Frozen Out

3 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   October 28, 2008  |     17

Looking at the average attendance tables for the Ryman League Division One North doesn’t make for especially happy reading if you are interested in the well-being of the non league game in North-East London. The four smallest clubs in the division are all from that particular neck of the woods, with Ilford, Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Leyton all struggling to break into three figures for their home matches. The obvious question to ask at this point is how they keep going, and the reasonable answer to this is that they it with enormous difficulty, and with the considerable support of extremely dedicated volunteers. The truth of the matter, however, is that survival for these clubs has been an uphill battle for decades.

Leyton Football Club is, after Cray Wanderers, the second oldest football club in Greater London. They were founded in 1868, and have spent the vast majority of the last 140 years playing in the not inconsiderable shadow of the likes of Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur. There were occasional successful times amongst the bread and butter years of ekeing out their own survival. They won the FA Amateur Cup in 1927 and 1928, and were regular winners of the Athenian Football League before being elected into the Isthmian League in 1982. The club had merged to become known as Leyton-Wingate in 1975, but the marriage of convenience wasn’t to last. The club demerged in 1992, and the club returned to its original name three years later.

It took a High Court case in 2002 for the club to be officially recognised as the continuation of the original club. By this time, the club had dropped back into the Essex senior League, but they were promoted back into the Ryman League under the managership and chairmanship of Costas Sophocleous and were, against the odds successful. In 2005, they finished in fifth place in the Ryman League Premier Division and found themselves ninety minutes from a place in the Conference South in the play-offs, before losing to Eastleigh. Off the field, however, their survival remained an uphill battle. Their crowds average just 123 during that season, and an increase to 137 the following season was skewed upwards by a visit from AFC Wimbledon. Last season, they finished bottom of the Ryman Premier Division and were victim to some horrendous results, including an 11-1 home defeat at the hands of Hendon and a 9-0 defeat at AFC Hornchurch.

This season, with no discernable away support to boost their home crowds, gates have fallen by a further forty per cent, to an average of just 64. They have been reasonably successful on the pitch, and are currently sitting in seventh place in the Ryman League Division One North. However, the extent of the financial problems that they face came into sharp focus at the end of last week, when they were forced to postpone their home league match against Redbridge because they had been locked out of their Hare & Hounds stadium by their landlords after failing to pay their rent. The money has now reportedly been paid, but one cannot help but wonder whether a club can remain sustainable of gate receipts of around £500 per fortnight. There may well be more to the current goings-on at Leyton than meet the eye but, whichever way one looks at these events, they hardly paint a healthy picture of grassroots football in this part of the world.

As has been reported on here before, non-league football in North-East London has given the impression of being in a perpetual state of crisis for at least thirty years now, whether demonstrated by the debacle that was the mergers of Leytonstone, Ilford, Walthamstow Avenue and Dagenham into Dagenham & Redbridge (and it’s worth remembering that, in spite of the Daggers’ comparative success, they remain one of the worst supported clubs in League Two), the sad decline of Clapton FC (five time winners of the FA Amateur Cup, who now play home matches in front of 25 people in the Essex Senior League) or the current woes affecting Leyton. The responsibilty for the wellbeing of Leyton FC ultimately lies with the community within which it is a member. Does the club involve itself in and engage with its local community? Should Leyton seek to associate themselves with one of the bigger clubs in the area? Leyton Football Club is a club with a wonderful, expansive history, and the club should seek to assert its ties with its neighbours before it is too late, and yet another non-league club is consigned to the history books.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • October 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Paul rushton

    It is a sad state all over the non league world. Local businesses are finding it hard to sponser. Locals are more than happy to sit at home and watch sky. It is a national problem that can be only helped by the FA. Mergers of local clubs not ideal to fans in reality is a must. The cash cow that is the premiership as to cascade its fortune.
    I dont believe this will ever happen ,now that scouts are rarely seen at non league grounds these days. Why should they bother, cheap imports that really are not very good is the norm.
    Club academy football should be at local non league clubs and the kids sign for them until they have learned the trade not go to an academy not make it and then fall into non league if they still have the appetite after being knocked back.

  • October 29, 2008 at 12:28 am

    The Fishmonger

    Interesting article. It is very difficult for clubs to survive on attendances this low, and while Fisher get a few more than Leyton they are one of the less well-supported sides in the Conference South.

    Mergers may be necessary in some cases, though I take issue with the previous comment as league clubs are still well aware of the talent available in non-league. Fisher lost four players to league football over the summer, but this is good for both the players and the club if they can build a reputation for developing young talent.

    I think that part of the problem in London is that the non-league sides have failed to tap into the new communities that have grown up around them. League sides fail at this too of course, but non-league clubs are missing a trick here as they offer walk-up entrance, and cheaper prices. There is a Polish bar in Leyton, presumably frequented by Poles who like football. Try and get them to a game!

  • November 3, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    rob ukak enderle

    Top level football is out of reach for many families and honestly, the style of play is more to my liking and most importantly, entertaining.

    Its a shame that people who claim to like football mean only the game that is played by recognizable names.

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