Grassroots clubs criticise Waltham Forest Council over cost of football pitches

Amateur football clubs in Waltham Forest have hit out at the cost of using council-owned pitches, claiming it’s straining their finances.

An eleven-a-side adults’ match at Waltham Forest Council’s artificial pitch at Salisbury Hall Playing Fields in Chingford costs £306 at peak times, such as the weekend. The same weekend match, however, could be played for £90 on a similar pitch in neighbouring Newham, £104 in Enfield and £156 in Tower Hamlets.

Steven Hodges, chairman of AFC Leyton, said a dramatic price-hike for peak-time slots last year had left a worrying hole in their budget going forward.

He said: “Last year, for training, the price for us went up to £135 an hour, when it was previously around £80, in the middle of a pandemic.

“We are a charity football club that focuses on female development. We get fees from parents and whatever grants we can get but we are a non-profit.

“The only people that get paid are the coaches, because we get the best coaches we can, everyone else is a volunteer.

“That’s where we really want to spend our money, on developing the girls, not having to spend most of it renting space we can train or play on.

“We are not looking to do anything other than ensure we have enough cash at the end of every year to start the next but this year, with Covid and with these prices, we are looking at a deficit.

“We are going to have to do a fundraising drive to make up some of that money.”

This year, the council has agreed to offer a discounted rate for junior clubs, renting eleven-a-side artificial pitches for £85 an hour at peak times.

However, as Nutmeg East London FC discovered, the discount is only available for a full-pitch slot, often bulk-booked for the whole season by businesses offering pitches for rent.

This means the Leyton-based club, which coaches boys and girls aged four to twelve, has to pay the non-discounted rate of £133 an hour for just two thirds of their local pitch at Drapers Field.

Head coach and club secretary Dawid Juzafzek said: “We are a family-run club, our own children play in this club. We just want to do our best, but it’s getting impossible to compete with corporate bookings.

“The ethics are completely taken out of it, it’s so disappointing. It will have a huge impact on us. Leyton and Stratford, where most of our kids live, are not the richest areas.”

Dawid added that, following widespread job losses during the pandemic, the club had told several parents not to worry about paying fees until they found employment. However, the strain of the new prices had left the club “desperate for help” and Dawid said the council seemed unwilling to listen, adding: “It’s like hitting a wall, no-one is interested.”

Cabinet member for sport, Paul Douglas, said the council offered cheaper grass pitches, although the clubs claim these are often fully booked and are not floodlit, making them inappropriate for evening use.

Cllr Douglas added: “As part of our commitment to encourage the playing of sport in the borough, all our pitches are price-compared with neighbouring boroughs and are significantly subsidised by the council.

“The council offers off-peak and peak rates and clubs can book [artificial] pitches off-peak for £76.50 an hour or £153 over a two-hour period.”


Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter