First competitive game of the season.
The original venue I had pencilled in for Tuesday was Harlow Town, who were playing a friendly against Cambridge City. That was until I discovered, however, that the Essex Senior League had already kicked off. There were a few short trips on offer but I opted for Redbridge as I knew the area fairly well, having previously worked for Redbridge Council.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Refreshments: Burger + Coke (£3.50)
Star Player: Arron Thomas (Sawbridgeworth Winger)
Redbridge play at Oakside Stadium, which sits just behind Barkingside Station. The club was known as Ford United prior to 2004 due to its connection to the local car industry. In the early 2000s the club needed a suitable venue to help them move up the leagues. They took over the lease of Oakside from Barkingside FC. Barkingside have since moved on, and they now groundshare with Ilford.
Oakside is easily reached via the North Circular, taking the A1400 exit at the Charlie Brown roundabout, turning left onto Clayhall Avenue, continuing straight until you see signs for Barkingside station, and then the football ground. The ground has a decent sized car park but it was pretty much full by kick-off. Barkingside Station is on the Central Line if you want to avoid driving.
Oakside has an ample sized seating area on one side and a covered standing area on the opposite side. There are also some raised standing areas, including one end, that provide a good view of the action. There are pillars within the seating area but they are thin and barely provide any obstruction to the view. Parts of the stadium look a little dilapidated, a few seats were broken, and some holes in the floor were pointed out as I took my seat. This all adds to the charm, however, and the seating area is close enough to the dugouts to provide audible commentary from the benches.
Due to my proximity to the area, and unusually quiet roads, I arrived a good 45 minutes before kick-off. I had a look around the smart, large bar area. A good selection of drinks and burgers (£2.50) were available. The programme also provided me with a way of passing the time. It had information about the club, the league and a useful list of the closest stations to each of Redbridge’s opponents for the coming season.
The away side took early control of the game. Redbridge had put out a big physical side, but Sawbridgeworth were clearly expecting this and had prepared accordingly. They played with width in possession and pressured with pace and tenacity out of it. The visitor’s wide players caused plenty of problems while Redbridge struggled to get anything going. The pressure told when Arron Thomas gave Sawbridgeworth the lead after 19 minutes.
Unfortunately, for the visiting side, they started to lose their game plan after taking the lead and Redbridge gradually started to improve. Jacob Dingli went close with a header after a well-worked counter attack. Sawbridgeworth went into the break, however, with their lead still intact.
I moved to the raised standing area behind the goal Redbridge were attacking for the second half. From this elevated vantage point I was lucky enough to see Redbridge striker, Calvin Poku, score with three sublime finishes. Sadly, for him, and the home side, only one actually counted. The second half was more of an equal affair and both sides had chances to win the game. In the end a draw seemed to be the fairest result.
The Essex Senior League contain a lot of clubs that are local for me, so there is a good chance I’ll see these sides again in the near future.