Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Saltdean United - Hill Park

Saltdean United FC
Hill Park
Coombe Vale

01273 309898

Ground Number: 658
Tuesday 27th December 2016
Saltdean United 3-0 AFC Varndeanians
Southern Combination D1


Saltdean United were formed in England's World Cup winning year of 1966. Starting out in the in the Brighton Saturday League they progressed through its structure with some impressive results. In 1984, the club joined the Sussex County League. Starting out in Division 3, results were generally good and in 1989 they were champions, progressing to Division 2. An impressive first season saw them finish 8th, but then results tailed off for a few season. A 6th placed finish in 1995 was followed up by the championship a year later. 1999 saw the best ever finish in the club's history when they finished at the then step 4 Sussex County D1. The early part of the new millennium saw results tail off and in 2002 they were relegated after finishing bottom. Another bottom-placed finish in 2007 meant another relegation and the club found themselves back in the Sussex County D3 for the first time in nearly 20 years. From here results picked up, but it still took until 2012 when the club finished as runners-up behind Newhaven on goal difference before they earned promotion back. Despite a bottom-placed finish in their first season back, the club survived in what was by now, a league at step 6 of non-league. They've generally found things tough since returning, even finishing bottom of the newly formed Southern Combination D1 last season. However this season has seen results improve dramatically, and the club sat in 3rd place at the start of play. They are on course for their best season since the turn of the century if things stay as they are.

In the FA Cup the club had an impressive run to the 3rd Qualifying Round in 2001/02. Camberley Town, Andover and AFC Totton were beaten before a 2-1 home defeat to Devizes Town. The 1999/00 season saw a run to the FA Vase 4th Round, where they lost to north-west side Mossley. Plenty of local success has been  had in local cup competitions including the Vernon Wentworth Cup in 2012, the John O'Hara League Challenge Cup in 2000 and the Sussex Junior Cup in 1973.


This game was only decided as the first part of my bank holiday treble on Christmas Day evening and it won out over Billingshurst and  Sheerwater on the account of it being the best ground of the three. I'd got games at Three Bridges and St Francis Rangers planned for later on and it would be a rare venture south for me as all the usual hoppers I give a lift to were unavailable. On the day of the game I woke at 8am, with my first job being to check Twitter to see if the game was still on. It was, and even better it was listed as free entry. It would be helpful as I'd be spending a fair amount of fuel money getting down there and every little thing I can do to reduce my costs helps. It was a chilly old morning with the temperature at -3 and me having to scrape ice off of the car before I left at 9. The roads were really good to me, and after a very scenic last few miles, I got to Saltdean at 10.40. The ground was down a rutted track, and there wasn't a massive amount of parking, though luckily I got a space. I took up the free entry and picked up a programme for £1, also buying a reasonable burger at half-time to help the club out.

I went in the warm bar to catch up whilst I waited for the game to start, going outside 10 minutes before kick off. A decent view was to be had from the high bank on the far side , though I later moved into the stand and then on to the far side as the sun was getting in my eyes. Hosts Saltdean took the lead on 7 minutes, a shot from the edge of the area was helped in by visiting defender Scott Berridge. The home side continued to dominate and after hitting the post on 23 minutes, extended their lead 10 minutes later. This time it was a Joe McTiffen header from a corner. They completed the morning's scoring on 52 minutes. Indecision in the Varndeanians defence was capitalised upon by Andy McDowell, who but for a deflection would have claimed the first. The game petered out from here, with no serious chances from either side. The one name I recognised on the teamsheet, former Lewes keeper Rikki Banks was rarely tested by AFC Varndeanians as he had a decent defence in front of him.


HILL PARK is set in the rolling hills of the Sussex coast and is a lovely place to watch football, even on a nippy December morning. The ground is three sided due to lack of space, with one goal being out of bounds to supporters. The other end is a small path, whilst the side where you come in contains the spectator facilities and dressing rooms. It's a smart bar with your typical range of drinks as well as snacks and burgers. The one remaining side is the most impressive. A stand holding around 200 in a combination of seating and standing is built into a large grass bank which you can stand on to get good views of the game.

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