Leyton FC’s Unfathomable Past, Unsustainable Present & Uncertain Future

By on Jan 17, 2011 in Finance, Latest, Non-League | 18 comments

The easy option would be to say that the resignation of Leyton FC from Division One North of the Ryman League brings to an end the story of London’s second-oldest senior football club, but nothing in the history of this particular club has ever been as straightforward as we might expect it to be. The story of this particular club (or the several that have played under its name) is an extraordinary story that has taken in four reformations, a trip to the High Court over a dispute regarding the right to claim the club’s expansive history and a VAT fraud case that imprisoned the club’s chairman.

What is not in doubt is that the original Leyton FC was founded in 1868. Crisis of some sort or other seems to have been a recurring theme of the history of the club, with it having been disbanded in the late 1890s, 1911 and 1914, but it was the incarnation that played in the Athenian League from the 1920s on that hit the purple patch in the clubs history, winning the league in 1929 and the FA Amateur Cup in 1927 and 1928. After another briefly successful period in the mid-1960s – they won the Athenian League again in 1966 and 1967 – they merged with the Jewish club Wingate FC, and played as Leyton-Wingate until 1992 before merging again, this time with local club Walthamstow Pennant to form Leyton-Pennant.

Again, the merger didn’t work out and a new Leyton FC (changing its name from Leyton Sports FC after a year ) was formed and moved back from Pennant’s Wadham Lodge to Lea Bridge Road in 1997. Both clubs, however, laid claim to the lavish history of the original Leyton FC, and the matter ended up going before the High Court in 2002. The court decision was pretty clear-cut, as laid out in this statement from Leyton’s solicitors, Richard West Freeman Christofi:

Please note that by Order of the High Court Chancery Division dated 26 July 2002, in an action brought against Leyton Pennant Football Club and the Football Association, Leyton Football Club (now incorporated as a Limited Company) of Wingate Stadium Lea Bridge Road Leyton has effectively been restored as Leyton Football Club, the unincorporated club formed in 1868; has had its membership to the FA restored; has had its history dating back to 1868 restored and the order also requires Leyton Pennant to refrain in any way from holding itself out to being Leyton Football Club.

But with this story, as with so many others in the history of Leyton FC, there was more to this than met the eye. Most people looking back at the time-line of football in Leyton would have felt that either the original Leyton FC ceased to exist with any of the previous clubs’ disbandments, mergers or de-mergers, or that Pennant, if anybody, were the true heirs to this history. It has also been noted that Leyton FC may have won their case primarily because Leyton-Pennant could afford to go fight the case. They changed their name to Waltham Forest FC in 2003 and have been playing under it ever since.

With the history of the club returned to their name, Leyton FC had another brief period of success, and surged up from the Essex Intermediate League (now known as the Essex Olimpian League) to the Premier Division of the Isthmian League between 1999 and 2004. Indeed, in 2005, they finished in fifth place in the Isthmian League, missing out on promotion to the Blue Square South in losing to Eastleigh in a play-off match. Since then, though, the club’s collapse has been spectacular. They were relegated in 2008 and only managed to maintain their place in the Isthmian League at the end of last season because of dissolutions and demotions above them after having finished in the relegation places.

Off the pitch, things were not going any better. Even during their successful 2004/05 season, crowds only averaged 123 and, by the 2008/09 season these had almost halved to an average of just 64. The successful years in the history of the club had been bankrolled by Costas Sophocleous, and his family had (and, as we will find out later, may still have) considerable influence over them. Not only was Sophocleous the chairman, but he also managed the team for two seasons and had his son, Mark, play for the club. Many unsavoury rumours spread concerning how the club was managing to keep itself afloat, but Costas’ time at Lea Bridge Road ended somewhat abruptly in January of last year.

