Sussex grass-roots clubs compete for cash

The Argus: Joe Pannell of Lancing United FC Joe Pannell of Lancing United FC

Five grass-roots football clubs in Sussex are in the running for up to £75,000 to rejuvenate their facilities and boost their standing in the community.

Neil Vowles reports on what the funding would mean for five clubs who have compelling stories to tell.

Lancing United FC's vice chair Joe Pannell doesn't pull any punches when it comes to describing the state of their ground at the Croshaw Recreation Ground.

He said: “I can describe our changing rooms in one simple phrase - it's a dump.

“Our showers are terrible. It's an old Portakabin which is starting to rot and it leaks. The pitch is okay.

“If the weather is bad even the richest club in the world will have a bit of a problem.

“But when players do turn up and it's muddy and they come off at the end of the game when only one shower is working, they are going to think 'what am I even doing with this club?'”

The club hopes the money from the Capital One competition could repair its dilapidated changing rooms which would help it  to retain its best players and attract new talent.

It also hopes that the money could help pay for a public toilet on the recreation ground for spectators and junior footballers as well as making improvements with hedging, fencing and tree planting.

At the moment the club spends up to £3,000 a year just to maintain the aging facilities but Mr Pannell describes this as “chucking good money after bad”.

And the club can't help but look enviously on at the facilities of local rivals Lancing FC who are based at the Sussex County FA headquarters in Culver Road in Lancing.

Mr Pannell said their rivals are the “Man United of the local area” with under floor heating in their changing rooms and floodlights.

He said: “If we had a quarter of what they have it would be amazing. If we were to get the money from Capital One it would be like winning the lottery.

“Even £5,000 would help us so much. The whole existence of the club relies on improvements.

“We have got a team in West Sussex Premier and a team in division three south and there is a criteria that we have to have a certain standard of facility.

“If our facilities aren't improved, there is a good chance we will be demoted from that league which could be the end of our club.”

The club are one of five in Sussex, alongside Rye United, Peacehaven and Telscombe FC, Shoreham FC and Seaford Town, who have been nominated for a Capital One competition offering up to £75,000 to renovate a local football club's pitch as well as top ten prizes of up to £5,000 to other local clubs.

Applicants for the Grounds for Improvement competition had to explain in up to 100 words why a ground should be considered and upload at least one photograph to illustrate why improvements are needed.

The money from the competition, which closes on January 24, can be used to pay for grass pitches drainage improvements, pavilions, clubhouses and changing facilities, stadium improvements including spectator areas, parking facilities or fixed floodlights.

A decision on the winners will be made by a panel of experts later in the year.

Jean Turner nominated Peacehaven and Telscombe FC as a surprise for a club that has rocked been rocked by the death of one of its most promising and popular players.

Connor Saunders, 19, died after being punched during an argument outside Tesco Express in West Street, Rottingdean, in April 2012.

The young centre-half had grown up through the ranks of Peacehaven and Telscombe FC under the watchful eye of his father and club manager Shaun Saunders.

The Connor Saunders Foundation set-up in his memory has raised thousands of pounds donating nine life-saving defibrillators to football clubs across Sussex and beyond, raised the profile of organ donation and one-punch campaigns and provided coaching for under-privileged children.

Ms Turner's partner John Snell had previously volunteered with the club and had been on the club's board for the last two years before moving to Dorset.

The club is currently flying at the top of the Ryman South in their first season in the competition following a decision to leave the County League after 44 years.

She said: “His father is doing really well, I think his work with the club and the charity have been keeping him going through all this.

“He has done so much for charity, he has won awards and I just thought wouldn't it be nice if they won.

“They need new floodlights as the current ones are quite old. They need a new minibus and a new tunnel.”

Ms Turner said the club had been rocked by the death of Connor and his memory continued to drive the team on.

She said: “I knew Connor and what a lovely boy he was, my son played with him.

“He had a chance to go to Brighton as a young boy but he didn't, he wanted to stay with his friends and his father.

“They call themselves Connor's Soldiers and say that Connor is their 12th man.

“As they go up the leagues, it gives them more publicity for charity, for Connor and for the football club.”

Shoreham FC proudly claim to be one of the oldest clubs in Sussex having formed in 1892 and became a founder member of the Sussex County league in 1920.

The club were also Brighton and Hove Albion's first ever opponents on September 9, 1901 - less than three months after the Seagulls were founded.

Albion were victorious that day 2-0 and had even more cause for celebration when they met the same opponents the following October in the FA Cup thumping them 14-2 at the Goldstone.

More than a century on the club are still having little joy in the cup, having lost 6-0 to Dulwich Hamlet in an FA Cup qualifier this season, and are looking for major investment to expand the club's standing in the community.

Stuart Slaney took over as chairman at the club in June after there was no one else left to step in for the outgoing chair.

He said: “I took over the club last year and it was in a state of disrepair.

“I am trying to build it back up into a facility that is needed to enhance the community, we want to build a community football club.

“Our changing room roof has been patched up so many times that it can't be patched up anymore.

“There are eight rooms in the changing rooms but we can only use two at the moment for changing facilities and we have buckets everywhere.

“We have a portakabin on the site for the children to use but I think that with one more gust of wind and that will go.

“We are keeping things together with plasters. It's not the environment we want to present for youth and children's football.”

Mr Slaney has ambitious plans to create a club anchored in the heart of the community.

The 45-year-old hopes with improved facilities the ground could be opened to be used socially over weekends as well as establishing a girls' football team up and improving their youth teams set-up.

The club have been quoted £10,000 for the roof repair and said they are looking into sponsored events to raise the money if the Capital One bid falls through.

He said: “If it wasn't for funding avenues like this one, clubs like ourselves and other sporting clubs would mostly fizzle out and be heard of no more.

“Funding and running clubs cost a small fortune, it's like running a small business.

“We are all volunteers, everybody puts in their own hours.

“At the moment we are dipping into our own pockets but there is only so long that you can keep doing that.

“If we could get the money we could have facilities that could be used for the next 20 to 30 years and we will be able to move the club forward.

“At the moment with a lot of clubs, someone joins at 7 and then plays up to 16 and then they can't go any further and their association with that club comes to an end.

“What we are trying to do is that when a youngster joins us at seven, he will be with this team until he retires from football at 35.”

Seaford Town's bid for funding is shrouded in mystery with the club's applicant wishing to remain anonymous.

All The Argus can reveal is that he is a current player with the team who hopes the money would give a boost to a club that in his own words “have seen better days”.

The club, who play at the Crouch off Bramber Lane in Seaford, currently lie 15th in the Sussex County Football League division two following a slow start to the season.

He said: “I saw the competition and just thought I would apply and see what happens, nobody from the club knows about it.

“There hasn't been a lot of money at the club. We have an alright ground, we do have floodlights and we have a stadium stand though we have only used it once or twice because we don't get many people coming to see our games.

“It's frustrating to see just one person in the crowd. It's a shame because there isn't that much for people in Seaford and not many sports teams.

“People used to come and watch who don't come anymore.

"Our pitch is basically not level at all. If I managed to get the money for the club it would be good to fix the pitch or do up the clubhouse which is quite dated.

“It can be frustrating when we go away and see some of the other grounds and then bring them back to our pitch.”

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