager) James (Webster) has done fantastically well and always brought in the right characters.
“He’s had to adapt to the environment – in terms of playing at a higher level – just like the club has but he’s done exceptionally well.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be top at this stage of the season.
“We’ve always had the belief we could win the league, but it honestly wasn’t our target at the start of the season.
“Our only target was the play-offs.”
Brightlingsea re-established their six-point lead at the division north summit on Saturday.
While they won 3-0 at Waltham Abbey, second-placed Maldon and Tiptree went down 3-1 at Cheshunt.
Billy Hunt, Aaron Condon and Tom Richardson netted their goals, with the first coming after a long clearance by keeper Sam Cowler.
Hunt connected with it and directed his header over the Abbey keeper.
The hosts’ Jack Daveney was red-carded for violent conduct on 40 minutes.
And Brightlingsea added their second shortly before the hour-mark, thanks to a well-taken effort from Condon.
The club’s top-scorer cut inside before firing across goal and inside the far post.
Richardson then added the third after 72 minutes but his strike owed much to a brilliant piece of play from Hunt.
The latter weaved past two players before unselfishly laying the ball into Richardson’s path.
Regent went into the match on the back of a 1-0 defeat at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Thurrock, the previous Saturday.
And Gould, who scooped player-of-the-season accolades at the end of last season, believes the club's knack of bouncing back from defeats has been a key ingredient to their success.
“One thing this side has always done – certainly this season and also last year – is respond well to a setback," he said.
“We’ve got the character and experience in the dressing room to do that, as we showed on Saturday.
“We don’t tend to dwell on negative results and we don’t get over-excited by positive ones.
“We take each game as it comes, one at a time, and that’s been the case all season.
"Now we're in a great position and it's in our hands. That’s a key thing.
“Everyone else is trying to catch us, but we’ve got the upper hand and have to try and keep it that way until the end of the season."
Gould is known for a missile throws, which cause havoc for opposition defences.
“I’ve always had it but this season I think I’m throwing it even further, with even more pace," said the cousin of Regent team-mate Jake Gould.
“It’s a useful skill to have and puts the opposition under pressure."
Brightlingsea return to North Road on Saturday, for a match against Bury Town.