No.39 - Sat 21st March 2015; Eastern Counties League Division One;                             3pm at Catons Lane, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 2DU 

 

Matchday images (59) https://picasaweb.google.com/footballgroundsinfocus/FlitwickTownFC06

Saffron Walden Town (0) 0  Haverhill Borough (0) 1

'Borough border raid!'

'This ground holds some great memories for me. It was on a cold Autumn evening back in 1988 when I first visited Catons Lane to watch a game of football. That night signalled what was the start of my hopping career or obsession if you like. After completing the 92 Football League grounds I was looking for a new challenge (as you do) and decided to dip my toe into the 'murky' world of non league football. I remember initially taking in games towards the top end of the pyramid initially with tentative visits to watch Vauxhall Conference, Vauxhall Opel Isthmian, HFS Loans Northern Premier League and Beazer Homes Southern League (as they were referred to at that time) matches. Needless to say I was soon hooked on the grass roots game!

I can now recall (looking at my little blue book grounds book, volume one, to help me) that my hop to Catons Lane on 04/10/88 (match no.24) saw Saffron Walden Town entertain Heybridge Swifts in a Vauxhall Opel League Division Two North fixture. I remember paying a couple of quid for the admission and a programme (which I imagine is now in a box somewhere in the loft) and stood close to a guy (with a monocular viewing device) whom I later discovered was a fellow traveller called John Stancome. The game itself ended 0-2 and the crowd was something in the region of 100 (it's hard to read the writing easily as some of the pages have faded over time!). Being a novice in hopping terms I didnít really, at that time, appreciate the ground (and it was a bit dark too) that much and after becoming interested in taking football pictures, promised myself to go back one day. Well over twenty five years have passed since that time and I it seems that a re-visit is now well overdue. And Iím glad I did!

 

Founded in 1872, Saffron Walden Town is the oldest club in Essex still in existence and is believed to be the nineteenth oldest in the world. Then club secretary Arthur Smith, a former headmaster of the Boy's National School in Castle Street negotiated the use of land in Loft's Lane which became known as "The Meadow". The nickname of "The Bloods" came about as the result of the club colours of red and black.

Saffron Walden were founder members of the Essex FA in 1882. The first league game was in September 1889 with a 3-1 victory at Halstead Town in the Haverhill and district football League. It was not until 1909 that Walden won the title for the first time. At the same time, however, Saffron Walden were making progress in the Stansted and District League winning that title seven times between 1908 and 1924.

Immediately after the war a fund was set up to find a new ground for the Club. The Meadow had a sloping pitch - by 15 feet 2 inches from corner to corner. But enough money to move ground was not raised and instead, the cash was used to refurbish the existing site.

Prior to the Second World War, the Club took part in the Essex and Suffolk Border League and the North Essex League, before joining the Spartan League in 1933, a competition they stayed in until 1954.

The interruption of WW2 saw a dip in the Club's fortunes and after a reorganisation of the Spartan League, the Parthenon League was joined for one year in 1954-55, then the Herts County League in which the Club had no success until finishing as runners - up in the Premier Division in 1969.

Saffron Walden Town entered the Eastern Counties League in 1974 after winning the Essex Senior League in style in 1973 - 74, losing just two games. By the turn of the 1970's however the club was struggling, only just maintaining League status.

But in 1982-83, Saffron Walden enjoyed a remarkable season, winning the Eastern Counties League. By the end of the season 107 goals had been scored and Walden were champions. In addition the club won the Essex Senior Trophy, beating Tiptree United 2 - 1 in the final. Striker John Tippett scored a record 51 first team goals in the process.

In 1996 a 'bombshell' was delivered when, playing in Division One of the Isthmian League, a rule change regarded the sloping pitch at Catons Lane as having "excessive undulations". The outcome was that Saffron Walden Town FC, after 12 years in the competition had to resign from the League and was effectively demoted two divisions in the pyramid when accepted into the Essex Senior League.

Despite this, the club were unable to progress because of the sloping pitch but in August 2000 work started to dramatically reduce the slope. The cost of the work and loss of gate receipts - when forced to ground share - meant the club now had a large overdraft. Tough measures and decisions have put the club on a sound footing.

