FA Cup preliminary round Saturday 25th August 2012
Eastbourne Town 2 Chessington and Hook United 0
And so after the glow of the Olympics it’s back to the dirty
world of football. A hot date with the FA Cup preliminary round and a train
trip to the grandiose seaside resort of Eastbourne
might be the
retirement dream of many but it’s also a non league hot spot, home to not one
but three non league sides.
We are off to see the oldest one in Sussex who are waking from a very deep sleep.
A short walk from the station and we are greeted with an historic
turnstile block. 1914 shows this isn’t some young Langney Sport upstart but the
home of Eastbourne
The ground is known as The Saffrons named after the variety
of crocus which had originally been cultivated on the site for medicine.
Now it’s a Mecca
to the round ball. Cricket, bowls and crocket fields surround the football ground
while church bells sound every 15 minutes just to remind you not to swear in
the presence of God when you miss kick a ball.
In the immediate post war years the club averaged attendances
of 3,000 a far cry from today’s 120. Over the following decade’s fires,
hurricanes and falling crowds saw the club plummet as low as the Sussex County
League Division Two and talk of a merger with Eastbournes third club EastbourneUnited
(who eventually merged with Eastbournes fourth non league club
Shinewater Association). But with ground improvements including memorial park
benches behind one goal and promotion to the Ryman League the club are on the
up and would love to challenge Eastbourne Borough.
Their opponents are from a league below and play in the
Combined Counties Premier Division. If you want to go all Seb Coe Olympic legacy, then look no further than clubs like Chessington and Hook United who
have been doing Big Society since 1921. Their ground has been developed almost entirely by volunteers and the club prides itself on the fact that is is run on a totally voluntary basis. All the committee members, trainers, managers, ground staff and adult helpers give their time for free. In an age of unsustainable wages for even lower league players, donning the Chessington jersey will earn you precisely zilch. Infact it will cost you, as all players, from youth to seniors have to pay a membership to play. They have a strong youth set up with 19 teams involving up to 250 youngsters and also host women's football, archery and netball.
Eastbourne Town themselves have an impressive 25 teams under their belt and there are a few youngsters walking round with the regulation tracksuits.
As the counties theme tune ‘Sussex by the Sea’ belts out, so
does the rain that has the cricketers running for the clubhouse while the bowls
brigade just don their waterproofs. Even the floodlights put in a day time
After a pre match pint we head for some chips and before they've been drowned in ketch-up Eastbourne are 1-0 up. A cross into Danny Curd who scores after just two minutes. But
for the next eighty three minutes despite flowing attacking football and endless
crosses into the box Town can’t put the ball in the back of the net thanks to a
combination of resolute defending especially from Hooks no.6 and poor
finishing. Chessington have a few chances to level but have seriously left
their shooting boots at home.
Eventually Eastbournes Matt Geard sealed the tie in the 86 minute from an improbable angle and its £1,750 prize money in the bank.
And next up a trip to the more down at heel kiss-me-quick seaside
town of Littlehampton
in the first qualifying round.