Chichester are the champions. Four simple words that sum up a stunning season for the club’s first XI, who have won promotion to the National League after years of trying and going close.
It is the first time in the club’s history they will have played in the national set-up and the clinching victory in the South Open Premier division one - 5-2 against Oxford University - came in front of a packed crowd of supporters who have stuck by the club during the best and worst of times.
See the video at the top of this article for some action from the match and the celebration at the end
After a disappointing loss to Old Georgians last week, Chichester’s future was to be decided playing a team they had not beaten in four years, Oxford University. They’re opposition who could be typically younger, fitter and faster than Chichester, playing an aggressive attacking form of hockey, so it was always going to be tough.
The opening ten minutes was frantic, with both teams struggling to get a grip on the game and keep procession. Chichester settled first and started to develop some nice attacking moves, one of which ended with Ollie Robinson breaking down the right of the D before unleashing a fierce shot past the Oxford keeper.
Within an astonishing 20 seconds, Oxford were back on level terms. Chichester dropped off and Oxford broke quickly to expose the Chichester defence before a neat deflection found its way into the bottom corner.
Chichester continued to look threatening through Matt Cox, Alex Thakore and Andy Sparshott down the left but were unable to get the all-important second goal. With seconds to go before the break, Chichester went 2-1 up as captain Jack Lerwill intercepted a sloppy pass from an Oxford defender and fired the ball to the back post for Tom Phillips to deflect into the roof of the net.
Some sound words from player-coach Jason Collins calmed the team at half-time and refocused them.
The second half saw Chichester come out in dominant fashion and some fantastic build-up play from Cox and Phillips led to Sparshott breaking into the D and firing a reverse-stick shot into the bottom corner for 3-1.
The jubilant Chichester crowd pushed their team on and Chichester made it four when Cox and Lerwill lined up for a fantastic goal with neat one-twos leading to Cox slipping the ball into the bottom corner.
The defensive back line of Dan Brook, Jason Collins, Kieran Henn and Luke Matthews were as resilient as ever; however Oxford did manage to sneak in a late consolation.
Chichester managed to finish the game on a high when Henn, who returned from Guildford two years ago and has developed into a fantastic defender, marched up front, beat a defender and thunderbolted a shot into the bottom corner.
Jubilant scenes followed and it was a fitting end to an exhilarating game.
Henn said: “This is a childhood dream come true and something I will always remember.”
The 5-2 win clinched the title and secured promotion with one game still to go.
The players have issued a big thank-you to the tremendous support from all who came on Saturday to witness a memorable moment in Chichester Hockey Club’s history.
Chichester will compete in the National League next season, but with the final relegation positions from the leagues above still not finalised Chichester will have to wait to see if they will be in the east or west league.
Lerwill said: “The team are now focused on finishing the season in style in their final league match this week before competing for the Sussex Cup to complete the double and building on their performance so they can hit national league running.
“Who knows, we may even keep up the momentum and be involved in another promotional battle next season and do the unthinkable of pushing this small city side into the highest league in the country?”
PROMOTION WINNERS: Dan Godsmark, Kieran Henn, Jason Collins (player-coach), Dan Brook, Luke Matthews, Jack Lerwill (captain), Matt Cox, Alex Thakore, Tom Phillips, Ollie Robinson, Andrew Sparshott, Bejay Ranger, James Ellis, Ben Woodruff. Mark Pacey (manager), Rob Pyewell (assistant coach).
Ben Barnes gives his verdict on Chichester’s historic day...
Well, what a day! A day that filled me with immense pride - to see my home club win promotion to the National League, and in such style, was a real privilege.
That’s not just personally - it is the club I grew up at - but because of all the hard work that goes on to make it the club that it is, such as the Real Ale and Jazz Festival, work to create and maintain the pitches, and the way it is run by the club members to raise funds for facilities.
It’s a real family club personified by guys in the first XI today whose fathers played in the team years ago.
Jason Collins and the current group of players and management should take a lot of credit for promotion - they have made the club and the city very proud.
They have been knocking at the door for the past seven years and it was great to see it happen - not just as I have been part of that journey, but because I know all the ex-players who are still involved in the club behind the scenes to support the team.
From my mum and dad Jan and Andrew, Chris Wood, Nigel Smith, everyone present at the club since the 60s and 70s through to the guys who scored the goals in the title-clinching game, there are too many other names to list who have played their part in getting to the National League.
But they should all pat themselves on the back, it is a huge achievement. Now the hard work really begins!
* Ben Barnes played at Chichester up to first-team level until he was 18 in 1992. He went on to play for East Grinstead, Reading and England before coming back as player coach from 2004-2009. He coached Reading and is now performance director at Fareham.