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Saturday 19th September 2020 ko 14.00

Mid Sussex League- Championship

SOUTHWICK 1882 2 (Russell 20 McDowell 80)

ASHURST WOOD 1 (Grafton 10)

Att c130

Entry & Programme – By Donation

You may remember 18 months ago I watched Southwick FC at their home Old Barn Way. I found a friendly club struggling with the weight of a storied history and a home that had clearly seen better days. I saw them lose, wrote about them, and hoped for better things for them. Sadly disaster befell them.

In March 2020 the club’s owner, seemingly with little interest in the playing side of things, handed back the lease on the ground presumably as lockdown meant the his main source of income, the bar takings had gone. The landowner, Adur Council took one look at their property and shut the place down, citing health and safety concerns. You wonder why as a responsible landlord, they hadn’t bothered to inspect the place far earlier?

The club folded, but a new club Southwick 1882 was quickly formed, as a Community Interest Company, the same fan-owned model used by the likes of FC United of Manchester. But this is a phoenix club, so the Football Association in making Southwick start two divisions below their former selves’ level is the minimum demotion they could have imposed. The new club could have easily have been asked to start at the very bottom. That would have given them a mountain to climb- the Mid-Sussex League has 7 tiers, the Premiership and Championship rather quixotically are the top two divisions!

It meant at the very least 138 years of football for Southwick has continued, but so far the new club hasn’t been allowed to return to Old Barn Way which does seem odd. The council have ruled out building houses on the site, but have commented that the ground needs £500,000 of work to make good. The club have offered to carry out the work using tradesmens’ skills within the club at cost, so at face-value there’s an obvious win-win situation if the goodwill is there. Here’s what the ground looks like now.

So for now Southwick have set up at Southwick Recreational Park, no more than 100 yards from their real home. There’s the twin imperatives to consider, the playing side with veteran manager Sammy Donnelly installed, and the campaign to return home features another veteran from the campaign to return Brighton & Hove Albion to the city, and then to Falmer with John Baine better known as poet Attila the stockbroker as Press Officer. Let’s face it, if you want advice on how to save, then grow a football club you could do a lot worse than ask a Brighton fan!

But John’s and I’s presence indicated a silver lining to their existance. John has a season ticket at his club, and me at mine, Oxford United. In normal times I’d have been cheering my team on to a home defeat to Sunderland. But there’s a legion of Premier League and EFL fans who right know can’t go to watch their team, and in Brighton I’m sure Southwick can tap into that fanbase.

As befits an inaugural game there was no lack of presentations and the like, perhaps it was no bad thing that East Grinstead-based Ashurst Wood got caught in the same set of roadworks on the A23 that I did. We kicked off a little later than planned and I must admit I did find it all a little difficult to take in. I found myself thinking of the anti-Thames Valley Royals pitch protest in 1983 and with family connections in Hove I was at the “Fans United” day at the Goldstone Ground in 1997, who could forget the  ‘Welcome to Brighton except Bill Archer’ sign on the A23?

The visitors came into this game on the back of two defeats but for a time looked like well and truly raining on Southwick’s parade. Their goal was after sustained pressure, but once Southwick found their rhythm they were able to enforce their will on the game. In the end the right side won.

But half the interest was in seeing who was there. Yes, there was a few groundhoppers like me, and the bumper local support was gratifying to see. But if you knew where to look the local MP was there, as were two local Councillors. You hope they saw everything ought they ought to be encouraging, the sense of community, even the adherence of Covid regulations to the letter, and reported back to their colleagues. We see you, and we expect positive action.

Because the groundhopper will love a new club, on a new pitch doing a programme but there is a far bigger picture. A football club is so much more than 22 players and pitch, but right know Southwick FC has been reduced to little more than that. But with a little goodwill, and dare I say trust, the future for football in Southwick could be more rosy than it’s been for many years. Please bring the Wickers home.

Postscript 9th February 2021

The Shoreham Herald reports that Adur Council have granted a lease on Old Barn Way to the Russell Martin Foundation. The charity, backed by the former Norwich City player will turn the site into a community sports hub, but will allow Southwick to use the facility for home fixtures. The hope is that The Wickers can return home in September this year.