Eastbourne United Association FC begain its existence on the 5th September 1894 as the 1st Sussex Royal Engineers Volunteers (Eastbourne) FC , following success in a football tournament at Sheffield Park near East Grinstead, as part of a training camp for Sussex Companies of the Regiment. The new club adopted the Regimental colours of red and blue stripes, but with no home ground the first two matches were played on the field of South Lynn School in Tutts Barn Lane; and numerous other venues were used in those early years, although the new club also returned to Sheffield Park to play.
In 1901 the club gained permission from Eastbourne Council to use Gildredge Park in the Old Town as their home ground. Like the other grounds, it was not enclosed and entrance was by voluntary donation of one penny. The playing surface was also very undulating and resulted in its nickname: the "Switchback Pitch".
In 1913 there was a name change to the 1st Home Counties Royal Engineers (Eastbourne) FC to reflect a merger between the RA Volunteers with the Territorial Army. The club resumed playing at Gildredge Park after the Great War and in 1920/21 following the disbandment of the Volunteers at the end of hostilities the team was re-named for a third time: becoming Eastbourne Royal Engineers Old Comrades FC. The only defeat of that season came by the Royal Corps of Signals in the club's first foray into the FA Amateur Cup, the tie being played at The Saffrons, home of Eastbourne Town FC. This defeat was avenged in the Final of
the East Sussex Cup, played at the Lynchmere Ground, on the opposite side of the road to Tutts Barn Lane the venue of the club's first ever match. The event was notable for what may be the first ever "outside broadcast' of a sporting event in the country: the Signals having brought wireless equipment with them to relay news of the event back to their camp in Maresfield.
In 1921/22, the club joined the Sussex County League, and the season was also notable for a permanent move to the Lynchmere. Materials to develop the ground were obtained from Willingdon Aerodrome, Southern Railway and the Seaplanes base and, with the help of voluntary labour the pitch, which had a pronounced
slope, was enclosed for the start of the season.
In 1924 the Royal Engineers suffix was dropped and the club became known simply as Eastbourne Old Comrades FC. The following season heralded new club colours of black and white stripes as ties with
the Royal Engineers were finally broken. At the end of the 1927/28 season the Comrades resigned from the Sussex County League were admitted to the Spartan League, shortening their name to Eastbourne
Comrades FC. By this time, a sustained programme of improvements carried out entirely by voluntary labour had seen considerable improvement of the Lynchmere, including construction of a wooden grandstand and another covered enclosure. The first Spartan League fixture saw a 2-2 draw against Colchester Town (now United) on 25 August 1928.
The start of the 1935/36 season saw the club admitted back into the Sussex County League having resigned from the Spartan League a couple of years earlier. However, during the 1936 close-season, the Lynchmere was hired out to a Circus, rendering the pitch unplayable until 31 October. The Comrades were beaten 6-3 by Hayward's Heath but were not helped by starting with only nine men: goalkeeper Reg Watkins was working on the pitch for the whole of the previous night and was actually off the field waiting for a stoppage in play when Heath opened the scoring after just fiveminutes.
With War declared on 3 September 1939 the new season had barely started, and a friendly at the Lynchmere versus Bexhill on 4 May 1940 proved to be the Comrades' last match for six years. By the end of WW2 the Lynchmere had a new owner and future tenancy was uncertain; like many other grounds, it had been used by the Army during the War although crucially, as it transpired, had not been officially commandeered for the war effort. Nevertheless, although the playing surface was in good condition, the other facilities were anything but. Seating had been removed from the stand by "persons unknown", as had baths; heating and equipment from
the tea chalet, along with most of the piping. The buildings were also badly damaged and the club's bank balance was nil. As the ground had not been commandeered, the War Office refused compensation
The 1946/47 season was similarly disastrous and the club finished bottom of the Sussex County League having won just two of twenty-six fixtures. It was certainly not helped by having to play the last eleven matches away from home, all of which ended in defeat. In fact the match against Haywards Heath on 11 January 1947
proved to be the last at the Lynchmere. An "artic winter" intervened during this period the ground was sold for development. Fortunately for the club, they were invited by Eastbourne Council to use at The Oval
in Princes Park (formerly Gilbert Recreation Ground), near the seafront which the Council was developing into a sports arena. There were no facilities at that time and the Comrades were only re-elected to the Sussex County League on condition that the pitch was roped off on match days. After a temporary arrangement whereby a tent was used in lieu of dressing rooms, the players changed at Devonshire Baths about half a mile away and were then driven by bus to the ground. Later a Nissan Hut was erected. The first match versus Littlehampton, on 30 August 1947 was watched by an estimated crowd of 1,000 who paid by voluntary collection. This attendance was doubled the following week for the visit of Chichester.
The 1950/51 season began with a brand new pitch and new kit of white shirts and black shorts, and during the following close season plans were made for a grandstand and terracing, as the Council granted the club a new long lease. The club name was also changed for a sixth time to Eastbourne United FC. Assisted by funds raised by the Supporters' Association, volunteers began work on developing the facilities at the Oval in 1952, and by the end of the season 100 feet of terracing had been completed. In addition, and to prevent free viewing from Wartling Road on the far side of the ground, shrubs and trees were planted and a hessian screen erected. The precise date that the stand and terrace was officially opened is uncertain. However, what is known is that the Pavilion (Clubhouse), built at around the same time was officially opened on 3 September 1955 vs Queen's Park Rangers. Local derbies against Eastbourne Town continued to draw large crowds and on 7 May 1956 United avenged a number of earlier defeats with a 6-0 victory in the Final of the RUR Charity Cup in front of a record crowd of 6,600 at the Oval.
