My Grounds

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Walthamstow - Wadham Lodge Sports Ground

Waltham Forest FC
Wadham Lodge Sports Ground
Kitchener Road
E17 4JP

Ground: 30
Date: 11th November 2017
Waltham Forest 1-3 Woodford Town 2017
Essex Senior League 

Walthamstow FC - History

Walthamstow are a club with an extensive history - dating back in various incarnations to as early as the 1860s - but the current incarnation of the club was founded in 1964 when the junior team Pennant FC were formed. This club initially competed in the South West Essex League, winning the title in 1973 and moving into the Metropolitan League two seasons later, winning this league at the first attempt.

In 1983, Pennant moved into senior football and joined the London Spartan League, finishing 4th in the Senior Division in their first season to earn promotion to the Premier Division. In 1988, the club changed name to Walthamstow Pennant after neighbours Walthamstow Avenue were absorbed by Redbridge Forest.

In the 1990/91 season, the club won the Premier Division and the League Cup, but were denied promotion due to insufficient facilities, with a groundshare at Leyton-Wingate also rejected. At the beginning of the 1995/96 season, Leyton-Wingate (now just called Leyton FC) moved out of their ground and moved in with Walthamstow Pennant, with the two clubs merging to become Leyton Pennant; this merger also saw the club enter the Isthmian League.

By the end of the millennium, the club were facing difficulties both on and off the pitch, culminating in relegation to the 2nd Division of the Isthmian League. The 2000/01 season was a season of inconsistency, but the club also became notorious for having one of the worst disciplinary records in the entire country.

In 2003, local businessman Harry Ramis took over the club, changing its name to Waltham Forest. This was followed by a move to the Eastern Division of the Southern League, in which the club had managed two mid-table finishes. However, at the end of the 2005/06 season, Harry Ramis stepped down as chairman, which left the club on the brink of extinction. Terry Back then stepped in as chairman and brought some stability, but he also departed the club in 2007 and left similar turmoil in his wake.

Boxing promoter Azumah Cofie took over as chairman, but his tenure got off to a bad start with the news that the club would be forced to leave the Wadham Lodge Sports Ground after 12 years. The start of the 2008/09 season saw the club move in as tenants at Ilford's Cricklefield Stadium, while on the pitch the club continued to struggle to avoid relegation into the Essex Senior League, usually surviving in dramatic circumstances.

In 2010, it seemed as if the club could return to Wadham Lodge, but they were unable to do so as they could not agree a sufficient lease to satisfy the Isthmian League's requirements. Eventually, the club were able to return in 2013, but this was followed by a turn in the club's fortunes off the pitch, with relegation to the Essex Senior League - where the club have remained since - coming at the end of the 2013/14 season.

In recent months, after the passing of the club's chairman Turgut Esendagli, the club has found itself in a position where it very quickly needs to raise £10,000 just to see out the season, with it being very likely that the club is to fold in the near future, even with various fundraising efforts that are ongoing. At the end of the 2017/18 season, the club announced that it would be changing its name to Walthamstow FC in order to make the club more popular in the local area, so as to help increase crowds from the 2018/19 season onwards.

In the FA Cup, the club has progressed as far as the 2nd Qualifying Round on four occasions, most recently in the 2016/17 season when they beat Redbridge, Hoddesdon Town and Stotfold before losing 3-1 at Folkestone Invicta. In the FA Trophy, the club made it as far as the 2nd Round on two occasions (1998/99 and 1999/2000), albeit on the latter occasion only because they started at that stage, losing 3-0 at home to Staines Town. As for the FA Vase, the club's best progress saw them reach the 5th Round in the 1990/91 season, beating Biggleswade Town, Tring Town, Langford, Edgware Town, Barkingside and Thetford Town before losing 3-2 at Littlehampton Town.

My Visit

With Matt being free to join me for a groundhop on this day, we had already agreed on somewhere on London, with the caveat being that he needed to be back at his flat at University before 6pm, as he had a concert to go to in the evening. This was fine by me, but it made things quite difficult on a practical level. For example, his initial suggestion of going to Wembley's game against Harpenden Town proved to not be viable in terms of getting back afterwards, and for a while I was at a loss as to where we could go.

However, about a week before the game, someone posted about the Essex Senior League Groundhop weekend on Tony's Non-League Forum, and this gave two games as viable options: this one, which was a 2:30pm kick-off, and the 12pm kick-off at Redbridge's ground. Initially, I had considered doing both, but this proved to be impossible if relying on public transport (as me and Matt would have to do), and it also wasn't really financially viable. As such, having recently heard about Waltham Forest's issues - which I've very briefly outlined above - I suggested this game to Matt, and he was happy enough with the suggestion, even with my warning about what I had heard about the quality of the Essex Senior League (or the lack thereof, to be more precise).

