With the expansion of our League (and the alterations which the FA have made to the pyramid) we have a number of clubs who are entirely new to us, haven’t been part of our setup for rather a long time, or are returning to us after some time away. We decided that the best way to introduce- or to reintroduce- them to Bostik League supporters was through the eyes of one of their own.
Here are Michael and Peter, the Mid Sussex Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, with a double header looking at Haywards Heath Town. We'll leave it to the two of them to decide which is which!
How long have you been a supporter of Heath?
Michael: I have been a supporter for 24 years, but even before that I watched the team occasionally.
Peter: I started following Haywards Heath since the start of the 2015-16 season when they were a step 6 club. It was perfect timing as I've seen them top the league three seasons in a row, experienced three league cup finals (winning 2 out of 3) and now the club are up to Step 4!
Tell us how you became a fan? What attracted you to the club initially?
Michael: My father and grandfather were very involved in the club. They encouraged me to watch. When my father died I decided to join the club permanently.
Michael Loosen with a large silver pot!
Peter: I went along to Haywards Heath one Saturday at the start of the season to watch Rob O'Toole, who'd curiously decided not to stay with Burgess Hill Town when they moved up to Bostik Prem. I'd covered Burgess Hill Town in the Isthmian South during their stunning title-winning season in 2014/15 and found Rob to be a great character. As Burgess Hill Town decided to go in a different direction with their video coverage I started to do a few bits for Haywards Heath, struck up a friendship with the club's media man Stu Morgan and the rest is history!
And what is it about the club that has kept you there since?
Michael: I have deep roots in the club which will always remain, even though I no longer live in the town.
Peter: I love how it's so friendly and how the players and management interact with the fans. It's like a big family. You could say it's been a three year honeymoon period what with all the success. Hopefully the feel-good factor won't change now that Heath have moved up into the big leagues.
Haywards Heath Town stand
What does a typical home matchday look like for you?
Michael: There is always a really friendly atmosphere on match days. The stadium is very comfortable- and we are very lucky to have good people to maintain the pitch.
Peter: I get to Hanbury anywhere between an hour to an hour and a half before kick-off depending on the occasion. Pick up the gossip, try and get the early team news, tweet out some pictures and video and then usually bemoan how the bar manager still hasn't added Dr Pepper to the range of soft drinks available. It took me two years to get him to get in Fanta. It sold very well last season I'll have you know!
I film the game, grab some post-match reaction from the players and management, then head back home where I catch up with my long-suffering Burgess Hill Town FC friends, where I get to hear in great detail about their latest defeat. (Sorry, I couldn't resist! Hopefully they'll have more joy this season)
Is there a moment in the history of your club that supporters always talk about? What would it be- and why is it important to you all?
Michael: We talk mainly about the current team and the fine management team. Occasionally conversation drifts to the days of the Metropolitan League that comprised the 3rd teams of Tottenham, Luton, West Ham and Brighton.
Peter: The end of the 2016/17 season where we 'won' the league on the final day, only to have it taken away from us due to an undetected outstanding £5 fine for one of our late signings. Things that went on in the background were very disappointing with- in my view- rank double-standards and broken assurances from some people at the county league.
For the management and players to then to pick themselves off the floor and top the county league for the second season in a row was a superb achievement. Looking back now, it was probably a blessing that we had to wait another season to be promoted as the club are better prepared all round now.
For the benefit of those who haven’t visited before, describe your ground.
Michael: Our stadium is set in a residential area with access by road. We have an imposing large seated stand with a clubhouse underneath. A car park runs the length of the pitch. A smaller covered stand is behind one goal with a training area behind the other.
Peter: 3 years ago the clubhouse was like a 1970's dungeon, but it's been completely refurbished, bringing it into the 21st century. It's now a light and welcoming place and dedicated volunteers are always working on making further improvements.
The best feature of the ground is our imposing main stand which was build in the 1950's. We added seats to it eighteen months ago in order to meet the FA's ground grading requirements for Step 4. Visitors always take photos of it.
We also added a large car park down one side of the ground three years ago having raised some funds from the sale of land for housing. It's been very beneficial.
The only thing we're missing really is a bigger catering area - something that the club are looking to address.
Hanbury is a very clean stadium.
If an away fan was travelling to your ground for the first time, how would you recommend they got there? Tell us about parking and public transport.
Michael: It is best for away fans to travel by car, and apart from the stadium, it is always possible to park in the side streets or in the town centre. An excellent mainline railway station is 20 minutes walk away. The bus eervice would need to be checked before using.
Peter: It's best to travel by car, and if you don't mind arriving 45 minutes before kick-off you're sure to get a space in the car park There's also lots of free parking in the surrounding residential roads too.
Hanbury stadium is just over a mile's walk away from the railway station, it would put me off, but then I'm a lazy millennial.
Are there any local sights or amenities you’d recommend they visit? Tourist attractions, pubs etc?
Michael: The main town centre and the Broadway (south end of Perrymount Road) have excellent pubs and restaurants. Further afield, Brighton is a major attraction.
Peter: A stereotypical football fan likes beer, so if you can make the time, then head on over to the Lockhart Tavern on the Broadway. It's run by the Dark Star Brewery and stocks a large variety of ales.
If you arrive by train, there's a new Waitrose right on site which boasts a wine bar, if that's your thing.
Looking to make a day of it? Check out Borde Hill Gardens or the council's own Beech Hurst Gardens, there's a Harvester there.
Finally, pie, burger or pint? What would you recommend, and why?
Michael: We do them all (nearly)! Come and try them!
Peter: Stuart Morgan (my media partner in crime) suggested the answer 'Depends who's cooking'!
We don't do pies, but we sometimes have pasties and sausage rolls. The manager's wife Daz sometimes bakes some rock cakes, they sell very well. You can't go wrong with a bacon cheese burger and chips at Heath.