After 27 years on the road, Romford FC have been granted planning permission for a new ground at Westlands Playing Fields on London Road by Havering Council.
Like the majority of non-league football in east London, very little of this story is straightforward. The currently nomadic Romford are the third incarnation of the club. The first folded somewhere in the 1910s, probably around the turn of the First World War. The second existed for 49 years between 1929 and 1978. The third and current iteration was reformed in 1992.
They initially played at Westlands Sports Ground, but with their eyes on a move up the pyramid, moved into Hornchurch’s Bridge Avenue before spending the 1995/6 campaign at Ford United’s Rush Green Road ground. It was during this season when the tide began to turn for Romford. An almost-new committee was formed delivering plenty of financial backing. They won the Essex Senior League at a canter, only losing three games.
However, the arrangement with Ford broke down towards the end of the 1995/6 season and Romford spent the last few games of that campaign on tour, eventually landing at Collier Row’s ground, Sungate.
For 1996/7, the two clubs combined to form a new club, Collier Row and Romford. But this wasn’t a straightforward merger. Many supporters felt it was a coup d’etat by the new Romford board, and most of their Collier Row counterparts were either banned or boycotted the new club, depending on who you ask. The ‘Collier Row’ part of the name was as expected, dropped after just one season. Even during the ‘Collier Row and Romford’ year, far more prominence was given to the ‘Romford’ part of the name in almost all publicity. The club’s shirts even carried Romford’s badge.
The Romford supporters at the time – understandably happy that they finally had a ground of their own – were far more pleased with the situation than their Collier Row counterparts, who felt like they were being forced out. For many in non-league, Romford have never really been forgiven.
The security of tenure that Romford thought they had now achieved never materialised, as arguments and confusion reigned. No one at the time was sure who actually owned the ground, while the ground itself crumbled around them. The discovery that it was built on an underground spring probably didn’t help matters.
It took two seperate clubhouse fires to see off the old and develop a new one. There was only one problem though, the ‘owner’ of the land conveniently forgot to apply for planning permission for the new structure.
The money-men who instigated the takeover of Collier Row moved on to pastures new at the start of the millenium, and left the club essentially without a ground or any financial backing. Ford United’s switch to Barkingside meant there was a vacancy at Rush Green, where Romford moved in and made it home.
Ford would later take over the ground from Barkingside, change their name to Redbridge and then force Barkingside out of the own ground. But that’s another story altogether.
Romford were kicked out of Rush Green at the end of the 2007/8 season by the social club’s owners, and so began what is now ten years of an even more nomadic existence.
Romford thought they’d secured a move back to Westlands in 2009 when they were granted planning permission for a new ground, but they went into the project without the financial backing to get the ball rolling, so to speak, and the planning permission eventually ran out.
Years playing at Aveley, Thurrock and now East Thurrock had even the most optimistic Romford fans thinking they would never have a home of their own, but at the end of October 2018, the London Borough of Havering approved plans for a multi-pitch development at the Westlands site.
It remains to be seen if Romford will ever play at a newly-developed Westlands, but it’s probably time those who have stuck with the club through thick and a lot of thin were given something to cheer about.
Sungate was eventually opened as a landfill site, and the relatively new clubhouse now lies under a mound of rubbish, though the floodlights and the top of the stands can still be seen poking above trash mountain. The Ford Sports & Social Club at Rush Green was purchased by West Ham United in 2009, and they now use it as a hub for their ladies and youth teams. Grays Athletic played their home games at the stadium for 2012-13, but were also asked to leave by West Ham, and now play their home games at Aveley, awaiting news of development a home stadium of their own.