Monday, 27 August 2018

AFC Uckfield Town - The Oaks

AFC Uckfield Town
The Oaks
Eastbourne Road
East Sussex
TN 22 5QL

Ground Number: 789
Monday 27th August 2018
AFC Uckfield Town 4-3 Langney Wanderers
Southern Combination Premier


The club was established as recently as 2014 and was the result of a merger between Uckfield Town (a club that played in the lower reaches of the Sussex County League and was established in 1881) and AFC Uckfield who were formed in 1988 as Wealden FC and who reached as high as step 5 in the non-league pyramid. The new club too AFC Uckfield's place in the step 6 Sussex League Division 2, earning promotion as runners-up behind Worthing United in their first season. Since then, finishes have been modest, ranging from 14th to 18th, but they have at least retained their place at the higher level. They'd enjoyed a mixed start to the season a 4-1 win against Eastbourne United, 1-1 draws against Newhaven and Loxwood a 4-3 defeat to Horsham YMCA to see them 11th in the table at the time of my revisit. 

Understandably, given the short history of the club, there have been no notable FA Cup runs, in fact, this season has been the standout performance - victories over Glebe (1-0) and Broadfields United have seen them reach the 1st Qualifying Round for the first time ever. Success in the FA Vase has been equally elusive with the sole victory in three campaigns coming over Raynes Park Vale last season (2-0) before they went out 3-0 at Canterbury City in the 2nd Qualifying Round. The town of Uckfield has a population of just under 15,000 and was the last known place that Lord Lucan was seen. The town is also the birthplace of 'Rag'n'Bone man, singer of one of the few decent modern songs in 'Human'


I was glad to be off work on this Bank Holiday, as it meant that I could do a double on this day. I knew fellow hopper Anwar had wanted to go to Eastbourne Borough for a while, so that beat Lewes for the 3PM kick off. There were, however, a number of options for the 11 am kick off with the whole of the Sussex County League having their traditional early kick-offs. After presenting the options to my fellow hopper, we decided on Peacehaven & Telscombe v Eastbourne United over games at Billingshurst, Little Common, AFC Uckfield Town, Worthing United and Ferring. That was until at 8 pm on the evening before when Eastbourne United announced they were unable to raise a side, just after I'd spent an hour researching the history of Peacehaven & Telscombe. Looking at the league table, it was not the first time that the players had let the club down this season, their lack of commitment summed up by the team's league position and an insult to the hard-working volunteers behind the scenes. Nevertheless, an alternative had to be sought and in the end, I opted for AFC Uckfield Town v Langney Wanderers. It was the most attractive ground and with the club recently formed, it saved a mammoth job in terms of writing history.

I'd actually visited the ground last time I went to Eastbourne Borough, taking pictures of the then home of Wealden FC en-route. The day of the game came and I was still a bit sleepy when my 7 am alarm went off, even though I’d woken up naturally about an hour before. I got dressed and ready, leaving at 7.30 and meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 8. It was a reasonable journey until we hit the M25 where we encountered the customary delay, thankfully it was only around 15 minutes. There was further delay on the M23 due to restricted speed through the roadworks but we got to the ground at 10.30 in plenty of time. I met a couple of hoppers that I know, ironically both called Lee. These both provided good company throughout the game as did a couple of other locals. Entry was a good value £6 and this included a programme. When I tried to check in on the 'Groundhopper' app I discovered that they had mistakenly located the ground some 2 miles away. I contacted them to inform them but in the meantime downloaded an app that allowed me to 'spoof' my GPS location. This also allowed me to 'check in' to my afternoon game at Eastbourne Borough as well.

The game started with Langney Wanderers taking the game to the hosts. Wayne Wilkinson gave them the lead on 10 minutes, he ghosted in at the back post taking advantage of poor marking to give the visitors the lead. It was all square on 21 minutes. A cross from the right found Callum Smith who got his first of what was to be a very profitable afternoon by blasting into the roof of the net. His second on 40 minutes was even better with him running the ball down the left flank, cutting in and slotting the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. The second half bought rain with it but it didn't stop Smith completing his hat-trick on 49 minutes with a curling shot. The game looked to be fairly safe at this point, but the visitors had other ideas. They reduced the arrears on 65 minutes when some questionable defending allowed Dan Bateman to slot home from around 8 yards. They got the bit between their teeth and on 68 minutes Paul Rogers got the equaliser with a real poachers goal. The game got a bit feisty around this point and Langney keeper Dan Hutchins was clattered. The referee took no action, but luckily the player was OK. It had been a cracking game for the 52 fans in attendance and a draw would have been a fair result. Ace goalscorer Smith had other ideas, however, when in the 95th minute he poked home from a corner for what turned out to be the winner. Even then the visitors had a great chance to equalise but they just couldn't get on the end of a decent cross right at the death.


THE OAKS is a smart ground in a pleasant setting. Like most grounds at the level, it mainly comprises of open hard standing, in this case just three sides as the far side is closed to spectators. There are two covered stands, these have around 100 seats between them with plenty of space behind for people who wish to stand. There's a bar at the ground, this is of a reasonable size and has plenty of club memorabilia on the wall. The usual range of drinks are available as are hot drinks and cold rolls. Metal pin badges are available from the turnstile for £3 each. The ground is a bit of a walk from the town, although there is an Indian restaurant right next door if you fancy a meal.

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