Welcome to Volume One of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and their maintenance.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible.

I was fortunate that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately heightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done, I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a try today. They'll be delighted to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad, Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby as he grows into a young man!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on YouTube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see Volume Two of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard

London

November 2018


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Guiseley


Guiseley AFC is a semi-professional non-league football club that was formed in 1909 based at  Nethermoor Park in the small town in West Yorkshire of Guiseley; which is located in the metropolitan borough of the City of Leeds.

The club kicked off life competing in the Wharfedale League, becoming league champions in 1912-13 before switching to the Leeds League and then the West Riding County Amateur League. Guiseley won the league title in 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35 and 1938-39.

The competition split into two divisions in 1953, with ‘The Lions’ winning Section A in 1955-56 before reverting to the Leeds League in 1960 becoming champions in 1960-61 and 1964-65. The club joined the Yorkshire League in 1968, where they were placed in Division Two.

After the league was enlarged Guiseley dropped down to Division Three in 1970 but regained their Division Two place with promotion twelve months later. A further promotion followed in 1973-74 but the jump proved too severe as they went back down after just one season.


However, the team regrouped and won promotion back to Division One at the first attempt where they ended up as runners-up in 1979-80 and 1980-81 before the league merged with the Midland League to form the Northern Counties East League. Guiseley were placed in the Premier Division.

Aside from the 1986-87 season Guiseley never finished outside the top seven places for the rest of the decade. In 1989-90 Frank Worthington signed for the club as they reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase; going out on aggregate to Bridlington Town.

In 1990-91 the Lions went one step further defeating Warrington Town, Farsley Celtic, King’s Lynn, Hinckley Athletic, Buckingham Town and Trowbridge Town to reach the final at Wembley Stadium under manager Gordon Rayner.

The match against Gresley Rovers ended in a thrilling 4-4 draw before Guiseley lifted the trophy in a 3-1 replay win at Bramall Lane. The season was rounded off as the team became Northern Counties East League Champions and were promoted to Division One of the Northern Premier League.

Guiseley came desperately close to retaining the Vase in 1991-92, reaching the final once again before losing 5-3 to Wimborne Town at Wembley. A run in the FA Cup saw the side reach the first round before going down 1-0 away to Chester City.


Ray McHale had become manager as Guiseley won the Division One title in 1993-94 as well as reaching the semi-final of the FA Trophy where they went out to Runcorn. The following season saw another FA Cup round one appearance, ending in a 4-1 defeat to Carlisle United in a game moved to Valley Parade in Bradford.

Bobby Davison arrived as Player Manager to replace McHale during 1997-98 with youngsters being given a chance to impress. After a third place finish Guiseley went down from the Premier Division in 1999-00 as Davison was replaced by Neil Parsley.

Luton Town won at Nethermoor Park in the FA Cup first round in 2002-03 before the Lions were restored to the Premier Division following a restructuring of non-league football in the summer of 2004. Experienced Football League boss Terry Dolan was appointed as manager in November 2006.

Steve Kittrick replaced Dolan in November 2007 with his side reaching the play-off final in 2008-09 but losing out to Nantwich Town in their semi-final encounter, before bouncing back to lift the Northern Premier League title in 2009-10 and winning promotion to Conference North.

The following season saw Guiseley bow out in the first round of the FA Cup to Crawley Town as well as making the league play-offs. Boston United were defeated but AFC Telford United came out on top in the final. Stars of the Guseley show were forwards James Walshaw and Darryn Stamp.


In 2011-12 Nuneaton Town beat Guiseley in the play-off semi-final. In 2012-13 FC Halifax Town did the damage at the same stage after an earlier first round appearance in the FA Cup, which ended in a replay defeat to Barrow.

The consistency in the league continued in 2013-14 under new manager Mark Bower who replaced Kittrick. On this occasion North Ferriby United were overcome in the semi-final before Altrincham won the final 2-1 at Moss Lane with Danny Forrst netting for the Lions.

