The Mile Oak Football team (as shown in the image above): Top row: SCOTT CARDEN, ANTHONY WHITTINGTON (manager), JACK FOREMAN, TONY BURNETT, CRAIG HALL, ADAM LAUNDON, PAUL EATON, CHRIS PAINE, CHRIS PULLING, DAN TOWSE (D.O.F), STEVE SARGENT (physio) Bottom row: MARTIN ROWE, MATT STEPHENS, STEVE PORTER (captain), JAMIE ASH, RYAN SARGENT, MARK KOKOT.
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MILE OAK FOOTBALL CLUB – A Brief History
Formed in 1960, and providing football for the expanding population of north Portslade estate of Mile Oak, the club has always been an integral part of the community to which it belongs. Successive promotions from the lowest division in the Brighton, Hove & District League through junior football and towards the upper echelons of the league were soon achieved. The promising beginnings on the field were sadly not matched by the club’s off-field organisation and with a stark lack of willing committee members, the club had little choice but to throw in the towel. Fortunately this disappointing state of affairs stirred the emotions of a bunch of folk who set about rising the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. So after a year’s absence, the 1969 version of Mile Oak F.C. set sail once again. This time, in recognition of past performance, the club were deemed proficient enough to start half way up the league. Their first match was against Hassocks, a club that would prove to be erstwhile opponents many times on the long and winding road to the County League summit at which both would eventually find themselves. Success followed success and the club won the Hove & Worthing Cup at junior standard before attaining intermediate football in the Brighton League Premier Division. The Premier was to be the Club’s constant home for over a decade and while only actually winning the league championship on one occaison, the club regularly finished in the top three and firmly established itself as the top amateur club in Hove. One member of the community who was part of the success story virtually from the start was Ron Kerly, a life member and previous long serving Club Chairman he was also a key player in the early days. Ron’s sons were to play many hundreds of games for the Oak in following years and the elder Geoff went on to captain, manage the reserve team and then become Chairman. Together with his wife Geoff also instigated and ran the enormously financially important 100 Club.Ron’s grandson now pulls on the orange of Mile Oak. Another family synonymous with Mile Oak F.C. is the Gratwicke’s. Following the family’s move from Worthing in the 60’s and the reformation of the Club in 1969 Vic Gratwicke eventually took up the managerial reigns for both the first and reserve sides. He was also later to become Chairman and President and of course a life member. He was also able to watch and indeed manage his two sons as Tony and Barry clocked up over 1000 appearances between them. Tony went on to become the club’s most successful manager as he guided the Oak to Senior football whilst Barry has served on the Committee for many years. Vic’s grandaughter Faye also served on the Committe as match secretary. After he finished managing, Vic also ran the tea bar with his wife Lilian for many years. During this time the wives of Tony and Barry raised many thousand of pounds for the club mainly through raffles and club events. The club has always nurtured a happy atmosphere which in turn generated a massive loyalty from players and supporters alike. This loyalty has been carried over into the years of senior football where players appearances are in the hundreds at a club where no monetary reward is on offer. At one particularly ground-breaking committee meeting in 1986, a bold decision was made to take steps towards an eventual place in senior football within the Sussex County League. That season an application was made to join the Southern Counties Combination, then one of the few recognised feeder leagues of the newly created Sussex football “pyramid”. Application accepted, the Club said their farewells to the Brighton League in appropriate fashion by winning it’s League Cup for the first time and promptly “doubled” up with a Vernon-Wentworth Cup victory. The combination beckoned, welcomed the Oak with open arms, and then waved an equally swift good-bye. Oak won the championship at the first attempt and almost won the League Cup as well, to earn their place in, and move onwards in to the third division of the County League. Again the improvement in standard held no fear for the Oak, and they soon installed themselves as a force to be reckoned with. After finishing outside the top five just once in five seasons, and reaching the final of the Sussex F.A.’s Intermediate Cup competition, they eventually achieved their long term goal of playing senior football, all within a time span of a mere six years! Mile Oak’s first season in senior football saw an encouragingly solid campaign with a place in the Division Two Cup Final(losing to Lancing), and finishing in 10th place out of 19 starters in the league, directly above local rivals Southwick. The steady improvement continued, and in the 1994-95 season Oak made a spectacular start with a “six wins out of six” flyer. Oak won their final game to clinch promotion and then days later witnessed the all important defeats of their nearest rivals to place the Championship Trophy in Oak’s grasp. In the same season Oak’s reserves also won their championship, gaining a place in the reserves Premier Division. To be allowed entry into the top flight of County Football the Club now had to erect floodlights. Naturally the Club had begun preparing for the anticipated promotion several months before promotion was gained and the first major step was to gain planning permission for the erection and usage of floodlighting at the Recreation Ground. After a very traumatic period of time permission was eventually won and finance put in place enabling the Club to take its rightful place in Division One of the County League. During this critical time the technical knowledge and organising skills of Ron and Geoff Kerly and our long serving secretary, Colin Brown were to prove invaluable as the Club attempted to make the floodlights a reality against the backdrop of an organised and angry “Anti Lights” residents association. Division One would always be tough for any newly promoted side, especially a strictly amateur one such as Mile Oak. Whilst having a constant battle to preserve their status, the club did exceptionally well to remain in division one for three seasons before finally being relegated back to division two. This remains the only relegation in the senior side’s history. This is Mile Oak’s 10th consecutive season in division two, following two managerial changes, is now aiming to be amongst the challengers for promotion once again. Facilities at the Mile Oak Recreation Ground are steadily being improved to keep pace with the constant changes in ground grading to enable the club to achieve this. The club aims to attract players with an opportunity to achieve success through teamwork and community rather than the promise of monetary rewards, and also runs a successful youth policy with an under 18 team in the Sussex County League and has affiliations with Hangleton Rangers Youth F.C.as well as Reaburn Rovers U-16’s, managed by the Oak’s former senior manager. Hangleton Rangers girls team also use the Oak’s facilities. Over the years this youth policy has produced a steady supply of young players ready for senior football. During the club’s time in senior football financing has always been a topic of some conversation – perhaps more so by opposing clubs who seem to find it puzzling that we can operate in senior football without paying our players and that indeed for many years we charged players to play! Unlike the vast majority of clubs we meet week in week out we do not have the luxury of a clubhouse with all the obvious spinoffs. However, the Mile Oak Pub has over many years generously sponsored the club and provided after match food and entertainment for players, officials and spectators, so much so, that it is referred to in the match day programme as “Clubhouse Mile Oak F.C.” Nevertheless without the income from a clubhouse a tremendous amount of fundraising has to be carried out during the year to enable the club to continue to compete in senior football.