A tale of two teams

Footie fan Daniel Masoliver on the joys of following non-league club Wadham Lodge

Daniel Masoliver

Daniel Masoliver in the stands at Wadham Lodge

I used to live in the shadow of Emirates Stadium. As a lifelong Arsenal fan, I loved joining the throngs of supporters that descended on matchday. I was never a season ticket holder; even if I could afford £1,000, the waiting list has 44,000 people. Still, I got to one match a month, for £50 a pop.

As time went on I grew apart from the club, and not just because I’d moved to Walthamstow. Like many Premier League fans it became obvious I wasn’t a valued fan as much as a customer.

My search for the beautiful game took me a world away from Arsenal. Tucked away off Kitchener Road is Wadham Lodge Sports Ground. Walk past the five-a-side pitches and you arrive at an old turnstile. Hand over £7, or £3 for kids, and you’re warmly welcomed to football’s spiritual home in Waltham Forest.

It’s not glamorous, there’s no corporate boxes or giant screens, but that’s the charm. A 200-capacity stand offers seating, or you can stand within whispering distance of the linesman.

At my first Wadham Lodge FC game I cheered when the opposing side scored. For a neutral, as I was at the time, it was instinctive. My outburst attracted Neil Day, WLFC’s assistant manager. Rather than suggest I make myself scarce, Neil welcomed me to the Lodge.

“Football is nothing without fans,” says Neil, who works at Chingford’s Rushcroft Football Academy. “We value every person who walks through those gates, because if they’re here, they share our passion for football and for their community.”

Wadham Lodge play in the Essex Senior League, English football’s ninth tier. “The players don’t get paid,” Martyn Fitch, the chairman who co-founded Wadham Lodge in 2008, admits. “But they love playing football.”

The club is young, but the Lodge itself has a rich history. On this hallowed turf a young David Beckham practised taking corner kicks while his dad was at the bar. The current crop aren’t quite Beckham-esque, but sticky-footed number nine Charlie Georgiou’s mazy runs are just as thrilling.

Wadham Lodge FC

Wadham Lodge, in white, versus Basildon United, in yellow

I’ve seen Arsenal host Europe’s top teams and watched El Clasico at the Nou Camp but standing aside the Wadham Lodge dugout, with a beer in my hand and a song in my throat, is as fulfilling a live football experience as you can have.

I’m not alone feeling this way. Other non-league clubs are benefitting from fans’ desire for a homegrown experience. Dulwich Hamlet, and Clapton FC, in the same league as Wadham Lodge, attract hundreds. Even at the Lodge, support is split; the ground is also home to Waltham Forest FC.

Neil adds: “There’s no agendas, it’s inclusive and hopefully fun. Best of all, it’s a shot in the arm for the community.”

While the Premier League has alienated fans, in non-league football “you’re right up close to it,” says Martyn. “The players can feel your passion like you can feel theirs.”

So you know where I’ll be at 3pm on Saturday. See you at the Lodge!

Follow Wadham Lodge FC on Twitter:

Visit twitter.com/wadhamlodgefc