The play-off curse was finally put to bed in 2014-15 when AFC Fylde were defeated before Guiseley beat Chorley at Victory Park in dramatic style, after coming back from a two goal deficit as Adam Boyes, Liam Dickinson and Nicky Boshell scored to send the club into the National League.

Guiseley narrowly escaped relegation in their first season at the summit of non-league football before Adam Lockwood replaced Bower after a poor start to the 2016-17 season. The team once again just stayed up before Paul Cox was appointed as the new manager in September 2017.

Accrington Stanley were defeated in the FA Cup as Guiseley reached the second round for the first time before succumbing away to Mansfield Town. Cox lasted until February 2018 before being replaced by Sean St Ledger who couldn’t prevent his team from being relegated.


Back in National League North the club turned to the duo of Marcus Bignott and Russ O'Neill to lead the team. Cambridge United were defeated in the FA Cup before Fleetwood Town left Nethermoor Park with a win in round two before Guiseley narrowly survived relegation.

Guiseley AFC will play in the National League North in the 2019-20 season.


My visits

Guiseley 2 Scarborough 2 (Saturday 6th August 1994) Yorkshire Electricity Cup (att: 375)

It was a steaming hot day as a group of us set off by train for a game in the short lived pre-season tournament, equipped in our new Boro shirts, which drew attention at Leeds station as they were red with white and black trim.

After a quick pint we continued onto Guiseley where The Station pub sold an absolute cock on pint of Tetley’s. It was touching the taste buds of Crusher and I so  we stayed for a couple more along with Carl Ellis before walking up Otley Road to Nethermoor Park.

The neat set up at the ground saw more fine ale in the clubhouse. We also had access to  watch the cricket over the fence. That would prove to be a decent option. Boro were in transition after chairman John Russell had sacked popular manager Steve Wicks.


His replacement was a  former playing legend at the club; big centre back Billy Ayre who was used to dealing with nutty owners as his previous appointment was under Owen Oysten at Blackpool. Talk about “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

I offered Billy a “welcome home” and a handshake as he emerged from the tunnel. He responded with a “thanks, son”. Guiseley’s boss was another former Seadog favourite in Ray McHale, whose programme message in the £1 edition caused a giggle for the visiting fans.

It included a cutting line about a former Scarborough chairman an apology saying that it was meant for Tuesday’s programme. Guiseley would be facing Bradford City, whose chairman was Geoffrey Richmond who’d not been particularly helpful to Razor during his tenure at the McCain Stadium.

Most fans settled for a vantage spot on the far side in the shelter of the seated stand. There was also a bit of cover down the clubhouse side. The whole ground was neat and tidy in most pleasant surroundings.

Further giggling came from the locals as their side gave Boro a bit of a chasing at times. It was a most unconvincing performance for a Football League side against Northern Premier League opposition. We were asked if it was our reserve team? Alas it was not.

Boro escaped with a draw thanks to goals from Stuart Young and Darren Foreman who was continuing his rehabilitation from a broken leg. Sadly, he never really recovered his potency from before the injury; at least in a Scarborough shirt.


Lubrication was taken at regular intervals. It played its part in an interesting post match conversation with a ratty John Russell who was complaining about fans having a go at him about his sacking of Wicks.

The later convicted fraudster told us that Wicks would bankrupt the club with his spending and demands, so he was looking after its best interests. He also told us of new players who were on their way and a couple of Czech’s he was looking to sign.

Looking back it was comedy gold; especially the bit about signing Czech’s. The joke was that they’d probably bounce. Inevitably enough, they never arrived but it made him feel better telling us. We left in a state of bewilderment, but it was a hot day and we were thirsty.

Leeds station was busy on our return and had some real sights on their way back from the Saturday’s Test play at Headingley, where England failed to take control against South Africa.

