Tuesday 17th September 2019 ko 19.45
Isthmian League- Premier Division
HORSHAM 2 (Harris 3 Smith 27)
WINGATE & FINCHLEY 1 (Kennedy 70)
A new home for Horsham at Hop Oast has been one of this season’s good news stories. So much so that not only was my journey round the M25 straightforward, but I even had time to try to remember when it was I’d visited their former home at Queen Street?
It was Swedish Hop organiser Kim Hedwall that reminded me. I’d given him a lift there when we’d found found out the ground had been sold. That was in April 2007 and when the club moved out a year later they expected in time to move to a site they’d bought to the north of the town in Holbrook. They moved into what was meant to be a temporary groundshare at Worthing FC, but that only lasted a season and in the meantime Horsham Council refused them permission to build at Holbrook.
The club turned their attention to south of the town, at the Hop Oast area and a golf and fitness club. The idea was to create a leisure village complex, hardly a controversial idea, and the club were to finance it through the sale of the Holbrook site. Even then the plan was rejected, and it took a scaling back of the plans to a single pitch 1,300 capacity stadium to get their new home built. In the 4 years it took to get the project off the ground the club groundshared at Horsham YMCA (adjacent to the site of the old ground) then at Lancing FC’s Culver Road. The uncertainly saw the club relegated back to the Sussex County League, though fortunately for them their demotion only lasted one season.
But eventually the powers that be did, eventually relent, and as I arrived at the designated parking area at the Hop Oast Park and Ride I was fascinated at to what had been achieved. The level of organisation is remarkable, you have to cross the B2237 Worthing Road and so there’s a guide to help you across. From there it’s short walk to the ground, and yes there is the feel of walking into a leisure village. This is as far removed from a visit to say, Stafford Rangers as it gets.
But as clean-cut and genteel as Hop Oast is, it is a mighty fine place to watch a game. The club house is both large and well-appointed and coped with a large crowd easily. But it was the little details that impressed me; teamsheets on demand and even contactless card payments at the tea bar. Then there’s the cover on the raised area between the clubhouse and the pitch- I could just imagine someone at the club thinking “People are going to want to stand there, let’s stick a roof on it.”
Then there’s the stand, which follows a virtuous trend of clubs ordering from the “Stadium Solutions” catalogue rather than the purveyors of those ugly, squat little monstrosities that are often mistakenly attributed to Atcost. Let’s not even credit those things by naming them.
The overall effect is a ground fit for an ambitious club at Step 3 with plenty of scope for expansion should the need arise. Here Horsham beat their visitors far more easily than the scoreline would suggest in front of a crowd augmented by a sizable number of groundhoppers.
Their need, as mine was a book-ticking exercise but as this bloke strolled back to the car park afterwards I felt utterly satisfied. That had nothing at all do to with yet another tick, but everything to do with seeing a club return home, and to a home that will stand Horsham FC in good stead for the future.