Haywards Heath Town FC
Date: Saturday 7th March 2020
Haywards Heath Town 0-1 Phoenix Sports
Isthmian League Division 1 South East
Haywards Heath Town - History
Haywards Heath Town were founded in 1888 as Haywards Heath Juniors and changed name twice in the next few years: in 1894, they changed name to Haywards Heath Excelsior before becoming Haywards Heath a year later. In 1900, the club became founder members of the Mid-Sussex League and finished as runners-up of the Senior Division in the 1901/02, 1902/03, 1903/04 and 1905/06 seasons.
The club dropped out of the Senior Division in 1908, but went on to win the Division 2 title in the 1911/12 season. The 1919/20, 1922/23, 1923/24 and 1924/25 seasons saw the club win the league title and the club eventually moved up to Division 1 of the Brighton, Hove & District League in 1926. The club won the title at the first attempt and moved up to the Sussex County League for the 1927/28 season.
Four of the club's first five seasons in the league saw them finish in the top 4, but a drastic downturn in fortunes saw the club finish bottom in the 1932/33 season, with two further finishes in the bottom 3 to follow. In the final few seasons before World War 2, the club's fortunes improved again and they consistently finished in the top half. After the war, the club were placed in the new Eastern Division and went on to win the title.
The league reverted back to a single division after one season, and the club won consecutive titles in the 1949/50 and 1950/51 seasons. The 1952/53 season saw the club's rise continue as they joined the Metropolitan & District League, finishing a respectable 5th in their first season. However, the club struggled at this level after that and eventually finished bottom of the renamed Metropolitan League in the 1960/61 season, returning to the Sussex County League as a result.
The club remained at Division 1 level for almost twenty years, winning the title in the 1969/70 season and finishing as runners-up in the 1974/75 season. However, after finishing second-from-bottom in the 1979/80 season, the club were relegated to Division 2. Six seasons were spent at this level before a runners-up finish in the 1985/86 season saw the club earn promotion back to Division 1.
The club's first season back at this level saw them finish 3rd, but fortunes soon tailed off and the club regularly found itself in the bottom half. The 1989/90 season saw the club change to its current name, before a bottom-place finish in the 1991/92 season saw the renamed club relegated back to Division 2. Things got worse for the club as they finished bottom of Division 2 the following season and suffered relegation to Division 3.
It took close to a decade for the club to recover from this, but after three bottom-three finishes the club finished 5th in the 1999/2000 season. Two more top-half finishes followed, before the club finished as runners-up in the 2002/03 season to return to Division 2. Once again, though, the club finished bottom and made an immediate return to Division 3.
This time, it took the club until the 2012/13 season to earn a return to Division 2 with another runners-up finish (just one season after the club had finished second-from-bottom). The club have had upward momentum ever since, winning the renamed Southern Combination League Division 1 title in the 2015/16 season to earn promotion to its Premier Division (formerly Division 1 of the Sussex County League).
The club finished as runners-up in their first season at this level, before winning the title in the 2017/18 season to earn promotion to Division 1 South East of the Isthmian League. The club finished 5th in their first season at this level to earn a place in the play-offs, but lost in the semi-finals to Horsham. This season sees the club positioned on the fringes of the play-off race.
The club's best FA Cup run came in the 1945/46 season when they reached the 4th Qualifying Round, beating Newhaven, Southwick and Hastings & St. Leonards before losing to Trowbridge Town. The club reached the FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round this season, beating Ramsgate, Bracknell Town and Aylesbury United before losing to current semi-finalists Royston Town. As for the FA Vase, the club reached the 3rd Round in the 1990/91 season, beating Chatham Town, Crockenhill and Farnham Town before losing to Thetford Town.
After the drama of my midweek visit to Tottenham, I was hoping for a slightly more relaxed groundhopping experience yesterday. At the same time, with my groundhopping opportunities while at University beginning to run out (if the season isn't extended, I'll only have three more opportunities due to how my Easter break works out in relation to the end of season), I'm trying to make the most of the opportunities I have left. In other words, I'm trying to get to some of the best grounds I've yet to visit while down here, because getting down this side of the M25 will be a lot harder once I've finished University.
