SOUTH PARK FOOTBALL CLUB – A BRIEF HISTORY
South Park Football Club was formed in 1897 and immediately became founder members of the Redhill & District Football League along with other local clubs Godstone, Meadvale and Reigate Priory Reserves. The club remain members of the league today.
Although the facilities were basic the early matches were played in the original sports field which was in upper South Park between Crescent Road and Church Road. In 1925 under the direction of Canon Gregory from the local church, the football club together with the village cricket club formed the South Park Sports Association with the aim of the Association to provide sport and sporting facilities for the people of South Park. Within a few years it was realised that this new concept would be better served by an improvement in facilities and playing conditions. Fortunately for both club’s suitable land existed in Whitehall Lane, the clubs current home and with the co-operation of the public spirited landowner, Harold Swannack, four acres of ground were purchased there. Always strapped for cash in these early years, the money was raised for the field largely by public subscription, which included door to door collections.
In order to preserve the land as a permanent sports ground, great foresight was exercised in vesting the land and subsequent purchases of further lots of two acres and four acres making ten acres in all in the National Playing Fields Association, now known as Fields in trust. The land became known as the ‘King Georges Field’ from 1935. The changing rooms were located on the far side of the field from Whitehall Lane at the bottom of the number two football pitch. Although the facilities were an improvement on their previous home they remained basic.
The football club flourished in the years leading to the Second Great War but obviously declined during and immediately after it. A handful of stewards rallied to the cause however and quickly resurrected its fortunes. One legacy of the hostilities, the air raid shelter, became the focus of attention when it became clear that further improvements were needed to the facilities if sporting aspirations were to be advanced. Thus it was that a shower room and toilet block and a modest clubhouse were attached to this building. Funding for this was achieved through the tireless efforts of the ‘Friends of South Park Sports Association’ organisation. Despite these commendable efforts, the Association lived for many years on a hand to mouth basis with the management all too frequently having to put their hands into their own pockets to ensure its survival.
During this period the playing side of the football club flourished with numerous honours won in the local leagues and cups together with appearances in County Cup finals. The club were also honoured in the fact that a number of players progressed to senior football with clubs such as Redhill and Eastbourne Town in the fifties and sixties, the heyday of non league football.
The seventies and eighties brought further improvements to the changing facilities and clubroom and the purchase of the land that is now our main pitch were made. In the early seventies the football club started the junior’s section. Over the years the number of teams has increased on a regular basis and today we have boy’s teams from under eight’s through to under sixteen’s.
In 1997 the football club celebrated its Centenary year, the highlight of which was a celebratory dinner held at Reigate Manor Hotel at which over 150 people attended. Many players both past and present attended along with guests from The Football Association and Surrey County Football Association. The club was presented with its own unique framed certificate from the Football Association to mark this occasion.
The club was once again celebrating in 1998 when Geof Thatcher was awarded a Gold Medal by the Football Association to commemorate over 50 years service to football, the whole period with our club dating back to the war years when the club only played friendly matches as their was no competitive football during the war.
2001 saw Reigate Town Football Club move to South Park and the club became known as South Park & Reigate Town Football Club. In 2002 the club saw the formation of the first girl’s team to play under the clubs name and we now have four girl’s teams. The following the year saw the introduction of the youth team who are currently playing in the Southern Youth Floodlight League. The youth team played their home matches at Merstham Football Club from 2003–2007 as at the time we did not have floodlights.
For the 2003/04 season the club reverted back to its original name of South Park Football Club. In February 2004 the club became only the fifth in Surrey to be awarded the status of ‘FA Charter Standard Community Club’. In 2006 the first team were promoted to the Combined Counties Football League and as our new changing facilities were being built played their home matches at Cranleigh. In their first season in the Combined Counties League the team finished in seventh place in the league. 2007 saw the completion of our new changing rooms and the erection of floodlights around our main pitch. This ensured that our first and youth teams could now play their home matches in South Park.
The 2008/09 season saw another landmark in the history of the club when we hosted Shoreham in our first ever FA Vase game. The 2009/10 season saw the club finish in their highest position (6th) since joining the Combined Counties League. The club has continued to progress and in August 2010 our stand will be erected which will give us the ground grading required for the first team to gain promotion. The 2010/11 season will saw the club participate in the FA Cup for the time with an away tie against Greenwich Borough in the extra preliminary round. This game was covered by ITV Sport to start their Road to Wembley coverage as were our subsequent ties against Horsham YMCA and Cray Wanderers. The first team won the Surrey Premier Cup Final and the Lemon Recordings Division One Challenge Cup in addition to being promoted to the Premier Division of the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League.
The 2011/12 saw South Park finish in eighth position in their first season in the Combined Counties League Premier Division. A good run in the FA Carlsberg Vase saw us reach the Fourth Round where we were beaten by Whitley Bay, the Vase winners for the previous three seasons. Playing in the Surrey Senior Cup for the first time Park beat Ryman Premier League Kingstonian and Leatherhead before finally being knocked out in the quarter finals by Conference South Sutton Utd. Season 2012/13 saw the club reach the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup with Budweiser where we played Metropolitan Police in front of a club record attendance of 643. The team finished the season in 4th place in the league and reached the league cup final.
The 2013/14 season saw South Park win the Combined Counties League Premier Division and in doing so gain promotion to the Isthmian League Division One South. Our first season at step four saw us finish in a creditable 14th position. Each season has seen us improve on the previous season’s league position with an 8th place finish in 2016/17. The 2016/17 season also saw us reach the 2nd Round of the FA Trophy where we drawn away to Tranmere Rovers. South Park finished the 2017/18 season in 13th place in the league. They also reached the semi finals of the Surrey Senior Cup for the first time. Malcolm Porter announced that he would be stepping down as manager due to business commitments at the end of the 2017/18 season. Mick Sullivan was appointed as manager however after a poor start to the season the club accepted his resignation in mid October. Jay Lovett was appointed manager and took charge of his first game at the beginning of November. Park went into the final game of the season needing to match Molesey’s result to retain their step 4 status. Park gained a 3-2 victory to secure their Step 4 status.
The Sparks made a solid start to the 2019/20 season however manager Jay Lovett resigned at the beginning of November to take up a similar position at Burgess Hill. Martin Dynan was appointed as Manager in mid November. He guided Park to the ¼ finals of the Surrey Senior Cup and maintained their mid table position before the season was abruptly halted due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
It must also be noted that without the tireless efforts of the late Fred Dearmun, Geof Thatcher, Ray Wilson and Geof Arnold to name but a few, the club would not be in the position it is today.