Pitch battle for Chard Town...

CHARD Town Football Club are due to celebrate their centenary in two years’ time and while most clubs approach that milestone with a sense of excitement and a plan for the next few years, possibly with a match against a League club, the Robins’ immediate future is less than certain and much depends on various meetings in the next couple of weeks.

What is known for sure is that the friendly South Somerset club are much respected and still one of the best supported in the Toolstation Western League, having been members since 1976 and had a yo-yo existence between the two divisions in that 40 odd years.

Their quirky and homely Zembard Lane ground has been home for more than 80 seasons during which time they have plied their trade in the Perry Street and District, Somerset Senior and Western Leagues but circumstances have recently transpired to put their very existence as a senior club in jeopardy.

Current club chairman is local man Lyndsey Gage who has the unenviable task of guiding the club through these troubled times which appear to have begun following a heavy FA Cup defeat a few years ago at home to a club from another league who subsequently made a complaint over Chard’s sloping pitch.

Gage explained: “For some reason that club decided to inform the FA that our pitch was not compliant with the playing standards and having played here since the 1930s, we were told that it was no longer acceptable.”

Things then escalated for the club who have since not been eligible to play in any FA competitions for the last few seasons since the ruling and with the forthcoming league pyramid reshaping approaching, Chard Town face the real possibility of a forced relegation to county football.

Gage continued: “The last three away games have all seen us told that we are out of the league at the end of the season, but that is not right and we have had nothing official from either the FA or the league. We know there will be some sideways movement and we intend to fight our corner as if we don’t we could easily end up playing our football at a lower level than Ilminster Town.”

However, despite plans for a new ground next door with a 4G pitch at Holyrood School and subsequently a groundshare up the road at Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Axminster Town both falling by the wayside, there is at last real hope on the horizon.

“We have had a very productive meeting regarding a new location just on the edge of town and a three way agreement could just pave the way for us to secure our status,” Gage explained. “We need to know very soon what the situation is as we have until the end of the month if we need to apply to other leagues and, of course, the management and players will want to know what the story is for next season.”

The club have plans for a new complex at Mount Hindrance, which would include grass and 4G pitches and with property developers, brewery land owners and the football club all on the same page, planning applications are going through and from a place of desolation there is optimism, although naturally the atmosphere is still tense.

On the field Chard Town were denied the chance to return to the Premier Division following an excellent campaign two years ago which resulted in the management team and most of the squad leaving for Bridport, but new boss Paul Down has steadied the ship and the side are comfortable in the top half.

Gage added: “We want to make sure we finish as high up the table as possible to show our total commitment to everybody concerned as the future at a new ground has fantastic potential. Football on 4G is definitely the way forward as it could be used all day.

“We want to introduce ladies football, walking football and a new youth set up. I have an 11-year-old grandson who wants to play for the club and although I never had the chance to play Western League football, there are loads of kids in the town who would have and to lose that would be very disappointing.”

One man who did play at that level for years and has been around the club and the town for decades is president Roy Lock.

“We have had meetings with various councillors and produced a profile of our proposed academy as the school offered us a ground and a clubhouse but the proposal was thrown out, apparently due to the proximity of a Hockey England pitch,” said Lock. “There are some Perry Street clubs who haven’t played since November because of the constant rain and if we had an all-weather facility football could be played on it all day, every day if need be and the possibilities are endless.”

With all at the club set for the next important meetings life goes on at the Dening Sports Field and last week more than 200 pitched up for the Les Phillips Cup derby with Bridport, which the Robins lost narrowly by the only goal.

The famous end-to-end slope possibly only holds fears for referees who are going uphill both halves and many point down the road to the Huish, former home of Yeovil Town FC, whose sideways slope was so pronounced that allegedly the corner flags were in different time zones.

Other grounds around the country at the likes of Horndean, Horwich, Darlaston, Barnet, Wycombe  Wanderers and Oxford United have all had pronounced slopes over the decades and it is heart breaking for club officials, supporters and indeed football ground aficionados that the historic Dening Sports Ground is in danger of causing the demotion of the club which it has served so well for more than eight decades.

There is no doubt that Chard Town Football Club remain an important and well loved member of the Western League and, collectively across the counties, fingers are being crossed that the imminent meetings end with a path to progression unencumbered by bureaucracy and red tape.

By Kerry Miller.

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