GLOUCESTERSHIRE County League founder members Sharpness are making a concerted push to regain their former status thanks to a new long-term lease afforded them at their present headquarters, writes Simon Parkinson.
The reigning Northern Senior League One champions and eight-time GFA Senior Amateur Cup conquerors have been unable to hit the heights of last season’s accomplishments, although with games in hand to make ground on the four sides above them, they remain in the reckoning to steal into promotion contention.
Regardless of those prospects the 117-year-old club, which provided the fledgling County League with one of its 16 original teams in 1968, are pressing firmly ahead with efforts to upgrade their facilities in readiness for a crack at promotion in 2017-18, should this season’s hopes fall by the wayside.
Since losing to industrial development in 1988 the Port ground they’d happily called their own for the 88 preceding years since their formation at the turn of the 20th century, Sharpness have been without a ‘real’ home, as they went on to ground-share briefly with Forest Green Rovers in the late 1980s, while Berkeley Vale Community School offered them premises for a spell before the switch to their current Hamfields Leisure Club venue on the old Berkeley Power Station site.
While discussions with the local council with a view to identifying a potential ground in Sharpness are ongoing and have been for three decades, the club have now been granted “welcome breathing space” courtesy of a 20-year lease at Hamfields, which is located some four miles away from their spiritual port facility.
The ambitious club’s minutes secretary and life member Nick Grove explained: “The facility we play on at Hamfields was once used by the power station social club workers, and when their set-up folded in 2007 the pitch became available and we moved there.
“As we are primary users of the site it suits the Hamfields Leisure Club to have us there to generate revenue, and they have no issues about what we’re doing there. They have been very supportive in welcoming us and sharing our ambitions for improving the facilities".
“We’ve just put barriers right around the pitch and brand-new dugouts, all funded by ourselves and our sponsors, and we’ve just had new goals installed.
“We’ll be almost there when it comes to County League ground grading requirements but we’re looking beyond that and having three portacabins providing changing rooms installed which will be up to Hellenic League spec, something the County League advised us to do.
“We were members of the Hellenic League until 1990 after we’d lost our Port ground but we look at the likes of other local clubs like Longlevens, Tuffley, Brimscombe and Thrupp, Kingswood, Lydney and Slimbridge and seen how well they’ve progressed since gaining promotion from the Northern Senior League, and want a piece of that action ourselves.
“The great thing is having this long-term lease at Hamfields enables us to apply for FA funding for ground improvements, although we’ve been seriously fund-raising for these projects for some four years now as we want to put foundations in place for the next generation.”
Of the Sharpness class of 2016-17, managed by Terry Gibbs and his No.2 Brad Thomas, one of the club’s most decorated players, Grove stressed: “It’s mathematically possibly still to go up this season, although we’re unlikely to win the league and then it would be a case of seeing what the County League wanted to do were we to finish high enough.
“If we’re offered the place, we’ll certainly take it. We have a very young and talented squad and we don’t want to be losing them to rival clubs.”
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