Wednesday 17th September 2008

I’d enjoyed an extensive tour of several football venues in West Yorkshire the day after watching Scarborough Athletic play at Glasshoughton Welfare. I’d stayed overnight in Leeds before visiting Bradford, Halifax, Thackley, Shipley and Saltaire.

The World Heritage Site at Salts was interesting and good exercise before a train at Shipley took me to Guiseley for my final football call of the day. Although the ground was locked, the low perimeter fence allowed me to take photos.


It hadn’t really changed since my previous visit; take for perhaps an additional bit of cover down the clubhouse side? The seated stand had been ravaged my fire but was in the process of repair.

Once done I continued a few minutes further up Otley Road to the original Harry Ramsden’s. It was closed and now a franchise operation; unlike when it first opened and had a reputation for being the best chippy in the area.

A bus took me back to Leeds in time for a final pint and to grab something to eat before I caught the train back to London.











Thursday, August 22, 2019

Hastings United


Hastings United FC is a semi-professional non-league football club from the Sussex seaside town of the same name that was formed in 1893 as Rock-a-Nore FC, joining the East Sussex Football League in 1904 and playing home games at East Hill in Hastings Old Town.


Around the same time another local club; St Leonards United were playing in Division Two of the Southern League, playing at the new 'Sports Ground’ where Rock-a-Nore shared for a season before returning to East Hill.

Hastings & St Leonards FC had been formed back in 1890 as Hastings Athletic joined forces with United in 1906 before folding in 1910 because of mounting debts while competing in the professional Southern League.


Meanwhile, Rock-a-Nore won the East Sussex League in the 1907-08 before dropping back down to local football. The club became founder members of the Sussex County League and moved to the Pilot Field for the 1920-21 season.

Rock-a-Nore took advantage of the folding of the old club to change their name to Hastings & St Leonards FC in 1921. Ironically, another local team Old Town United changed their name to Rock-a-Nore once that mantle became vacant.


After a couple of runners-up berths Hastings moved to the Southern Amateur League in 1927; winning Division Two and promotion in their debut season before becoming league champions in 1934-35, 1935-36, 1936-37 and 1938-39.

Once peace was restored after World War Two, the club was named Hastings Amateurs and lost their Pilot Field to a new professional club called Hastings United. The club had joined the Corinthian League but were forced to resign.


They regathered and played in the Hastings League before re-joining the East Sussex League for the 1950-51 season as Hastings & St Leonards. The club moved into a ground up the hill from the Pilot Field called The Firs; which would later become home to STAMCO in the 1980’s.

There seems to be some confusion regarding club histories around this period. For the record, the Hastings United side of the day played in the Southern League. They progressed to the FA Cup third round in 1953-54; eventually going out in a replay away to Norwich City after spanking Swindon Town at Pilot Field in the previous round.


United had further glamour FA Cup ties; reaching round three in 1954-55 going out at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday and then in the second round the following season away to Northampton Town with Jack Tresadern managing the team.

In 1956-57 a round one appearance ended at Portman Road to Ipswich Town; with other first round appearances in 1959-60 versus Notts County and in 1960-61 when Northampton ended the run once again, before the team were relegated to Division Two at the end of the 1960-61 campaign before winning promotion in 1962-63 under Ted Ballard.


They went back down to Division One; as the second tier had been re-named in 1964-65; and then winning back a Premier Division place in 1966-67. The yo-yo nature of performances continued with a relegation just twelve months later.

By 1976-77 United won promotion to the Premier Division before the Southern League opted for North and South Divisions rather than one top league in 1979-80. In 1981-82 United finished as runners-up in the Southern Division.


The club was placed in the Premier Division once it was re-established in 1982-83 before they folded as continuing financial troubles became too much, even after the sale of the squash complex at the ground.

While all this was going on, Hastings & St Leonards continued plying their trade in the Sussex County League at The Firs looking down on the shenanigans down the hill, with a Division Two runner-up place in 1959-60 the only stand out performance.


