Essex Olympian League Senior Division One
Wadham Lodge Stadium, Walthamstow
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 59 (head count)
Match Rating: 3
For what would certainly be my last league game of the season in England, I headed to east London today for a promotion decider in the second flight of the Essex Olympian League. It would represent an opportunity to visit a ground that used to host senior football, as well as to take one last look at the grand historic Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium, before it is imminently bulldozed to make way for just another bland housing estate.
Wadham Lodge Stadium is about a half hour walk from Walthamstow Central tube and train station, and a few minutes walk from Walthamstow Stadium, and is part of a large footballing complex consisting of a railed off full sized pitch which hosted another Essex Olympian League fixture today, Chingford Athletic v Toby in Division Three, and various other pitches and 5-a-side cages. The clubhouse is located in the middle of the complex, and one walks past it to get to the stadium. The stadium used to host Isthmian League football when Waltham Forest called it home until 2008 when they vacated to groundshare Ilford's Cricklefield Stadium. It is therefore no surprise that facilities here are far in excess of what one usually encounters in the Essex Olympian League, but have been poorly maintained in recent years. Turnstiles are still in position together with the snack bar, although both are boarded up, and floodlights are still in position. One enters in one corner of the ground and along the length of the pitch from the entrance is an all seater stand straddling the half way line. Behind both goals are several covered terrace steps, whilst along the remaining length, which has become rather overgrown, is hard standing, with some uncovered terrace steps between the two dugouts. Wadham Lodge do not issue programmes currently.
A week ago, it seemed certain that this match, on the final day of the Essex Olympian League season, would decide which of these two teams would claim the title. With a game in hand and three points behind today's visitors, division leaders Bishop's Stortford Swifts, all Wadham Lodge needed to do in midweek was take a point away from a visit to bottom of the table Benfleet to make today's game a one-off shoot out for the title. However almost inexplicably, Wadham Lodge lost that game and with it any realistic chance of claiming the title, as they had a vastly inferior goal difference to Bishop's Stortford Swifts, who would win the title by avoiding defeat today by more than seven goals. However, Wadham Lodge still had plenty to play for today, as a point would be sufficient to move ahead of Newbury Forest, who they are level on points with but had already completed their fixtures, and claim the second and final promotion place. Wadham Lodge's midweek defeat was their first since mid January, spanning ten games. Bishop's Stortford Swifts also had a surprising defeat last time out, 1-2 at home to relegation threatened Ongar Town, but had won their previous three games. As well as winning today's reverse league fixture 2-1, Bishop's Stortford Swifts also triumphed 5-2 at home to Wadham Lodge in the cup in March.
On a mainly sunny and warmer afternoon than of late, the home team got off to just the start they needed when they took the lead on 8 minutes, when a corner was headed in emphatically from close range by Aaron Henry. The rest of the first half saw Wadham Lodge in the ascendancy, creating numerous chances as Swifts looked rather off the pace, perhaps unsurprisingly with not much now riding on the result today, although they did still create the odd half chance.
The visitors did look an improved team in the second, but still it was really the home side that had the best chances to score. On 75 minutes though, the promotion picture was suddenly very much back in the balance when Swifts scored an equaliser. The ball was crossed from the right by Gavin Cockman and the header by Xavier Doku seemed at first to be rather aimless as it looped high into the air, but eventually the ball went under the bar and into the net. There were a few edge of the seat moments when Swifts attacked Wadham Lodge's goal, knowing that one more goal for Swifts would mean Wadham Lodge would miss out on promotion. Wadham Lodge almost went back into the lead when a free kick hit the crossbar with the keeper nowhere near it, but in the end the game finished as a draw and with everyone happy as the winner and runner up medals were handed out to the players on the pitch soon after the final whistle.