We last played Thamesmead Town in a pre-season friendly before the start of the 2013-14 season. Isthmian Premier Thamesmead won 4-1, but both clubs would be relegated from their respective divisions come May.
The star of the show, however, was Thamesmead’s redeveloped Bayliss Avenue ground. A huge new clubhouse with multiple bars, function suites, a gym, 3G pitches and enough changing rooms to service a small festival. Never mind that it wasn’t fully open in time for the new season, or that the seating area’s roof was about 20 metres higher than the seats, didn’t extend over the seats and was open at the back. Yet Groundtastic magazine crowned it their best new stand of the year – 2013/14… there can’t have been much competition.
The new clubhouse, and work to the rest of the ground came as a bit of a shock to Walthamstow (then Waltham Forest) fans. On our visit to their ground in 2012, we outnumbered the home support in an attendance of about 15. It was officially declared as 44, but you could count the number in attendance on your fingers and toes. They went on to get promoted to the Isthimian Premier, but away fans outnumbering the home was a given, as attendances continued to struggle.
Thamesmead FC was formed in 1969, and moved into Bayliss avenue for the start of the 1985/86 season, constructing their ground and clubhouse for £450,000 (about £1.2m adjusting for inflation).
The large clubhouse was heavily fortified to keep anti-social behaviour from residents of the Thamesmead Estate away, and the playing was area surrounded with high mesh fencing. The ground wasn’t really up to step 3 standard though, and under the banner of Sporting Club Thamesmead, £4.2m was splashed out on a new ground. The majority of funding was provided by Trust Thamesmead and the Football Foundation, with further assistance from Bexley Council.
However, it was the football club, Thamesmead Town who spearheaded the project, and were the main applicants for the majority of the grants achieved for the project. Without Thamesmead Town, there would have been no Sporting Club Thamesmead.
And it’s here where things start to get a bit sticky.
After just four seasons at their newly redeveloped ground, Thamesmead Town were forced out of their ground by the Peabody Trust, who had taken over the running of the complex from the Thamesmead Sporting Trust. Peabody are also the Housing Association overseeing the Thamesmead regeneration project. Anyone else smell a rat?
Soon after the new complex was finished, it became apparent that Thamesmead Town were being charged vastly higher rent compared to other tenants like Charlton Athletic Ladies and a new team called Sporting Club Thamesmead, after Seven Acre & Sidcup changed their name.
Figures of £20,000 a year for Thamesmead Town (TTFC) and £3,000 for the rest were banded about, and from the outside, it seemed the stadium’s managing trust was doing everything possible to drive TTFC out.
Former TTFC manager Keith McMahon said the blame laid squarely with the Trust, and that even after just a few years, the drains in their new home were flooding and the fire alarms were knackered.
After much toing and throwing and stalemate talks between TTFC and Peabody, the football club made a not altogether unexpected move to Dartford for the start of the 2017-18 season. It’s not clear how much rent they were playing at the National League standard ground, but surely it must have been at least as much, if not more, than the £20k they were being charged at Bayliss Avenue.
Thamesmead finished a respectable 10th in Division 1 South of the Isthmian League, but attendances were down a staggering 70%, but Paul Bowden-Brown, the club’s owner, spent much of the season looking for potential investors, without much success.
On the 16th of October 2018 came the news that TTFC would be folding with immediate effect. Bowden-Brown even offered to relinquish ownership for just £1 at one point, but could not find any suitors. They were perhaps put off by a club with no ground, hardly any fans, no real income and according to Bowden-Brown, three(!) full time(!!) employees.
“I am writing this article with a very heavy heart.” came the statement from Bowden-Brown. According to the club’s only backer, TTFC had turned a profit of just £11 for their last two home games after paying for the referees.
“I feel that the time has come for me to hang up my boots at Thamesmead Town and call it a day.”
It’s unclear how much of his own money Bowden-Brown put into the club, but promotion to the Isthmian Premier wouldn’t have come cheap, and the club were always competitive in Division 1 North once they were relegated.
Thamesmead were never a well-supported club, and despite their best efforts, never had any interest from a local community. Where other New Town clubs like Harlow, Hemel Hempstead and Welwyn Garden City continue to thrive, the inner-city New Town Thamesmead has fared much worse.
Bowden-Brown finished his statement: “The time has come to call it a day. Hopefully, I will be remembered not as the person that killed Thamesmead Town FC but as someone who through his financial commitment and personal effort gave the Club those extra years of enjoyment that without my support the Club would have died so much earlier.”
Thamesmead Town wasn’t Bowden-Brown’s first club though. He was Chairman of Maidstone United in the late 2000s, and is widely seen as the person who saved the club from going out of existence. But to many fans, his stubbornness around Maidstone’s new ground and possible outside investment meant he almost ran them into the ground again. The similarities with Thamesmead are not altogether surprising.
There was always the option for Thamesmead to drop out and play in the Kent League – or even lower. But with next to no fans, and aging and uninterested committee, coupled with little desire from the community, what would be the point?
Thamesmead Town won their final game, beating Gurnsey 3-0 in front of just 84 people.
Image: David Bauckham. You can view his full gallery from Thamesmead Town’s game against Lewes in 2014 here.