In 1976 Hastings & St Leonards changed their title to Hastings Town before becoming champions of Division Two of 1979-80. Town tried to gain a place in the Premier Division in the Southern League following the closure of the ‘old’ United in 1985.

The league placed them in the Southern Division as the club negotiated a lease for the Pilot Field for the 1985-86 campaign. Former United boss Peter Sillett was made manager and bought several players with him from the defunct club; going on to win the division in 1991-92.


Local lottery winner Mark Gardiner, who had been involved with St Leonards Stamcroft; the later title of STAMCO, invested in Town, which helped manager Garry Wilson with his playing budget after the departure of Sillett.

Wilson was sacked after a disappointing start with Dean White and Terry White arriving as joint managers. Gardiner pulled out his money as the club was threatened with closure. They resigned from the Southern League but were readmitted after a local consortium saved them.


Things settled down on and off the pitch. After two fifth place finishes, Hastings won promotion from the Eastern Division with a title win in 2001-02. The club changed their name to Hastings United in time for the 2002-03 season, to add to previous confusions.

The rejuvenated title seemed to work initially as the team reached the first round of the FA Cup where they went out away to Stevenage Borough. However, a dip in form saw United relegated back to the Eastern Division at the end of the season.


A new chairman arrived and installed Steve Lovell. He led his side away from a narrow escape from relegation to the Sussex County League. Neville Southall took over as manager for a short spell as the inconsistency continued with United being moved by the FA to the Isthmian League Division One.

Southall was replaced by Nigel Kane and Pat Brown who oversaw a dramatic turnaround from relegation struggle to a play-off place in 2006-07. Away wins to Dover Athletic and then Tooting & Mitcham United secured promotion to the Premier Division.


Kane had taken over the team affairs but departed soon into the 2007-08 season to be replaced by Tony Dolby who lasted until the end of the season when reserve team boss John Lambert stepped up to the plate.

Remarkably Dolby returned to replace Lambert by February 2009 to take the team to seventh place in 2009-10. The manager was dismissed with Jason Hopkinson coming in shortly into the 2010-11 campaign. His spell was short lived; with player-manager Sean Ray taking over the role.


In 2011-12 Ray’s side defeated Bishop’s Stortford and the Harrogate Town in front of live Sky TV cameras in a replay at the Pilot Field to reach the third round of the FA Cup. ‘The Arrows’ were defeated 4-1 against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.

The team struggled in the league and were relegated at the end of the season with John Maggs replacing Ray in September 2013, but only lasting five months before being replaced by Terry White. The team reached the play-offs but were beaten in the semi-finals by Folkestone Invicta.


White resigned in October 2014 with Dominic di Paolo appointed in his place. Nigel Kane returned as manager in January 2015 before a new board was formed in the pre-season who appointed Garry Wilson for a second stint as manager.

After a seventh-place finish in 2015-16 Darren Hare was given a two year deal to lead the team. Former Football League players Lenny Pidgeley, Matt Bodkin and Frannie Collin were signed. Collin banged in the goals but lost in the play-off semi-final to Dorking Wanderers.


Hare departed to be replaced by Adam Hinshelwood as cash was invested into the academy side and development squad. Hinshelwood was replaced by his assistant Chris Agutter within a few weeks. The new man took his charges to ninth place.

The 2018-19 season was much improved as United ended third following non-league restructuring which saw the club placed in the South East Division where they lost at home in the play-off semi’s to Ashford United.


Hastings United FC will play in the Isthmian League South East Division in the 2019-20 season.


My visits

Tuesday 12th December 2007

With a day off work I headed to the Sussex coast to visit and photograph some non-league football venues and broaden my horizons calling at previously unvisited towns. The cold but clear day was ideal for exercise despite my knee giving me a bit of grief.


I’d called into the grounds of Lewes, Eastbourne Town, Eastbourne United Association, Eastbourne Borough and Bexhill United before arriving into Hastings. I decided to walk to the Pilot Field; which was far further than I anticipated.

