End of an era as club moves leagues after 22 years

Action from Westfield's game against 2018/19 Southern Combination League Division Two champions Rustington at the end of March. Picture by Simon Newstead
Action from Westfield's game against 2018/19 Southern Combination League Division Two champions Rustington at the end of March. Picture by Simon Newstead

Westfield Football Club’s first team will compete in a different league next season after more than two decades in the Southern Combination League.

The Westies have been moved laterally by the Football Association from Southern Combination League Division Two into the Mid Sussex League Premier Division.

Westfield chairman Jack Stapley said: “It’s the end of an era. I know some of the old guard are quite disappointed with the decision and a lot of the players wanted to stay in the county (Southern Combination) league.

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“I think it’s the name of it almost - having that county league status, whereas now we’re in the Mid Sussex League.

“It’s a little bit disappointing I suppose. We’ve been in the county league for more than 20 years and to have that taken away from us with a lateral move is a bit disappointing.”

The Westies joined the Sussex County League, as the Southern Combination League then was, for the 1997/98 season and won promotion from the old Division Three, which is now Division Two, in 1998/99 after finishing runners-up.

Westfield remained in Division Two, which is now Division One, until being relegated for ground grading reasons in 2015. Their best finish was third in 2006/07, but they were ineligible for promotion, again due to ground grading.

Stapley continued: “We had an email from the FA saying they were thinking about moving us, what was our response? So it hasn’t come as a complete surprise.

“Travel time was the main reason given. Most of the teams in the county league are based in West Sussex, barring us and Jarvis Brook.

“It’s quite a lot less travelling and the real plus points for us are the local derbies with Hollington (Hollington United joined the Mid Sussex League last summer after winning the East Sussex League). Having a local derby with Jarvis Brook doesn’t quite whet the appetite like a derby with Hollington does.

“Player availability will be much better. On the other hand, people look at it and think ‘shall I go and play in the East Sussex League?’ To be honest, no-one’s said they’re not going to sign because of it.

“The disappointing for us is the facilities in the Mid Sussex League. I’ve spoken to a couple of people involved in the league and a lot of it is council pitches with a rope round it, and in some places not even dugouts. In that respect it feels a little bit like a relegation.”

Under the management of Stapley’s dad Mark, Westfield finished ninth out of 15 in Southern Combination League Division Two last season.

Jack Stapley added: “Another thing that’s a little bit disappointing is that St Francis folded last year (withdrew from Southern Combination League Division One partway through the season) and have been accepted straight back into step seven (Division Two) of the county league. St Francis is far more Mid Sussex than we are.

“I think people (opposing teams) saw (away fixtures against) Westfield as their chance to have a minibus and a chance to have a bit of fun. In that respect we may lose out on bar takings. But new teams may well see it as a minibus as well.

“With more local clubs, we can get more people through the gate. The positives and negatives are balanced out.”

The Southern Combination League wrote on Twitter: “It is very unfortunate but we hope to see you back one day soon.”