Football returns for AFC Uckfield Town – with a trip down memory lane

After a break of five weeks due to the latest lockdown, AFC Uckfield Town return to action this Saturday with their biggest game of the season.  Uckfield entertain Guildford City in the second round of the national FA Vase – a competition which has its final at Wembley Stadium and in which the Uckers reached the last 32 two seasons ago.

Saturday’s opponents play in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League, where they are currently second from bottom – a slightly false position as Guildford have several games in hand over all the other clubs in the league.  They have also won three games in their FA Vase run to date, all away from home, and so a tough match for Uckfield is in prospect.

All relevant social distancing guidelines will be in operation for the match at the Oaks, which kicks off at 3pm.

A trip down memory lane

Saturday’s match brings back a heap of nostalgia for Uckfield FM’s sports presenter David Eggleston.

David was brought up in Guildford and followed the team regularly with his father over many years.  In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, with crowds of around 2,000, Guildford City were one of the leading forces in non-league football, playing in the Southern League – which was then the equivalent of today’s National League – and winning the Southern League Cup twice.  They even got close to being elected into the Football League in the days before automatic relegation for the bottom teams in football’s fourth tier.

Not surprisingly, it was the FA Cup that provided David’s most memorable Guildford City match.  Drawn away to Brentford in the first round just before Christmas 1967, City were leading 2-1 when the game was abandoned during the second half because of snow.  A second trip to Griffin Park ended in a 2-2 draw and meant a replay at City’s Joseph’s Road ground in front of over 7,000 fans who roared City to a famous 2-1 victory in an epic tie.  Sadly, City’s hopes of a glamour match in the FA Cup’s third round were dashed when they were beaten by the only goal at home to Newport in round two.

In the current era when fixture congestion is a common talking point, it is perhaps worth noting that the re-arranged match with Brentford at Griffin Park took place on a Thursday night and the replay on the following Monday, with a league game sandwiched in between on the Saturday – three games in five days for both teams. What would Messrs Klopp, Solskjaer or Mourinho say about that schedule !

After their successes in the 1960s, the club were beset with financial problems and in 1974 Guildford City folded and merged with Dorking, before collapsing after just two seasons.  Some 20 years later, a group of volunteers got together to bring back senior football to Guildford, and the team now play at the town’s main Leisure Centre.  However, crowds averaging around 100 are disappointingly thin considering the huge catchment area, although they are showing signs of growth in recent times.

David has always tried to get back to watch City when he can, and there was one very poignant occasion in 2009.  His father passed away with Alzheimer’s disease on a Friday night.  The following day, Guildford were at home to East Preston in the FA Cup and David went along in the hope that his father would be able to look down on a City win.  It was looking that way, before Guildford surrendered a 4-1 lead to draw 4-4 ! (EP won the replay in a penalty shootout.)

It is a case here of divided loyalties for David as regards this big match.  Hopefully, the winners can make it all the way to Wembley !

If you cannot get to the game on Saturday, David will keep you right up-to-date on the Saturday Sport programme on Uckfield FM from 2 pm.