Two teams in Leyton

Few people would know that there are actually two teams in Leyton, London E10.  Or there was until Friday 14th January 2010.  That day could be long etched on the history books for non league football as the day a nail was put in the coffin of Leyton FC.

Leyton FC certainly didn’t have the history of their illustrious neighbours, but could lay claim to being the second oldest football club in London (being Cray Wanderers), having been formed in 1868. As with most non league clubs they went through a period of name changes, mergers and disbandments most notably when they merged with Wingate FC in 1975 to become Leyton-Wingate F.C.  This lasted until 1992 when the two clubs parted company and the name reverted back to Leyton. In 1995 the club merged with Walthamstow Pennant and moved away from Leyton Stadium to become Leyton Pennant F.C., now known as Waltham Forest.

A new Leyton Football Club was set up in 1997, and following a High Court case in 2002, successfully won the right to be recognised as an official continuation of the original club and they took their place in the Essex Senior Leagues.  They reached the Ryman Leagues in 2002 and they were just one win away from promotion into the Conference South in 2005 but they lost to Eastleigh in the play off final.

Costas Sophocleous

Things started to go wrong in October 2009 following an investigation by HMRC.  The chairman Costas Sophocleous and former director Philip Foster pleaded guilty to their parts in a £16m VAT fraud and in January 2010 Sophocleous was sentenced to 8 years 3 months and Foster to 5 years 3 months in prison.  Part of the cash they had obtained had been used to run the E10 bar and restaurant at the ground.

Sophocleous’ son, former Leyton player Mark, and his wife, Alison, were found not guilty of associated money laundering charges. Accountant Stewart Collins was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years. Ouch.

Following Costas Sophocleous’ conviction, Ivan Persaud left the club and was replaced as manager by former player Malcolm Dannie for the beginning of February 2010. The teams inability to win a game in his tenure led to Dannie leaving and being replaced by former Ashford Town Middlesex Reserve Team manager Wilson Frimpong for the final six games of the season during which time, the team went unbeaten but still narrorly couldn’t avoid finishing 21st and in the relegation zone. However, because several clubs higher in the pyramid were dissolved or demoted, Leyton were awarded a reprieve and remained in the Isthmian League Division One North division for the 2010–11 season.  In hindsight this was probably the wrong decision for the club.

Where it all went wrong?

This season they had limped along.  One win and six draws saw the club prop up the Ryman League North.  Their previous five games had ended in defeat for Leyton, conceding sixteen goals and scoring a big fat zero in the process.  A number of home games were called off, formerly due to the bad weather but latterly for “safety issues”.  I remember the game on the 13th November against Tilbury where the kick off was moved forward an hour without most fans aware, apparently due to the fact the floodlights were not operational.  The “official” crowd on that day?  22. A week later a local derby against Ilford saw one more fan come through the turnstiles in what was to become their last home game in their current format.

I appreciate that they are essentially competing against the likes of West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and of course The O’s down the road, but even so, to have more people on the pitch than in the stands cannot be sustainable for any club at this level.  What role does the Isthmian League have in all this? Surely there was some warning signs that they could have picked up on?

Everyone needs good neighbours

On the 31st December the league announced that Leyton’s game versus Romford on the following day was postponed due to “an issue with the facilities at the Hare & Hounds”.  Then on the 12th January the league announced:-

“The League has reluctantly applied League Rule 4.6 against Leyton FC as a result of the Club’s not paying the second instalment of its annual subscription despite a Board instruction under Rule 4.6. Rule 4.6 states that if a club fails to comply with an instruction of the Board within 14 days of notification, it will be suspended from playing until seven days after the instruction has been complied with.

The Club’s next two matches (at home to Brentwood on Saturday and Harlow on Tuesday) have been postponed as a result of this action.”

All very mysterious indeed.  And then of course the final obituary was published on the 14th January in a simple two line statement from the Isthmian league.

