Founded as Langney Football Club in 1965, the club initially joined the Eastbourne & District Football League. The team played on local recreation grounds before moving to Prince’s Park, near the Eastbourne sea-front.
By 1973/74 the club had scaled the Eastbourne & Hastings League, and was beginning to look for a future beyond parks football. “They’ll never be more than a parks team!” was the infamous comment of one very senior official in Sussex football – but they proved him wrong!
In 1983 and now named Langney Sports, the club were elected as a founder member of Division 3 of the Sussex County League, and swiftly moved up through the divisions, rarely finishing outside the top four in Division One, and respected as a force to be reckoned with across Sussex.
Finally after some close-run campaign the 1999/00 season, under management duo Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood, saw the Sports take the Sussex County League title, gaining promotion to the Dr. Martens League (Eastern Division) where after a season of consolidation at the higher level, the Club finished a creditable ninth in the table.
Meanwhile, off the field, the Sports were laying sound physical foundations too. From those itinerant early years on local parks pitches, the club had always had the vision of a more permanent home, and audaciously they had approached the local council with the improbable project of turning Priory Lane – then a mere expanse of empty marshland – into a proper stadium. The County League years saw those plans beginning to be realised. Then during 2000/01 the club received a £117,000 grant from the Football Foundation to go towards further development of Priory Lane.
At the end of the season the Football Committee made one of the most crucial decisions in the club’s history: the change of name to Eastbourne Borough FC. Stalwarts had their reservations, but the new name reflected the club’s status as ambassadors for the whole town, and not only the original Langney. But to loyal supporters, the club is and always will be still The Sports!
2002 saw the club win the Sussex Senior Cup for the first time, beating the holders Lewes 2-1, and within two seasons there was further promotion to the Dr Martens Premier Division. Within another year Borough were elevated to the newly inaugurated Conference South after a mid table finish.
2004/05 proved to be a most successful season as Eastbourne Borough reached the North v South Play-Off Final. Over 1,000 Borough supporters made the 500-mile round trip to Stoke City for the Final against Altrincham, but it wasn’t to be, the club losing 2-1 in an exciting encounter.
The following campaign was disappointing, but the Club achieved another milestone reaching the 1st Round proper of the FA Cup for the first time, with the reward of a home tie against League Two club Oxford United. Cheered on by a record crowd of 3,770, and in front of the Match of the Day cameras, Borough dramatically forced a 1-1 draw with a twice-taken last-minute penalty. Story-book stuff! The replay, though, was lost 3-0 at the Kassam Stadium.
The 2006/07 season saw the squad adopt a change in direction with Garry Wilson placing an emphasis on “quality’ not “quantity’ and finished in 7th place, 4 points off a play-off berth. Buoyed by the previous league season the club started the 2007/2008 season in high spirits and it was to prove a most successful campaign with Eastbourne Borough beating Hampton & Richmond Borough 2-0 in the Play-Off Final at Stevenage. The triumphant night had completed a remarkable rise from recreation ground football to the pinnacle of Non-League, the Conference Premier.
The 2008/2009 season was therefore another step into the unknown for the club, with the opening Premier fixture a home game with Rushden & Diamonds. Any doubts re: competitiveness of the squad, infrastructure of the club, the approach to only segregate when deemed appropriate, or the support of the Eastbourne public were dispelled by the end of the day – a 1-1 draw.
Notable results during the season included a double over Forest Green Rovers, a home win over ex-league club York City, success over Wrexham and an incredible 4-0 win at Woking. The season proved to be most rewarding with an impressive mid-table finish, amongst the ‘giants’ of the non-league game.
2009/10 was a tough season after a bright start, AFC Wimbledon and eventual FA Trophy winners Barrow were defeated at Priory Lane. But a three and a half months drought for a league victory left the Sports needing a win over champions Oxford United in the final game of the campaign. With 6 minutes to go and the scores level at 0-0, and results going against them elsewhere, Borough appeared to be heading for the drop. Then a final minute penalty, coolly converted by Simon Weatherstone, sparked wild scenes and another season in the Premier was secured.
The Sports’ third season at National Conference level finally proved too much for the side and the club suffered its first ever relegation. Back in Conference South the Sports had the honour of kicking off the first ever match at the Amex Stadium, against Brighton and Hove Albion in a held-over Sussex Senior Cup Final. The 9.500 attendance remains the biggest crowd that the club has played in front of- but the hosts won the trophy 1-0.
There was much optimism for the 2011/2012 season, but after a bright start the season became a struggle, and after only one league win in 12 outings the club parted company with Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood. The decision for the club was difficult and painful. The decade (plus) of their tenure had seen unprecedented success but the decision was made, and Tommy Widdrington took the reins.
Tommy Widdrington was to oversee a new phase. He remained at the club for five seasons until April 2017 – a phase of mid-table stability in the National South. Equally important, the club’s infrastructure was strengthening, with conversion to a Community Interest Club, the opening of an Academy, and a splendid new 3G pitch installed at Priory Lane. Langney Sports/Eastbourne Borough had spent half a century building – building teams, building facilities, building friendships – and a proud achievement of 2017/18 was the National League award as Community Club of the Year. On the pitch, Tommy moved on (after winning the club its second Sussex Senior Cup) and Jamie Howell was appointed manager ahead of the 2017/18 season.
After some notable and exciting wins, but little progress towards the top end of the table Jamie left the club in February 2019 on the back of a poor run of form after a good start to the 2018/19 season, and ex Brighton Manager Mark McGhee was appointed as interim manager. Under the former Scotland Assistant Manager, the Sports secured their National League South status.
The Sports entered 2019/20 with a new figure at the helm, with former Havant & Waterlooville boss Lee Bradbury named the new manager at Priory Lane. However, he departed the Lane in November and was replaced by former assistant manager Danny Bloor, who alongside Sergio Torres looked to make his mark at the Sports.
After the 2019/20 season was curtailed, the Sports had a great 2020/21 campaign, although it was in front of empty stadiums and the National League South was eventually declared null and void with the Sports sitting third in the table. On top of that, the club reached the Second Round of the FA Cup where they entertained League One side Blackpool in front of the BT Sport cameras. Although losing 3-0, the Sports could hold their heads up high on a memorable day for the club.
Bloor and his management team took the club into the play-off positions for 2021/22 but the side entered the fixture v Oxford City on a poor run of form and were ultimately unsuccessful in the pursuit for promotion. 2022/23 saw Bloor again produce an entertaining side providing some great performances, but poor results against relegation threatened sides saw The Sports fall just 3 points short of another play-off position.
The clubs history has been one of challenging expectation, firsts and progress, and the close season ahead of the 2023/24 season saw a seismic change in the clubs structure. An investor, Sussex resident and entrepreneur Simon Leslie took over the club with the intention of driving the club even further forward both on and off the field of play. The club structure, and club badge were changed, but the charitable trust that has long been the custodians of the Priory Lane site remained the clubs landlord, and having recently succeeded in purchasing the land from the council, the protections for the clubs status at the site were strengthened, and embraced by the new ownership.
Another change was the departure of Danny Bloor and his management team after a run of highly exciting and successful seasons (the club were denied a shot at silverware with a COVID cancelled Senior Cup Final) another Sussex resident, the highly regarded Mark Beard, was brought in as manager, and was also charged with converting the club to a full time model.
Much is planned for the future as the club entered the 2023/24 season, and expectation is high and welcomed by the hierarchy at Priory Lane. From the parks of Eastbourne – where will The Sports arrive next?