In my introductory post, I had promised more on the adventures of humble Littlehampton Town of the Sussex County League. And here they are. I would like to take you back to the 1990/1 season.
Littlehampton Town – a background
The Marigolds play at the Sportsfield, or more accurately they play in one corner of the Sportsfield, as it is also used for hockey, cricket and the like. It’s the typical type of non-league ground – a small stand with a couple of covered areas, but the rest is open.
At that time Town were playing in the 1st division of the Sussex County League, and had finished as runners-up in the 1989-90 season. They had never won it. Average attendances were around the 100 mark.
I was about 11 at the time and used to go quite regularly with my father to home games, and sometimes away as well. It was local, it didn’t cost much and the standard of football was actually quite good considering it was entirely part-time.
When is a 4-0 FA Cup loss a good thing?
For 91 English clubs, the answer to that question is a resounding “No”. But for a team playing in the first division of the Sussex County League, at that time the 10th tier of English football, reaching the 1st round proper was an incredible achievement.
Here is the club’s FA Cup run from that season:
- Preliminary: Chipstead 2 – 3 Littlehampton
- 1 Qual: Littlehampton 2 – 0 Dulwich Hamlet
- 2 Qual: Tooting & Mitcham 1 – 2 Littlehampton
- 3 Qual: Littlehampton 0 – 0 Tonbridge
- 3 Qual R: Tonbridge 2 – 3 Littlehampton
- 4 Qual: Romsey Town 1 – 2 Littlehampton
- 1 Proper: Littlehampton 0 – 4 Northampton Town
I remember very distinctly watching Grandstand on the day of that 1st round match. When you are proud just to hear your club mentioned on TV by Des Lynam (“tiny Littlehampton Town”), you know that the result doesn’t really matter. I always wonder if Des, who has lived in this part of Sussex for many years, had a little moment of pride himself.
As it happened, even against league opposition, memory tells me that our local team of full-time tradesmen and part-time footballers weren’t embarrassed. An early goal and a sending-off enlarged the scoreline somewhat, and Golds missed some good chances to score. But we weren’t too distraught and just revelled in the excitement of it all. The banter from the fans at that match always sticks in my memory.
An away trip to Cloughland
The other national competition for clubs in the lower levels of non-league is the FA Vase. Littlehampton decided to take that competition by storm in 1990/91 as well.
- Prelim: Corinthian Casuals 3 – 3 Littlehampton
- Prelim (R): Littlehampton 7 – 2 Corinthian Casuals
- R1: Littlehampton 5 – 0 Godalming Town
- R2: Littlehampton 2 – 0 Abingdon Town
- R3: Littlehampton 5 – 0 Slade Green
- R4: Eastleigh 0 – 1 Littlehampton
- R5: Littlehampton 3 – 2 Walthamstow Pennant
- R6: Littlehampton 2 – 1 Great Harwood Town
- Semi (1): Gresley Rovers 3 – 1 Littlehampton
- Semi (2): Littlehampton 1 – 2 Gresley Rovers (2-5 aggregate score)
Now, before you say “so what, it’s only the Vase”, consider this: no Sussex club had ever reached the semi-final of this competition and none have done so since. In professional terms, it’s the equivalent of Rochdale reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup.
It’s mostly the away trips that I remember – the long trek from Eastleigh station to the ground, and a late winner to make it worthwhile – and particularly the 1st leg of the semi-final.
(Church) Gresley is a few miles south of Derby, so it was a long way to go to get beaten 3-1. A late goal provided hope, but in truth Gresley were too good (they seemed to me at the time to be better than Northampton). Plus, the club’s success had attracted a few unsavoury hangers-on, who decided to attack one of the Gresley players after that late goal, which soured the occasion.
Gresley played against Guisborough in the final at Wembley (4-4), and lost in a replay at Bramall Road.
Local matters – league and cup
In all, the club must have played nearly 70 matches that season, with 38 league matches and two county cup competitions as well. The league cup had already been won, and the last day of the league season saw the Golds needing a draw away to Peacehaven, who could take the title themselves with a win.
So we went to that match too, the most wind-swept ground I can remember going to, being as it was on the top of a hill to the east of Brighton. A second-half equaliser and subsequent 1-1 draw meant the club had won it’s first, and only, league title.
The standard of football in the league at that time was very strong – Peacehaven themselves reached the 4th qualifying round in the FA Cup, and Langney Sports, who finished 3rd in the league, became Eastbourne Borough a few seasons later – they now play in the Conference.
It may not have had the glitz and glamour of professional football but, as any non-league die-hard will explain, you feel more involved when following a smaller club. You know most of the regular fans, as there’s only a handful. During the week the players are delivering your post, selling you a new fridge or even mowing their lawn next door.