Woodford Town FC finally returned to the borough in August for their inaugural match at the refurbished Ashton Playing Fields after years of ground-sharing in Harlow. John Dillon reports
Woodford Town FC – one of London’s iconic non-league football clubs – made an emotional return to their ancestral home on 13 August after 28 years in the wilderness.
It follows a four-year campaign to bring the club home to Redbridge after it was forced to quit its original home at nearby Snakes Lane East nearly three decades ago. (The entrance to the former ground can still be seen – along with rusting turnstile – because a covenant on the land means it has never been built upon.)
The club, founded in 1937, folded in 2003. After it fully reformed in 2017, the side was forced to play first in Broxbourne, and then Harlow, until Redbridge Council got behind chairman Tony Scott’s dream of restoring the club to the heart of its original community. A £1.6m refurbishment of Ashton Playing Fields in Woodford Green followed, making it a sporting hub and grade-A athletics facility. A homecoming match in August last year was scrapped. Then, a planned opening home fixture this season on 3 August was postponed after visiting opponents Hoddesdown Town were hit by a virus outbreak.
“It was a proud evening for the club as a bumper crowd of 822 packed the Ashton Playing Fields arena for our inaugural game at the new stadium. Not even a narrow 2–1 defeat to high-flying Stansted could dampen the carnival atmosphere… We were very encouraged by the show of support from locals and ‘ground-hopping’ enthusiasts, and delighted a further 348 spectators turned up for the next game against West Essex only four days later,” said club spokesman Neil Day.
Jimmy Greaves – iconic England, Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs and West Ham striker – turned out for Woodford in 1979–80 during a spell playing for several non-league clubs at the end of his career. His former Spurs teammate and Republic of Ireland international Joe Kinnear was in the side at the same time. Meanwhile, passing maestro Johnny Haynes – famously the first £100-a-week footballer during his much-revered career with Fulham and England – appeared for Woodford as a teenager in the early 1950s.
Woodford notably reached the first round of the FA Cup in 1986–87, when they met neighbours Orient (before they became Leyton Orient).
The return to Woodford is significant after decades of shutdowns and mergers in non-league football in east London, with the Essex Senior League at level nine of the football pyramid. Under coach Dee Safer, the team lost its opening Essex Senior League fixture 6–1 away against Cockfosters. They were also beaten 3–2 at Witham Town in the FA Cup First Preliminary Round. But, clearly, they have already scored their biggest victory of the season by coming home.
For more information on the club and their future matches, visit swvg.co.uk/wtfc