AFC Southwick FC call it a day - but why?

AFC Southwick have played their last ever game. John Baine explains the background...

Baine writes: "We were the management and players of the old Southwick FC, unbeaten at home for two seasons until our very last game, having won promotion last year. We were on course for a return to the Southern Combination League, the one the old club was in when the ground was closed due to the neglect of the leaseholder.

"We were the physical embodiment of the old Southwick FC, the people who kept it going against all the odds, solvent and with sponsors ready to back us. But we did not receive a firm guarantee from the new leaseholders Russell Martin Foundation that we would be the flagship club when the ground is finally ready, and for the reasons described below we’ve had to call it a day.

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AFC Southwick are having to call it a day

"Russell Martin Foundation’s remit is all-ages community football, which is brilliant. But any football fan knows that a club needs a flagship senior team operating at the highest possible level to provide a focal point, attract fans, bring in sponsors. We could have been that club.

"By the time the ground was ready for senior football, given the progress we were making we could have been in the Southern Combination Premier Division. Our players have proved themselves on the pitch and manager Sammy Donnelly is one of the most successful and well connected characters in Sussex football, with Tony Gratwicke, Nobby Dartnell and Tony Dineen a fine supporting cast..

"All we needed was the security of knowing that when the time came we would be welcomed back to Old Barn Way - a tiny version of that glorious day in 2011 when the Albion finally came home to Falmer.

"RMF were quite happy to have us as one of many teams playing at Old Barn Way, but they didn’t want us as the flagship club. They didn’t come in to save the old Southwick FC, they came in to renovate the ground and begin a brand new community based football project.

"We were intending to continue on that basis and stake our claim when the time came, confident that we would be by far the senior club in terms of league position. Then came the killer blow. The initial ground share agreement with Whitehawk FC, who have welcomed us with open arms and given us a memorable season on and off the pitch, was ended and replaced with a demand that we pay £6500 per season for pitch maintenance per season plus £150 per game.

"When that happened we went back to RMF one last time. We could have raised that money through sponsorship with a firm guarantee of a return to Old Barn Way as a prominent partner, but RMF stuck to their stated agenda and that was that.

"And so, heads held high, we call it a day. We have done all we can. This is amateur football, played for the sheer joy of it: by its very definition, it needs to be fun. Very reluctantly, this lovely, loyal bunch, management and players, will now say goodbye to their dream of representing Southwick back at Old Barn Way and will find a new home where they will have the security and stability to enjoy the game they love.

"After nearly six decades supporting and latterly campaigning to save the Albion this was my first taste of personal involvement in grass roots football and I have absolutely loved the experience and learned so much. Thank you, Sammy, Gratters, Nobby, Tony and the lads for giving me the opportunity and I wish you luck, and the respect you deserve and have not received recently, in your new projects.

"As a Wicker whose maternal roots here go back 200 years I’ll be pleased to see Old Barn Way redeveloped and community football encouraged, and despite what has happened I wish RMF all the best. Though we disagree with their decision, we are pleased that they will be renovating the ground and bringing high level community football to the area.

"I can't wait to see that derelict disgrace looking like a football ground again. The fault for this situation does not lie with them: they have no previous history in Southwick.

"Yours, AFC Southwick, saying goodbye."

* Southwick 1882 - the club formed when the old Southwick were forced out of Old Barn Way and out of the SCFL - remain in place and themselves hope to become the main football club using the ground once it is returned to use. They said: "The reformed club Southwick FC 1882 is still here and progressing well. We are in regular communication with the Russell Martin Foundation as we continue to prepare in readiness for the eventual return to Old Barn Way."

* The RMF chief executive Alan Sanders said: "The Russell Martin Foundation (RMF) is still in the process of finalising the lease with Adur District Council and until this is completed RMF is not in the position of being able to sign legal agreements with potential users of the site. That said, once it is finalised RMF will be actively seeking partners that wish to use the facility. In the meantime RMF did offer to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with AFC Southwick as it did with Southwick 1882, but this was declined."