“Just think, if you’d scored that penalty you’d be 3-1 up now”, hollered Barkingside’s experienced goalkeeper. The target of his factual outburst was Leyton Athletic’s young striker, Rujorn Tuitt. His penalty didn’t miss the goal by much, but it’s trajectory saw it clear the final bend of the running track and finish up somewhere on the highest set of concrete steps looking done over Cricklefields Athletics Stadium. It marked a turning point in an excellent game of football between the Essex Senior League’s bottom two sides.
The contest between Barkingside and Leyton Athletic was the standout fixture in local football circles this weekend. They were the two bottom sides, separated only by three points. Both sides are looking for momentum to take them into the second half of the season and hopefully see themselves getting out of the relegation positions.
Who are ya, Barkingside?
Side, as they are known locally, were founded in 1898. They initially played in the Ilford League until the 1920s when they folded due to a lack of support. The soon reformed as Barkingside Boys Guild, then Barkingside Old Boys before adopting their current name in the 1930s. Side played in the London League until 1964 when they were founder members of the Greater London League.
After several mergers, the Greater London League became the Spartan League. Barkingside made the Premier Division in the 1980s and only finished outside the top ten three times in ten years. In 1997 Side were crowned Champions in the league’s last ever season as the ‘Spartan League’. They were placed in the Premier South in the first season of the Spartan South Midlands League. They immediately won promotion into the new Premier Division.
Barkingside won the Division at the first attempt but were denied entry into the Isthmian League. They then requested a transfer into the Essex Senior League. Sideways moves were not allowed at the time, so the club had to withdraw from senior football and then apply for entry to the ESL the following year. Side finished second in 2013 earning themselves three seasons in the Isthmian North before they returned to the Essex Senior.
For much of their existence, Barkingside played at Station Road, next to Barkingside Tube Station, which later became Oakside. During the 2001-2002 season, the lease was sold to Ford United, who became Redbridge. Side were forced to leave as the rent increased and they now share Cricklefields with Ilford FC.
Familiar foes battle for Essex Senior League survival
This season has been a struggle for Side, despite respectable mid-table finishes in the last two campaigns following their relegation from the Isthmian League. They quite incredibly drew four of their first five games 0-0. It took them six games to find the net, even though they remained unbeaten in the league. The third 0-0 game was an FA Cup Extra-Preliminary Round contest with today’s opponents Leyton Athletic. It was the first act in what would become a series of meetings between the struggling clubs. Athletic won the replay 3-0.
Side went into December winless. Their only victories had come in two cup penalty shootouts. That was, however, about to change. On 19 December they met Leyton Athletic for the third time, this occasion was in the Errington Challenge Cup. Side won to finally break their hoodoo. This was then followed up by two league wins in a row against Sporting Bengal and Tower Hamlets.
Events off the field have been equally eventful. Michael Walther left his role as manager in November to take the reigns at Basildon United. He only lasted four games there but Barkingside moved on. They added Romford Director of Football Alex Goldstone in as an interim manager for the rest of the season. The move allows Romford the chance to blood young players with Barkingside and will hopefully see Side add a few more green ‘W’s to the results list on their website.
Barkingside’s rivals at the bottom of the table, Leyton Athletic, have also had plenty of changes behind the scenes. Glen Kendall was relieved of his managerial duties in November. Midfielder Eli Benoit was appointed as player-manager. Benoit has overseen a couple of promising draws against Sporting Bengal and Clapton but is yet to see his side win.
Honours even in battle of the bottom clubs
As we know this was the fifth, and final, meeting between the two sides this season. Leyton had the best of the earlier meetings winning 3-0 in a cup replay and 5-0 in the league. Barkingside, however, had won the most recent meeting, a 1-0 cup win in December. The match seemed to mirror the series of games between the two. Leyton started well and had the better of the opening chances.
The visitors, in their minimalist Ribena coloured kit which gives off a delightful retro vibe, knocked the ball around quickly despite the pitch containing a few bobbles. Leyton soon made the breakthrough. A testing ball into the channel wasn’t dealt with by the Barkingside defender or keeper. Rujorn Tuitt got on the end of it and flicked it past the keeper into the empty net. Barkingside went close soon after but Louis Wright made an excellent block to keep Leyton ahead.
Leyton then began to dominate the game. The crowd of 56 could sense that the home side could see themselves six points adrift at the bottom if the game continued on its current trajectory. Their worst fears were confirmed soon after. There was a scramble in the box following a corner. Abdul Bangura reacted fastest and lashed home the second goal. It could have been even worse minutes later as the Barkingside keeper was adjudged to have felled Tuitt in the box. The striker then blazed the ball over the bar.
It seemed at the time it might not affect the outcome, such was Leyton’s advantage on the scoreboard and possession. The hosts, however, were instantly galvanised by the miss. They piled forward before the ref could blow for half time. Joe Oates popped up and drilled the ball past the Leyton keeper to make it 1-2 at the break.
The locals half time assessment was prophetic. “They [Leyton] look like they’re playing with an extra player”, said one observer. “Can they keep it up though, that’s why they’re near the bottom”, replied another. As predicted, the second half was much more equal. Both sides had chances. It was the Barkingside, however, that scored the only goal of the half. Another set piece led to a scramble where Harry Matthews poked the ball home.
It finished level and Leyton maintained their three-point advantage over Barkingside, who remain bottom. It was a competitive game enjoyed by all, even if the home fans were a little despondent in the first half. Leyton are six points behind Tower Hamlets in the table, but the way both sides played you wouldn’t bet against either, or both, completing the great escape.