The future looks bright for Worthing Football Club, having secured their status in the Isthmian League Premier Division for another season.
In their final home game against Burgess Hill this Easter Monday, a dramatic equaliser in the 94th minute from substitute Jack Newhouse, saved them from relegation.
This was the first time the club had played under the sole management of Gary Elphick, following the announcement of Jon Meeney’s departure last week. In his speech thanking the fans for their unwavering support over the season, Elphick praised his team’s spirit. He said that it is going to be crucial over the summer for the team to recruit effectively and build on what will be their second season in the Isthmian League.
Chairman George Dowell said: “The aim at the start of the year was to stay up and we’ve managed to do that. It’s been up and down, but it’s been fun. Its been all or nothing really!”
Worthing’s relegation survival helps them on their way to achieving their chairman’s five year plan. When George invested in the club in 2015, he set out that his key aims for the next five years were to install a new, full size 3G pitch and achieve two league promotions.
George had joined Worthing Football Club as a promising player at the age of fifteen, playing for their under 18’s team with England Schools trials ahead of him that summer.
However after only a couple of days after his first appearance on the bench for the first team,
George was involved in a life changing car accident in which he broke his spine. The accident left him paralysed from the chest down and ended his hopes of pursuing a career as a professional footballer.
George spent ten months following the accident in recovery at Salisbury Hospital but he was not going to let it keep him away from his love of the game.
He said: “I still loved the game, but it took me a while really to build my confidence up after being in hospital. One month after I came out of hospital my friends were already suggesting setting up a team for me to run. It took me a while to even want to do that. But then two years later I started Worthing Borough and that just got me back into it – I just thought, I need to stay involved.”
George’s original plan was to find a plot of land and build a 3G pitch for Worthing Borough to train and play on. Having spoken to other community teams who were also struggling to find a ground of this design to play on, George saw this as a great step in helping local teams.
It was at this time that George read in the papers that Worthing Football Club was struggling financially and faced closure.
He said: “As soon as I saw that Worthing was struggling financially and probably going to go bust in a couple of weeks, I just thought this was the perfect place to do it. It was never my intentions to start with, to own a football club of this size just yet. Its been more than I ever could have imagined, it’s been really good.”
Since becoming chairman of the club two years ago, George has seen through his plans to provide a full size 3G pitch for local clubs to play and train on at the club’s stadium, Woodside Road. He has also invested in renovating their club bar, replaced the stand that had been falling apart with brand new seating and is in the process of building a new board room. George has also ensured that the club’s kitchen, which had been sublet, is now owned by the club so that on a match day they can serve food whenever they wish.
“It was never my intention to start with, to own a football club of this size just yet. It’s been more than I ever could have imagined. It’s been really good.” – George Dowell
With the first team also achieving promotion to the Isthmian League last year, they are well on their way to completing George’s targets.
Their crowds have gone up from around 150 spectators at matches, to an average of 600 people at all home games. George attributes this success to more children in the area using the facilities that Worthing Football Club has to offer.
He said: “The kids that come here during the week want to come back and watch their coaches play at the weekend, bringing their parents along. It all feeds in to the community and gets everyone involved. They come back because they want to become a part of the club.”
A big part of why more youths are becoming more involved in the club is down to the new Development Centre. This new centre has set up development programmes, open to children from the ages of six to sixteen of all abilities, to give them a chance to get active, involved with their local football team and give them an opportunity to realise their potential. Working closely with local schools and grassroots clubs, Worthing Football Club offers coaching by first team players. They are hopeful that they will be able to take players from the development centre and give them the opportunity to play for their under 18’s and first teams.
Prior to the introduction of the Development Centre, the club was only open two days a week. George is hopeful that the new opportunities offered at the club will encourage the local community to get involved.
Speaking about his own experience as a child at the club, he said: “We used to play our cup finals here and the buzz was incredible. Playing here as a kid was proper grand. It was like a proper stadium and we loved playing here. As a kid, it’s where your memories are.”
George said that the next big step for the club is to try and spread the word and draw more people in to help it grow and develop as a part of the community. The club have asked the council for more signage towards the ground and billboards in the town centre, to make it more recognisable from the outside.
“We need to keep going what we’re doing. It’s about spreading the word.” – George Dowell
He said: “Apart from this, we just need to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s about spreading the word. If we were to get promoted next season it will be a step in the right direction. Playing at a higher level – just off of the back of that alone we would get a bit more of a buzz around with more people coming down.”
If Worthing are to achieve the second promotion they desire within the next three seasons, they will have to make further developments to their grounds to comply with the Football Association’s standards. They would have to increase the number of turnstiles at Woodside Road and would require a lot more seating area, which George envisions will wrap around the far side of the pitch and behind the goals.
With many people based in Worthing being supporters of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club, George praises their fans who come to the Worthing games when Brighton play away, supporting another local team on the rise. He is sure that they see from the outside that Worthing Football Club are trying to do things the right way and this encourages other fans to get involved and show their support.
Over the last two years there has been a lot for George to learn, after all not many twenty-four year olds own a football club. His initially thought that he would just come to watch the games at the weekends, but it has proven to be so much more. George proudly said that the club is determined to do things correctly and efficiently and their growing team has helped their progression off-pitch over the last year.
Not only has his involvement in the club saved it from closure, but it has also allowed George to get back into being involved in the game that he loves.
George reflected on his first two years at the club, saying: “Since I’ve become involved with football again, especially being down here, it gives me a job and something to do, as well as doing something I enjoy. My social life is a lot better than it was then and yeah, everything else is better really.”
For their final home game of the season Worthing Football Club teamed up with local children’s charity Rockinghorse. They collected donations on the day for their ‘Sussex Giving for Sussex Children’ appeal – showing the club’s commitment to supporting the community as well as their fans commitment to supporting their club and the values that it stands for.