Amateur teams give youngsters a shot

In a new column focused on local amateur football teams, Scott Lanza gets the low-down on two division rivals ahead of the new season

Wadham Lodge Sports Ground

Wadham Lodge Sports Ground in Kitchener Road, Walthamstow

Waltham Forest and Wadham Lodge football clubs are both gearing up for the 2017/18 season, aiming to finish as high up the Essex Senior League (ESL) table as possible.

The teams share use of the Matchday Stadium at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow and are keen to offer a platform for youth players to break into senior men’s football.

Waltham Forest go into the new season with Qayum Shakoor taking the reins as manager. Shakoor has been involved with the game for two decades and worked in Spain with Real Aviles under-23s. Last season he worked as an assistant to former Premier League star Jimmy Bullard at Leatherhead before ending the season as assistant manager at Forest. His arrival saw results pick up, resulting in a twelfth-place finish. That was an improvement on the previous season’s 19th spot and Shakoor has set his sights on a top-three finish this time around.

“We don’t have a budget so realistically the aim is to finish as high as we can,” Shakoor tells me. “We want to be the surprise package; we have a young team but some quality players. I want hungry players and am also looking at bringing in a few experienced players, leaders, with strong spines.”

Shakoor will be working alongside Anton Smith to deliver an academy scheme which he hopes will feed into the first team. The long-term aim is to return the club back into the Bostik Isthmian League, but they also want to succeed in cup competitions. Waltham Forest face fellow ESL team FC Romania in the Extra Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup.

Waltham Forest reached the second qualifying round last term, beating Redbridge, Hoddesdon Town, and West Essex, before bowing out at the hands of Folkestone Invicta. “We know what FC Romania are about,” says Shakoor, before mentioning that the Buildbase FA Vase draw is tough; they have to travel to Framlingham Town, a near two-hundred mile roundtrip into Suffolk.

Framlingham also coincidentally welcome Wadham Lodge in the Emirates FA Cup, while Lodge take on Hadleigh United in the FA Vase. Close season has seen Martin Fitch replaced at the helm by Ken Graham. Martin built the club up from the Prokit UK Essex Olympian League, winning a succession of promotions before entering the ESL two years ago. In their debut season Wadham Lodge finished sixth but last time out finished down in 15th.

New boss Ken has worked with Jamie Day at Welling United and coached at Arsenal’s youth academy in Walthamstow. He has also run a programme giving young players opportunities to get back into professional and semi-professional football, and now aims to use Wadham Lodge as a platform to springboard young players into the senior game.

Ken told me: “Progressing players is the way we will be taking Wadham Lodge and anywhere above mid-table gives us a platform to build on. Training has been good and there has been a nice vibe around the club and it could be an exciting time for us.”

With both these two ESL clubs looking to progress youth players, it means there could be opportunities to watch some exciting young talent every Saturday down at Wadham Lodge this year.