FOOTBALL: Freeland complete ambitious mission

Witney Gazette: Freeland A's Ben Crawford outjumps Kristian Collis during a recent game against Hailey Res Freeland A's Ben Crawford outjumps Kristian Collis during a recent game against Hailey Res

Freeland have had to overcome a host of obstacles just to survive, but after conquering arguably their biggest challenge this season the club are well positioned for success.

The club are targeting their highest-ever finish this campaign since joining the Oxfordshire Senior League in 2008, but their journey has been anything but straightforward.

In 2011, Freeland Parish Council demolished the changing facilities at the playing fields as part of plans to rebuild the village hall.

But when the costs of the project escalated, no new cha-nging rooms were built.

“For the last 18 months we’ve been living out of portable accommodation,” ex-plained secretary Ben Sym-onds.

“That left us really up against it because it was costing us about £500 per month and for a club whose only income is from people paying subs, it was too much.

“We had a few businessmen involved with the club and they were essentially paying out of their own pockets to keep the club going.”

The lack of facilities threatened to undo the club’s good work, after years of impressive growth which saw the first team rise to the Premier Division of the Oxfordshire Senior League with back-to-back promotions.

The club have also added further teams in the Senior League, the Witney & District FA and Critchleys Upper Thames Valley League to cope with the demand for football in the village.

“It’s a weird thing because we’re not a big village and yet we just seem to keep growing,” said chairman Matthew Hardy. “Everyone has a good time and we’re very highly regarded in the local area.”

And it was the local people who pulled together to help the club in their time of need, raising funds to help build new changing rooms.

Symonds said: “Quite a few people in the village heard of our plight and a lot of local groups came together to help raise money.

“A group called the Free-land Teddy Girls made lots of homemade cakes and crafts and gave the profits they made to club. Everyone really appreciated that.”

In September, the club were finally able to use the new facility and are now firmly focused on the future.

“Now that we’ve got the facilities in place we’d like to move on even further,” said Hardy.

“It probably won’t be this year or the next, but we’d like to compete near the top of the Oxfordshire Senior Lea-gue.

“I know the Hellenic Lea-gue has been mentioned, but we’ll have to do a lot of work to reach that level.”

A more immediate aim is to increase the club’s youth section, which had to be disbanded when the old changing rooms were demolished.

“We ended up losing all of our young players to places like Combe and North Leigh, which had better facilities,” Hardy said.

“Now that we have the facilities in place, we have the chance to get back into the youth and we’re looking to expand on that as soon as we can.

“It’s a work in progress, but we’d like to get back to where we were.”

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