It’s no secret that i’ve become a big fan of the Essex Senior League. The week’s fixtures provided me with another opportunity to visit a local ESL club. This week it was Ilford and their Cricklefield Stadium. I few years ago I spent six months working in Ilford, and I know the town pretty well from my childhood, but I’d never visited Ilford FC before. Even the prospect of a storm headed for the South East couldn’t dampen my spirits for this one.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Attendance: 40-50 (approx)
Refreshments: £2 (two teas)
Star man: Chris Clark
Who are ya, Ilford?
The modern version of Ilford FC was formed in 1987. The original version of the club, however, can be traced back to 1881. They were FA Amateur Cup champions in successive seasons in 1929 and 1930, as well as being runners up on three occasions. The club were founding members of the Southern League and London League before also helping establish the Isthmian League. They were champions in its second season in 1907 as well as back to back champions in 1921 and 1922.
The original incarnation of Ilford merged with Leytonstone in 1979 in the first of a series of unions that led to the creation of Dagenham & Redbridge. The new club formed in its place eight years later. The Foxes had a couple of unsuccessful spells in the Spartan League before joining the Essex Senior League in 1996.
In 2004 Ilford finished as runners-up and were promoted into the Isthmian League, where their predecessors had enjoyed so much success. The Foxes won Division Two at the first attempt and were transferred to the Southern League before returning to Isthmian Division One North a season later. They successfully battled relegation on several occasions, but eventually returned to Essex Senior Level in 2013.
- Ilford reached the second round of the FA Cup twice in successive seasons in 1926 and 1928, being knocked out by, local rivals, Clapton and Exeter City respectively. They reached the same stage in 1975, losing to Southend.
- Ilford contested the final ever FA Amateur Cup Final in 1974. They lost 4-1 to Bishop’s Stortford at Wembley.
- The Foxes share Cricklefield Stadium with league rivals Barkingside.
Ilford were in ninth place in the league, one place and four points behind the visitors, with a game in hand. The Foxes had won one and lost one of their games since the Christmas break. They beat Sporting Bengal 2-1 but lost to promotion chasing FC Romania. They hadn’t won at home, however, since a November 22 victory over Woodford.
West Essex had drawn with Basildon and lost at home to Hullbridge since the break. Their last win was an victory away at Enfield 1893 on 18 December. West Essex had won the previous meeting between the two sides, a 2-1 victory on 11 November in Barking.
The Ilford experience
Train: Cricklefield Stadium is around a 15-20 minute walk from Ilford Station. Turn right out of the station and left onto the high street. Walk past all the shops, past the Police Station and continue until you reach The Cauliflower pub. The stadium will be on your right. Trains to Ilford run from Liverpool Street, Stratford and Shenfield.
Car: When you get into Ilford turn right onto Winston Way and follow the road via the first exit at the roundabout. Go straight across the next roundabout and then at the next roundabout take the first exit onto the High Road. The stadium will be on your right and there is plenty of parking. Parking is free in the evenings and on Saturday afternoons.
The entrance to the stadium is down a small lane at the back of the main centre car park. Don’t try and park down there! It doesn’t lead anywhere, and it’s a nightmare trying to turn and get back out, so i’m told. At the end of the lane is the turnstile, and entry is £6 including a very smart programme for £1. After entry I was faced with a choice. Head into the main part of the stadium via a gate on the left or pop up to the bar via the main building on the right.
I opted for the bar, in search of a cup of tea. After a brief wander into the dressing room areas, like a lost puppy, I found the bar. Tea was provided along with the option of cold drinks or snacks and an excellent, warm view of the pitch from the main building’s lofty position. The experience of watching the game from the warmth of the bar is not what we’re here for, however, so like an intrepid antarctic explorer I filled up on tea and headed back out into the cold.
I’m glad I did. The Cricklefield Stadium is a treasure trove of a stadium for people, like me, who enjoy the simple pleasures of sporting arenas. There is a main seating area on one side and a small covered terrace on the other. There are also several raised concrete terraces that give it an enclosed feel. It is a little dilapidated in areas and the running track is a obstruction, but it’s still a great looking venue. The tree-lined backdrop on one side and the raised terrace adorned with an Ilford FC sign at one end really adds to the aesthetic.
The track is fenced off, so it’s a bit of a walk to get over to the far side. No one seems to mind, however, if you hop the fence to take a shortcut over the running track or to briefly pretend you’re Mo Farah rounding the final corner into the home straight. I stood on the far side for the first half close to some visiting West Essex fans. Projecting their voices to travel far enough to reach the pitch was a bit of a challenge, but they gave it a good go.
For the second half I stood on the concrete section below the bar and had a great view of the game as Ilford attacked. A few of the more vocal home fans were opposite in the covered terrace and began to break into song as the home side took control of the game. An equally galant effort came from the away fans, trying to help their charges get back into the game. It was impressive as the cold had taken what was left of my voice by that point.
Foxes earn cunning win
Ilford started the game well and looked to attack through their front three. The visitors took a few minutes to settle but began to increase their intensity and win the ball in midfield. Ilford defended with a high line and after a couple of offsides the visitors caught them out with a couple of balls over the top. Clark was called into action on several occasions to rescue the Foxes. He pulled off a couple of great saves and West Essex were also denied by the post.
In a footballing tale as old as time the visitors were made to pay for not capitalising on their first half chances. Ilford started the second half with considerably more intensity and they were beginning to master the uneven pitch. They struck in spectacular fashion. Peagram picked up the ball outside the box and thundered home a spectacular strike.
Ilford continued to look dangerous in attack and Clark’s assured performance was providing some confidence for their back four. The Foxes added a second as a great ball down the right found Peagram and his shot, come cross, found Cookey who finished well and ran over to the sand pit to celebrate. Cookey and Peagram had chances to add more gloss to the finish, but in the end Ilford ran out 2-0 winners after an impressive second half performance.
Cricklefield Stadium is definitely one for the revisit list. A Saturday afternoon revisit. The old floodlights gave the whole evening a slightly orange feel, so it would be good to see the whole stadium in natural light. The venue was interesting and welcoming, and the game was entertaining. It was an evening where a lot of boxes were ticked.
The pitch proved a little bit of a challenge for the players, but was still in decent condition for this time of year, considering Ilford aren’t it’s only users. Barkingside, also from the Essex Senior League, use the venue as well. It would be interesting to see how one of their home games compares to the Foxes. The ESL is a league of great non-league grounds and Cricklefield is definitely one to add to the list.