FELIXSTOWE & Walton United’s Director of Football Tony Barnes can be forgiven if he is feeling misty eyed at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.
The Seasiders entertain Bury Town in the club’s first ever match at Step 4 level, after winning promotion to the Bostik League North Division.
Barnes (pictured above) has been involved with the club since Felixstowe Port & Town merged with Walton United in 2000, after previously being chairman of Walton United.
After a year as joint chairman with Dave Ashford, Barnes spent ten years as chairman before becoming secretary and director of football.
The new club, who replaced Felixstowe Port & Town in the Eastern Counties League, have spent most of the last two decades in the Premier Division, although they did suffer relegation at the end of the 2001-02 season, before returning to the top flight for the 2006-07 campaign.
So what it means to finally win promotion, after finishing runners-up to Coggeshall Town last season, and make the step up to the next level on the non-league ladder should not be under-estimated.
Barnes said: “It is a massive achievement and, to be fair, is something I didn’t think I would see.
“We started to believe as a club it was possible when we saw the new clubhouse rising out of the ground.
“Two years ago we had a decent run in the FA Cup and more fans started coming to support us and it took off from there.”
Following the opening in July 2017 of the new clubhouse, replacing the old Edwardian pavilion at the Goldstar Ground, the club’s home attendances last season averaged nearly 400 per game, with 1,541 watching the game against title winners Coggeshall Town at the end of last season.
“It would be nice to see that repeated this season!” said Barnes.
“We need the support of the town and the community because we have not got a wealthy benefactor behind the club, so we have to work hard for every penny we make and spend.”
Ground improvements are ongoing at their home in Dellwood Avenue to enhance the experience for spectators.
The old cricket pavilion clubhouse has been pulled down and will be replaced by additional car parking spaces.
A new stand with seating for spectators is to be built at the Colneis Road end of the ground and in the longer term the club are planning to extend the new clubhouse to house a board room and hospitality area.
That’s all in the future, but for now all attention is focused on Saturday’s opening game.
Barnes said: “It is exciting to be playing Bury Town at home on the opening day. We could not have wished for a better curtain-raiser. The last time we played them was when we lost 4-1 in the Suffolk Premier Cup Final at AFC Sudbury in 2014.”
Whatever the result on Saturday, Barnes added: “It is all about looking to consolidate and ensuring we are still in the league at the end of the season, and we have got just as much of a challenge to keep the Reserves in the new Division One North of the Thurlow Nunn League.”