Several months ago there was an online crowdfunding appeal by my local football club, Waltham Forest FC, to help secure their survival for next season. The club was struggling, so I chipped in and received several tickets for this season and next. Finally, this weekend I decided to cash in my first ticket. I had already been to Wadham Lodge to see my other local team who are named after the ground, so I was excited to complete the local set.
The two clubs that play down the road have contrasting stories, so naturally I went for a contrasting visit. I saw Wadham Lodge on a Tuesday evening, so I choose a Saturday afternoon for my first visit to see Forest. It was still raining though.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Star man: Asher Modeste
Who are ya, Waltham Forest?
Waltham Forest were formed in 1964 as a junior side, known as Pennant Football Club. The Stags, as they are known, went on to win the South West Essex League and the Metropolitan League in their early years. They progressed into the Spartan League in the 1980s. They changed their name to Walthamstow Pennant in 1988 after neighbours Walthamstow Avenue merged with Redbridge Forest, a precursor to Dagenham & Redbridge.
Walthamstow Pennant won the Spartan League in 1991, but were denied entry into the Isthmian League due to inadequate ground facilities. Five years later they merged with Leyton FC, one of the oldest clubs in England, after they moved to Wadham Lodge. The club became Leyton Pennant and took up Leyton’s place in the Isthmian League.
The club’s form was mixed as the new century began and in 2003 they changed their name to Waltham Forest to appeal to more fans in the wider area. This also followed a court action by a new version of Leyton FC that supported its claim to be a continuation of the original Leyton club. Forest moved over to the Southern League for two seasons that ended with two solid mid-table finishes.
The club temporarily left Wadham Lodge in 2008 and moved in to Cricklefield as tenants of Ilford FC, returning to E17 in 2013. Forest survived several relegation battles back in the Isthmian League but eventually they succumbed to relegation to the Essex Senior League in 2014.
- In 2000-01 the club had one of the poorest disciplinary records in English football and were called before the Football Association to provide an explanation.
- Forest reached the last 16 of the FA Youth Cup in 2006 and managed to defeat Premier League West Bromwich Albion’s youth team.
- Wadham Lodge FC were created following Forest’s temporary move away from the ground in 2008.
Forest had begun to move closer to safety after a tricky start to the season. They’d picked up wins against Burnham and Clapton in the New Year and drawn against Sawbridgeworth. Their last outing, however, was a disappointing 4-1 defeat to Sporting Bengal United. Forest were in sixteenth place prior to kick off.
FC Romania were second going into the game and looked like one of a couple of teams that might still be able to challenge Redbridge for the title. Romania had won three of their last four games including league wins against Sawbridgeworth and Barkingside.
The two sides had already met an incredible four times this season with FC Romania winning three of the games 2-1. The fourth game was a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup. Two of the visitors’ victories over Forest had come in the space of four days in January.
The Waltham Forest experience
Train: Walthamstow Central, on the Victoria Line, is the closest station. It’s a 25-30 minute walk from the station but you can also catch the 34, 97, 215 or 357 buses and alight at Chingford Road.
Car: Exit the A406 (North Circular) at the Crooked Billet roundabout and head south along the A112 (Chingford Road). Go left on Brookscroft Road and then take the last left onto Kitchener Road. The ground is on the right and has a good sized car park.
As seemed to be the theme for this particular weekend I arrived at Waltham Forest as the club had just completed some staffing changes. The club had said goodbye to Qayam Shakoor as manager and replaced him with Ryan Maxwell. The experienced former Reading, Hamilton Academical and Raith Rovers player coached Forest briefly last season and would act a player manager. Maxwell had acted quickly to bring in some new faces to strengthen the squad.
Persistent rain was the main headache as I strolled along Forest Road, trying to create my first ever instagram story - it came out OK but the jury is still out as to whether I’ll try another one. I arrived at Wadham Lodge as a couple of the club stalwarts were trying to locate someone to man the turnstile. Several extended members of the FC Romania squad managed to talk themselves in for free as I waited. The gate opened and I felt a tinge of guilt being the first paying punter and handing over my free ticket. I stressed that I’d ‘pay for a programme’, but that only came to £1.
The rain got heavier as I took shelter in the main stand. A couple of the visiting players tried to keep warm on the soggy pitch while the home side made use of the pitches behind the ground. As they came in one FC Romania player slid belly first through the mud. It was an early indicator of the kind of game we might get. Some people might think the non-league game is all cold, wet afternoons watching 22 average Joes slide around in the mud trying to kick a ball, while 15 old men watch on. This is an entirely flawed interpretation, but I have to confess for a brief moment I worried I was going to witness the stereotype come true.
I spent the first half watching on from the decent sized main stand before taking advantage of a rain break to explore the rest of Wadham Lodge for the second half. It’s another treasure trove of a ground with covered terraces at each ends and a small run-down open terrace between the sub’s benches. The visitors had brought with them some vocal fans who sang throughout the game in a mixture of Romanian and English. The Waltham Rabble occupied a corner of their own and countered with some equally vocal support, although it took them a couple of tins to get going.
Forest take another step towards safety
The game started fairly slowly as both sides struggled to get going in the tricky conditions. Players lost their footing regularly and there were very few chances to speak of. Most of the action was in front of the main stand as Maxwell ran operations from right back. His opponent Florin Pop, on the left wing, was responsible for the visitor’s brightest moments. Sighiartau had a chance saved by Seetah and it was all square at the break.
The second half was much more exciting and both sides seemed to have adjusted to the conditions that were by this point very boggy. FC Romania struck the first blow early on as Sighiartau was played through and he skillfully lobbed the ball over Seetah. Forest reacted and began to apply more pressure on the visitors.
Modeste and Siligato were becoming increasingly more involved in the game as Forest were finding their feet. It was the latter that levelled things up. The midfielder found some space in the box, got on the end of a cross and prodded the ball past the FC Romanian keeper. There were chances for both sides towards the end, but it finished all squared and Forest gained another point in their quest for survival.
It was great to finally visit the second of my local clubs and see Wadham Lodge in a Saturday afternoon context. It’s a very interesting ground and the eventful history of Waltham Forest FC complements it nicely. The quality of the game was spoilt slightly by the weather, but the second half was eventful and tense towards the end as it could have gone either way. Waltham Forest and their nearest and dearest Wadham Lodge FC are both fighting a relegation battle this season, but i’m hopeful both of my local clubs will stay in the Essex Senior League.