Woodford Town FC returns to its rightful home as new stadium opens in Ashton Playing Fields
Woodford Town Football Club has returned to its rightful home after work was completed at the Ashton Playing Fields in Woodford Green.
A group - including club chairman Tony Scott and leader of Redbridge Council Cllr Jas Athwal - gathered on Friday, December 4 to mark the opening of the improved facility.
Completion of the £1.6million renovation project will allow the Essex Senior Football League team to play their home games at Chigwell Road facility.
Speaking to the Recorder at the opening, Tony said: “I feel like we’re redeemed for what we’ve been doing for many years now - so pleased to be back. Slight delays, it’s been a funny year; 2020, nobody would’ve envisioned what’s been going on. But we’re almost there.”
While Friday marked the stadium’s official opening, the ‘almost’ refers to the fact that there are a few minor details to finish off before the club can host its first home game, now expected to be next month.
The journey to this point has been a long one; Tony explained that he and his three directors approached Redbridge Council three years ago to get the club’s old Snakes Lane ground back, but ran into both residential and drainage issues.
This brought the group to Ashton Playing Fields, with the council very willing to get involved in the resurrection of the stadium.
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Tony said: “We spent many, many discussions with the leader, who was so, so accommodating and understood what it means to the community to have Woodford back, and he started the project with us.”
The chairman also paid tribute to Vision RCL, the council’s management arm who runs the site.
Cllr Athwal’s contribution to bringing the club home has been recognised in the form of the stand being named after him.
The unsuspecting leader was greeted with the surprise after being asked to turn around during Tony’s speech at the opening.
Describing the gesture as a “real honour and a privilege”, the leader was quite bashful when seeing the stand adorned with his name.
In his speech Cllr Athwal chose to focus attention on what this new stadium will bring to the local area, saying: “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for all of us in Redbridge to really enjoy the facilities that we’ve got here. They’re going to get better.
“We come in to politics to make a positive change, and it’s for days like this. I know all year round, whether we get grief or we get ridiculed, this is what you come into politics for - it’s to make a difference.”
He echoed the sentiments of Tony in thanking Vision RCL, before going on to credit the person he considers the “catalyst” behind this successful project - Lloyd Duddridge.
Supporter Lloyd - also a former councillor - recalled “so many times walking past the ground on Snakes Lane, all the way up to the station, and thinking back to that old poem ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ - What happens to a football club deferred?”
When he and his dad would make that walk together the latter often promised - jokingly - to resurrect the club as soon as “we come into money”.
Lloyd laughed: “Well, we never came into money to be fair, but here we are - we made a good shot at it!”
In 2018, the club declared its intention to return to Woodford Green and be the first football team to play in the town since the original Woodford Town in 1993.
Referencing this milestone, Lloyd concluded: “What an achievement for Redbridge, what an achievement for the people of Redbridge. This is something we can all take pride in.”
During Tony’s time at the club, the team has played at a number of different stadia, including two seasons at Harlow Town, as well as stints in Broxbourne and Brimsdown.
With a permanent home now secured, the chairman can look to the future with confidence; building up the youth section, soccer schools, girls football, disabled football, adding: “It’s all in place now”.
When asked about his ambitions for the club, Tony said: “My big dream is the youth section. I was gladly involved there for many years, guys we brought through are now professional footballers. We really push the youth through into the first team, not a lot of clubs do that anymore. With us you can see a pathway.”
The new facilities - including the upgraded pitch and pavilion, a multi-use club room and the Jas Athwal stand - can now be seen at the Ashton Playing Fields.