On the day of the game, me and Matt had aimed to meet at Walthamstow Central station by 1pm, to give us ample time to have a KFC before the game. However, this went awry very quickly for several reasons: first of all, I missed my intended train into London because I left my camera and Oyster Card in my University flat, so I ended up heading into London fifteen minutes later than planned (as I had to go back to my flat to get them, and then head out again). Then, when I eventually got to Euston station to meet Matt (at around 1:10pm), he didn't arrive for another ten minutes or so, having also initially forgotten his Oyster Card.

Because of all of this nonsense (thankfully the journey back was nowhere near as convoluted or disastrous), we didn't get to Walthamstow Central station until around 1:40pm, then having to wait a good ten minutes to get our KFC, eventually starting to making our way to the ground at 1:55pm. Had the game been a 3pm kick-off, this wouldn't have been a problem, but being a 2:30pm kick-off meant we really had to rush to get to the ground in time for kick-off, what with it being a 30-minute walk from the station to the ground. Because of this, we didn't have time to eat the KFC until we got to the ground and, as you might expect, it had gone cold at this point, which wasn't especially pleasant. On the bright side, we got to the ground just in time for me to get the last available programme, which was a lucky break I suppose.

Because we had gotten to the ground so late, I had to wait until half-time to do my circuit of photos, and even then I didn't take too many (and I also didn't take any action shots either, not as though there was much action to capture on camera anyway).

In any case, here is my report on a game that, while it had its moments, perfectly exemplified most of what I had heard about the Essex Senior League being by far the weakest Step 5 league, although with Waltham Forest being bottom of the league it was perhaps to be expected to a degree:

This was my first excursion into the Essex Senior League, and I can certainly see why it is well-renowned as the weakest Step 5 league as, despite the scoreline, not much quality was on display for either team other than for a brief 10-15 minute period in the second half. As such, it doesn't feel like I'm exaggerating much when I say that little of note happened in the first half other than the goal on 38 minutes for Woodford, which was scored by Ethan Kessel after Waltham Forest were twice unable to clear their lines from a corner.

The second half was a slight improvement on the first, with both teams looking slightly more up for it than the first half. However, despite Waltham Forest starting slightly better than their opponents, it was Woodford who doubled their lead on 48 minutes, Asher Modeste with the finish this time. After this, the game ebbed and flowed, with both teams trying to create chances but so often lacking that quality in the final third. However, on 71 minutes Waltham Forest pulled one back, Medina cutting the ball back for Creasey to finish. After this, I had expected Waltham Forest to push on for an equaliser, but all hopes of that seemed to disappear just three minutes later when Ethan Kessel scored his second of the game to make it 3-1 to Woodford. This then kick-started the most exciting period of the game, with both sides creating good chances to score more, but ultimately the scoreline remained unchanged, despite Forest's best efforts.

Ultimately, while this wasn't the most exciting game, both teams were at least able to score eventually, although I feel that the result was somewhat harsh on Waltham Forest, with at least two of Woodford's goals arguably coming against the run of play. In fairness though, Woodford did quite well considering they were playing three 16 year-olds for the full 90 minutes (it's a scary feeling when you start seeing players who are younger than you playing, something that I'm only just starting to experience).

As an aside, this game was also notable in that it meant I had seen a game in seven of the fourteen Step 5 leagues - the United Counties League Premier Division, Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, Eastern Counties League Premier Division, Midland League Premier Division, Combined Counties League Premier Division, Wessex League Premier Division and Essex Senior League - with a further three still being possible while I am at University (the Hellenic League Premier Division, Southern Combination League Premier Division and Southern Counties East League Premier Division).

The Ground

Wadham Lodge Sports Ground is one of the better grounds at Step 5, which is undoubtedly thanks to Waltham Forest's extended tenure at higher levels in the past. The main stand is pretty large for this level, with seating for around 300 people, while there is a large covered terrace behind each goal, each of which could probably hold at least 300 people as well.

There is also a small uncovered terrace on the dugout side of the ground, which could likely provide standing for around 100 people if the situation called for it. The rest of the ground is open hard standing, with an overall capacity of 3,500 and a reasonable amount of room for expansion, if it were to ever prove necessary again (although I think the ground is perfectly sufficient for Step 4 as it is, and probably not far off of being good enough for Step 3 as well).

As the name suggests, the ground is also used by fellow Essex Senior League side Wadham Lodge, but there are also other pitches in the complex used by various other teams.


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