With this in mind, I had set Fareham Town as my first choice for yesterday, with this, Maidenhead United and AFC Portchester in place as back-ups. I had tried to get to Fareham last Saturday, but as with most matches on grass it had ended up being rained off by Storm Jorge. However, they had a home match on Tuesday which ended up going ahead, so that made me slightly more optimistic.
However, it rained all day Thursday in Guildford, so I began to make preparations for another potential weekend wash out by checking on all the 3G options and adding Slough Town to the list as a last resort. I also posted on Twitter asking the four clubs to keep me posted about how their pitches were looking going into the weekend.
Fortunately, my concerns largely proved unfounded, as the sun came out on Friday and ended up staying out all day. This seemed to do a good job of drying out most of my grass options, though Fareham mentioned that they were having an early morning pitch inspection, just in case the sun hadn't been enough to dry out the pitch.
When yesterday morning came around, it quickly emerged that all my options were going ahead, so I went to buy train tickets to Fareham on the South Western Railway website, having first checked the National Rail Journey Planner. However, I was annoyed to find that some of the options advertised on the Journey Planner - which involving changing at Woking and heading to Fareham from there - weren't actually available, and that the rest were hindered by engineering works.
This meant that I would have to take a rail replacement bus into Haslemere first if I wanted to go to Fareham or Portchester and this was an idea I was not remotely keen on, given the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Haslemere. As such, I had to scrap those two options and opted to head here instead, deciding that National League level football at Maidenhead probably wouldn't be relaxing enough for what I was looking for after Wednesday night.
With everything decided, I paid £12.60 for my train tickets and had an early lunch before leaving the house at around 12:10pm. I then got cash out at the station and collected my tickets before getting the 12:45pm train to Redhill. I changed at Redhill to head towards Gatwick Airport, before changing there to head to Haywards Heath. Throughout the journey, I sat on my own and did some more reading for my course, reading a few Edgar Allan Poe short stories and the entirety of C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (well, most of it, as I didn't finish it until the train back to Guildford).
I eventually arrived in Haywards Heath at 2:10pm and went straight onto Google Maps to find my way to the ground. Initially, though, when I searched for the football club it pointed to a site just two minutes away, which I knew to not be correct. Instead, I had to search for the ground by its name to find it on Google Maps and begin to head towards it. Then, heading out of the station, there were two possible exits, one leading to a car park and the other to a road on the other side. I wasn't really sure which way to go, so I just headed to the closest exit which happened to take me through the multi-storey car park. Fortunately, this happened to take me in the right direction.
The way to the ground from the station was one of the more complicated ones I've done so far, though it started simply enough. Google Maps led me through Clair Park and past the pavilion of the local cricket club. After that, however, I had to pass through large residential areas, and Google Maps seemed to lead me by a very indirect and circuitous route towards the ground, forcing me to take several side streets and narrow footpaths on my way. Then, once I got close to the ground, I was almost led to the wrong entrance, but by that point it was easy enough to figure out where I was actually supposed to be going.
In any event, I arrived at the ground with twenty-five minutes to spare before kick-off, paying £9 for admission and £2 for the programme. I then did my usual circuit of photos before paying £3.50 for a cheeseburger at the food hut next to the main stand. This wasn't as good as the one I had last weekend, but it did the job of filling my appetite.
I then headed up into the main stand and attempted to find a seat from which I could see both goalmouths, which was easier said than done due to the stand's support pillars and the floodlight pylon positioned directly in front of it. I eventually found myself a good seat near the back and centre of the stand and remained there throughout the match, only moving to put rubbish in the nearby bin when it became necessary.
A quick look at the table highlights why this match wasn't my first choice: the two teams were so close in the table that I simply expected them to cancel each other out in an evenly-matched contest.
Here's my report on an even contest which was ultimately decided by a red card just after the hour mark:
Haywards Heath had a flurry of chances in the opening ten minutes: in the 4th minute an aerial ball was played to Nico Cotton and he touched the ball into the path of Trevor McCreadie, who shot into Phoenix Sports keeper Steve Phillips' arms; two minutes later, Raheem Sterling-Parker received the ball in the box and let it roll through to McCreadie to shoot from the edge of the box, again being stopped by Phillips; another two minutes later, Luke Robinson intercepted a poor pass and played the ball to Cotton further down the left wing, the latter then dribbling past a defender before shooting from the edge of the box and having his effort saved.
