History of the Len Forge Centre
The five hectare site at Eastwoodbury Lane has been occupied and operated by LFC (ELC) since 1981. Previously, a schools sports ground, Essex County Education Department declared it ‘surplus to requirements’ in the late 1970’s and the site and support facilities were allowed to fall into disrepair.
Faced with the loss of an established and valued playing facility, Len Forge and other representatives of the local football teams (of all age groups) who used the site at weekends sought and gained permission from Essex County Council to take control of the site and create a new footballing experience under the auspices of one of the major local leagues (the Southend Borough Football Combination).
An operational organisation – The Eastwoodbury Lane Centre – was created in 1981 to reclaim the ground establish the pitches, and repair the dilapidated support facilities. Charitable Status was granted in 1983.
With a home ground as its base, and several thriving local football leagues as its clients, the Eastwoodbury Lane Centre was able to encourage the growth of local football during the 1980’s and 1990’s, with many tournaments including regular exchange visits and competitions with European Clubs. During this period the Eastwoodbury Lane Centre (with Len Forge at its helm) established itself as the ‘de facto’ headquarters for football in the Southend area.
Len Forge retired from active involvement in 2003 after more than 50 years of dedicated effort to local grass roots football. When he died in 2008, the Trustees, with the support of all user groups, agreed that a fitting memorial would be to rename the Centre in his honour – although all financial and legal requirements continue to be conducted in the name of the Registered Charity.
Today, LFC is managed by three Trustees, supported by a small, dedicated staff of three part-time employees. All have a long and continuing association with grass roots football in the wider Southend area and maintain a close working relationship within LFC.
History of the 3G Project
Existing Facilities at the Len Forge Centre
LFC had five grass pitches
The Main Pitch – developed with spectator stands and floodlighting for local League cup finals, competitions, and Step 7 clubs. It is also used by Essex County F.A. for Representative Matches.
Four standard pitches – dedicated to ‘11 v 11’ football (men’s and women’s) for play in Saturday and Sunday Leagues including Veterans Leagues. The pitches are also used for competitions and tournaments, and regular mid-week matches organised by the local College and University.
Overall, LFC is the home ground for twenty-one teams playing Open Age Football.
The legacy of more than 30 years of service to, and support for, grass roots football (11 v 11) in Southend is a large, well maintained ground (appendix 6) with hard surface parking for up to 150 vehicles – but little capacity to introduce regular training or increased playing opportunities.
Improving Facilities at The Len Forge Centre
For many years, the Trustees had nurtured the desire to extend their support to Youth Football and to provide training facilities generally. Many options have been considered, and ‘off-pitch’ space has been allocated for training and coaching. However, the areas are unlit, and far from ideal in terms of area, and each initiative has eventually succumbed to the lack of suitability and consistency. Similarly, grass pitch maintenance (avoidance of over use) restricts the overall period of use.
Experiences gained from artificial pitches at local schools (mostly sand based) indicated that a modern AGP facility would be the best path to improving the site facilities, but the anticipated cost was considered prohibitive until discussions with Essex County FA revealed that funding opportunities could be available via the FA and Football Foundation to convert/upgrade the existing main pitch.
A feasibility study was commissioned which confirmed the practicality of the Project, and the Trustees began the process of confirming the financial viability of the scheme, which would enable LFC to offer regular training and more match play to Open Age and Youth teams.
Why was the Project Needed?
Southend and the surrounding district is considered a strong area for grass roots football but playing (and training) facilities have not kept pace with player requirements and expectations.
This is at least partly because the nature of facilities means that 95% of clubs utilize Local Authority pitches – often shared with other sports – with no specific arrangement or opportunity to train, especially in winter. Overall, research reveals that a total of 257 (of 278) Open Age teams in the Southend area have limited or no access to modern training facilities.
Limited facilities are available at some local schools for illuminated mid-week evening training sessions, and the local commercial AGP facility is used extensively, but LFC is aware that many more clubs would seek regular training if such was to be available.
In recent years, match play has been particularly badly affected by long periods of adverse weather conditions, and local (Open Age) Leagues have seen their fixture programmes severely disrupted. Member clubs have also experienced a loss of interest among players – leading to the lack of viability of some teams as players take up the option of (unstructured) 11 v 11 and small sided match play at the local (commercial) artificial pitch when grass pitches are unavailable.
This is considered by the various leagues to be a significant factor in the decline in Open Age player participation experienced in recent years – although other (personal) factors are evident.
LFC anticipates that the demand for training will increase further as : –
- The number of teams competing in Youth (Under 18), Mini Soccer and other Small-Sided Games continues to grow.
- The emergence of older (18+) players from the youth game to the Open Age game seek to continue their training opportunities with their new clubs/teams.
The ability to address these issues by offering suitable facilities is considered crucial to the good health of football in Southend over the coming years.
LFC has the space, experience, and the capability to make a significant contribution with the installation of an all-weather, artificial 3G pitch constructed to the FA’s exacting standards for match play and training.