Cricklefield Stadium in Ilford, is one of those grounds you either love or hate, the Athletics track around the pitch edge often makes a lot of groundhoppers dislike a place immediately but my visits here over the years have always been interesting, whoever i have seen play at home there and over the years as well as Ilford, i have also taken in games hosted by Barkingside and Waltham Forest.
I must admit though, i enjoy visiting the ground, it has a bit of character for an athletics type stadium, huge amounts of banked old fashioned terracing and a decent view and the welcome last night was a nice one as well, as Steve the club secretary said hello and thanked me for coming along, whilst i pondered my tea bar selection.
The stadium is hidden away behind between the redeveloped Isaac Newton academy and a stone’s throw from Seven Kings station, giving easy access from central London. £6 on the gate and an extra quid for an excellent programme. There seems to be a lot of debate re programmes at the minute but for me they will always be a part of the matchday experience and i love it when you come across a programme which has had real effort made with it and last night’s was definitely one of these. A cracking design, fabulous old school style cover and team layouts and everything you need including a proper welcome, league tables, recent results and some terrible jokes! A fantastic effort for a quid and an example to many other clubs in the Essex Senior League.
The game kicked off in pleasant late summer conditions again, on a pitch that is the one downfall of the stadium. It never seems to improve, come rain or shine and i felt sorry for some of the players last night , as Ilford especially tried to play some flowing passing football on a pitch that does very little to help them do so.
In spite of the surface though, last night was as good a game as i can remember seeing at Ilford, the first half was probably just about edged by Ilford in terms of possession and chances created as they took the game to West Essex from the off but the visitors were dangerous on the break as well and took their chances well. Ilford took the lead midway through the first period, with Callum Maltese coolly tucking the ball home after a nice through ball but not long afterwards the visitors were level as Emmanuel Obeng-Kouassi finished from a ball over the top that left the Ilford keeper exposed as it dropped behind the Ilford defence. Not long after that Maltese put the hosts ahead again after good work from Mitchell Victorin, who showed great composure on the difficult surface all night. The scores were level again at half time though, as West Essex made it 2-2 just before the break with a fine header from Joe Lefley from a corner which flew into the roof of the net.
The second half was finely balanced as both teams had opportunities to win the game but the home side claimed victory as Maltese completed a deserved hat trick, with a free kick from over near the touch line, which the West Essex keeper and defence left each other to deal with and which bounced on the six yard line and into the net.
All in all, a great night’s entertainment on a bobbly surface, with a real effort to try and play football, Ilford look to have a young squad this season but have some real quality in the likes of Callum Maltese, tireless right winger Ellis Lentell and central midfielder Mitchell Victorin and whilst the physicality of some of the league’s more direct teams will probably cause them an issue or two, it was great to see a team really try to play football.
My only gripe on the evening was nothing to do with either team but more the ongoing issue that non-league clubs (especially in and around London) need more support from the governing body in promoting games and encouraging attendance. It is sad to see such a small crowd (probably 40 odd spectators on a rough count last night) in such a large stadium, for what was a great game of football. Sure, there are now so many distractions for people’s leisure time attention but we should treasure what we have in this country, a non -league pyramid that is as broad as it is wide but club’s need more support. London has a population of nearly 9 million people but non-league clubs throughout the capital all seem to struggle for attendances, perhaps it is the transient nature of the capital’s population who don’t always identify so much with the area they live in, as people in town’s and cities outside London do but surely the FA should look at some level of support to try and drive attendance and interest from locals who might not even know they have a club and assistance in centrally finding sponsors for competitions at a lower level etc. I guess there is no solid solution but given the product on offer, it would be great if those in charge of the game did offer more support the game at this level (although to be fair the re-distribution of prize money in the FA Cup, so losing teams in the Extra-Preliminary and Preliminary rounds do get financial reward from this season is a start). Not getting political at all, but football in this country seems to see the rich seem to get richer, whilst the other clubs struggle along…
Climbing down from my soapbox for a moment , all in all an enjoyable evening at a very friendly club and i wish them all the best for the rest of the season and will hopefully see another game or two at some stage.