Sophocleous, it turned out, had attracted the attention of HMRC over the business dealings of his company, Eastway Construction. HMRC established that, since 1996, Eastway (who had also sponsored the Essex Senior League for a while) had been falsely submitting VAT returns for work on houses that the company had nothing to do with the construction of. The total amount understood to have been netted by this fraud was in the region of £16m, of which £9m found its way to Sophocleous himself. This money had partly paid for a refurbishment of the E10 bar and cabaret club at Leyton’s Lea Bridge Road ground and it was also reported that Mark, his son, had been on a wage of £1,000 per week while playing for the club. Sophocleous was sentenced to eight years and three months in prison for his part in the fraud, along with his business partner Philip Foster and their accountant, Stewart Collins. Sophocleous’ wife Alison and his son Mark were both cleared of the money laundering charges that they faced but, in his summing up, Judge Edmonds said of Sophocleous:

I am satisfied that the prosecution are right to treat you as the driving force behind these frauds, whatever parts others may have played. These frauds enabled you to shrug aside a previous bankruptcy and live a life of some luxury and with the indulgence of your own football club. You have in my mind the typical characteristics of the fraudster – apparently unable to make a success of a legitimate business you turned to fraud.

With Sophocleous in prison, Tony Hardy took over the running of the club as chairman, but with Leyton bottom of the Ryman League Division One North for most of this season, the club’s future had an a doomed air hanging over it from the opening kick of the 2010/11 season. The club was suspended by the Ryman League last week after failing to pay its registration fee, leading to the departure of the entire playing squad, Hardy himself, manager Gordon Boateng and club secretary Steve Bellanoff and, on Friday, Leyton FC emailed its resignation to the league. The final irony for the club was that the resignation was sent by one Louise Sophocleous, who had been appointed as a director of the club on the 1st of March 2010, just over a month after Costas Sophacleous was sent to prison.

Leyton’s record for this season will be expunged from the record, but it is worth pointing out that they have not quite folded yet. We will have and see whether they restart next season, perhaps in the Essex Senior League or in the Essex Olimpian League – the club itself has stated that their under-18 team will continue for the rest of the season, which may indicate that the club will re-group – but, as the club’s public statement on the matter confirmed, “The future of the club is up in the air and only time will tell what the outcome will be but with no football being played it doesn’t look good”. Waltham Forest, meanwhile, have also had their fair share of difficulties over the last few seasons. The club was forced to leave Wadham Lodge during the 2007/08 season and had been ground-sharing at Ilford, but they are due to be returning to Wadham Lodge any time now.

It is somewhat ironic that Leyton FC’s last match of the season ended in a 1-0 defeat against Waltham Forest on the 8th of January. The crowd for the match was recorded as just 45 people, and this in itself tells us much about the problems that clubs in this area face. Football – particularly lower level senior non-league football – has been over-saturated East and North-East London for a long time. This factor, combined with the enforced ground-sharing and the fact that the political machinations behind the clubs concerned make even studying the past of them almost as much of a test as mathematical skills as of history, means that perhaps the biggest question facing clubs such as Waltham Forest is whether the will is actually there for them to grow and flourish.

Perhap, just perhaps, it could be. One of Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United will move into the Olympic Stadium, a stone’s throw from Leyton’s old ground, in several years time, and Barry Hearn seems to be continuing to agitate for Leyton Orient to move out of London to Essex, to whence many of his club’s supporters have migrated over the years. Perhaps there is a chance for a new, community-based club to start afresh in Leyton’s ground from next season, determined to ensure that the near perpetual chaos that has involved football in this part of the world for more than three decades will never darken its door again. Or perhaps a “new” Leyton FC will just start next season, a division or three lower, continuing to attract crowds of two figures and doomed to, at best, repeat the mistakes of the past. It may be time for some lateral thinking, if the name of Leyton FC is to take on any revised meaning in this new century.

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    18 Comments

  1. I’m not sure it’s fair to say many of Orient’s supporters “have agitated” for a move out to Essex. There’s certainly plenty who’d be OK with such a move but they’ve not been campaigning for it actively, and have been happily trotting in to Leyton every fortnight anyway.