First up I entered The Firs next door for a look around; which can be read about here before entering United’s ground where a gent was tending to the pitch. He was most amiable and friendly telling me briefly of the convoluted history of the place.


The pitch was a fair way to the fence as it hosted the meetings of Hastings Saxons speedway team back in the day. A tremendous raised seated stand curved slightly at each end was the outstanding feature running nearly the full length of the pitch.

The far end had a small modern cover behind the goal. A large grass bank stood opposite the main stand while the Elphinstone Road end had a substantial cover and terracing. It must have been some sight when a record attendance of 12,527, packed in when Hastings United drew 3-3 against Norwich City 1953-54 FA Cup third round tie.


Once done taking it all in I decided to take a bus back into town and walk past where the majestic and historic old Recreation Cricket Ground once stood and to the prom. I wandered past the pier and on to St Leonards, where I caught the train back from Warrior Square to London.

Hastings United 2 Dorking Wanderers 1 (Saturday 27th July 2019) Pre-Season Friendly (att: 227)


It was the final day of my week annual leave and I was determined to enjoy a day away from London despite my left knee causing me problems. Was it just a coincidence with a planned trip to Hastings? I caught a train from Hendon to St Pancras before boarding a fast service to Ashford International.

I’d expected a quiet ride to the coast on my connection, but the three car vehicle was packed; not helped by several cyclists and plentiful luggage. Plenty of hipsters seemed to be heading to either my destination or Eastbourne.


On arrival I took a few photos on a pleasant enough day in the town. I wasn’t that bothered about beers, so I grabbed some a pasty and soup from Greggs, before taking the bus from Priory Meadow to Downs Road not long after 2pm.

This worked well for me as I wanted to try and get into The Firs to update my photos and see what condition the old venue was in. Fortunately, I found a way in through a broken fence. You can have a read all about it and the clubs who played there by clicking here.


It probably wasn’t the best plan for my knee but hey ho. I made my way past the old squash complex which now had signage as United’s Sports & Social Club. I wandered back down the slope to the entrance to the ground where I paid £6 admission.

Once inside I purchased a raffle ticket and was given a free four page programme. I took a brief look inside the bar, but there wasn’t anything that really took my fancy. The alternative option was far more attractive; a cheeseburger, chips and a cuppa. I headed to the seats in the stand to enjoy and relax.


The view was excellent. The Pilot Field hadn’t changed too much since my previous visit, save for the grass bank on the opposite side being out of bounds owing to the daft over officious FA ground grading rulings.

The match was being played in honour of award winning groundsman Simon Rudkins who was moving on from his role. His playing surface really was near perfect. At first glance I wondered if it was an artificial pitch, as it looked so good.


The match promised to be intriguing with Dorking having just been promoted to the National League South and Hastings just missing out through the play-offs. The rain on the surface made passing slick and added to plenty of skilful play on show.

The hosts went close with a low shot on six minutes which flashed just wide of the post of keeper Slavomir Huk. Niall McManus put in a good low cross at the other end, but no Dorking player could connect as it went across the area before James McShane headed a corner just over for the visitors.


The deadlock was broken on fifteen minutes with a shot from outside the box from McShane past a disappointed Arrows goalie. Huk made a fine save but could do nothing about the equaliser on twenty-one minutes when a ball was pulled back for James Pool to score.

Huk made a real hash of a clearance that was nearly returned into the unguarded net. The game continued at a good pace until the interval when I decided to have a walk round and place myself in the cover behind the Elphinstone Road end.


I really enjoyed watching the game at a traditional venue. McManus saw a powerful shot come back off the crossbar soon after the break. Chances were at a premium. Hasting’s Daniel Ajakaiye was impressing me with his forward play.

Wanderers sub Giuseppe Sole had a shot saved before the hosts went ahead with fifteen minutes remaining on the clock when a superb effort from Ben Pope was curled past Huk into the corner of the net.