In 1958/59 the first floodlights were erected at the ground and inaugurated with a match versus Eastbourne Town in front of a gate of 4,100. By 1966 however, United were competing in the Athenian League, and new floodlights were erected at a cost of £5,500. The new lights were officially christened on 25 October 1967 with the visit of a strong West Ham United side, watched by a 2,000 strong crowd.
During the 1975/76 season an attempt to merge with Eastbourne Town failed at a late stage and in 1977 another expansion of the Isthmian League saw United join the new Division Two where they remained until being placed into Division Three in 1991, following further restructuring. The combination of poor results, low income, and the long distances involved in travelling to away matches meant that United's place was
unsustainable. The club sent a notice of resignation to the League but were told they would have to join the Combined Counties League as this was the feeder into the Isthmian. Following a successful appeal to the FA, United were allowed to re-join the Sussex County League instead, albeit in Division Two. In the intervening years the third set of floodlights was officially opened on 18 February 1980 by former manager Ron Greenwood, as United beat Millwall in front of a gate of 1,100. But, with little money to maintain the Oval, the ground was showing signs of wear and tear. The infamous storm on the night of 16 October 1987 destroyed the covered terrace on the Watling Road side of the ground and, with no insurance against storm damage taken out by the Council, was never replaced, leaving only a few steps of terracing as a permanent reminder. In the local press on 6 July 2001, it was announced that the Oval had been spared from the axe by the Council. This was welcome news but the ground remained in quite a state of disrepair, largely a consequence of the Council's continued refusal to prohibit public access, and United were faced with a requirement to carry out repair and refurbishments estimated at £83,500 to satisfy the terms of their lease which still had 13 years to run at the time. At the end of the 2002/03 season, and struggling in Division Two of the Sussex County League, United amalgamated with fellow Division Two club Shinewater Association in a "marriage of convenience', becoming Eastbourne United Association FC in the process.
Shinewater Association FC had been formed in 1990 as a replacement for The Dental Estimates Board FC, a member of the East Sussex League and previously based at Temple Grove Playing Field near the Old Town. Members of the existing club were aware that Stone Cross Cricket Club was looking for someone to share the Shinewater Lane Playing Field on the other side of the town near Langney; and also that the Shinewater Association Club was thinking about forming a new football club. The rest, as they say, is history. Facilities were extremely basic: players changed in the small wooden cricket Pavilion, and there was nothing more than a set of new posts at Shinewater Lane, with no requirement for the pitch to even be roped
off.The club was accepted into Division Three of the Sussex County League at the end of the 1991/92 season, conditional on improvements being made to the ground in the form of a permanent rail and path along one touchline, and dugouts being constructed. During the 1992 close season however, disaster struck when the Pavilion was destroyed in an arson attack. As a consequence the Cricket Club relocated to Larkins Field, taking the insurance money with them, leaving the Football Club with nothing. Fortunately a grant was secured from the Football Foundation and for one season the League allowed players to change behind the
Association Club building and walk about 400 yards up Shinewater Lane to the pitch.
Building of the new clubhouse continued throughout 1992/93 but an official opening by the Mayor drew attention to the fact that although planning permission had been granted, building regulations had not been followed and that remedial work would cost £11,000. By coincidence that sum was the amount paid out by the insurance company following the original fire. The money was still sitting in the bank account of the Cricket Club, who returned to the ground and paid the bill. Season 1996/97 brought promotion and gave the town a fourth senior club. As before, success brought the need for further ground improvements. The pitch was fully enclosed for the first time and in addition a breezeblock and steel cover was built with two new dugouts on either side. The club maintained its position as a Senior club but was beset with continual problems of vandalism, with vehicles twice dumped on the pitch and set on fire. Poor drainage to part of the pitch caused a number of postponements every season and, although an official approach to the Council for floodlights was looked upon favourably, the latter was concerned that parking would cause serious problems during evening games.
In 2003/04 a proposal for an amalgamation with Eastbourne United was made as being one of mutual benefit. The proposal was quickly agreed and on 17 April 2003 the last match was played between the two clubs at Shinewater Lane, with the new club known as Eastbourne United Association FC, although now commonly abbreviated to Eastbourne United AFC. The merger brought about a major improvement to the Oval, namely was the provision of "new' perimeter rails, acquired from Eastbourne Borough's Priory Lane ground, and the old ground at Shinewater Lane. Additional floodlight bulbs have also been purchased from Borough. With the old cinder running track rendered obsolete following the relocation of the local Athetics Club to Eastbourne Sports Park, the new rail allowed spectators to get a lot closer to the action than previously, and improved the atmosphere considerably.
The main focal point of the ground remains the large stand but the open access of the ground continues to be a problem. In August 2004 vandals were fortunately disturbed whilst trying to set fire to the stand, although they did manage to damage several seats before making their getaway. Possibly mindful of the possibility of a repeat attack, the seats have now been completely removed, leaving behind just concrete steps although wooden slats are provided on match days, despite the fact that it has been officially condemned.
Sussex County Football League » Division 1
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Last updated Friday 24th October, 10:12