Singing shanties for a new football stand at Littlehampton Football Club
There is a very personal connection between the group and the club – not only are three of the five-man singing group Littlehampton residents, two of them are currently leading a heritage project, funded by Historic England, researching the history of the club, that dates back until at least 1897.
Steve Darken is one of ‘The Golds’ most visible, and, it has to be said, most audible fans, who is often seen at matches banging a large bass drum, which provides the perfect accompaniment to the chants and songs of the loyal army of fans.
The 2022-23 season was one of the best in the club’s long history, when the Golds found themselves at Wembley, playing in the FA Vase final. Although the team lost that match, fans were not disheartened, as the success of the team up to that point had galvanised the town and created a powerful sense of community spirit and cohesion.
Chris Hare, another member of the Duck Pond Sailors, is a professional heritage consultant, and is well known in Sussex for his history-based projects and his many books on heritage topics. Working together – Chris with his history research background and Steve, with his great love and commitment to the Golds – they have formed a perfect team for celebrating Littlehampton football, past and present.
As Chris explained, the project is about the present as well as the past: “We wanted to celebrate the amazing success of Littlehampton Football Club today by combining that story with past triumphs and disappointments. The club has had its ups and downs, but whether it was having a good or a bad season, it has remained a strong expression of Littlehampton identity.”
Chris and Steve, together with Chris’ son, Sam, have interviewed, filmed and recorded Golds’ players past and present, including men who played for the team in the 1950s and ’60s, and those playing today. They even interviewed the rising generation of fans, still at primary school, but as committed to the club just as any veteran supporter.
Steve and Chris and currently editing all these interviews that will ultimately appear in a documentary style video on YouTube. Steve is creating a story of the great 2022/ 23 season, interlaced with ‘flashbacks’ of former players talking about past seasons. They video will also include material from historic archives that takes the story back to the earliest days of the club, now beyond living memory.
Here are a few historic nuggets that they have discovered –
• 1886, the first meeting in the town to discuss forming a football club.
• 1896, the year general ascribed to the founding of the club, although teams were playing in the town before that date.
• A town club merges with a rival team known as The Swifts.
• 1904 Littlehampton are beaten 7–0 at home by Tottenham Hotspur FC.
• 1911, the team adopt a blue kit and are nicknamed The Bluebells.
• May 1914, a riot breaks out on the pitch when unruly fans invade the pitch and ‘mob a linesman’. Court proceedings follow.
• August 1914, it is decided to keep a ‘roll of honour’ of all players ‘fighting at the front’ in the First World War. As casualties mount this list is not updated and no more matches are played until 1919. We can only wonder how many players and supporters died fighting in the intervening years.
• 1930, attendance at games was averaging 500, while crowds for cricket had dwindled to 50 – The Sportsfield had been created with cricket in mind, but now that sport had become very much the minority interest in Littlehampton.
• 1940, some people were viewing games for free by peering through or above the fence, then entering the ground after half time when admittance was free – probably a sign of real hardship in the town following the Great Depression.
• 1953, the club adopted the gold and black kit they still wear today, leading to the nickname, The Marigolds, – later shortened to The Golds.
• 1958, £3,000 was raised for a new stand.
• 1962, due to falling attendances, plans for the new stand were dropped. As more people started watching league games on TV, attendances at local matches declined across the country.
• 1990/ 91, The Golds had their best season ever – only to be matched by their success in 2022/ 23.
Unlike 1962, support for the local team is on a roll and a new stand is urgently needed to accommodate fans. Much of the cost of building the stand will come from national funds, but the club has to raise 30 per cent, which equates to £30,000. The Duck Pond Sailors really hope that people from Littlehampton and beyond will buy tickets for the White Hart gig and help boost the stand fund in doing so.
The Duck Pond Sailors first came together in 2016, following a Secret Shore shanty singing project at Littlehampton Town Hall that was run by the Friends of the South Downs and part-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. For more information about the Duck Pond Sailors, go to www.duckpondsailors.co.uk
The current line-up of Dave Burrows, Steve Darken, Chris Hare, Graham Holden and Jonny Mott was established in 2017. The group have sung in pubs, at festivals and in friends’ back gardens. They sing for pleasure and friendships and only ever accept beer and food by way of payment.
As well as sea shanties, they sing Sussex folk songs, and even music hall songs – and are happy to consider any song with a good melody and a rousing chorus. They also sing songs of their own composition, which include, among various themes for celebration, local history, the river Arun, and even a local taxi driver! The group have produced two CDs, and many of their songs can be heard on Spotify.
Tickets for the White Hart on December 1, are priced £15, including a bar meal. They are available in person from the White Hart, 32 Surrey Street, Littlehampton. For ticket availability, call the pub on 01903 713324.