Let there be lights! Midhurst FC suddenly have a much brighter future - literally and metaphorically.
The club’s new £60,000 floodlights - decades in the making - were finally switched on this week and hundreds turned out to see the big occasion.
The impressive columns have almost certainly saved Miduhrst from being thrown out of the first division of the Southern Combination League - a move which could have seen them fold.
It’s about 30 years since the club first talked of wanting to stage floodlit games but funding and planning issues thwarted them time and time again.
But now the dream has become a reality and around 300 spectators gave them the thumbs-up as Midhurst played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Selsey to christen the lights on Tuesday night.
A match between the two clubs’ under-nines at half-time added to the wonderful family atmosphere.
The lights can be used by not just the football club but also the cricket and stoolball teams at the Rotherfield Sports Association ground.
See our video of the big switch-on, above
Next scheme in the pipeline is a new £400,000 clubhouse.
The floodlights were supplied by Musco Lighting and major funding came from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, the largest funders of non-league football in the country, which contributed £42,602.
Funded with £5.2m each year from the Premier League, the FSIF is the country’s largest provider of grants towards projects that help improve the comfort and safety of lower-league football grounds in the professional and amateur game.
These improvements range from new football stands and turnstiles to floodlighting and improved provision for disabled supporters.
There were also big contributions from the Big Society Fund via West Sussex County Council and the Grange Community Association.
Fittingly Midhurst skipper Scott Dormer, who has been with the club for 14 years, scored the hosts’ first home floodlit goal.
He said afterwards: “The lights are impressive and it’s been a fantastic night.
“What a great occasion and a great atmosphere. To get 300 people come out for it has been really great and hopefully some of them will come back and watch us regularly.
“It was a shame we couldn’t get the three points on the night but it was still fantastic. We didn’t deal very well with Selsey’s set-pieces.
“The biggest thing with the lights is they’re not just there for the first team and the reserves. There are a lot of kids’ teams running at the club and we need these lights for them.
“The clubhouse is on its last legs but that’s the next project. We have a great club spirit here, no-one gets paid. We are here because we want to be here but nights like this make it worthwhile.”
Midhurst chairman and first-team squad member Mark Broughton added: “It’s been an incredible night.
“I’ve only been at the club for a short time but I know it’s taken many, many years to get these lights. I was fortunate enough to come in over the summer when (previous chairman) Darren Chiverton left and we’ve finished this job.
“It’s been a massive effort by a lot of people. You could name them all but you’d be here all night!
“Without the lights, we’d be relegated and I think that would fold the club. The different sponsorship and grants you can get at this level (SCFL division one) just isn’t there at the next level down. We wouldn’t have survived - simple as that.
“This takes us into a new era. We’ve got teams for all age groups up to under-18s then the two senior sides. It’s only under-21s we’re missing.
“This gives the young players something to aspire to.
“We also need the fans to keep coming back. Hopefully we put on enough of a show against Selsey to tempt some of them to come back. That will help bring in some revenue and just help build up the club’s place in the community.
“We’ve got permission now for a new clubhouse much closer to the pitch than the current one. We didn’t want to juggle too many balls at once but now we’ve got the lights done we can get on with the next job and start pressing for grant funding for the clubhouse.
“We need £400,000 to £450,000 to build it.”
Just over a quarter of the £60k bill for the lights had to be raised by the club themselves.
Broughton said: “Once we had raised our bit, to show we were serious, the rest of the funding came about pretty quickly. Planning permission meant we had a lot of hoops to jump through.”
Loxwood 5 Midhurst 1
Sussex Senior Cup R2
Midhurst visited Loxwood with an experimental side and manager John Suter was first to admit the chosen formation did not suit the players – and Loxwood took full advantage, racing into a 4-0 half-time lead.
Top scorer Lewis Hamilton, skipper Scott Dormer and Dan Watts were on the bench with George Morris, Nathan Hunt and Keith Martin unavailable and Greg Chaplin and Oli Lee unfit.
This meant Alex Brazier, Ben Kemplen and Nehniah McKenley-Burke were all handed their first starts of the season. But with Brazier getting injured and coming off after 25 minutes and Kemplen and Mckenley-Burke playing in unfamiliar positions, Midhurst were all at sea.
Thanks to keeper Aaron Jeal’s penalty save on the stroke of half-time and some erratic finishing by Loxwood, the score was only 4-0 at the break. The goals were scored by Mark Pritchard-Cave (22 mins), Rhyan Ramsey (24), Toby House (35) and Yassin Raman (41).
However the second half was a totally different story as Midhurst, with a new shape and both remaining subs deployed, dominated and should have scored within the first few minutes when Dormer released Hamilton with just the keeper to beat, but he blocked Hamilton’s goalbound shot.
Fifteen minutes later, Hamilton got free again and the keeper blocked his shot again. Gary Norgate headed over the bar but then scored Midhurst’s only goal, latching on to a Watts through ball and slotting home from close range.
Kemplen broke through but he too was thwarted by the keeper. Then, with Midhurst pressing to try to bring respectability to the score, Loxwood broke quickly down their left and House scored his second.
Midhurst: Jeal, Casselton, Broughton (Dormer 45) Grantham, May, Brazier (Watts 25), Kemplen, Hyde, Mckenley-Burke, Norgate, Sheldrick (Hamilton 45). Unused sub: Tom Chaplin.
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