It’s been a while since my last Essex Senior League game. The last time I checked in on the league Takeley had started the season on fire and looked every bit the early season favourites. Since then, they’d lost a few games, Hullbridge Sports had taken over at the top and a few more teams had forced themselves into the chasing pack. Walthamstow were early adopters for that particular group, but they’d since been joined by the likes of Stansted, Woodford Town, and Saffron Walden Town. The latter were their hosts for my midweek game.
My trip to the historic market town, which somehow is still in Essex despite being a good 10 miles north of Stansted, would be my first visit to Catons Lane and my 90th ground in total. I had, however, previously visited the picturesque town. Once for a wedding and once as part of an ill-fated London to Cambridge cycling challenge. It was upon arrival in Saffron Walden that I finally hit the wall. I ended my trip, and pathetically dragged myself onto a train back to Tottenham Hale, a few miles up the road in Great Chesterford.
Ground: Catons Lane
Competition: Essex Senior League
Refreshments: £1.50 (tea)
Dogs spotted: none
Who are ya, Saffron Walden Town?
The club are known as ‘the Bloods’ but as far as I can tell they have no connection to gangs in Los Angeles and the name is not related to any particular gory historical event that took place in the town. The official line is that the name innocently comes from the club colours. Town were founded in 1872. They can lay claim to being the oldest senior football club in Essex. 99 years later they were founder members of the Essex Senior League.
The Bloods were league champions in 1974 and then switched to the Eastern Counties League. Some more success followed as they won the league in 1983. A year later they were accepted into the Isthmian League. They achieved two eighth placed finishes but had to return to the ESL in 1996 after the Isthmian League declared their sloping pitch inadequate. They were the first ESL champions of the new millennium before returning to the Eastern Counties League once more in 2004. This season is the Bloods first back in the ESL following the non-league restructure.
The Saffron Walden Town experience
As briefly mentioned earlier Saffron Walden is a very scenic country town. It’s perhaps not the place you’d expect to find a fairly tense game of non-league football. It felt at times like the two squads and the crowd of 138 were disturbing the peace. The town church chimed for long periods of the first half, perhaps to try and drown out the noise from Catons Lane. The ground, like the town, is fairly easy on the eye and has a lot to offer grassroots aficionados like myself.
Each side has a unique seating area. The first, on the side of the clubhouse and dressing rooms, is wood based and well finished in the club colours, paint not blood luckily. The other is more industrial. Essentially, just a frame with an iron roof. It looks great though and provides a good seating area behind the frisky dugouts. I’ve often wondered why more clubs don’t opt for this minimalist style of stand. It works well here.
There is another small stand with a few seats at one end as well as a lone bench on one side. A few tree trucks have been employed to provide surfaces for drinks or spots for middle-aged men to prop themselves up on. All in all, it’s a pretty impressive step five ground and I haven’t even got to the P.A. system. Saffron Walden Town have a public address system that most Premier League clubs would be proud of. This is possibly the reason why the campologists over at the local church were kept so busy. It was pumping out some lively tunes before kick-off and was enthusiastically wielded by the club announcer during the game.
Walthamstow have won three and drawn two of their last five games and were unbeaten since their FA Cup exit to Beaconsfield Town on 8 September. They were third in the table seven points behind league leaders Hullbridge Sports. Saffron Walden Town were a few places behind them with a couple of games in hand. The Bloods had been beaten twice by Hullbridge, once in the league and once in the cup, in their last six games. They’ve won three and drawn one of the others.
The opening exchanges of the game were fairly even. Walthamstow looked to play to their strengths of getting the ball up to Peagram and letting Jones, Ramsey, and Appiah play off him. This worked fairly well but a worrying trend was beginning to develop at the other end. Saffron Walden Town put together some passing moves and had the bulk of the early chances. They were also winning a lot of free-kicks between the centre circle and the edge of Walthamstow’s box. Some were a little soft but some were more deserved. Stow defended the set-pieces well but the officious referee was beginning to get twitchy and anxious to give his cards an outing.
It was the visitors, however, that struck first. Walthamstow capitalised from the hosts losing the ball in midfield. They played in Ramsey down the left and he managed to cut inside beat the keeper to the ball and roll it into the net. The game returned to its familiar pattern after the goal. Soon the referee’s card dam burst and we were treated to more bookings than a trendy East End cat cafe, all for players in blue. The last foul of the half, and possibly the softest, hurt the visitors. Greg Strong got on the end of the free-kick and flicked his header over Clark into the corner of Stow’s net.
The feeling around the ground was that the hosts might now take control of the game. The opposite, however, was true. Maxwell, on the pitch for this game, had clearly fired up his players during the break. Walthamstow hit their hosts with a series of well-timed breaks. Ramsey got down the left on two occasions. Firstly, he found Peagram who blasted home the second. Next, he found Appiah who placed his finish to make it 3-1. The forward would then be the chief protagonist in the key moment of the game.
After picking up a booking in the first half, for something no one could remember he dropped a late shoulder on a Bloods player. Clearly unbalanced on the slope the player tumbled to the ground and Appiah knew what was coming. Queue the player slowly trudging off while the ref ambled after him intent on not missing his moment in the limelight. It was farcical and resulted in a few additional minutes to be added on. Not 10 though, you may be able to guess where this is headed.
To their credit, the visitors continued to play pretty well with 10 men. Peagram and Jones both had chances while the home side struggled to create much. Finally, just as injury time approached they pulled a goal back. Walthamstow failed to deal with a ball into the box and Francis smashed home the loose ball. The come back was on and the ref soon confirmed that there would be eight minutes of additional time. We’d already had two by this point. The Bloods were clearly lifted and eventually they levelled the game following a long throw, Francis again with the finish as we entered triple figures in time.
It was a great, spirited come back from Saffron Walden Town who really came into their own as soon as they sensed a way back. The result was a shame for Walthamstow who were terrific in the second half. Unfortunately, the sending off soured the huge amount of work, and yards, that the front players especially Jones and Ramsey put in to keep their team ahead. In the cold light of day, however, a point away at a rival isn’t too bad a result.