'Bring home the Wickers' campaign launched - as council reveal ground needs £500k of work

A campaign is under way to get Southwick FC back to their ground at Old Barn Way - after the club revealed they's be starting the new season in a different league and at a new venue.

Southwick in action at Old Barn Way last season / Picture: Steve Robards
Southwick in action at Old Barn Way last season / Picture: Steve Robards

They will play at Buckingham Park, and it is believed they will be in the Championship division of the Mid Sussex League. It's because of a complicated saga over their lease for the Adur and Worthing Council-owned ground at Old Barn Way being lost.

Historical debts linked to the club have been blamed for them having formed a newly named club and moved out of the Southern Combination League, in which they were founder members 100 years ago.

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A statement issued by the new club on Friday afternoon asked for people's support to get them back to Old Barn Way - but it looks like it could be a long way back.

The club said there had been many years of decline at Old Barn Way, and the former owner of the football club surrendered the lease to Adur & Worthing District Council, who had since closed it due to health and safety issues.

The club's statement said: "The club has been reconstituted as a Community Interest Company by committed local people - with none of the former owners involved - the intention being to convert into a Community Amateur Sports Club in due course. Adult, under 18 and youth teams have been secured, with 32 club officials, managers and coaches in place in readiness for the new season."

The club said it had had hoped to continue playing at the ground once it was safe to do so. They said: "Subsequently Southwick FC made a formal offer to AWDC to obtain a temporary licence and make good the necessary repairs at their cost. The council have not responded to the offer." The club said it wanted the council to introduce a guarantee of the Old Barn Way lease that Southwick FC should be allowed to play there.

Their statement added: "We have no financial connection to the previous owners and are in no way responsible for the debts incurred by them - and regretfully must accept that the club cannot continue within the National League System for the forthcoming season.

"The football management and current first team playing squad are fully committed to the Club at this crucial point in its 138 year history and the new, reborn Southwick FC will start again - at Intermediate level, playing at Buckingham Park - to comply with the regulations.

"And we are hereby launching BRING HOME THE WICKERS! calling on AWDC to grant the club the right to return home to Old Barn Way the moment the ground improvements are completed, in order to rebuild our future and return to affiliated football ASAP.

"Southwick FC was once one of the leading clubs in Sussex. We have won the County League many times, played in the Isthmian League and reached the first round of the FA Cup. The last years have been really difficult, but that era is now over and will never come back. We will return to happier times as a democratically-run, member-owned community club with a vibrant and enthusiastic youth section, ensuring a great future.

"If you love grass roots football please support the campaign to SAVE OUR SOUTHWICK and BRING HOME THE WICKERS."

Adur and Worthing District Council stressed that it wanted football to be played at Old Barn Way. It said it was committed to working with interested parties to ensure one of the oldest football grounds in Sussex can thrive for years to come.

But the council said 'significant mismanagement issues and safety concerns' led it to end the agreement with the current leaseholder earlier this year.

Since then, the council said, Sussex County FA and the Southern Combination League have confirmed the ground is unsafe and a significant way from meeting the ground standards required.

The Council wants to bring the facility up to scratch and find a suitable tenant so football can return to Old Barn Way as soon as possible. It said the lease with the tenant was ended in March after investigations showed the clubhouse and associated buildings have fallen into disrepair, becoming structurally unsound and not fit for purpose.

Standard electrical checks have not been completed, no fire safety measures were in place and tenants had also significantly breached repair obligations with water damage, broken roofs and unsafe block walls left untreated, the council added. Further inspection has confirmed it will take approximately £500,000 to bring these buildings back into use

A spokesman for thecCouncil said: “We recognise the key role that Southwick FC plays in the local community and understand the uncertainty this has caused. But we must act in the best interests of everyone to make sure Old Barn Way is placed on a sustainable footing moving forward.

“We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge and will need support to make the site safe, legal and compliant, while meeting relevant league standards for football to return. This is why we are committed to working with all parties moving forward.

“Be assured, football will always have a home at Old Barn Way which is why we are committed to exploring all avenues to ensure that the beautiful game can return to this historic venue as soon as possible.”