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Saturday 28th December 2015 ko 19.45

Isthmian League Division One



Att 114 at Cricklefields Stadium, Seven Kings (Ilford FC)

Entry & Programme £9

Just under two years ago I paid a visit to Oakside Park and was both pleasantly surprised and saddened in equal measure. The ground is the kind of hotch potch that groundhoppers love, and Barkingside’s chairman Jimmy Flanagan was heroically keeping the club going almost single-handed, whilst welcoming just about everyone through the turnstile. The sadness was that they were unable to pay the rent increase on the ground, so were about to vacate the ground they’d built. I was sufficiently taken by both Jimmy and Barkingside to want to catch up with them.

And the end of that season they moved into a groundshare at Ilford FC’s Cricklefields Stadium, in Seven Kings, which worried me. A large part of Jimmy’s strategy was and is to attract groundhoppers and other “floating” supporters. They kick off on Monday evenings normally and this late kick off, the only evening non-league kick off that day was all part of that strategy.

In groundhopping mores, a visit to the secondary club in a groundshare at an athletics stadium doesn’t normally appeal, but those who know about Jimmy Flanagan and Barkingside see the appeal. Other than the fact that he bleeds football, he looks after his guests. Teamsheets are still freely available and the reading material in the little club shop is still first class. I suspect that most there knew that as a crowd we weren’t even covering the rent, but the feeling of doing something positive seemed pervasive.

The unusual kick of time certainly attracted the groundhoppers, around half of the attendance, including 20 Germans! It was a most convivial atmosphere under the yellowish floodlights, but Jimmy’s problems were far more manifest on the pitch than off it.

The two sides were fourth and fifth from bottom, and Barkingside looked a young and naive bunch. With money virtually non-existent the lure to play for Barkingside is the chance to play Isthmian football and in so put yourself in the shop window. Relegation to the Essex Senior League would make the situation worse, the budget would still be tiny, and that incentive would go.

I stood, watched, chatted and took photos, hoping against hope that Barkingside could snatch something. But former West Ham, Cambridge United and Yeovil keeper Darren Behcet was all-too-often having to produce miracles to keep the scoresheet blank, and once the levee broke through Ismael Kamara, the hosts’s fate was sealed.

You wonder how long Jimmy can keep this going. Exiled and struggling, with little or no core support, the logical thing would be to seek a merger, presumably back at Oakside Park with Redbridge themselves struggling. But football doesn’t work that way so I’ll continue to keep an eye out for heroic Barkingside, and hope that they get the support that they and Jimmy deserve.