With English football’s top two tiers inactive and a handful of matches across Leagues One and Two also called off this weekend during the international break, the annual celebration of non-league football, Non-League Day, returns this Saturday.
Ten years after the initiative’s birth, its scale is likely to grow even further in 2019, and in Uckfield, the chance to take part as a fan comes as AFC Uckfield Town take on Little Common in a crucial Peter Bentley Third Round match, writes Will Hugall.
Since the Uckers played their opening Peter Bentley Cup tie this season, it’s fair to say it’s been an interesting few weeks.
Following a 3-1 victory over AFC Varndeanians in the competition’s Second Round, a tough round of fixtures against three of last season’s top five, plus Lancing – this season’s only ninth-tier side unbeaten in 90 minutes – saw them collect three points and progress in the Sussex Senior Cup, before their abandonment against Crawley Down Gatwick last weekend.
They complete the set of four Eastbourne-based SCFL sides this weekend, having already played Town, United and Langney Wanderers with two wins and two defeats, and will be looking to make progress in a competition where they have an expanding pedigree.
With Final appearances for AFC Uckfield in 2012 and the current club earlier this year, the Uckers are one of only five sides to have made it to within 90 minutes of the title twice in the last decade.
They are also one of just three teams – alongside Sidlesham and Ringmer – to have appeared in the Final twice this millennium without winning the trophy, a statistic they will be keen to resolve if they can put together another run this season.
Opposition Lowdown – Little Common
Rejoining the Sussex County League under their current name in 2005 – having originally been members between 1986 and 1995 – Bexhill side Little Common have enjoyed a steady rise through the divisions since that return, and reached the SCFL Premier for the first time in their history in 2018.
After being refused promotion in 2016-17 despite a 2nd-place finish, the club relocated to The Oval – home of Eastbourne United – and with the ground-share arrangement continuing this season, can be regarded as Eastbourne’s unofficial fifth team.
Player-manager Russell Eldridge has built a stable squad from those who achieved promotion, and after finishing 16th last season currently sit 15th, with Jamie Crone, Wes Tate and record goalscorer Lewis Hole continuing to offer plenty of goal threat, while Sam Cruttwell also has seven strikes this season.
Common have entered the Peter Bentley Cup in each of the last eleven seasons, but other than a run to the Quarter Finals in 2015-16 are yet to make a real impact – never otherwise going beyond the Third Round. Last season, they suffered a 7-0 defeat to Newhaven in the Second Round, but this term won 5-0 at Hailsham Town at the same stage.
While far from personally responsible for the record, Common’s history across two towns also aligns interestingly with the lack of success for sides from either Bexhill-on-Sea or Eastbourne in the Peter Bentley Cup. Both East Sussex towns are amongst six with a population of over 30,000 in the whole of Sussex without a title success in the last two decades, alongside Brighton & Hove, Hastings, Worthing and Littlehampton.
With the title tending to belong to sides with monopolies in their towns instead, the odds may be against Common, but they will certainly not let that distract them in what is sure to be another closely-fought battle, with a Quarter-Final place away to the winners of Eastbourne United vs Pagham at stake.
AFC Uckfield Town vs Little Common FC kicks off at 3 p.m. this Saturday at The Oaks (Framfield, TN22 5QL), with directions to the ground available here.
Admission is £6 for adults, £3 for concessions, and free for under-16s.
Live updates are available throughout the match from the @AfcUckfieldTown Twitter page, and also on the Saturday Sport programme with David Eggleston, live here on Uckfield FM from 2-6 p.m., with a full report to follow in the hours after the game.
Come on you Uckers!