Amateur sport clubs fear for future

Waltham Forest Amateur Boxing Club was established in 1948 in Chingford (credit WFABC)
Waltham Forest Amateur Boxing Club was established in 1948 in Chingford (credit WFABC)

Tom Quigley finds out how ongoing restrictions on grassroots sport are affecting local clubs

All sports fans are excited in anticipation of when the professional sports calendar will make a return to somewhere near normal, but what will happen to all our local amateur sports clubs in Waltham Forest?

While Premier League football is now back, along with other major sports returning to our screens – albeit without spectators – the grassroots level has been decimated. Clubs have been left with major financial losses, from which some probably will not be able to recover.

In cricket, the Essex League has lost its main sponsor Shepherd Neame. The long-term effects of this on league clubs such as West Essex (who play in Highams Park) and Chingford will be a major concern. The cricket season has not been able to start and this has caused a drop in membership and lack of subscription revenue. Bars not being able to open through the lucrative summer months, not only on match days but during training sessions, alongside the loss of revenue from private functions, will also hit clubs hard.

Similarly in football, Greene King has terminated its sponsorship of the Essex Veterans Football League, one of the largest of its kind in the country. It includes many clubs from Waltham Forest. With the season incomplete at the time of the pandemic lockdown, most local leagues opted to end early, without a conclusion. West Essex Colts, a club in Highams Park that donated £3,000 to Haven House Children’s Hospice in March, is now facing its own financial struggles. Chair Mark Penfold told me that through a lack of subscriptions, bar income and summer tournaments, they are looking at a loss of around £10,000. AFC Leyton, a dedicated ladies football club, could be even worse hit. Secretary Louise McGing told me they will probably lose around £20,000, with no certainty around when the next season could start.

In what was to be an Olympic year until the postponement of Tokyo 2020, there will be a missed opportunity for smaller local clubs in sports such as boxing, judo and badminton to boost participation with their sports no longer gaining exposure through television coverage. Indoor and full-contact sports such as boxing have been hit particularly hard. Ian Cuddy, secretary of Chingford-based Waltham Forest Amateur Boxing Club, says they are in “in a state of limbo” and will remain fully closed until they get permission from their governing body to restart training. Over the last few months the club has not had any income, but Ian says that fortunately they have a good relationship with their landlord and they are not facing eviction. How long this remains the case is another matter, with boxing being possibly one of the last sports to be allowed to resume.

Grassroots sport is an industry which generates a lot of money in the local economy through sponsorships, buying kits and equipment, hiring and leasing pitches and sports halls, membership payments to leagues and associations, plus fees paid to referees. They rely heavily on the time and commitment of all their members, who are mostly unpaid volunteers. Most importantly, amateur sports clubs give our community – especially young people – a source of enjoyment and physical exercise which can lead to long-term friendships, sporting dreams being fulfilled, and providing inspiration for the next generation. It would be a tragedy to lose this part of our community.

Is your local sports club struggling to survive? Let us know and we could feature it in our next edition: