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Juggernaut or Evolution?

Articles > Sport


Ronald Price

This article examines the three clubs that integrated into Redbridge Forest – Leytonstone, Ilford and Walthamstow Avenue, the latter  two - victims of the first - a juggernaut?  It concludes with a look at Dagenham & Redbridge. Leytonstone were strong either side of the Second World War as Walthamstow Avenue’s FA Cup exploits attracted national attention. Ilford’s swansong  came as the 1930s dawned.

Formed in 1905, the Isthmian League, aimed to uphold amateur principles. Ilford was a founder member. After its 1952 AGM six of its 15 clubs were north of the River Thames in suburban Essex; a further six, within a similar radius, in south London.  Local  matches were financially important; as cinema and television affected gates. As migration to Essex’s new or expanded towns continued as a changing population affected the three East London clubs; making the case for integration.

In 1895 Leytonstone inspired the formation of the South Essex League. For its fourth season, for what proved two seasons, professional clubs were admitted. Despite improved gates the amateur clubs were unhappy they dominated. In 1912 the new Athenian  League weakened the Spartan and London Leagues which in turn took its clubs - its senior division closing in 1921. In 1936, as attempts for an Essex Senior League, floundered the AILS leagues (from their initials) attempted, without success, to control  "the poaching of players between themselves".

With clubs installing floodlights in 1963 the Isthmians expanded to 20 clubs, seven clubs each were in the two "Thames catchments" above. In 1973, including Dagenham, a second tier was added. New members were more widely dispersed throughout the Home  Counties. Five years after amateur status was abolished in 1974, an integrated structure for clubs outside of the Football League began to emerge; Isthmian League membership was set at 88 clubs in 1984.

In  58 seasons with one division the three east London Isthmian clubs won the FA Amateur Cup, seven times, were finalists three times and semi-finalists 14 times. There were 14 League championships, 24 Essex Senior Cup wins and 13 with one shared for  the London Senior Cup. Before 1905 Ilford won the Essex Senior Cup several times with good runs in the FA Amateur Cup as Leytonstone secured three South Essex League titles.


Cedars, formed in 1886,  became Leytonstone in 1892. The Cedars Estate is to the south of the now-demolished Elms Hotel (pictured) at the junction of Davies Lane and 566 High Road, where the club had its headquarters. Land to its rear was sufficient for a football pitch. Annual  dinners were held in the Cedars Dining Room as summer outings reinforced its social aspect.

In 1894 they secured the  London Junior Cup and were ‘promoted’ to the Senior Cup.  In February 1895 they merged with Leytonstone Atlas, a club using a coffee house, also on the High Road. In 1897 the Elms proprietors agreed to provide dressing accommodation. The  Stones withdrew their first team from the League in 1900/1; also reverting to cups and friendly matches from 1905 to 1907.

Now part of the Barking to Gospel Oak Overground Leytonstone Midland (High Road) station opened in July 1894 on the Tottenham to Forest Gate Railway, the year generally accepted for the Stones move across the High Road.  A 1970s visiting spectator described  their quirky ground:-

...three sided with houses along one touchline, a big partially covered terrace behind one goal, three steps of covered terracing  behind the other end, and a curiously shaped main stand on the railway side, with the BR station virtually overhanging one of the corner flags.

They became Isthmians in 1908 when it merged with the original Spartan League. Eight of the three clubs’ Isthmian titles were  won by them. An incomplete revamp of the ground in the 1930s included a new entrance. At its demise in 1986, Granleigh Road was home to Leytonstone-Ilford. The Cedars club house was built in early 1980s using funds from the sale of Ilford’s Newbury  Park ground.


Ilford’s Lynn Road  had an impressive grandstand, which was expanded in 1930. The pitch surrounded by white fencing. It was chosen to benefit from the GER’s line from Woodford to Ilford via Hainault; opened in May 1903. The housing development it hoped to spark never  materialised. In 1947 its link to Ilford station was severed as the line was incorporated into the Central Line.

Ilford Alliance formed in  1881 soon dispensed with the suffix; that of evangelical Christians encouraging physical recreation. Ilford won the Essex Cup in 1888 with nine villagers and two foreigners from Forest Gate. Using a nearby field they used the General Havelock public house  at the junction of Hainault Street and the High Road.  There were brief stays at Barnes Field, Adams Field and the Red Cow Field, the cricket club ground; on the Green Lanes. In 1887 both clubs moved to an enclosed ground in Coventry Road. A limited company  was formed in 1895 but it fell to the builders at the conclusion of the 1903/4 season.

Between 1894 and 1896 they played in the new Southern League; but withdrew as their better players were unavailable for away games. Newspapers refer to a Cup Team leaving a weaker side to fulfil its league commitments. The former reinforced by benefactors  employing quality players from further afield.
By the mid 1970s debt forced the club to sell Lynn Road for housing unaware that Development Land Tax would be levied. Redbridge Council declined to fund changes to the athletic facilities at Cricklefields (pictured)  to extend its football pitch, offering  the Green & Silley Weir ground, in Wanstead. In a conservation area, permanent floodlights were not possible. Discussion ended with inclusion in the Fairlop Plains project, which then deferred, prompted the ground share at Granleigh Road. In 1987 a town  club was reformed but it was almost a decade before they were given a lease at Cricklefields.

Ilford were relegated to the second tier in 1977 and were joined by Leytonstone two seasons later. The clubs merged returning as champions. Capital was diverted to team-strengthening and in 1981/82 Leytonstone-Ilford won the League, League Cup and two  Senior Cups; success comparable to the 1947/48 Stones who retained the FA Amateur Cup and the League with three county successes.