“The League has received notification from Leyton Football Club giving immediate notice of their withdrawal from Division One North of the Ryman Football League.

The withdrawal will now be referred to the next meeting of the Board of Directors on Thursday 27th January when, among other matters, a decision will taken regarding the current playing record of the Club.”

We can go into the why’s and where for’s on the reasons for ages but the fact remains that without any help, the Ryman League is now one club short for the remainder of the season.  Of course, the winners will be the Essex Senior League will will probably be given an additional promotion spot next season.

So what happens now?  Well the club in theory still exists, but all of the staff have obviously left the club, hoping to find employment elsewhere.  The. All of the points the other teams gained against Leyton have now been taken off

The club have can count a few famous names amongst their former players.  The legendary Segar Bastard (often quoted as the original source of “”The referee’s a bastard” chant) played for the club before becoming an official.  Charlie Buchan, he of the Charlie Buchan’s Football Monthly magazine fame played for a season with the club back in 1910 and of course the legendary Spurs winger Cliff Jones played for the club during the 70’s .

Few fans of Spurs, West Ham United or even neighbours Leyton Orient will bat an eyelid at Leyton’s demise.  Yet they could have made a difference.  How much would it have cost to sponsor a game, or play a friendly at the ground once in a while?  An advert in their programme perhaps? West Ham have played games at 5.30pm on a Saturday evening a couple of times this season.  Surely a joint promotion on an earlier kick off at Leyton could have added a few hundred on the gate?

But then we do not live in a benevolent world do we?  Football is all about money.  It is a competition, where clubs compete for the floating support willing to pay for the a slice of the action.  Dog eat dog, and if that means the little clubs get trampled on, so be it.  Shame, real shame.

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17 thoughts on “Two teams in Leyton

  1. Massive shame. I went in 2009 to a corking game against Ware who snatched the points with the last kick of the game. The best chips I had all season – unintentionally, as it happens, they were going cold so refried again to save money. Belgian style!

    • I still think of the great times I had supporting Leyton-Wingate during my short spell of living in Leyton from 1985 to 1986. Winning 5-0 at Leytonstone-Ilford, reaching the FA Cup 1st Round and playing at Swansea City’s Vetch Field ground, all the great supporters and club officials. Really happy days. It’s such a shame that a club with Leyton’s rich history has been allowed to die. I live in Salford now and support Salford City but I will never forget the great times I had following Leyton-Wingate home and away. It would be great to see Leyton reform sometime in the near future.

  2. Yes, the loss of Leyton is a real shame and unfortunately not one that is at all surprising. No club can function at step 8 on such a small attendance. I don’t think we can blame the neighbouring big clubs though, the club was too ambitious and has tried to push above its weight for years. A sad story all the same. I hope the club can keep going in some form or the other, after all the youth and women’s teams are still functioning – there is hope.

    • Clubs can survive on gates like those of Leyton – my club Waltham Forest – we are the ones who had to relinquish the history of Leyton FC becuase we could not afford to fight the case and to thsi day still feel we are the “true” Leyton are surviving (I put it no more strongly than that) playing as tenants at Ilford mainly because we have committee members prepaired to go that extra mile and beyond to keep the club afloat and we also have had a few excellent Chairman, including our current one, prepared to put money in to the club without any desire to get anything back, other than to see the club carry on and propser and because the club has not run up any debts – we might not have got any money but we do not owe anyone anything.
      I would suppose that Leyton had massive debts when their Chairman was sent down, otherwise I cannot understand why the remaining committee members at Leyton (and there were as many there as we have now) could not at least try and se out the end of the season
      So although I do feel sorry for any club that bgoes to the wall, it was because not enough of their committee were prepared to roll their sleeves up and at least give it a go once the criminal chairman was sent down (good job to)

      • Not sure relying on the benevolence of a person or group of people is a good long-term, sustainable strategy. What happens when your board leaves, or for some other reason doesn’t want to pump the money in any longer? No one will take up the helm, and your club will meet the same fate as Leyton. I hope it doesn’t.

