Tuesday 1st September 2021 ko 19.45
Essex Senior League
WOODFORD TOWN 4 (Burgin 18 Brissett 44 75 Asamoah 82)
SPORTING BENGAL UNITED 1 (Mici 36)
Att 224 at Ashton Playing Fields, Woodford Green
Now there are plenty of examples of a club returning home but the case of Woodford Town is an unusual one. The original club was formed in 1937 and played in the Delphian, Spartan and Essex Senior Leagues. They played at Snakes Lane, Woodford Green on the edge of London’s eastern suburbs- just a short walk from Woodford Tube Station on the Central Line. They lost their home in 1993, which proved to be the beginning of the end for the club.
They led a rather nomadic life gradually slipping down the footballing pecking order and folded after a final season playing at Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog Ground in 2003. It was a sad end for a club that had nurtured the young Johnny Haynes, and provided a final home for Jimmy Greaves.
The name was revived in 2015 when the merged Goffs Oak and Bush Hill Rangers took the Woodford Town and used Brimsdown Rovers’ Goldsdown Road ground to play games in the Spartan South Midlands League. It didn’t last long; after one season pitch problems saw the club sit out the 2016/17 season and they never reappeared.
This version of Woodford Town started life as Mauritius Sports in 2002, before merging with Walthamstow Avenue and Pennant to form Mauritius Sports and Pennant in 2007. Now I could go into massive detail into the frankly bewildering series of name changes and mergers the club went through during the next ten years but if you ever watched any of following these you’ve seen what now forms part of Woodford Town’s DNA.
Mauritius Sports Association UK
Haringey & Waltham Development
Haringey & Waltham
The club became Woodford Town 2017 for the start of the 2017/18 season, dropping the 2017 suffix two years ago. They groundshared in a similarly nomadic fashion to the first club but now had a more substantial identity, and an aim- to return home to Woodford Green. The twist was, and still is that the old ground, Snakes Lane, is still in situ and has lain derelict for over 25 years! A fire just after the eviction saw the clubhouse razed but even now the surrounding walls, floodlights and even a turnstile are still in situ. The old ground is a short walk from the new, under the M11 and over the River Roding, and I joined a steady succession of groundhoppers in having a look round. I’d go as far as to say if you want to understand Woodford Town’s new ground, go and have a look round the old one first.
What changed everything was the support of Redbridge Council. The old Snakes Lane ground was quickly counted out due to issues over drainage and residents’ objections. The club agreed to take on the Ashton Playing Fields, with the club grateful enough to name the stand they erected after the council’s leader Jas Athwal. It had taken over 25 years and the pandemic added an additional year but the club could return home.
There was plenty to do though. The club have managed to build a changing room block, clubhouse, a turnstile block, hard standing and provide a seated stand. The clubs achievement is remarkable, so when you visit Ashton Playing Fields please bear where the club have been and what they’ve been through to be here.
Because without that background you may look at the ground and see no more than a group of Arena stands situated a running track away from the pitch. It is far from being the ideal football ground, but to write it off is to forgot the whole point isn’t what it is, its WHERE it is! And if you were to ask the Woodford singing section what they think of it, I think they’d make the point clear; they certainly did throughout this game!
I must admit that I did find it more difficult than normal to watch the game- a factor of being 8 lanes from the action. I found myself getting lost in the moment- the fans, the feeling of returning home, the buzz was there, and was very infectious! The game was important though, now Town are home they can build the team, struggling at the wrong of the Essex Senior League. It was clear that those involved saw Sporting Bengal as something of an acid test. The visitors were rock bottom with no points so beating them was seen as a minimum standard.
That happened, the visitors fragile confidence evaporating when Woodford’s second goal went in. But as the game wound down, the fun of being there was just being there. I turned, smiled and made for the car. I have a feeling the footballing world will hear a lot more from Woodford Town.