Rugby Union: Ilford Wanderers hope to arrest falling player numbers before it's too late
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 January 2017
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Forest Road club have struggled this season with numbers, but hope fresh ideas change that
Ilford Wanderers have enjoyed an illustrious 120 years to date, during which time they’ve been able to field the likes of British & Irish Lions tourists Jeff Probyn and Damian Cronin.
This season, though, the Forest Road club are suffering from a shortage of players, which has not exactly helped their cause in London Three North East.
After winning Essex One last season, Wanderers were riding the crest of a wave, but now find themselves fighting relegation.
But club secretary Colin Brown hopes a renewed drive for players leads to success for the club on the pitch once more.
“We’ve always been a club where people have come in after noticing us while driving by or joined because they knew other players, but this year we haven’t had that,” said Brown.
“In the past five years or so, that intake might have masked the numbers leaving the club somewhat, but without that the drop this year has been stark.
“In years gone by, we were in a position to put three teams out on a Saturday, but now we are struggling to get two out with injuries, work and other commitments.
“Maybe now we are starting to feel a little guilty about not getting our name out there in the community as much as we could have.”
It has been a difficult season for Ilford so far, with the club having won just twice in the league.
It took Wanderers seven attempts to record their first success of the campaign and have conceded more than 400 points this season – the third worst defensive record in the division.
Brown admits that Ilford’s struggles may also be harming their chances of attracting new blood to the club, but hopes prospective players look past that when considering joining.
“Our record this season doesn’t look too good, but you have to take into account the problems we’ve had with putting squads out,” he added.
“If you were to just look at it, it might put you off joining, which is a shame after winning promotion last season.
“It’s almost been a perfect storm in terms of what has happened, but we want to make sure people know we exist.”
One way other local clubs have bolstered their senior squads in recent seasons is by bringing through and developing players in their youth squad.
Even at Ilford, plenty of the players currently filling out the first and second teams have come through the club’s youth structure.
However, it seems even the youth section is struggling and Brown knows that is a worry going forward.
“We used to have a big youth section and understand the value of a youth section in terms of getting players into the first team, but that seems to have stopped too,” he said.
“Our chairman, Scott Cohen, is working with the RFU and we are starting to get out into local schools and coaching kids in the hope of getting them into the club.”
Hopefully the efforts to arrest the slide are not too little, too late for the proud club as they face perhaps the toughest period in their 120-year history.