At that point I moved round to the corner of the pitch. I love to see youngsters going to football, but not while I’m trying to watch and they’re using it as a playground running amok. It obviously never occurred to parents who let them loose that others might be there to enjoy the match.

The game petered out after a few Dorking efforts including one from George Membrilla that found the bar. The result in a friendly is irrelevant to a degree. I’d guess that the respective managers would have been happy enough with their team’s efforts.


At full time the sensible option would have been taking a bus, but I reckoned the walk down to Queens Road would be downhill and the leg could do with a stretch. Alas, I forgot that there was a climb after the stretch down the hill.

It was a bit of a relief to reach The Imperial; home to The Brewing Brothers. My initial reaction on entering was “oh no”. More kids playing and the place seemed pretentious. However, appearances can be slightly misleading. Sure, it was the ‘cool’ place to be but there was more to it than that.


The beer was decent and the lads running it were good sorts. Trade was booming when a group of real ale enthusiasts came in with over the top analysis. They were nothing compared to two fellas who followed. One wanted to know the origin of each hop and what gravity was being used.

However, my favourite was by far the winner arriving in a waistcoat made out of beer towels and asking the barman to sign and date his book. In return he gave him a beermat which stated that the establishment was somewhere over 20,000 he’d visited. There were several heads being shaken.


After a couple I walked along, past The Fountain, which was offering cabaret and didn’t look my sort of place and onto Twelve Hundred Postcards; a micropub with excellent background music and a nice pint. I enjoyed it even if conversation seemed to be minimal.

I didn’t want to head back to London too early, but the pub choice wasn’t outstanding. I decided to give The Carlisle on the seafront a go. I’m glad I did, even if I seemed to be the only person not dressed in black.


People were friendly if a little unconventional, mainly being punks, goths or rockers. The jukebox played great tunes and the bitter from the Long Man Brewery palatable. I really enjoyed it. I mean how often do you go in a pub and hear four consecutive Bauhaus tracks being played.

A cover band were beginning to set up and I was scanning the timetable and considering hanging about, but sometimes it’s a good idea to quit while your winning. I hobbled back to the station and repeated my train ride via Ashford and the Javelin back to the metropolis.


It’d been a god day out, notwithstanding the gammy knee. I’d found throughout the week that getting out of the capital was a good cure to try and cleanse the mind. The sea air, exercise and a few pints were certainly as good as any sleeping tablet.








St. Leonards



St. Leonards FC was a non-league football club representing the town of the same name on the Sussex coast who were formed in 1971 by employees from the Sussex Turnery and Moulding Company; playing friendlies as STAMCO.


The club competed until the 2003-04 season when they folded under the name of St Leonards FC owing to mounting debts.

The club shouldn’t be confused with other incarnations of clubs with St Leonards in their name, which can be read here in the complicated local football account involving the history of the current Hastings United page.


STAMCO became members of Division Five (East) of the Eastbourne & Hastings Football League for the 1971–72 season before progressing to Intermediate level within four years and then the Premier Division for the 1977-78 campaign.

STAMCO made the move to the Southern Counties Combination while playing at Pannel Lane, a few miles out of town. The team were crowned as Division Two in their debut season of 1992-93; finding a place in the Premier Division and going on to win two league titles in three years.


Progress continued as money was invested at a time when Hastings United were also spending. A place in Division Three of the Sussex County League was secured for 1988-89 as STAMCO finished as runners-up to win promotion.

A further runners-up berth in 1992-93 in Division Two led to a place in the top flight of the County League. The club moved into The Firs; the former ground of Hastings Town; positioned on Elphinstone Road above the Pilot Field.


Works were carried out on the ground with much timber being used from the main club sponsors. 1994-95 was a memorable season as crowds flocked to The Firs to see a club on the up. The team ended as Sussex County League runners-up as well as embarking on a fine cup run.

