CHICHESTER City believe they can go from strength to strength after battling against the odds to stay in the Sussex League’s top flight.
They squeezed out of the bottom three with a last-game win over Peacehaven at Oaklands Park on Monday to ensure they will be in the first division again next year.
Now, with a large number of young local players coming through the ranks, City officials and coaches believe the only way is up.
Chairman Sean Forry, who manages the club’s development squad, recalled how in 2011, internal problems and a breakdown in the club’s relationship with Chichester District Council saw City go within an hour of losing their FA affiliation, senior status and their ground.
A last-minute reprieve gave them a chance to build again but there was still plenty of work to do and just over a year ago, they were bottom of the league, managerless and with only two senior players left to complete the season.
New joint managers Neil Sherlock and Alex Twitchen were appointed and made signings who, with a mixture of under-18s and a couple of older players, saw out the 2011-12 season.
A Sussex League decision to expand division one saved them from relegation –though only after an appeal to the FA.
The appointment of Sherlock and Twitchen as first-team managers, the creation of a development squad playing under former under-18s boss Forry and the appointment of Keith Talent as new under-18 manager showed a commitment to the development of young, local talent.
In the season just finished, the first-team squad had an average age of 20, backed by an even younger development squad and the under-18s.
Forry said: “These players have experienced an extreme learning curve over the past nine months, but in the second half of the season particularly, they’ve responded wonderfully.
“Monday’s tremendous victory over champions Peacehaven has secured our place in division one for next season and we’re extremely proud of that achievement.
“The club’s ladies’ section goes from strength to strength. Their first team have finished third in the third tier of the national league system and their reserves and new youth section are thriving.
“The boys’ youth section is equally impressive. It is among the best in the county and the potential of players at all ages is clear.
“This season’s men’s section has seen 11 players graduate from last year’s successful under-18s and into the development squad which, in turn, has seen 11 players find regular places in the first-team squad. There have been senior debuts for seven of the current (and equally successful) under-18s – several have played for City since the age of six.
“There’s even been an appearance for under-16 keeper Adam Beauvoisin, which sums up exactly how we want this club to run.
“There aren’t too many teams at non-league step-five level who can boast such use of ‘homegrown’ talent – even fewer who have survived while doing so.
“These lads, along with the contribution of other first-team squad members, have done us proud.
“Provided we can keep such players at the club, and continue to nurture local boys and girls through the youth sections and into the seniors, I’m convinced the future is very bright.
“We have great coaches and staff and a like-minded board. After all our problems, it’s good to see all of our sections coming together.
“We have excellent links with the City’s college and university and are well supported by the local business community.”