AFC Uckfield were relegated to the second division of the County League because nine seats in one of their stands hadn’t been bolted down, said the club’s secretary and treasurer.
The Oaks outfit did finish in the division 1 relegation places last season but lodged an appeal when the only team to finish below them – Worthing United – won a reprieve to stay in the county’s top flight.
But AFC’s appeal at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday ended in failure when FA chiefs backed the SCFL’s decision to demote them.
Mark O’Hara told the Sussex Express that during an inspection in February 2012 it was noted that the stand, which had 91 seats bolted down, needed nine more. An extra 10 were added but were not bolted down.
Mr O’Hara said that nobody came back to check at the end of that season but an inspection in April of this year led to the club’s subsequent problem.
“It related to a number of seats in one of the stands”, he said.
“We were nine seats short. We didn’t bolt the seats down. I can’t tell you why it happened.”
Those 10 extra seats were locked together in two blocks of four and one block of two – so only six bolts would have been needed to secure them down.
Mr O’Hara said he understood that people will think it reasonable for a team finishing in a relegation position to go down.
However, he added: “But of course Worthing United weren’t relegated. So we weren’t being relegated on form but being relegated on ground grading issues.
“We felt the appeal was valid. We felt it wasn’t correct to relegate us so the FA settled it and ruled in favour of the league, who had felt it was reasonable to relegate us.”
But Mr O’Hara added: “The FA were very fair. The people there couldn’t have been more helpful or constructive.
“It was a shame that we couldn’t reach an agreement with the league without going to the appeal.
“But we’re not criticising anyone at the league.
“It was all fairly amicable. At the end of the day we can’t really be too upset.”
Another issue that probably didn’t help the club was that their appeal wasn’t lodged until last month.
This, said Mr O’Hara, was because the club didn’t receive an email sent earlier in the summer from the league – because the email address the league had had for their then club contact was slightly incorrect.
“In theory the appeal should have been lodged back in May but wasn’t because of communication issues between the league and the club.”
He accepted that an appeal lodged at the correct time may well have been beneficial to their whole appeal process, but added that it was not clear whether this would have made the difference between success and failure. He said the appeal issue was secondary to the seating issue.
During the February 2012 inspection, it was noted that a second piece of ground improvement needed to be carried out – the laying of a path. This was carried out correctly at the time.
But Mr O’Hara, who only recently took up his dual role as secretary and treasurer at the club, accepted that someone at the club should have thought to check with the FA or league that they had carried out the ground changes adequately, although he pointed out that clubs like AFC Uckfield are run by volunteers.
“People are giving their their time for free and doing the best they can,” he said. “But what is clear is nobody at the club then followed it up.
“(Nobody) asked the league to come back and confirm that we had complied (with the grading regulations) or not. Somebody should have done.
“The reason we laid the path was because we had to do it (in order to meet the ground grading regulations). It was the same for the seats.
“It sems relatively minor but at the end of the day there are regulations and you have to abide by them.
“We’re looking forward with optimism. There’s certainly no hard feelings or ill will from us towards the league or FA.”
Meanwhile, the pride of Uckfield will be at stake when the town’s two clubs face off at The Oaks tomorrow (Saturday) for the Uckfield Community Cup.
AFC Uckfield and Uckfield Town will contest the newly-formed cup, the first of many more yearly contests between the sides.
There is no doubt both sides will be looking to get one over their near neighbours, with AFC hoping to end a difficult week on a winning note.
However, Division Three Town will hope that they can build on their semi-final appearance in the Division Three Cup last term ahead of the coming season.