Though this early series of chances suggests otherwise, the opening stages of this match were mostly even, with both sides having their fair share of the ball. The only difference was that Haywards Heath were producing good chances from the start, whereas it took Phoenix Sports 17 minutes to have their first: James Dyer worked his way past home keeper Luke Glover in the box, but was forced wide after stumbling and had to settle for crossing across the face of goal, a defender heading clear before it could be nodded in.
Three minutes later, Cotton and McCreadie combined to create another good chance, Cotton crossing to McCreadie and the latter turning and shooting narrowly wide. After some more end-to-end interchanges, Phoenix Sports came close again in the 29th minute as they passed their way through the middle and someone eventually got a shot away, which went narrowly wide for a goal kick (though it looked to me like there was a deflection on its way).
McCreadie again went close three minutes later when a cross floated into the box and eluded Phillips: he had an open goal to aim for but somehow managed to head over the bar. The best chance of the half came on the stroke of half-time when Phoenix Sports earned a penalty, Dyer being brought down by Glover in the box as both chased a long ball over the top. Kenny Alireu stepped up to take, but his penalty was poor and hit the post; certainly not one he will want to see again.
Compared to an end-to-end first half, the second half was less eventful as both teams became more solid at the back. However, after Phillips dropped the ball from a corner in the 50th minute, Haywards Heath could have taken the lead but the header was off target. Six minutes later, Phoenix Sports' Lauris Chin took the ball from a home defender in his own half, charged forward and shot from the edge of the box as Glover charged out. His shot went beneath the Haywards Heath keeper, but the deflection took the power off the effort and gave defenders time to clear.
Just after the hour mark, Haywards Heath defender Joshua Spinks received his second yellow for cynically bringing Chin down to stop a counter-attack. This would prove to be the match's turning point, but that was not immediately apparent as the teams continue to cancel each other out. However, as the match wore on, Phoenix Sports started to have more of the ball and take control of the match, with Haywards Heath only able to get forwards with occasional counter-attacks.
In the 80th minute, Haywards Heath almost nicked a winner on one of these counter-attacks, Andrew Dalhouse holding up the ball before passing to Hamish Morrison on the right wing. The full back initially attempted to cross into the box, but after this was blocked he tried his luck with a shot, but it was easily held by Phillips. Two minutes later, the away side scored the winner: after some excellent control on the edge of the box, Chin rounded his marker and shot on the half-volley to score. Haywards Heath almost equalised in stoppage time after a goalmouth scramble, but it wasn't to be and Phoenix Sports held on for the win.
Though this match did play out largely in line with my expectations beforehand, it was still a reasonably entertaining contest despite the scoreline. The only thing that was really missing for both sides was quality finishing, as so many of the chances both sides created went straight at the opposing keeper, making it all too easy to keep them out. A draw would have been a fair result, but Phoenix Sports made excellent use of their man advantage to win.
After a late start to the second half, the match didn't finish until almost 5pm, but thankfully I had plenty of time to spare before my train would depart towards Gatwick Airport. On the way back to the station, Google Maps took me on a much more direct route than it had done on the way to the ground, so I made slightly quicker progress back to the station than I expected.
This meant that I was able to get on a slightly earlier train to Gatwick Airport, though this did mean waiting over 20 minutes for my train from there to Guildford to arrive. Eventually, I was back in Guildford at 6:45pm and back in the house just over twenty minutes later after topping up on toothpaste at Sainsbury's.
Weather permitting, next weekend should see me pay a long overdue visit to the impressive-looking ground of Farnborough as I continue to make the most of my few remaining groundhops at University. As for Fareham Town, I'll get there on either the 21st or the 28th if SWR and the weather are kind enough to allow it.
Hanbury Stadium is a traditional non-league ground which is dominated by the impressive old main stand (this alone makes the visit worthwhile). This is an imposing structure which contains around 500 seats, some in the form of plastic seats and the rest in the form of the steps of the stand. Next to the main stand is a food hut selling a decent range of hot food and drink options, while the bar is seemingly found beneath the stand or somewhere behind it.
The only other area of cover at the ground is a small area of covered standing behind the near goal, immediately next to the turnstiles. This is where the programme seller can be found on matchday. That aside, the rest of the ground is open hard standing and there is little room for expansion, though the ground presumably wouldn't need much work to meet Step 3 grading criteria if the club were promoted in the future.