“It’s going to be about, ten minutes, we’ve been drunk dry” exclaimed the man in the Tea hut, surveying his empty tea urn.
A lack of tea on tap is evidently, the price of success at Eastleigh.
Immediately opposite, on the far side of the pitch rises another indicator of changing times. The currently named South Stand, which seats just over 2,000 and reminds me of the stands at St. Mirren in the Scottish Premier League, is open for the first time today having received building control clearance.
It’s sleek silver contrasts with the dark ramshackle tea hut opposite. The wooden structure which also served as the bar and dressing rooms has, outwardly, changed little from when the ground was known as Ten Acres and hosted Wessex League football, but the stand looming opposite suggests that its days may well be numbered.
Eastleigh are a club with ambition, ever since Paul Doswell et al waked them from their slumber in the lower reaches of the pyramid and hoisted them up to the Conference South via three successive promotions, beginning with the winning of the Wessex League – where the club had resided since 1986 – in 2003.
A couple of times the Eastleigh project looked to have faltered, firstly with the departure of Doswell part-way through the 2006-97 season after disappointing results and secondly with the failure of Ian Baird’s side to hold onto a 4-0 lead against Hayes and Yeading in the Conference South play-off semi finals in 2009
Missing out on the play-offs the next two seasons the Hayes & Yeading defeat seemed to have been a high water mark for a club which enjoyed reasonable, but not spectacular attendances. The arrival of new owners Bridle Insurance however, at the end of 2011, has provided the club with an additional boost.
On the pitch the playing squad was given a boost with a number of high-profile signings. Off-field changes were made to the behind-the-scenes staffing and improvements made to the ground. In September 2012 Baird was replaced by current manager Richard Hill, who led his side into the Conference Premier, one step away from the football league, at the end of last season.
Bridle aslo seem quite fond of letting supporters in for free, which is what they have done tonight for the game against Dartford.
There are of course detractors. For some Eastleigh are the new Crawley, the non-league side elevated by nothing other than an owners bulging pockets. Then there are those who point out that often in football what goes up seemingly too quickly comes – often equally, if not more, spectacularly – crashing back down. A litany of clubs and fans have found this to their hardship over recent years Rushden and Diamonds, Weymouth, Truro City, Salisbury and so on
Certainly the list is long enough to inspire cynicism, if not in the motives, then at least in the capacities of club owners, and a tendency to over-reach.
Tonight though the only problem seems to be a lack of tea.
Eastleigh 2 – 0 Dartford