Friday 11th September 2020 ko 19.45
Hellenic League Division One East
WOKINGHAM & EMMBROOK 5 (White 5 14 45 Eagle 26 E Day 27)
Clarke missed penalty 90
AFC ALDERMASTON 0
Barna sent off 74
Programme (by Aldermaston) £1
You could say I have history with Wokingham. I first encountered Wokingham Town in 1996 when my side Oxford United played a pre-season friendly at their ground Finchampstead Road. Friendly was the right term too, the Isthmian League club were notably friendly even though they lost the game 5-0. It is worth mentioning that the visitors were able to name a back 3 of Matt Elliott, Darren Purse and Phil Gilchrist who all went on to play Premier League football so there was no disgrace in that scoreline ! The sadness came 3 years later when the club were forced to sell the ground for housing and moved into a groundshare with Windsor & Eton.
The sadness isn’t so much that the ground was lost, more that for the next 20 years the club found barrier after barrier put in their place preventing a return to Wokingham. So much so that the club, in both its Wokingham Town and Woking & Emmbrook incarnations ended up having to ground share in 4 different counties; can you name them? Answer after the photos.
They tried repeatedly to return to Wokingham, got nowhere so in 2004 opted to merge with Reading (now Thames Valley Premier) League side Emmbrook Sports and return to Wokingham at Sports’ Lowther Road ground. The problem was that the ground was fit only for the lower division of the Hellenic so the club were forced to resign from the Isthmian League in order to be at home. In short they’d gone from playing at the then Step 2 Isthmian League Premier in 1995 to the Step 6 Hellenic Division One East in just 9 years.
Still the knock-backs continued. The club had history dating back to 1896 but the club were refused planning permission every time they tried to improve Lowther Road by adding floodlights and a stand. I visited in April 2008 and you can see just how basic the facilities were. You wondered how much more could the club take?
In essence those facilities, or the lack of them became a ticking timebomb for the club. They had a team that was capable of playing at a higher level, but a ground that sooner or later was going to see them removed from pyramid football altogether. Sooner or later floodlights and a stands were going to be a minimum standards for the Hellenic. To drop out of pyramid football would have been unthinkable for a club with their background. Then came the Cantley Park debacle.
The club were told that if they moved to Cantley Park, after a season there they’d be able to improve the ground by enclosing it and adding floodlights and a stand. In 2010 they did so, playing at a ground that was even more basic that Lowther Road, but there was potential. But at the end of the season the lease was revoked amid local opposition to the club’s plans. I wondered at the time whether the people of Wokingham actually wanted a football team. Here’s my photos from back then.
The club went into another groundshare, this time at Bracknell Town, and watched with no little irony as Reading FC started building their new training facility at Bearwood in 2018. It’s floodlit, enclosed and lies within Wokingham Council’s jurisdiction!
I became acutely aware of the club’s plight in 2014. I was fortunate to be at the opening game at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium and the club saw my photo of the place on Twitter and commented, “What Wokingham would do for something half that size.” It put a lot of things in perspective.
Thankfully last season Wokingham & Emmbrook got planning permission to install floodlights at Lowther Road lay hard standing on 3 sides of the ground and put up a 100 seat “Arena stand”. It’s not the greatest football ground you’ll ever see, but please see the place through the eyes of anyone connected to the club.
Imagine your club losing their ground then groundsharing at 5 different grounds, and calling another 2 home. Imagine being told you aren’t able to have even the most basic of facilities but the local professional club can. Then look at what is now at Lowther Road and compare it favourably to say, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, because if your’re a Suma in so many ways it’s far more important.
You see the evidence of that struggle within Lowther Road itself. There are no end of signs asking people to park within the ground rather than on the street. There’s no great inconvenience caused to anyone by doing so but when you know the history….
The curiosity here though was the timing of the game. The game was originally an AFC Aldermaston home game but the tie was reversed late, so late the programme was produced by Aldermaston with Saturday’s date on it! The inconvenience didn’t cause any issue to the new hosts who won as easily as the scoreline suggests.
But if ever a visit to a football ground was about more than just the game this was it. Few clubs will ever have to fight for what they’ve got more than Wokingham & Emmbrook. They’ll have to fight again should they gain promotion but whatever happens in the future this is a footballing good news story. Because for the first time in 20 years the Town’s club has a home, and a place to build for the future.
The club groundshared in 4 counties
Windsor & Eton/ Bracknell Town – Berkshire
Flackwell Heath- Buckinghamshire
Egham Town- Surrey
Henley Town- Oxfordshire