    The Leyton story is sad and bewildering (my grandad used to watch em in their 20s and 30s heyday and was initially quite hostile to Orient when we moved across from Clapton), but the Leyton/Pennant north-east London axis was probably never as strong or rooted as the Walthamstow Avenue/Leytonstone/Ilford strand, which, distantly, is related to the current vision of loveliness known as Dagenham & Redbridge.

    But urban non-league football in London has been up against it for decades, much of it down to non-football factors like property values (see also Tooting, Hendon) as well as iffy owners (the two are related)

    Tom Davies

    January 18, 2011

  2. Sorry, Tom, that was a typo on my part at the end of a very long evening, that I have now amended.

    admin

    January 18, 2011

  3. Good article. Thanks for spelling it all out Ian.

    I guess the problem is that a community-based club needs a community and vice versa.

    There aren’t many real communities worthy of the name in Greater London any more for a variety of reasons.

    Martin

    January 19, 2011

  4. You stated that Leyton merged with Walthamstow Pennant to form Leyton Pennant which is absolutely true.
    But, the club did not then split up and some people returning to the Hare & Hounds to reform as Leyton.
    What actually happened was that the majority of the Committee at Leyton decided that the club could not cover operational costs at the Hare & Hounds and a merger with walthamstow Pennant was the only available option so the clubs merged and played at wadham Lodge, as Leyton Pennant with the blessing of the Ryman league.
    However, some former Leyton Committee members were not happy at the relocation and after a few years started up a new, separate club and called themselves Leyton Sports and only changed their name to Leyton when Costas became Chairman and decided that he wanted the club to have the history belonging to the original Leyton
    The reason that the Committee of Leyton Pennant, who since changed their name to Waltham Forest as they were no longer playing in Leyton and to avoid confusion with this new Leyton, did not contest the ownship rights of the Leyton history was that they simply could not afford to cover any Court costs and go against the highly expensive legal eagles employed by Costas

    Charlie Ward

    January 21, 2011

  5. I have just read your wonderful article on Leyton F.C. and thought I would update you on their relationship with the Essex Olympian Football League that you have briefly mentioned.

    Leyton joined the league at the start of the 1998/99 season and were placed in Senior Division Two. The team finished second in their division and were promoted. During season 1998/99 the club had applied to the London F.A. for Senior status and this was granted towards the end of the season although they never informed the league that they were doing this and at the A.G.M. they were re-elected into the league for Season 1999/2000.

    When the Essex County F.A., the Leagues governing body, found out that Leyton F.C. had been granted Senior status they contacted the League and Leyton F.C. and told them that the League were not allowed to have Senior clubs in their constitution. As a result Leyton were forced to leave the league and applied to and were accepted by the Essex Senior League at the start of season 1999/2000. Leyton were also fined by the league for leaving after the A.G.M. and they subsequently lost the appeal they made against this fine to the Essex F.A.

    Leyton stayed in the Essex Senior League and finished top at the end of season 2001/2002 when they joined the Isthmian League. The rest is history

    Peter

    January 24, 2011

  6. Does anyone have any research material on what Leyton FC may have worn in 1911? I am doing a project on the old Southern League. I have googled but to no avail.

    Mike

    February 3, 2011

  7. Hi

    My Dad, Ted Conn was a physio with the team in the 60s and 70s and I am so sorry to hear that the club will end soon.

    Some players from this era were Dickie Downs, Ronnie O Sullivan senior, Brian Fuller, Peter Cataneough,John Smith.

    I have so many happy memories of visiting Leyton to watch football. Myself and my sister used to go over the grounds every weekend. My Husband, Ray Long played in goal for the team and my brother, Mark Conn also played. Feels like such a loss.

    I am trying to see if anyone has any pictures of the team from the 60s and 70s to see if any past family members are in them.

    Hope someone has some pics!

