The south eastern English county of Sussex (actually, it’s not a single county politically any more, but a place divided into East Sussex, West Sussex, and the unitary authority of Brighton and Hove) stretches from the seaside to the outskirts of London, home to well over a million people.
Most of them do not follow a professional club. Unlike another similarly sized county such as Lancashire, home to the likes of both Manchesters in the Premier League, as well as Preston, Bury, Burnley, Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport County, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, Sussex only features Brighton and Hove Albion of League One.
In non-League football, though, Sussex does have a variety of clubs, many of which had a surprisingly strong showing last season — a season of football across Sussex captured with aplomb by photographers Terry Buckman and David Bauckham in their new book, “A Season of Sussex Soccer”.
Attending around 140 games, the two managed to capture action from 62 clubs in the region, in what they describe as a “microcosm of The National Game”. The photos are interspersed with monthly roundups of the action on the field, from the perspiration of pre-season friendlies in August to the mud covered battles of mid-winter, through to the exciting climax for two of the largest teams aside from Brighton, promotion winning Lewes FC and Eastbourne Borough in Blue Square South.
Bognor Regis goalkeeper, groundsman, and former Chelsea apprentice Eddie Broadbent prepares for pre-season action.
Tubby midfielders, tiny stands, and greenery dominate the action. This is Havant and Waterlooville territory, not Anfield. As Mile Oak take on Storrington in front of 68 folks, we see the few travelling fans tucked under a stand barely wider than the beefy chaps themselves, perhaps relations of the players on the field.
The photographers lean more towards action shots than scenery, but even these — given the close quarters — can’t fail to give a sense of the intimate surroundings, and the sometimes strange disconnect between the passion on the players faces and the lush, lazy countryside rolling behind them.
The raw energy is at times captured brilliantly in the book, as in this photo of Eastbourne Town taking on Worthing, the players livid after the referee controversally disallows a goal:
As we make it to the end of the season and the celebratory team photos for trophy winning sides across the county from Bexhill to Lewes, we’ve perhaps been following too many teams across too many divisions to really feel deeply for any. But in a sense, that approach does capture the grassroots of the game in a county like Sussex scattered with small, locally embedded clubs quite perfectly.
A Season of Sussex Soccer is available for shipping worldwide. More information is available at Center Circle Publishing.