COMMUNITY CHAMPIONS

EASTBOURNE Borough Football Club's meteoric climb up the non-league soccer tree has been matched only by its efforts off the field.

This week those achievements were recognised by the Sussex FA who named Borough as the county's Community Club of the Year 2004.

Borough's amazing progress as a football club from its origins as a Langney park team in the late fifties to the heady heights of a place in the Nationwide Conference South has been well documented.

Below, Herald sports editor Ken McEwan looks at what is going on off the soccer pitch at Priory Lane and discovers some of the activities which keep the stadium buzzing from early morning to midnight seven days a week.HUNDREDS of local soccer fans have cheered Borough FC to three promotions since the arrival of manager Garry Wilson five years ago.

They have also witnessed huge improvements to a soccer stadium that is the pride of Sussex.

The construction of a 500-plus seated grandstand, covered terracing on all sides of the ground and additional retail outlets for supporters have made it an automatic choice for the annual staging of the Sussex Senior Cup Final.

But few have been aware of the astonishing developments off the field and the provision of other sporting and social amenities such as indoor bowls, archery, pool, darts and snooker.

Residents flock to regular bingo sessions while the annual fireworks display attracts four-figure attendances.

In the last year, the club's efforts to reach the heart of the community has snowballed, catering for every age-group – from the cradle to the grave.

Award-winning programme editor Mike Spooner took early retirement from being head teacher at Stone Cross School to oversee a major provision for even younger children at Priory Lane.

Mr Spooner, recently appointed chief executive at Borough, last year set up the Priory Learning Centre which became popularly known as the 'Owlets' Nursery School.

The executive boxes in the Mick Green stand, which on match days are used by Borough fans wanting to watch their favourite team in comfort, are suddenly transformed into all-day nursery facilities for two to five-year-olds, providing quality pre-school provision for children in the local area.

More recently, there has been another exciting innovation in the form of the Eastbourne Borough Study Support Centre.

The Centre is supervised by Pauline Donaldson, herself an ex-professional footballer, and provides basic skills and computer education for over 20-year-olds.

There is no restriction on age and only last week one 80-year-old was making use of an excellent computer introduction which is funded by the Learning Skills Council.

As a community club, Borough combines with Langney Sports Club to offer simply the best in social, educational and sporting opportunities.

Special events, held by many town organisations, regularly take place in the spacious clubhouse and restaurant, opened by the late Ian Gow in 1983, while the club's acceptance as a member of the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce is proof of its ever-increasing business involvement.

The efforts of commercial manager Tony Hylands, the football club's first ever full-time employee, has strengthened links with local Rotary clubs and schools, and tours of the ground are regularly provided for groups of all ages.

Borough received FA Community Club status back in 2002, but that only served to spur it to reach greater community heights.

Back in the early eighties, a Sussex FA official was heard to comment that 'Langney are, and always will be, nothing more than a parks team.'

Twenty years later, that same official must be eating a monumental slice of humble pie.