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Rusthall on a level playing field with PL investment

14/09/2017
Action at Rusthall FC and their new pitch

The Premier League's Football Stadia Improvement Fund has given one club in Kent a pitch to be proud of

Boasting 20 teams, Rusthall FC are at the heart of the Tunbridge Wells football scene - but their ability to make strides at senior level was being eroded by the state of their pitch.

As chairman Joe Croker explains: "It had tremendous slopes - a difference of three metres - and it also had lots of undulations. It wasn't flat.

"It wasn't a surface anyone relished playing on, including our own players. Players wouldn't come to us because of that. There was more chance of getting injured.

"There was also no drainage whatsoever. Last winter was quite good but the one before was really bad, so we were losing fixtures. The players get somewhat frustrated to not be playing."

Rusthall were given a grant of £50,800 from the Premier League-funded Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF), which enabled the club to perform vital drainage and levelling works on their pitch.

As a result, their stadium now meets the Step 5 requirements of the FA National Ground Grading Criteria - the level Rusthall have just moved up to after being promoted to the Southern Counties East League Premier Division.

The Kent club are now allowed to remain at that level thanks to the improvement work at the ground.

"Every one of the problems has now been cured," says Croker. "It's looking superb. I would say for a grass pitch it's as good as any in our league.

"It's already helped to attract new players. We've brought in four signings this summer. They see the pitch and can't wait to get out on it."

Action on Rusthall FC's new playing surface
Almost 2,000 grants to clubs like Rusthall FC have been awarded by the Football Stadia Improvement Fund since 2000

It is the second time in three years that Rusthall have benefited from an FSIF grant. In 2015 they installed floodlights after receiving £46,200 from the fund.

That allowed them to host evening matches.

"Without them we wouldn't have been able to stay in the division we've just been promoted from, at Step 6," says Croker.

"We get our best crowds for evening fixtures because we get more of the floating football fans.

"For one match towards the end of last season we had around 250 people, which would be one of our highest attendances.

"We're trying to develop senior football in a big way here, and the grants have really helped."

As well as the first-team, the pitch improvements will also benefit Rusthall's 20 teams, which range from mini-soccer level to adult.

Saturday 7 October is Non League Day in England, an event which encourages Premier League fans to visit semi-professional and amateur clubs in their local area.

On that day Rusthall's first team will be hosting Sevenoaks Town on their new surface.

See: Find a match on Non-League Day near to you

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