A David Vs Goliath battle is brewing as a Grassroots club takes on Premier League giant and the local authority as their facility is set to be taken from under their feet. An official press release from the club reads as follows;
“The future of Bealonians FC, a cherished grassroots football club with deep roots in the London Borough of Redbridge, hangs in the balance as the council announces it plans to lease Oakfield Playing Fields to West Ham United. Last year, the London Borough of Redbridge initiated applications for the lease of Oakfield Playing Fields, the long-standing home of Bealonians FC, which has served as a vital community hub since 1936.
Bealonians FC, with more than 600 members spanning 29 youth teams (including two girls teams), and ten adult men’s teams, faces an uncertain future if the site is awarded to West Ham. While the council have said they will “seek to work with Bealonians FC to find an alternative solution”, the club is unaware of a site big enough in the borough. The planned decision threatens their existence and potentially forces them out of Redbridge, along with the five cricket clubs who also call this site home.
The playing fields and on site pavilion also serve as a safe and convenient location for the Hainault & Chigwell Muslim Association, a female football team and the number of locals who hire the pavilion for private functions.
In April 2020, the council requested Bealonians FC become caretakers of the site after Frenford Clubs surrendered their lease in March. The club has since invested in its maintenance, improved the facilities and cemented itself as a lifeline for the local community. Negotiations for a lease were close to being signed in 2020/21, but inexplicably, the council’s legal department abruptly halted discussions.
In July 2022, Redbridge Council notified Bealonians FC that they would be advertising at the lease and inviting applications from all interested parties.
The council’s planned decision runs contrary to the Redbridge Plan 2022-2026 and the Football Foundation Local Plan for Redbridge in which West Ham are a key stakeholder.
Research by The Sport and Recreational Alliance estimated the economic and social value Bealonians FC has on the community is £808,496 per year through an increase in wellbeing, mental health and reduction in NHS costs – the ratio of GPs to patients is already 24% higher in the Redbridge than the average*.
Terry Barlow, Chairman of Bealonians FC comments, “It’s a huge blow that Redbridge appear to be following money and have lost sight of the sustainable, long-term value we bring to the borough. Especially as West Ham United already has another site just down the road. We’re the oldest and largest grassroots football club in the borough and the potential loss of our club will have a devastating impact on the local community.
The planned decision would massively contradict the priorities outlined by the council to which include tackling poverty and improving wellbeing, while there’s also a strong possibility the public green space would be privatised – a setback for thousands in the community who currently enjoy it.”
19% of children in Redbridge live in poverty. Ilford, the location of Oakfield Playing Fields, is one of the borough’s most deprived areas. The loss of Bealonians FC’s ground would sever a vital lifeline for the community, leaving over 300 children without access to the club where they can grow, thrive, and chase their dreams.
Bealonians FC’s commitment to the community is evident in its low membership fees, subsidised memberships for those on lower incomes, and the free “Football for All” community hour on Saturdays. The club also operates a Swap Shop, where members can exchange clean, good-condition sports gear, fostering inclusivity and accessibility.
If Bealonians FC secures the lease, their plans include investments in improving the grounds and facilities, Women’s Football, starting a Disability Pathway, and launching Walking Football programs to support physical and mental health in the borough. These initiatives aim to tackle the issue of inactivity, which affects 31% of residents over 16, and reduce the burden on local healthcare services.
Grassroots football provides equal opportunities for children and adults of all backgrounds and is essential for nurturing talent. Bealonians FC’s two-star England Football Accreditation and their responsibility under the Football Leadership Diversity Code underscores their commitment to creating an inclusive environment that nurtures players, coaches, and volunteers and tackles inequality, leading to greater diversity in the sport. Such accreditation requires adherence to criteria set by the FA, including background checks for coaches, first-aid training and a minimum FA Level 1 coaching badge.
Bealonians FC’s dedication to youth development has already yielded success stories, with a number of players progressing to professional football clubs like West Ham, Spurs and Hull City, while other children have gone on to play at Arsenal alongside Cruz Beckham.
The club set up a change.org petition and are encouraging people to sign the petition to keep Bealonians FC at Oakfield Playing Fields.
The decision will be discussed by a committee of councillors on the 12th October and is expected to be confirmed on 19 October 2023.
Bealonians FC have contacted West Ham on a several occasions. West Ham have failed to engage with the club.”