We’re approaching the end of the domestic season, and attention will inevitably turn to who will win which trophy and who will earn themselves promotion. Football, however, isn’t always about winning and there will be considerably more clubs left with nothing to celebrate at the end of this season than there will be shaking up bottles of champagne and then opening them, grabbing managers and slinging them into the team bath or running around a pitch dressed with sponsors logo-adorned flags wrapped around their neck. Failure, of any sort, is a default option for a majority of football clubs. That’s just how the numbers add up.
There’s failure, however, and there’s failure. We might well chuckle to ourselves at a club stranded adrift at the bottom of a league table at this time of year, but there comes a point at which it is cruel to laugh. Welcome to the world of Woodford United Football Club, who are rooted to the bottom of Division One Central of the Southern Football League after having lost all thirty-four of their league matches so far this season. Over the course of this season, they have scored sixteen and conceded one hundred and fifty goals in the league, with their last four matches having seen the team lose seven-nil twice and ten-nil twice. The club long ago passed the point at which relegation was something to battle against, although with eight matches of the league season left to play relegation isn’t a mathematical certainty just yet, with only one relegation place from the division and second from bottom North Greenford United with only eleven points themselves.
So, why Woodford United, and why has this season been so abominably terrible? Woodford Halse is a village in Northamptonshire, around ten miles from Daventry and fifteen miles from Banbury. Its parish has a population of around three and a half thousand people, although the village of Woodford Halse itself accounts for less than half of that. The village can trace itself back to the Domesday book, in which it was referred to in somewhat florid terms as having a population of “two serfs, one bondswoman and eleven villains.” In more modern times it started to expand after the opening of Woodford and Hinton railway station, a four-way railway junction which also acted as a major locomotive depot, in 1899. The village’s population steadily grew after this, but Dr Richard Beeching’s 1963 report The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways did for Woodford and Hinton railway station, which closed in September 1966.
Woodford United Football Club, meanwhile, was founded in 1948 and played in local leagues until 1970, when they joined the United Counties League. The club stayed at this level for eight years before losing its ground, which was sold off by the rail authorities in 1978 after the closure of the railway station. It took two decades for the club to reach the United Counties League again, and they stayed at this level until 2006, when they won this competition on goal difference from Potton United and earned themselves promotion to the Southern League for the first time. In the years since then, the club has had a couple of seasons struggling towards the bottom of the table and a couple of seasons when it looked capable of perhaps even making the play-off places, with their best finish being a seventh place finish in 2010.
After finishing in nineteenth place in the table last time around, this season has seen the club manage an almost unique – Cornard United of Division One of the Eastern Counties League, two divisions below Woodford, have lost all thirty-one of their league matches this season – record. Having replaced the previous incumbent, Howard Forinton, in October, a managerial double-act of Pete Harris and Paul Oddy had been managing the club until three weeks ago, when Harris resigned, citing “a combination of things”, leaving Oddy with the job of seeing a team of youngsters through to the end of this season. There have been times when these youngsters have come close to grabbing that so far elusive point. They’ve lost by an odd goal on five occasions so far this season and during one home match, played at home against Leighton Town a week before Christmas, they led by four goals to two and missed a penalty before losing by five goals to four. On the whole, though, the youngsters who have turned out for Woodford United this season have been shown little mercy by their opposition this season.
The key issue at the club seems to be its somewhat isolated location and the crippling cost of travel expenses. The Division One Central of the Southern League stretches, in spite of its name, as far south as Fleet in Hampshire and around the west side of London. For a village club whose attendances seldom reach three figures, a combination of players being unable to travel due to work commitments, an inability to arrange proper training sessions dues to absences, and the inevitable exodus of senior players which such a set of circumstances are always likely to bring about has meant that the club has only been able to effectively field its youth team this season. A return to the United Counties League, which covers Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, as well as parts of Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk, should prove a little more manageable for the club from the start of next season.
Sneering though we could be about a football club that has lost every league match that it has played throughout the course of a season, though, perhaps the story of Woodford United’s season is one of hope in spite of everything. After all, the players have kept taking these results and have kept on going, fulfilling every league match that they have been called up for, whilst the manager and plenty of others have continued to work for nothing to keep the club going in the knowledge that next season can’t possibly be any worse than this one has been. And while there are volunteers who will give up their time for this most thankless of tasks, perhaps there is hope that the game will, in spite of the juggernaut-like tendencies of the Premier and Champions League, continue to exist at this level. For all connected with Woodford United, though, there is only one real hope for the remainder of this ultimate season to forget. Their quest for a first point or three of the season continues this afternoon with a blessedly short trip to play Daventry Town in the league. If the club does survive into next season and can manage to find its fit, perhaps this season won’t prove to have been such a failure after all.
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