Worthing Football Club returned home on Saturday after a nightmare six months and now manager Adam Hinshelwood wants to make Woodside Road a fortress.
After work by contractors saw the 3G surface pass a FIFA quality test certification – at the fourth time of asking – Worthing were able to play a competitive match at home for the first time since April 17.
To mark the occasion, Worthing chairman George Dowell reduced ticket prices to £5 for adults and was rewarded with a bumper crowd of 855, although he admitted: “It’s not something we’re really in a position to do given the income we’ve lost during the period playing away, but we just want to get back to where we were before.”
The club averaged home gates of 667 last year but that fell to an average of 216 in the five ‘home’ games Worthing played at Bognor this season.
The pitch issues this year have cost Worthing around £100,000. They were unable to hire out their facilities for several days owing to work on the pitch and lost matchday revenue from not playing at home.
Worthing now hope fans will continue to watch games in great numbers, despite a difficult start to the season on and off the pitch.
The club remain bottom of the Bostik League Premier Division, with Saturday’s point in a 3-3 draw with Met Police just their third from 14 matches this season.
For a while, it looked like Worthing might record their first win for 200 days and 21 games. They led 2-1 with five minutes to play, before finding themselves 3-2 down after 89 minutes.
Kieron Pamment’s penalty, his second goal of the game, rescued a point deep in injury-time.
Hinshelwood, who replaced Gary Elphick as manager last month, feels Worthing are beginning to turn a corner and praised the fans’ support on Saturday.
He said: “We’ve got to make it a horrible and tough place to come. To be fair, I think we did that today and dominated the ball for long periods and just need to have that cutting edge in both boxes.
“You’ve got to thank Bognor for letting us go there and play some home games but it didn’t feel home. To come back – and I just said this to the players – it’s got to be a bit of a fortress for us now.
“The support has been first class. To have two points in mid-October and get the turnout we’ve had today is incredible, really. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it and will want to come back.”
Worthing managing director Calvin Buckland was delighted with Saturday’s attendance and said: “It’s a massive relief because the worry was people might lose interest, find other things to do and maybe not come back.
“We pushed it last week to say ‘we’re back’ and a lot of the local youth clubs helped. It’s brilliant, I was hoping we could get 500 so to get 850 is fantastic.
“We’re not far from turning the corner on the pitch. Every game, there are more and more glimpses of what we can be and what we’re all about, so hopefully everyone will come back again.”
Worthing are at home again on Saturday, when they host high-flying Hendon. Kick-off is 3pm.