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Tuesday 20th July 2021 ko 19.45

Pre-season Friendly

CATHOLIC UNITED 1 (Trialist 39)

WHITE ENSIGN 6 (Woodward 1 13 45 Locke 6 Reynolds-Blanche 28 71)

Att c60 at Len Forge Centre, Southend-on-Sea

Free Entry

There are some grounds that ought to be on every groundhopper’s bucket list, there are some that you’d barely count as a tick, and there are one or two that for little or no reason contrive to intrigue you. For me, Southend’s Len Forge Centre definitely fell into the latter.

I have no idea why I seem to be drawn to the Southend Arterial Road, but within a year or so visits to the likes of Benfleet, Garon Park and Basildon’s Post Office, and SELEX Grounds make me wonder why I see so much of a road, that is usually congested, and when it isn’t there’s no end of speed traps to work around.

But once more into to the breach my friends, even if the Len Forge Centre did come with something of a reputation amongst those in the know. The centre is a footballing hub for Southend, the first photo shows just how well used the place is. The facility bears the name of Len Forge who started the Southend Borough Combination from this site in Eastwoodbury Lane, and served that league, the Essex FA, and was a leading figure in the formation of the Essex Senior League in 1971. Moreover he was a Football League level linesman, and even found time to work in the treasurer’s department of Southend Borough Council. He died in 2008, and the ground’s level of use is a fitting tribute to the man. 

The problem is the centre’s inclusivity is also it’s stumbling block. The fact is that it is designed for as many teams as possible to use it, not to tick all the FA’s ground grading boxes. It does come close, compare here to Frenford’s “The Drive” for example but any club that wants to progress beyond the Essex OIympian League will have to look beyond the one side for viewing and the two “Arena” stands. Unfortunately the view of Southend airport counts for naught. 

That of course was precisely the bind faced by White Ensign in 2018. They secured promotion to what is now the Eastern Counties Division One South but had to move from the Len Forge Centre to the Basildon Sports Village to progress. That only lasted one season and they are now at Great Wakering Rovers after it was discovered that the pitch at the Sports Village was too small.

So now the most senior team at Eastwoodbury Lane is Catholic United, a club forged (forgive the pun) from Southend’s Catholic community, and their Celtic hoops must be the least surprising choice of colours in Non League! They potentially face the same issue White Ensign did, now playing in the Olympian League’s Premier Division. With Ensign now elevated to the Essex Senior League, this “Tenants versus former tenants” derby came with a two division differential.

And frankly, it showed. Ensign scored in the first minutes and despite a couple of first half knocks always had enough about them to control the game despite the inevitable plethora of substitutions. But in the end, the result didn’t matter too much, what did was to see two Southend sides play at the home dedicated to Len Forge who did so much for football in the area. I can think of no better tribute to him.