The FA Vase saw STAMCO beat Whitstable Town, Leatherhead, Shoreham and Tiverton Town before falling away to Canvey Island in the fifth round. The team included former Football League stars Jimmy Gilligan, Steve Gatting and Mike Trusson.


Another former League player Gary Chivers enrolled for the following season with STAMCO finishing in second place once again. By now Croft Glass had come on board as a major sponsor, so the club changed their title to St. Leonards Stamcroft in the summer of 1996.

The club had gained a place in the South Division of the Southern League; who insisted on a reference to the club locality in their name; hence the addition of St Leonards. Further improvements were made to The Firs in readiness.


Yet another runners-up place followed; this time behind Forest Green Rovers leading to promotion to the Premier Division. However, the jump proved too big; both on the pitch and financially as their parent company withdrew some of the funding.

The team were relegated after just one season; 1997-98. Once the attraction of a continually winning side and less glamorous signings diminished, the crowds also dropped; with some returning to the Pilot Field to cheer on Hastings Town.


The club changed name once again; this time to St Leonards FC who were placed in the Eastern Division after one season for 1999-00 ensuring local derbies with Town for the following three seasons with ‘The Saints’ struggling while Town were crowned champions in 2001-02.

That success hindered St Leonards further before they finished bottom of the table in 2002-03 and were relegated to the Sussex County League, where mounting debts eventually defeated the club who folded during the 2003-04 season; with their playing record expunged.


My visits

Tuesday 12th December 2007


I was enjoying a week away from work and decided to visit some non-league football venues on the Sussex coast to take some photograph and broaden my horizons calling at previously unvisited towns.

Despite my left knee giving me trouble, the cold but clear day was ideal for exercise to try and get it back in shape. The undulating walk to the Pilot Field; which was far further than I anticipated.


I’d already called into the grounds of Lewes, Eastbourne Town, Eastbourne United Association, Eastbourne Borough and Bexhill United before arriving into Hastings so a bus would have been a more prudent option in hindsight.

The good news was that access was possible into The Firs. Part of the old pitch was now covered with a caged five-a-aside astroturf pitch; meaning the chances of any other club moving in would be unlikely.


The Firs really was a quirky venue, and one I liked, albeit now being in a semi-dilapidated condition built into the steep incline of Elphinstone Road. The side by the road had the seated stand raised high on banking above the pitch.

The top end had a thin area of open flat standing built into the hill with a covered area further up some steps. The other side was a combination of flat open standing and a covered terrace towards the top half.


The thing that really appealed to me was the amount of timber in the construction. Each path or fenced off section was built in wood; as were the covers. It must have been quite a sight with over 1,000 fans in attendance during the Vase run.

Once I’d taken my snaps, I walked down the hill to the Pilot Field, where a kind gent allowed me access as we had a nice chat about the complicated past of Hastings football. It had been some effort to walk up there, but well worth it.


I decided to take a bus back into town and walk past where the majestic and historic old Recreation Cricket Ground once stood and to the prom. A final walk took me past the pier and on to St Leonards, where I caught the train back from Warrior Square to London.

Saturday 27th July 2019


The final day of my weeks summer break offered the opportunity to take in the pre-season friendly between Hastings United and Dorking Wanderers as well as updating my photo collection of The Firs; as I’d lost some during a laptop malfunction a few years previously.

This time common sense prevailed as by coincidence me left knee was giving me problems once again. The bus was definitely going to take the strain. It took me from Priory Meadows to Down Road from where it was a short walk uphill to the ground.


Some lads were having a kick about in the cage but didn’t seem concerned with my presence. I found a hole in the fence near the covered standing and had a good wander around the overgrown venue which was now missing the stand and cover behind the goal.

It was an eerie feeling walking around the ground which had seem some previous history. Care was certainly needed in some areas with slippy steps as the rain fell and where some wood and concrete had badly deteriorated.


Satisfied with my work, I continued down a path which led to the Hastings United Sports & Social Club before returning to Elphinstone Road and go to my afternoon match.