    Many thanks

    Ann Long (was Conn)

    Ann Long

    February 8, 2011

  8. I used to support Leyton when a boy, and both my father and my Uncle (who only died in 2008) saw them in their hey-day in the 1920s. I have a few feet of scratchy 8mm film when Leyton played Leytonstone in, from memory, about 1965, but I cannot remember the players mentioned above, although maybe Ray Long rings a bell.

    David Wood

    March 5, 2011

  9. lets be honest, marketing was zero, pr didnt exist, no one knew when they played
    did they give a fuck, not really, aka hendon , tooting
    support has to be won and nurtured.

    g the g

    March 25, 2011

  10. i have been following the Leyton f.C situation for some time now, and i feel that they can maybe make a go of it from the E.S.L and i would love to be a part of it but i have no clue how to get into contact with anyone from the club, if anyone could help me get in contact i would majorly appreciate it as i wanted to play for them just before they resigned from the ryman league but never got my trial… can anyone help me?

    alex loumbas

    April 26, 2011

  11. I played for leyton from about under 14′s when my wadham team joined them, up til about 18 I think. played for ken reaves and tony someone? Sad to here the club has folded.

    Martinjohnson

    December 31, 2011

  12. If you get this message ANN, PLEASE REPLY BY EMAIL.

    Love to talk about Leyton FC and I remember your dad Ted.

    Ray

    Ray ILOTT

    July 15, 2012

  13. To Ann Long
    I remember your dad Ted as I played for Leyton FC in the 60′s. Reply to rayilott@yahoo.com

    Cheers

    Ray

    Ray ILOTT

    July 15, 2012

  14. Very interesting article indeed. I lived in Leyton until going up to University in 1955. There was a strong tie between my school, Leyton County High and Leyton FC. Many of the boys were supporters. Two elderly members of staff Percy Craven and John Hughes who taught Latin and Modern Languages were said to have been Leyton stalwarts when the club played at Brisbane/Osborne Road i.e. pre 1937-38. I am writing my schooldays memoires and would welcome any details anyone might have of these two players’ careers at the Club. Percy who played centre-half is rumoured to have played in two FA Amateur Cup Finals after World War I. Yours ever, Lionel King

    lionel king

    November 1, 2012

  15. Helped my long time friend Kevin Moran run first team affairs in the 90s. Under chairman George gross. We done our very best to hold our own against much more influential sides. Enjoyed my time in charge, but always going to be hard. Charlie ward helped us out of his own pocket, but it was always on the cards something like this would happen. Sad to seea side with such a wonderful history fall by the way side.

    Peter Mcgillicuddy pet emac1951@yahoo.co.uk

    January 22, 2013

  16. I knew one bloke who was a passionate fan, more so than I was. He went to every game, home and away. He always used to big up some new signing we’d made, only for him either to be shit or never even play for the club.
    I started going in 2003, and I never attended a Leyton game when he wasn’t there. I think he wrote the match reports for the Non-League Paper too, and texted the results into the vidiprinter. I very rarely saw Leyton FC actually make him happy, but something made him keep coming back. We went a whole year with only one or two victories, but he always stayed loyal.
    Then, sometime in 2010, we played Harlow Town in a relegation six-pointer. We stood in this newish stand behind the goal, and about ten metres from us the chairman Costas was arguing loudly in Greek with some bloke, gesticulating wildly. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have fucking socked the cunt. Our fan got more and more emotional during the game, shouting like never before, on the verge of tears. He left at half-time, and it was the last time I ever saw him at Leyton because we folded not long after.
    For all its faults (low attendance, crap tea, awful football), I want that club back more than anything else.

    I follow another club now, and occasionally I see him at games. He’s been to various clubs but I know his heart’s not in it. What Costas did was awful and it was a long time before I could attend another game of football. Even now, if Leyton came back, I would switch back to them in an instance.

    Miserable ex-fan

    February 15, 2013

  17. Ann, please reply or anyone else for that matter to me c/- my email of rayilott@yahoo.com

    RAY ILOTT

    July 17, 2013

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