There is, however, another noticable gap in the league history of Saffron Walden Town. In 2003-04, the club played in cup competitions and friendlies after finding themselves without a league to play in.

Walden had decided to move to a more appropriate standard of football and resigned from the Essex Senior League. The Football Association refused to let Saffron Walden move across the pyramid and was left in the cold. 2004-2005 saw the Bloods elected back into the Ridgeons (Eastern Counties) League after an absence of 20 years and with steady improvements are again making excellent progress.

2006-2007 saw Walden finish the League just outside the promotion places - in sixth position. But success in the South Midlands Floodlight Cup as well as reaching the Final of the Ridgeons League Division One Cup ensured that the Club continued to develop. In 2006-2007 Walden were the best supported club in the Ridgeons League First Division and also the third best supported club within Step Six of the football pyramid in the entire Country. The last two seasons have seen steady progress on and off the field and the emergence of a number of young players combined with an experienced squad providing reasons for optimism.

However, in August 2011 Saffron Walden Town Football Club informed the Ridgeons League that no guarantee could be given that the Club could complete the season in the League and decided to withdraw rather than possibly disrupt the league by having to resign during the season.

Following the resignation of the committee in February 2012, a new Committee was formed under a new Chairman, Cliff Treadwell, and work began to resolve various issues in order to consolidate its financial position and culminated in an application to rejoin the Eastern Counties League for the 2012-13 season where they have played up until now.

 

For the grounds connoisseur the Catons Lane home of Saffron Walden Town Football Club must surely (in my humble opinion) be one of the finest venues in the non league football world. It has everything you would wish for in a football ground: in terms of spectator facilities there is easy parking, plenty of seating and standing cover with great site viewing lines and a well appointed club house and well organised tea bar. Thereís also a beautiful rustic charm about the place with lovely views of the surrounding countryside and the stunning vista of St Mary the Virgin's Church (dating back to the 15th century) which provides an aesthetically pleasing backdrop to proceedings. I loved it. Hopefully the album photos can convey this in some small way.

 

Itís Bank Holiday Monday and Iím taking in the Eastern Counties League Division One fixture with Haverhill Borough. With only a few weeks left until the end of the season thereís a lot resting on the result for both sides each having enjoyed a successful season to date. The Bloods (clubís nickname referring to their colours of red and black), currently lying in third place behind leaders Swaffham Town and second placed Long Melford, look good to gain promotion to the Premier Division. For Borough (who are ten points adrift in fifth) there is still an outside chance that they could go up too providing they can put together a good run of results between now and the end of the season.

 

As expected a close but tight end to end derby game follows. With both defences coming out on top there are few clear goal-scoring chances to note. The game is eventually decided by a hotly disputed penalty for accidental handball converted after an hour (itís the second time this has happened in consecutive home games apparently). Taking into account other results now means that Waldenís promotion fate is no longer in their hands, unless they can score heavily in their next two games, at home to AFC Sudbury on Saturday and away to Woodbridge Town the week after. Then a home victory over Great Yarmouth Town by a sufficient margin in the last game of the season on the 25th April, could see them promoted on goal difference. It is a tall ask but for the neutral it all adds to the end of season excitement!

 

The match played in sunny but blustery conditions on a heavily (side to side) sloping pitch, attracts 446 spectators to The Meadow. It's a superb attendance. A smart, newsy 36 page programme, priced £2, packed with reports, views and stats as well as action photos, is issued for the game. Itís a cracking read. A range of hot and cold food is available from a well-stocked tea bar; as it operates on a deli-ticket type queuing system, the service can be rather slow especially if you are starving and in a hurry to get your gastric juices flowing! 

The club operates a superb website (see link below) which provides information about the team including league and cup  fixtures, results, tables as well as showing directions and a map of how to get there. When you get time have a look. It youíve not made a visit here yet you must pencil it onto your Ďmust doí list and take in a game in the near future. It goes without saying that youíll simply love it!'.     

FGIF Match Stats

                Scorers: (H) N/A and (A) Forshaw (pen 60)  

Attendance: 446; Admission: £5; Programme: £1; Match rating: 3/5; Ground rating: 5/5.

Links

http://www.saffronwaldentownfc.com/

http://thurlownunnleague.co.uk/

edited on 07/04/15