Three of Bexhill’s football clubs have expressed their interest in playing at the disused Gullivers site should it be redeveloped.
Bexhill United, Little Common and Sidley United have all said they are keen on using the ground in Glovers Lane, Sidley, although a three-way ground share would not be feasible.
Sidley United played at the ground until 2013 when Sidley Sports & Social Club, to which Sidley United were affiliated, ceased trading and the site closed.
The site, which was also used by Sidley Cricket Club in the summer, has stood empty ever since and has been targeted by vandals.
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Sidley United have since played their East Sussex Football League Premier Division home matches at Hooe Recreation Ground, while Sidley Cricket Club continues to play in Hastings.
The Gullivers land has since been the subject of three attempts to build up to 70 homes by its current owner, Beaulieu Homes (Southern) Limited.
Earlier this month, Rother District Council’s cabinet supported a recommendation that the site be designated within the council’s Development and Site Allocations Local Plan as being reserved for sports use with the inclusion of a full size all weather football pitch, changing facilities and community hub space.
A community group, comprising Heart of Sidley, Sidley’s local cricket and football teams, Sidley’s District Councillor Jimmy Carroll, Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, and other local residents, is preparing plans to form a community entity to purchase the land, construct a new sports ground and facilities and manage it on a not-for-profit basis. A separate site is being scoped in order to host the cricket club.
A Sidley United club statement read: “Sidley United FC were formed in 1906 and called Gullivers home for over 100 years.
“During that time the club was regarded as the senior footballing side in the town and enjoyed much success, including winning the Sussex County League in 2001.
“Through no fault of the club’s own, the club were forced to move out of the town in order to continue playing football when the ground was closed in 2013.
“It has always been the club’s ambition to return to our spiritual home should the opportunity ever arise.
“We are extremely encouraged that the local community in Sidley appear to have the same desire for their club, Sidley United, to return to Gullivers.
“We would be happy to work with another local football club in respect of sharing the ground, especially given these clubs’ awareness and support of the importance of Sidley United being able to return to their spiritual home.
“We hope that this can one day become a reality and that we as a football club may again be able to play a role as a vital part of the local community.”
Bexhill United currently play at The Polegrove in Southern Combination League Division One, but are restricted on redeveloping a ground owned by Rother District Council.
Bexhill United chairman Bill Harrison has been working on a plan for rejuvenating the Gullivers site with Metin Dogrucen and the council and Heart of Sidley for several years.
Harrison said: “I think it can be absolutely superb for the area with the ground and community centre. I just think it will give the area such a big lift.
“That would be my preferred choice. I’ve spoken to everyone on the (club) committee about what I would prefer to do and most of them are in agreement. I would like to do it here (at The Polegrove), but we can’t.”
Since summer 2017 Little Common have been playing their home games at The Oval in Eastbourne after facing the possibility of being relegated from Southern Combination League Division One as their Little Common Recreation Ground home doesn’t comply with FA ground grading regulations for that level.
The council, which owns the site, wouldn’t let the club make the required improvements as it classed the site as ‘public open space’.
Little Common chairman Daniel Eldridge said: “All three clubs (Sidley, Bexhill and us) attended a meeting last week in which 4 Global outlined their findings of the feasibility study they carried out for Gullivers.
“An all-weather facility is the suggested route which will meet the step five ground grading criteria. This would be a ground share between two of the three clubs, however which clubs this would involve is unclear at present.
“Bearing in mind that we have to travel to Eastbourne to play our home fixtures, we are very much interested in this new development and have also been involved in the consultancy process and working alongside the council and Heart of Sidley.
“Should it all come to fruition, it will be a very impressive facility and we look forward to working alongside the Heart of Sidley and Rother District Council as the project progresses.”
A Rother District Council spokesman said: “We are currently talking to all three clubs and to Heart of Sidley regarding potential future use of the site.
“With discussions still ongoing, it’s too early at this stage to speculate as to which clubs might be able to use the site if it is brought back into use as a sporting and community hub.
“This would ultimately be a decision to be taken locally based on the best interests of the local community and the capacity available at the site.
“We will do whatever we can to try and help all the clubs in Bexhill to find suitable permanent homes.”