Ground Number: 341
Monday 17th March 2014
Barkingside 3-0 Erith & Belvedere
Isthmian League D1 North
I had been looking to visit Oakside Stadium for a while. When I was only interested in visiting grounds for pictures, I had stopped by and got some snaps, thanks to a day out in London and a Travelcard. But since I had started groundhopping properly, I wanted to get it done. My usual travelling compatriot Anwar had already done it twice, so it was left for me to find a game to do on my own. I was lucky enough that both sides that shared the stadium played on Monday nights, thus leaving Tuesday free for other games. The chance to finally get it ticked came around at last, and after posting my intentions for this week on Facebook , fellow hopper Laurence got in touch to say that he would do it with me, thus cutting down on our costs.
Barkingside only won promotion to the Isthmian League last season, 2nd place in the Essex Senior League was enough to see them promoted, as they finished just behind Burnham Ramblers in the league. After years of looking up to ground sharers Redbridge FC, they were finally on a level footing. As recently as 9 years ago Redbridge were a couple of promotions ahead, but their recent fall from grace had out paid to that. Originally in the Spartan South Midlands league, they had to take a season out of football in the 1999-2000 season. They had actually won the league that season and were due a promotion, but the ground graders had the final say and they were denied the chance to play in the Isthmian League. Also, they were well out of the boundaries of the SSML, at the time the FA would now allow clubs to move sideways and allow them to join the more geographically sensible Essex Senior League. The decision was made to withdraw from senior football for the season, and in their first season back they finished 3rd. After years of mid and top half finished, they finally won promotion last season. In that period, Redbridge, formerly named Ford Sports entered a groundshare agreement and between the 2 clubs, the ground was bought up to the required standard. Notable honours for the club include winning the London Senior Cup in 1996-97. The FA Cup 2nd Qualifying round has been reached on 2 occasions, most recently in 2007-08 when they lost narrowly to Welling United. They were 21st in the league at the start of play and with 3 being relegated, they were treading a fine line between staying up and going down. With Ware having lots of games in hand, they were far from out of the woods at this stage of the season.
Erith and Belvdere were even worse off in 23rd place, but at least they were only 3 points behind, meaning that a couple of good results would lift them out of the drop zone. Like the home side they had also won promotion last season, finishing top of the Kent League. Like the home side, they were also in a groundshare agreement, this time with Skrill Premier side Welling United. The club spent 20 years in the Southern League in the latter part of the last century but it was always a struggle financially. To add to their woes, a fire at their original ground in 1997 forced them to vacate it, then relegation (the only time in the clubs history) in 2004/05 this was another bitter pill to swallow. The consolidated in the Kent League and won promotion back last season. They have reached the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying round on several occasions, most recently in 2001/02. They had never been close to getting to Wembley in either of the other national cup competitions and hadn't had a great deal of success in local cups in recent times though they did win the Kent Premier League Cup last season.
I'd had work on the Monday, finishing around lunchtime. After having lunch, a bath and taking some stuff down the post office I didn't have a huge amount of time before Laurence got to my house just after 5. For once I wasn't driving, instead getting a lift on this occasion. I had bought my iPad with me, thinking that I might get some of my blog typed on the journey. But I should have remembered what Laurence was like, full of great stories and useful tips for grounds to visit. One of the most amusing ones was about someone who went into prison as Mike, came out as Michelle and was a right strange character. Despite paying for a whole tank of petrol to get from York to a far flung part of country, he/she/it refused to pay the £3 entry to the ground. The gateman denied them entry, after they claimed to have lost their ticket with an emphatic SIR! at the end of each sentence.
We got to the ground just before half 6 and after going to the toilet I took some pictures of the ground and then went back into the bar to look at the merchandise stall. I saw pennants on sale for £5. Normally I wouldn't bother, but they had been such a nice club and it was a nice looking one so I took the plunge. We chatted to some other groundhoppers and I was getting a bit peckish by now, so I went outside to see what the food was like. I had heard good things about the burgers from my fellow groundhopper and blogger Dan, on his excellent Groundhopping the Globe blog. It turned out to be spot on, my egg burger at £2.80 was very nice, as was my Bovril at 80p - more clubs are learning that offering pepper as an extra is the way forward, it really does add to the enjoyment of the drink.
Looking at the programme, it was a bit disappointing for £1.50. It was only a rather thin 16 pages and was one for the original match on the 18th January with no update. On the plus side, the contend was pretty decent with few adverts and to be fair on the club, they have to make money where they can as they make no money on the food or bar and also have to pay rent on the ground.
We took our seats with another load of hoppers as the game kicked off. After seeing Laurence's delicious looking curry sauce and chips, I had to go and get some myself. The way I am going my body will soon be getting the same dimensions as most ground hoppers with all the treats on offer. The portion was fantastic for £1.50 and it tasted as delicious as it looked. Sadly I was so engrossed in the football that I didn't notice that the plate was at an angle and went down my top and trousers. I tried to clean up as much as I could, but I knew that these would be going in the washing machine when I got home.
Erith and Belvedere were dire that first half, and although Barkingside obviously had something about them after drawing 1-1 at Needham Market on Saturday, they weren't exactly world beaters either. The second half saw the visitors improve massively and have the better of the limited chances that the half offered. But it remained at 3-0 to lift Barkingside further away from the drop zone.
I had an enjoyable evening in good company. The journey home was as good as the one there and I got in just after 11. One thing that was sad to see was that this would be Barkingside's last season at Oakside. The stadium originally belonged to Barkingside, hence why it is right near Barkingside Station. But hard times meant that they had to sell it to the council. The council in turn leased it to Redbridge, who then sub let it to Barkingside. From what I heard, there was going to be a huge rent increase, which with Barkingside's poor crowds, they could simply not afford it. With neither party budging, they have been forced to move into Ilford's Cricklefield Stadium from next season. I know from visiting to take pictures that it has a running track around it and reports from other hoppers are not favourable.
OAKSIDE STADIUM is one of the more traditional grounds in non league, far away from the very common new builds with their metal stands. Both sides are covered. On the side that you go in there is a seated stand holding around 300. On the other side is a covered terrace holding just under 1000. However this stand is half closed due to storm damage. Both ends are open small terraces. though at the near end there is a bit behind the terrace which gives an elevated view.
The bar was smart and modern and this also housed the merchandise stall which had a small selection of old programmes, various leaflets and handbooks to do with Barkingside FC, as well as the usual range of souvenirs. The real gem is the tea bar with a great range of really good food. With good portions at reasonable prices, I'd say it was my favourite tea bar this season for sure. With Barkingside being a friendly club, I'd recommend a visit down here before they move on at the end of the season.