Advertisement

West Ham: Grassroots football club 'homeless' after council gives playing field to premier league team

Bealonians FC will need to find new home after Oakfields Playing Fields lease awarded to West Ham (BealoniansFC)
Bealonians FC will need to find new home after Oakfields Playing Fields lease awarded to West Ham (BealoniansFC)

A grassroots east London football club has said its future hangs in the balance after its pitch was given to premier league giants West Ham.

Bealonians FC have played at Oakfield Playing Fields in Fairlop since 2004 - but now Redbridge Council has awarded the lease of the fields to West Ham FC.

The club, which has 600 players in 29 youth teams and 10 adult teams, does not have a formal lease for the pitch, and its efforts to obtain one was passed over in favour of West Ham.

Although the council says the club was using the fields without formal permission, the characterisation is rejected by the club who say they were asked to maintain the site at the start of Covid by the council, which it did.

Bealonians FC General Secretary Andy MacRae said: “The overwhelming feeling is a sense of frustration, because this club is a success story.

“And we’re having to expend our energy and our money, which could be better used elsewhere, for the community.”

Council officials say they will seek to find the Bealonians another home in the borough. However, the club, the oldest grassroots club in the borough, doubts there are any suitable sites.

Residents held a protest in support of Bealonians FC earlier this month (Supplied)
Residents held a protest in support of Bealonians FC earlier this month (Supplied)

Mr MacRae told the Standard: “I’m not holding out much hope if I’m honest.”

A petition opposing the awarding of the lease to West Ham has been signed by nearly 10,000 people. Bealonians’ management say they sought meetings with the premier league team, but were rebuffed.

“Excuse my language, but they don’t give a s**t, by the looks of it,” said Mr MacRae.

“The question that remains for me is that West Ham has the funds to buy any piece of land in Redbridge and make it playable… So why would you go where there’s a successful club and take that away?” he asked.

In a message to the professional side, he said: “Find somewhere else. Show that you actually value local clubs which drive people into football, and are a major stepping stone into providing players for [professional] clubs.

“They should be helping us, not hindering us and putting obstacles in our way.”

The Standard has contacted West Ham for comment.

In approving the move, Redbridge Council said West Ham’s bid, which involves bringing its charitable foundation onto the site, was “strong” and included “investment and employment opportunities" for the local community.

“Bealonians FC has been using the land at Oakfield for a number of years without the Council's permission or formal rental agreements in place,” said a council spokesperson.

“Nonetheless, the Council will work with the club to identify an alternative site for them to operate from. The Council advertised the opportunity to lease this land on the understanding that there will be ongoing sporting use involving the local community.

“This was an open process in which any club or organisation could take part, and the criteria on which we evaluated the bids were openly published.”