In 1985 they were relegated. The increasing requirements of the Pyramid sealed the fate of Granleigh Road, also sold for housing. Funds were allocated to a separate development within Green Pond Road - the ground of Walthamstow Avenue.

Walthamstow Avenue

Around the turn of the 20th  century several clubs were titled Avenue. On joining a county association a "town" prefix was added.  Caxton’s association football, published 1960, attributes Walthamstow’s founding, in the late 1890s, to Parkin Davidson  for former pupils of his seminary. Newspapers mention Walthamstow Avenue Quoits Club in 1893 and 1914. The football club as such is first mentioned in 1905/6 fielding two sides in the Walthamstow League.  

Other histories state the  club formed for former pupils of Pretoria Avenue, a Walthamstow Board School opened in 1888. Research has traced "Avenue-Walthamstow" playing in junior leagues on the River Lea’s Middlesex bank from 1891.

The 1900 opening of Lloyd’s Park, Forest Road boosted local football. Walthamstow Town, an 1894 merger of Walthamstow and Higham Hill, played at Cassiobury House, Coppermill Lane to 1902 then relocated. Their final season 1904/5 was at the nearby  Priory Ground (lost to the builders) when the Walthamstow League included Avenue United, first mentioned in 1901.

Walthamstow Grange, founded in 1895, also played in Middlesex leagues including Stamford Hill and Tottenham. The compiler of Non League Football Grounds was advised Walthamstow Avenue played on the Barclays Estate, a border of which  was James Lane; which had the ground used by Leytonstone rugby and cricket clubs. They moved to Snaresbrook in 1906 when Grange added a senior side. In 1909 their first sports meeting may have used the ground attached to the Royal Standard Tavern, near  Blackhorse Lane station. It and the Hare and Hounds ground, off Lea Bridge Road, used in at least 1913/14, had running and cycling tracks. The Standard ground, whose Tavern is a surviving music venue, was used by Holborn, the town’s first entrant  to the London League (1898-1900).

The assumptions are that "Avenue-Walthamstow" merged with an unidentified club in 1901. As Avenue United they began using Lloyd’s Park from 1904. The following season either by recruiting Town players or merging they became Walthamstow Avenue.  They joined the stronger North West London League in 1909, coincidentally or otherwise, as Forest Gate Avenue’s football section, it also had cricket and cycling sections, closed. In 1910 they had moved to a ground in Carlton Road, Higham Hill  where Whittingham School, formally opened in January 1911, is. A large green space survives nearby.

They were accepted into the South Essex League in 1912 in which they played to 1914 and then 1920/1 sharing a ground in Chingford Road with Grange. Elected in June 1921 as Spartans their early games were at Gnome Athletic’ Uplands ground in Blackhorse  Lane before Green Pond Road opened in December. Avenue acquired the freehold for £350 spending a further £275 on improvements. They prioritised ground development securing Athenian League membership in 1929, which they won five times in ten seasons.   The battle for local supremacy ended in 1931 with Grange, in financial difficulties, disbanding after their ground was acquired for a greyhound stadium, which closed in 2008 (pictured), Avenue became Isthmians in 1939.

Green Pond Road and Lynn Road hosted matches of the 1948 Olympic Games tournament. The former’s rebuilding from a fire in 1939 included a 900-seat grandstand. As the end approached it was run down but envisaging its lost quality not impossible.  In 1987 Avenue were relegated to the second tier being replaced by Leytonstone-Ilford.  Disaster soon struck when Avenue were locked-out. Leytonstone-Ilford purchased the ground which enabled Avenue to meet their football liabilities and be absorbed.  Its recreational sections were cast adrift.

Dagenham & Redbridge

Leytonstone-Ilford's search for a new ground continued - it is claimed forty were considered. As hope for a ground in Chingford grew the title of Redbridge Forest was chosen, after "West Essex" ruffled feathers at sports clubs of the same name. Discussed earlier in April  1988 the fallback, a merger with Dagenham; just ending their seven seasons in the "Fifth Division," at their council-owned Victoria Road ground.

In 1989, Leytonstone-Ilford  won the Isthmians’ first tier. With Green Pond Road not suitable, a ground share at Victoria Road was agreed but not sealed by the deadline; denying Forest promotion. Green Pond Road was sold for housing. Forest, having built a small stand adjacent  to the South Stand to meet Conference grading, secured promotion in 1991. Both were subsequently demolished and replaced by the grandstand (pictured). In October Dagenham’s bankers withdrew their overdraft facility, demanding repayment of £70,000,  which was loaned by Redbridge Forest, initiating the formation of Dagenham & Redbridge in 1992.

Now in their 24 th season, the Daggers have played in the Football League since 2007, having lost a Conference play-off final four years previously.  They were FA Trophy finalists  in 1997. In 2010/11, promotion to League One attracted an average attendance of 2,748. They were relegated back as Walsall with a five-point deficit as March began finished one point superior. Previously and since average attendances are around 1,900  significantly more than Dagenham attracted in the "Fifth Division." Victoria Road hemmed in by housing and industry has prompted discussion of relocation to Goresbrook, next to where Barking RFC, a national division club for 21 seasons, has played since  1989.

In the last three decades football has been driven by tragedy and a changing society. Balancing the books remains a problem, as benefactors come and go. Time has shown Leytonstone was not a Juggernaut ploughing through East London, but a reactive evolution.

The author thanks Fred Hawthorn for his help with this article.

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