Special report: Sussex football clubs struggling after storms leave fixtures cancelled

Special report: Sussex football clubs struggling after storms leave fixtures cancelled

Special report: Sussex football clubs struggling after storms leave fixtures cancelled

First published in News

The county’s football clubs are being “murdered” by continued wet weather – leaving some struggling to survive.

That is the stark warning from the chairman of Sussex County Football League, Steve Neilgrove.

Hundreds of games have been rescheduled, thousands of pounds lost and pitches left in a state of utter devastation.

Mr Neilgrove said: “In the top three leagues alone we have had to call off 360 games.

“At this point in the season we should have played 75% of the fixtures – but we’ve played just 53%.

“In terms of the financial impact on clubs, it’s murdering them.

“These are small clubs with small gates and they rely on people coming into the ground at the weekend. At the moment that just isn’t happening.”

One of the worst hit clubs is Arundel Football Club.

Their picturesque ground, located just metres from the River Arun, has been underwater for much of the past two months.

Without a home fixture since the beginning of December, they estimate their losses to be £10,000 plus.

Chairman Bob Marchant said: “Inmy time at the club it is as bad as it has been.

“We’ve got some members who have been involved for decades and they too say it is the worst they’ve seen it.

“We are used to bad weather here but it never usually last as long as it has. It’s been relentless.”

Week after week, club officials have had to call off fixtures with a family of ducks more likely to be seen in the penalty area than any striker.

But even with the recent break in the weather and the water levels slowly falling, the troubles continue.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Marchant said: “For the first time this morning I can see about a quarter of the pitch.

“It’s in a sorry state – I can’t realistically see us playing on it before the end of the season.

“The drains have overflowed and the grass is a strange yellowy brown colour.

“We’ve had trees down, fences blown over and the floodlights are damaged but we can’t realistically asses the full problems until the water has cleared.”

The teacher, who has been spending all his time at the ground while on halfterm, added: “We’ve had no trade for two months which has been devastating.

“At the same time the rents, rates, insurance and dare I say it water bills keep landing on the mat.

“I reckon we have lost around £10,000 – that’s massive for a club like us.

“It’s not just the football. We have a petanque club here with 30 or so members and that has had to finish. There’s also the Willows Folk Club and they have had to cancel.

Mr Marchant said they can generate income holding events in the bar but if they incur more costs clearing drains “it’s not worth it.”

But despite the dismal outlook, Mr Marchant has not lost his sense of humour.

He said: “It’s just a shame we haven’t had a real cold spell. If so, it would all have frozen over and we would have a decent ice rink.”

It is that fighting talk which has led Mr Marchant, with help from his daughter Charlotte, to launch a social media campaign for help.

He added: “Local businesses and residents have been fantastic. We have had donations and plenty of offers of help.

“Because we don’t really know the extent of the damage yet it is difficult to say what we need.

“However, I would urge people to come down to the club when they can even if it is just for a drink in the bar to help out.”

Up in the Ryman Premier League, Lewes Football Club have also been struggling through the recent storms.

The Rooks first team have not played since January 25 with only two home games since the start of December.

Club secretary, Kevin Brook, has the unenviable task of rescheduling all the postponed matches.

He said: “It’s the bane of mylife at the moment. I spend more time on the phone trying to rearrangematches than I do watching them.

“We’ve just had to cancel the under 18s fixture against Worthing.

“Frustration is the word. Every time a Saturday fixture is called off we have to rearrange for mid-week later on in the season.

“However, we have to play them all by a certain date so it’s getting to a point where we will be playing Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and then over again.”

He added: “Yes, the matches get rescheduled but we lose money by moving from a Saturday to a Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Not as many people can make the game and the gate can fall by hundreds.

That’s a huge amount for a club like ours.

“It’s not just money from tickets though, there’s also the money on food, drinks, merchandise and the programme.

“We have a team working on the programme each week not really knowing if there will be a match. There has been an occasion where it has been printed then the match cancelled at the last minute.”

The Rooks, who currently lie 13th in the league, pride themselves on being a family club.

As well as having a unique membership structure which ensures the fans own the club, they run ticket offers for children on a Saturday.

Mr Brook added: “The other problem with playing mid-week is many of our younger supporters can’t make it.

“The games finish later and they have school the next day so it is a disappointment for them.

“We pride ourselves on being a community club and the youth is very important. They are the future of Lewes FC.”

Board members have spent the past few weeks trying to come up with innovative ways to overcome the weather.

They have considered pumps, new drainage and even pitch covers. But the reality of the situation always comes back to one thing: money.

Mr Brook said: “Things like this cost a lot of money and we can’t afford to gamble on them not really knowing what they will achieve.

“With things like covers, you always have to consider the water must go somewhere.

“We can’t really put a figure on it yet but we will have lost a considerable amount due to the weather.

“What we would urge people to do is join and become a member and owner of Lewes Football Club. For just £30 a year they can join 900 others in owning and having a say in what happens at the club.

“Not many people can say they partown a football club.”

The club, which is known for its creative matchday posters, has also used the recent deluge as inspiration.

For their January 18 game against Lewes Borough they used a scene from blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow to promote the fixture.

Next to an image of flood water lapping around the top of the Statue of Liberty, was the slogan “The match after it finally stopped raining”.

Further up the leagues the struggles endured by the likes of Arundel and Lewes have been mirrored by clubs such as League One Crawley.

The Reds have had six postponements in as many weeks leaving them with a huge backlog of games going into the business end of the season.

They have not played a league game since December 29 and now have a massive seven games in hand on some of their rivals after today.

Last Saturday, their last-minute postponement off of the game against Carlisle United left many frustrated and angry.

Although the club was unavailable to talk yesterday, a spokesman confirmed Carlisle fans would be given a full refund and free entry to the rescheduled fixtures.

After another last-minute postponement against Tranmere on Tuesday, club chief executive took the unusual step of addressing fans in an open letter.

He said: “It has been a trying few weeks for everyone connected with our club.

“As you are aware, we have only played one home game since December 29 because of a combination of the condition of our pitch and the exceptionally wet weather.

“We all know that historically our pitch is a problem, not helped by the wettest winter since records began, and we accept that we must improve the main areas of concern on the pitch during the summer to give our players a surface that reflects our status as a League One club.”

He went on to report the club, following consultation with pitch experts, were starting a two-day intensive programme this week to improve the playing surface.

Fans were also notified that season ticket holders will be allowed an additional free ticket for the rescheduled matches against Tranmere on April 15 and Carlisle on April 29.

Mr Dunford added: “As always, I am more than happy to meet any of our supporters to discuss any aspect of the club we all feel passionately about.

Please email suebenn@crawley townfc.com to book an appointment.


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