Walthamstow FC are an Essex Senior League (ESL) club that has had plenty of shit thrown at them since their inception as Pennant FC in 1959. After varying degrees of success and a load of name changes, they found they couldn’t pay the rent at their home in Wadham Lodge. They spent a number of years in exile, playing their home matches away from their own borough in Ilford, before returning to their spiritual home as Waltham Forest FC in 2013. The ground is typically romantic if you love non-league football—two gentle terraces behind each goal surrounded by that tin they used to use for bomb shelters, a wooden stand that looks like it’s going to collapse, a proper tea shack that still serves Bovril, and a gaggle of five box-ticking groundhoppers desperately trying to buy the last programme to make sure their trip wasn’t wasted.
After struggling in the ESL for a few doomed seasons (luckily there was no relegation for the majority of those, such is life at the bottom of the pyramid), the decision was made before this summer to rename the team Walthamstow FC in an effort to reconnect with the community.
At the start of the season, after much publicity around the name change, it was announced that the fans would be getting their voices heard again. There has been a revival in club fanzines over the past few years, and Walthamstow now have their own: If I Hadn’t Seen Such Riches is a beautifully designed zine, full of typical non-league gallows humour. On the weekend where Issue 1 was launched (which just so happened to coincide with Non-League Day), we got on the phone with Editor Andrzej Perkins to talk fanzines, Essex non-league, and the future of Walthamstow FC…
MUNDIAL: How did you get involved with Walthamstow?
Andrzej: I’ve been involved with the club in its various forms for the best part of twenty years. My dad was on the committee here, and his dad was before him. So I got into it through them. I’ve been doing their comms stuff and their website since I was about 15.
That’s a long time. What made you decide to start this fanzine now?
It’s having the opportunity to write stuff that wouldn’t usually go in the programme, stuff that maybe isn’t about the club or pieces that are a bit longer. If I’m being honest, part of it is that it gives us the opportunity to have a pop at the league, and the FA, and other people who make our lives difficult.
I was involved in Clapton for a number of years so I know exactly how difficult the Essex Senior League can be. You essentially wanted to give the fans a bit more of a voice?
Well, we have had no fans for going on ten, fifteen years now. But over the last couple of years things have picked up a little bit, and now a few fans have been willing to write for us and are willing to get involved. So, yeah, a few fans are just willing to give something back, I guess. We’re trying to spread the word about the club in a less official way.
Do you design it all yourself?
Yeah. I’m a graphic designer and web designer by day. That helps. The first issue I wrote about half of it too, but then we had others chip in with articles. Ideally, though, the longer it goes on the less and less I will be writing as others do it. It’s a ball ache writing it all!
What are your design inspirations? Are there things that you’ve just put in yourself or things you’ve seen and thought ‘yeah that looks sick, I want a bit of that’?
It’s a bit of everything, really. One of the main limitations of the mag is that we print it all ourselves—me and my old man, we print it all—so one of the hardest challenges is trying to make something that looks good but is affordable at the same time. It’s just picking up bits all over the place, not even specifically football stuff, and because it’s not an official magazine it means I can be a bit more adventurous.
Was there ever a Waltham Forest fanzine before? Maybe back when you were a bit more successful?
Yeah, there have been a few. The last one stopped getting printed around the year 2000. It was first called Kick, Bollock, & Bite, but the then-chairman had a few problems with that. So it got changed to Own Goal. That went on for about ten/fifteen years. The then-editor was writing everything himself, and he just found he couldn’t find the time anymore. I don’t know how he does it, he lives up in Coventry, but he still manages to write a piece for us every week. So he contributes to our fanzine now but he hasn’t seen a game in about ten years! But still manages to write something. He once remortgaged his house to keep the club going. You get some strange characters in non-league…
That’s amazing, would you say you take influence from the old fanzines or are you trying to take it in a new direction?
I can remember it existing, but can’t ever remember having read them as I was too young at the time. It’s something that I am picking his brains about and would love to get him involved more in. He did loads of little things like bank adverts and more satirical stuff so I’d like to get him more in the new one.
Would you say that there is a future for fanzines in football? Having just started one, you’d like to think that there is, right?
Well, yeah. I think people are moving away from the traditional programmes and media, but now that everything’s online, people still want something that they can pick up and read. Certainly, I’ve subscribed to MUNDIAL since the very first issue so that was one of the things I’ve seen. People are sorta after more longform stuff and properly researched articles with a bit more thought behind them. Anyone can read a match report online, that’s as old as the game, but I think that there’s a market for pieces with a bit more thought in them and a bit more research.
As someone who has seen their club go through a name change this summer, do you think that plan has worked? Do you think that’s something other clubs should look into?
It’s early days, but Walthamstow has changed so much over the last twenty years. We are seeing a lot more, for want of a better word, white middle-class people coming in. Actually young white middle-class people coming in. The name change was part of that: we wanted to get the locals involved again, and we wanted to really start to represent the area that we were in not just being Waltham Forest. So I think there is a big opportunity at the moment. Clubs like us and clubs like Clapton CFC, we seem to be doing something right, but then at the same time, there’s teams like Tower Hamlets and Sporting Bengal that actually get no one coming to watch them. It is sort of survival of the fittest really. Some teams will prosper and others… well, you can’t really see a place for them anymore.
Are you hoping Walthamstow FC could become the community club for North East London?
Yeah, I hope so. I mean, really it does come down to what’s happening on the pitch. If you are winning, people want to come and watch, but if you’re not, then people are less likely to show. If you turn up and watch a team get spanked 5–0, then you’re less likely to hang about. That has been happening with us for the last few seasons. We were dog shit, to be honest, but this year kind of we started the season well and with the name change, you start to notice people coming back. They will come to watch us one week and watch us win and come back the next week. So it’s when you start speaking to people, you can start to build a fanbase. It’s going to take ages but we are getting there.
Images: Andrzej Perkins