Double-winning Common still hoping to return home

Little Common chairman Daniel Eldridge says the football club's main aim is to one day return to its own ground.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 5:19 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:48 am
Little Common Football Club still hopes to one day return to its Little Common Recreation Ground home. Picture by Justin Lycett

The Commoners completed a 2017/18 Macron Store Southern Combination Football League Division One and Division One Challenge Cup double despite playing their home games at Eastbourne United AFC.

They will continue to play at The Oval in the Premier Division next season as their own ground at Little Common Recreation Ground doesn’t meet the FA grading criteria for either division.

Eldridge said: “Obviously what we really want is to come back to Little Common Rec because that’s our home, we’ve spent money and improved the ground in terms of floodlights and stands etc.”

The major stumbling block in Common’s quest to return to their own home surrounds ground enclosure. In previous years Common put up a temporary enclosure (consisting of green sheeting around the pitch) on matchdays, but FA regulations require the enclosure to be permanent.

The landowner, Rother District Council, won’t allow a permanent enclosure as it considers the recreation ground to be public open space.

Common have looked into the possibility of finding a new home in the town, with the old Northeye Prison site one place they’ve considered.

“Our main aim is to get back to Little Common - that’s the solution that’s going to cost us the least amount of money,” Eldridge continued.

“If we can’t do that, we’ve spoken to different people about relocation, but that’s tricky as to where because there’s not a great deal of land available in Bexhill at the moment.

“We’ve spoken about Northeye because there’s a playing field there that’s not in use. That’s owned by United Arab Emirates and we’re hoping the council will help us pursue that one.

“We would be happy to explore a bit further if that opportunity came up, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.

“At the moment we need someone to step in and help us. Lots of people say ‘we really sympathise with the position you’re in’, but that doesn’t really help us.”

The groundshare arrangement with Eastbourne United is also costing Common financially. Although the matchday ground usage is cheaper at The Oval, income through the clubhouse bar at the Rec is significantly down.

“We did initially sign a three-year agreement with them and we always thought it would probably be at least two years at Eastbourne,” Eldridge went on. “They’ve been really good to us, they’ve really looked after us and been very helpful.

“But playing in Eastbourne is not the same as playing in Little Common or somewhere near Little Common. Although a lot of our supporters have still come over to Eastbourne, there probably would’ve been a few more people watching us in Little Common.

“We just really want to provide something for the youth players to aspire to. When they’re growing up and seeing how well the first team are doing, that’s something we want them to be part of. But we do need the people of the town to help us.”

Common’s second team and under-21s still play their home matches at Little Common Rec, and Eldridge says the club still uses the pavilion - which it runs with fellow ground user Little Common Ramblers Cricket Club on behalf of the council - as much as it can.

A Rother District Council spokesman said: “We do sympathise with the club’s plight and understand their desire to return to Little Common.

“The club is in some senses a victim of its own success in that its rise up through the football pyramid means it has had to comply with more stringent FA regulations.

“However, the recreation ground is public open space and we have a duty to allow public access at all times, as is the case with other public recreation grounds in the district, therefore unfortunately we can’t sanction enclosing and gating off the pitch.

“We have been in communication with the club on this issue and will do whatever we can to support them in their search for a new ground which would allow them to build on their recent success on the pitch.”

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