The latest in our romp around the countries counties looking for the best non league football grounds takes us to Sussex on the South Coast.
Ian Townsend from the ‘Townsend Around‘ blog is our guide to some incredibly picturesque grounds. We’ve previously had submissions from our correspondents in Kent, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Essex and last time Teesside as we look to compile a list of some of the best venues to visit in the country.
Ian writes: As a Sussex based (for 18 years) lover of Non League football, and since last year Communications Officer for the Bostik Football League, I’ve been to almost every Sussex ground in Steps 3-6.
Now I could just list you some marvellous Bostik League grounds but that would be cheating somewhat, as well as a shameless bit of self promotion, so with one exception I’m going to go for grounds from the Southern Combination Football League.
I’m sure you can guess the one exception.
1 The Beacon – Hassocks FC
My Sussex hometown club (my original hometown club is the mighty Bishop Auckland, ten time winners of the FA Amateur Cup and the greatest Non League team of all time – take that, Blyth Spartans!). It’s easy to think that I’m just choosing a club ten minutes walk from my front door, but actually it’s a fabulous place to watch football.
The enormous bulk of the South Downs rises up behind the ground, Jack and Jill windmills on the top, and in the summer if you can find a nice day you can sit on the grass bank behind the right hand goal, beer in hand, and watch the game whilst taking in the surroundings and getting a tan. In the autumn stand behind the left hand goal as the sun goes down and take in the sunset behind Wolstonbury Hill- it has even been known to distract away goalkeepers.
Beyond all of that, the people are lovely, the food magnificent, and the pitch generally a carpet. And the club don’t even pay expenses, so if you play for Hassocks, you play for love.
2 Mill Road – Arundel (pictured above)
Arundel gets many visitors, and I’d say that 95% of them don’t even know that the football club exists- yet it’s a short shot from a siege cannon from the castle (I don’t recommend using a siege cannon, by the way. Even Donald Trump wouldn’t approve that- although he would undoubtedly look at the large wall around the castle and think it a good idea).
If you park in the car park right opposite the castle you’ll find that the football club entrance is in front of you- although you could still miss it. Additionally if you turn up during the rainy season you may need a boat, as the club is built on part of the flood plain, and when the river Arun looks to burst its banks water has, in the past, been deliberately diverted onto the pitch. The club lost three months of home revenue due to that a few seasons ago,
The views of the castle are fabulous, however, and the natives are friendly. The clubhouse is nice, too.
3 The Sports Park – Peacehaven & Telscombe
Renowned for its “Pub, Garage and Wimpy” according to the home supporters, Peacehaven is home to the Sports Park – another scenic ground with views of ‘tham thar hills.’ But that’s not what makes it special.
Over the last few years the Magpies have had their ups and downs in large numbers, but since becoming a community owned club a couple of years ago have gone from strength to strength off the pitch, and stabilised on it.
The fans are a friendly, noisy bunch, who sing loudly (if occasionally tunelessly) and are welcoming to all-comers. The clubhouse is fabulous, the catering very good indeed, and although it’s a nightmare to reach by public transport (bus from Brighton or Newhaven) there’s plenty of local street parking if you can’t get into the car park.
4 The Dripping Pan – Lewes
The Dripping Pan is perhaps my favourite place in the world to watch football. I’m not a supporter, but I’ve been an owner for four years as I love what this Community owned club do with my money. Since announcing pay parity between the men and women’s teams last season I love them even more.
Now the ground is wonderful- great views, picturesque, a fabulous bar and some of the best food you’ll ever eat in a football ground (did I mention the executive beach huts?), but it’s what happens off the pitch that makes the place special. There is an ethos about Lewes, an inclusiveness that ensures that everyone feels welcome- all of the club officials are owners and volunteers, and all of them will positively welcome the chance to talk about the game, about the club.
The town is beautiful too, and there are many (many) fantastic pubs in the vicinity. The ground is a three minute walk from the station, too.
But don’t just take my word for it. The Pan wins accolade after accolade from organisations that should know far better than me (they don’t, but they should!).
5 The Saffrons – Eastbourne Town
The oldest club in Sussex, and one I’d love to see in the Bostik League- but again, not because of their ground, but because their supporters bring enormous noise and colour- as well as being a dedicated and good natured bunch. The last time I watched them was an away match during which their saxophonist (yes, really) kept playing the riff from Careless Whisper, which was quite novel and led me to write an article entitled ‘Bringing George Michael to Wick.’ Wick isn’t bad either, by the way!
The Saffrons is a lovely ground though- picturesque and with plenty of standing space, good views and a great atmosphere when those supporters get going. Just outside it is a sports pavilion with a nice bar and hot food- although everything comes with chips, even the chips- and if the football is terrible you can pop out and have a game of croquet. Mind you, it would have to be really terrible to make you want to.
Town have a bit of a rivalry with Eastbourne Borough, despite Borough being three divisions higher, and rather less of a rivalry with Eastbourne United who are actually in their league. Their fans- who go by the rather witty (well, the first time you hear it) moniker of Pier Pressure, will perhaps occasionally be seen at a Bostik League game in the forthcoming season as they have an affinity with the supporters at Whitehawk and are known to visit the Enclosed Ground when their own side don’t have a match.
For more information on non league away days, from clubs you should visit to costs involved visit our Away Days section here. And if you would like to submit five grounds from your area then please email [email protected]
All photos in this article copyright and provided by Ian Townsend.
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