Eastbourne Town is the oldest senior football club in Sussex having been founded in 1881 as Devonshire Park, being named after its first home ground – A venue now known for staging one of the premier pre-Wimbledon tennis tournaments. In fact, it was the arrival of tennis at the ground which ultimately was to lead to it becoming the predominant sport and the subsequent relocation of both cricket and football. After five years of playing at the Park, the club moved to the newly opened “Saffrons Field” colourfully named after the variety of crocus which had originally been cultivated on the site for use in the preparation of medicines.
In 1889 the club changed its name to Eastbourne and fielding a side of ‘gentlemen amateurs’ began to play a dominant role in county football winning the Sussex Senior Cup eight times, and being runners-up on a further three occasions, up to 1907. In 1907 the club aligned itself with the then Amateur Football Alliance and split from the Football Association becoming founder members of the Southern Amateur League where they remained until after World War II. During the 1920’s the club won two League Championships, reached the final of the national AFA Senior Cup in four consecutive seasons, winning on two occasions, and made five further Sussex Senior Cup Final appearances albeit with only one success. The following decade did see a further two Senior Cup victories and success at the first attempt in the RUR Charity Cup. Good attendances saw the ‘popular’ Town Hall side of the ground asphalted and a new wooden grandstand erected behind the goal at the Larkin’s Field end.
The ground survived World War II intact with friendly matches regularly being played there. In the summer of 1946 the pitch was moved closer to the cricket ground to facilitate the Town Hall side being terraced, the Meads Road end section being covered in 1962. Following one post-war season in the Southern Amateur League, the club joined the Corinthian League in 1946 where they remained until the competition merged with the Athenian League in 1963. In the immediate post-war years the Saffrons attendances averaged 3,000 with the ground record of 7,378 being set when Southern League side Hastings United visited in an F.A. Cup tie on 10th October, 1953. During this era there were further Charity Cup successes, a Sussex Senior Cup win in 1953 and an AFA Invitation Cup success in 1970. Two years later, after more than eighty years of being known as the ‘town club’, the club’s name was changed to its present form. In March, 1969 the wooden grandstand was destroyed by an arsonist and although ‘temporary’ cover was provided, it was twenty-five years before a replacement was opened; the stand being named in memory of club stalwarts Sid Myall and Taffy Jones.
Falling attendances made it uneconomic to continue in the Athenian League and in 1976 Town resigned, their final match being in the League’s Cup Final where they lost 1-2 away to Cheshunt. Accepted into the Sussex County League the newcomers lifted the Championship at the first attempt and the following year reached the final of the Sussex Senior Cup. Thereafter the first team’s best finishing position was third on two occasions but generally the trend was downwards. The installation of floodlights for season 1994/95 saw a resurgence in results, therefore, it was a shock when after finishing ninth in 2000, a year later they found themselves relegated after dropping ten places and finishing next to bottom. An immediate return to Division One was almost achieved in 2002; however, promotion was won in 2003.
On their return to Division One Town were fifth in 2004 and, after two further seasons of consolation, the League Championship was again secured in 2007 and with it came promotion into Division One (South) of the Ryman Isthmian League, the club having only to complete minor works having pursued a programme of ground developments. The club, who hold the prestigious F.A. Community Club status, received a reprieve from relegation in 2010. Subsequently, the club strived to retain its place in the Ryman League but despite finishing in eleventh position in 2013 a bottom place finish in 2014 saw them relegated back to the County League. A spirited attempt to make an immediate return was thwarted when the side failed to reproduce their good early form after a long mid-season lay-off and they eventually finished fourth but did have the satisfaction of lifting the Sussex RUR Charity Cup for the sixth time moving them to within one victory of being the fourth most successful club in the competition. Last season good starts were made in the three senior cup competitions but produced no success as they concentrated on their position in the league where they were pipped for the title by Horsham who made an immediate return to the Ryman League.
Home Page Photo © David Bauckham
Sussex Senior Challenge Cup
Winners (12) 1889–90, 1890–91, 1893–94, 1894–95, 1898–99, 1899–1900, 1900–01, 1902–03, 1921–22, 1931–32, 1932–33, 1952–53
Runners Up (3) 1950–51, 1972–73, 1977–78
Southern Combination Football League
Runners Up 2015–16
Sussex County League
Division 1 Champions 1976–77, 2006–07
The Sussex Royal Ulster Rifles Charity Cup
Winners (6) 1932–33, 1947–48, 1949–50, 1985–86, 1986–87, 2014–15
Runners Up (5) 1919–20, 1925–26, 1945–46, 1955–56, 1963–64
7,378 v Hastings United, FA Cup 1953-54