Survival Saturday for Waltham Forest
My first season of groundhopping is drawing to a close. It’s been an interesting year that started out with the aim of trying to get halfway through ‘the 92’. I’ve got nowhere near achieving that. This is partly because of the unexpected delight I've found in watching non-league football. I thought I was lucky to live within 30 mins of three Premier League clubs, but actually, the real fortune I have is living within an hour of many many amazing non-league clubs. It makes sense then that my final league game of the season would be my first revisit, double blog (I’ll think of a better name), would be at one of my most local clubs, Waltham Forest.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Ticket: £7 (£4 concessions)
Refreshments: £1 (tea)
Star man: Ryan Maxwell
For a brief history of Waltham Forest FC and a description of Wadham Lodge see my blog from my first visit.
Why the revisit?
Win or get relegated. That was the long and short of it for Waltham Forest in their last game of the season. The relegation picture was slightly confusing in a league where relegations seem to have been rare. Eton Manor, who dropped out at the start of the season, were already down along with Hackney Wick who’d been bottom for a large part of the season. It had, apparently, been confirmed that two more teams would join them.
Waltham Forest’s improved form of two wins and two draws in their last five games had left their fate in their own hands. A win over Stansted last week had put them in the driving seat. Stansted completed their games in midweek and sat one point ahead of Forest with Wadham Lodge and Burnham Ramblers occupying the two spots in the drop zone. A win in their final game over Ilford would see Forest safely clear of those last two relegation positions. A loss or draw would in all likelihood see them relegated as Wadham Lodge had games in hand and had been picking up points. Finishing above Stansted was the name of the game.
A club moving forward
My first visit to Waltham Forest in February painted a slightly bleak picture. The team was struggling and had just relieved their manager if his duties. Form had been poor all season and the club chairman Turgut Esendagli had sadly passed away in October. Forest had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough cash just to survive the season. The club’s survival seemed to have been secured when I arrived in February for the visit of FC Romania, but league survival was less certain. Ryan Maxwell had just taken over the team and they battled for a point in soggy conditions against promotion hopefuls.
Forest were cheered on that day by a small, but merry, band of supporters known as ‘The Rabble’. Waltham Forest’s own brand of ultras have grown in size since then and their increasing presence has coincided with an upturn in form brought about under Maxwell’s leadership. My previous experiences of Wadham Lodge have been of a functional non-league ground that’s largely empty. While substantial crowds are yet to materialise ‘The Rabble’ have provided a soundtrack for the team and a section of the ground for fans to gravitate towards.
The players have responded in kind and are clearly enjoying the increased support. Maxwell, smartly dressed and looking like he was ready for a night out at Essex House in Chingford after the game, has assembled a competitive team against the clock. Cheered on by their impressive fans they’ve picked up points when it counts. Only Ilford, another team who’ve suffered a hitch in their giddy-up this season, stood between them and survival.
The Foxes were safe in mid-table but had the worst form in the league, losing eight straight games. They’ve seen a high recent turnover of players and were already in the ‘planning for next season’ stage. Recent goalkeeping loses meant that joint manager Billy Cove started the game between the sticks. Cove is also an ex-Waltham Forest player and the second highest scorer in the club’s history.
Waltham Forest started off a little nervously, as to be expected on such a big day for the old club. They had most of the possession but struggled to test Ilford’s stand-in keeper. As the game was settling Ilford struck the first blow. Forest struggled to deal with a long ball and the defender headed the ball past his own keeper. It looked as if Walsh would rectify the situation, but he gave away a penalty in the process. Lockwood gave Ilford the lead from the spot.
Forest now had to forget the tension and get back in the game. A few half chances followed, but it wasn’t until just before the break that they managed to get the equalising goal. Da Silva got to a loose ball in the box ahead of the Ilford defender and was brought down. The ref pointed to the spot and Barnwell leveled the scores.
Forest started the second half on the front foot and started to play with more of a cutting edge. A succession of corners led to the ball falling to Brimacombe-Wiard who composed himself and finished well to get Forest ahead. A few minutes later Lori rampaged down the right and his cross found Josephs at the back post who put the result beyond doubt. The third goal was greeted by raptures by the Rabble behind the goal and the Forest players responded with jubilant celebrations.
It was an excellent result and last game of the season for a club that has seen plenty of upheaval this season. An improvement in performances and the addition of the club’s 12th man has led to an increased level of positivity around the club. Forest will be hoping that the only drama over the summer months will come from watching England at the World Cup and that the roots of recovery will continue to grow ahead of next season. Maxwell’s side has shown recently they can compete with any team in the Essex Senior League and will be looking towards the higher end of the table when they return in July/August.