      • It is not an ideal situation, but, due to the efforts of all of the small band of committee members who give their time and money regularly, we have now got a Chairman who has, made it possible to run an under 21 team and we are also running a veterans team as well and are so very close to getting a ground back in the borough of Waltham Forest

  3. Excellent article Stuart. It’s a real shame but sadly, when I visited Leyton in November last year there was a sense of inevitability about it. Only 23 people paid to watch the three-nil defeat by Ilford – a match that kicked off at 2pm because the floodlights weren’t working properly. The whole thing was being kept afloat by the former Chairman’s daughter, a few volunteers, and the Secretary Steve Bellanoff who was running around, stressed out of his mind yet still found time for me, so that I could photograph and interview him.

    The full Photo Diary can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ccpub/sets/72157625314105821/

    • Great photos – I am genuinely sorry for the fans and remaining committee members
      However, I would point out that the photo of the honours board is a story in it’s own right
      Paid for by the then Chairman of Leyton FC, George Gross, sadly no longer with us and donations from other committee members of the time (including me) and was last seen in the board room at Wadham Lodge, when we moved there to become Leyton Pennant and was actually stolen from our boardroom – now we know where it ended up (as if we had not already guessed)
      Like I say, sorry to see them go – robbed us of a genuine local derby where passions ran high – if they reform I hope they learn their lessons from this experience – always thoroughly check out you Chairman & benefactor

    • Stephen is a really nice guy, but, actually, defected, after watching Leyton Pennant for a couple of seasons
      He did not turn up for games for quite a while and the next time I saw him was when we entertained Leyton as Waltham Forest and he was an official of their club

  4. Nice piece and agree it’s a shame the club appears to be folding.

    However it’s a bit unfair to blame Orient & West Ham for a lack of support, they have their own problems and are not responsible for other clubs in the area.

    I live 10 minutes from the Leyton ground yet have never seen any posters, flyers or other promotional material promoting the club. They could have helped themselves by trying to build up a local fanbase.

    Sadly as the piece mentions the area has seen many clubs come and go over the past 20 years or so – Dagenham & Redbridge includes both the old Leytonstone & Walthamstow sides, plus Ilford and a couple of others. Maybe this is the way it will always be, teams coming & going.

    If they still own the ground, there’s no reason why Leyton cannot reappear at a slightly lower level next season and build themselves up again.

    • I agree that the club could do more to promote itself. Being involved with Lewes this season I have seen the impact of engagement with local businesses. All it takes is someone with a bit of vision and energy and they could have got more people coming through the gates

    • Leyton do notiown the ground they lease it from WingateLeyton Stadiums who were set up to run the ground when the clb as Leyton – Wingate, had to their share ownership in order to make ends meet
      A few years ago the baliffs were called in because they had fallen seriously behind with the rent and given they cannot even cover the day to day running cost of the club, I should think it highly unlikely they could pay any rent – even if they were offered another year, which seems extremely improbable

  5. A sad end to a once first rate club . The ground was never that good but it is such a shame that another of the inner London clubs and their Grounds have or will disappear in the near future.

  6. The club survived as a cash cow for the owner.
    Newham Council donated £80,000 to fund a gym that ultimately never existed …apart from the fact this is Waltham Forest.

    The nightclub build was waved through like magic by planning

    FA monies poured in and did nothing to help

    The authorities were informed years before the chop and did nothing

    Essentially the place went under because everyone chose to look the other way, both customers and committee.

    As for the daughter trying to run the place. She carried on in the same manner as her old man. No waste contractor saw rubbish pile up alongside the pitch. Rats were in abundance. Traveller parties and the associated 999 calls were commonplace.

  7. Followed Leyton-Wingate at home (and sometimes away) in the early to mid-eighties before moving away to Northern Ireland. When i came back it was too late. Shame. What will happen to the ground, more yuppy flats I suppose!

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