Lighting up Eastbourne: a new kind of ultra

By Jacob Panons, Archie Griggs and Alex Nicolau

Eastbourne Town FC ultra groups are pioneering an alternative style of supporting based on ideals of anti-violence, anti-racism and anti-homophobia

East Sussex’s retirement haven is beginning to gain an unlikely reputation in the football community thanks to two groups of young adults who are revolutionising the concept of supporting your local team.

Eastbourne Town FC’s Beachy Head and Pier Pressure ultra groups are fanatical in nature without a doubt. Their boisterous chanting and displays of pyrotechnics at matchesare taking football grounds across the south coast by storm. They are not your typical ultra groups, however, and after speaking to them it soon became clear that they could not be further away from the stereotypical culture of violence and discrimination often associated with ultras.

“It’s anti-violence, anti-racism, anti-sexism,” says an ultra nicknamed Balrog, who, like many of his peers, sports clothing emblazoned with the Beachy Head logo. “Like, we don’t want any f*****g trouble, you know, we just want to have a party really,” he adds. Paul Eccles, part of the Pier Pressure group, talks about how his passion for football started at a young age when he regularly went to watch his local team Workington AFC. “I don’t know what attracted me to it, it was just the game. The whole day from getting in the ground early, going to the programme shop, the anticipation of the teams coming out, the crowd singing and chanting, and the game itself.”

But a lot changed in 1992 for Paul and his deep-rooted relationship with football. That was the year football in the United Kingdom changed forever due to the introduction of the Premier League. “It all got a bit too big, I think money ruined it really,” Paul recalls. When Paul moved to Eastbourne, hundreds of miles from Workington, he became detached from top-flight football. It looked to be the final nail in the coffin for him and his lifelong love affair with the sport- that is until he went to watch Eastbourne Town.

“I don’t particularly see it as left wing really, I just see it as being humane. I think everybody even if you’re a card-carrying Conservative, a Liberal Democrat or Labour, you should be anti-racist and anti-homophobia.

“A couple of years ago my son-in-law took me to see Eastbourne Town and from the very first game I was hooked. It was the same atmosphere as when I went to see Liverpool for the first time, but on a much smaller scale. It sort of rekindled my interest in football.” Although Paul still carries a soft spot for Liverpool, he says: “I actually support Eastbourne Town, I go to home and away matches. I’m a season-ticket holder. I do physically support them.”

Pier Pressure have gained media attention previously due to their unique support and political stance, but Paul claims that he does not see it as a political movement. He says: “I don’t particularly see it as left wing really, I just see it as being humane. I think everybody even if you’re a card-carrying Conservative, a Liberal Democrat or Labour, you should be anti-racist and anti-homophobia.”

The group have also made a mark in their local community by fundraising for the less fortunate. Last year, they raised £500 for a Windsor-based homeless charity in response to the council “giving homeless people s**t”, according to Balrog. This innovative and refreshing approach has been met with open arms by a number of rival clubs in the league, but, as you’d expect, some opponents are not as cordial as others when it comes to accommodating Eastbourne Town’s travelling support. Balrog says: “It depends who it is. Loxwood could not have welcomed us as a group of supporters with more open arms. And then we have played against other teams who couldn’t be less welcoming.”

The group’s relationship with their own club is similar in nature; while they generally share a positive rapport, it’s rarely plain-sailing. “The relationship with the club is really good at the moment,” says Maud. “We take on quite a lot for the club. We design the matchday programmes, we run the club’s Facebook, we organise all the away trips, so we’re quite heavily involved. We have people who are on the committee as well, so they have a say in what actually happens.”

With the group enjoying unprecedented levels of media attention in recent months, it seems as if the only way is onwards and upwards for Beachy Head and Pier Pressure. Eastbourne Town may not go far in their current tier but for its supporters it is all about enjoying the experience of inclusive football. As Paul and Balrog said, they are “quite happy in the Sussex division”.

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