Football club's stadium joy

FOOTBALL came home yesterday for one of the region's clubs which has spent nearly eight years without its own ground. At 3pm thousands witnessed the long awaited return of Chelmsford City Football Club to its new home at Melbourne Park following its exile from the town.

FOOTBALL came home yesterday for one of the region's clubs which has spent nearly eight years without its own ground.

At 3pm thousands witnessed the long awaited return of Chelmsford City Football Club to its new home at Melbourne Park following its exile from the town.

The Clarets last turned out in the borough on the opening day of the 1997-8 season before the club was forced on the road, playing in Maldon for six months before a move to Ryman League rivals Billericay where they were tenants for six years.

And it was their former landlords who were the first visitors to the club's new ground in a carnival atmosphere with thousands of fans packing Melbourne Park to capacity.

The ground was nearly full an hour-and-a-half before kick off and before the game began presentations were made to welcome the club home.

And with the Clarets securing a hard-fought 2-1 win, the faithful will be looking forward to the rest of the season at their new home.

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For one City supporter, Steve Dorrington, yesterday's return was like a dream come true as he has been following the club for more than 23 years.

He said: “It is not going to sink in even today, you look around and it is teeming with people and it really does show what it means to the people of Chelmsford.

“With all the extra income we will be able to buy better players, because of the arrangement we had at Billericay we did not get any of the takings from the bar, this will change everything.

“Everyone you speak to is going it seems and they are bringing their mates who haven't been to support the club for years. It really is a great feeling.”

“I've looked around Melbourne Park and you know, it is the type of place we used to go to other clubs and say, 'wish we could have somewhere like this to play'. Now we have.

“The council in Chelmsford have been superb all along and it is nice to think the club's ground is in safe hands now with them.”

While the Clarets do not own Melbourne Park - they rent it off the council - they do get to keep the proceeds of the bar and function hall.

Current manager Craig Edwards is celebrating his first anniversary as manager of the club, having taken over the reigns on January 1, last year and has built a City squad being tipped for the play-offs after a good run of results recently.

“I think it is fair to say me and the players have gauged how much moving to Melbourne Park means to our fans.

“Everyone has put in so much hard work, especially the committee of the club.

“The whole ground looks immaculate and there has been a hell lot of desire from a lot of people for the club to get to this stage. Even three or four months ago some were still laughing and calling our hopes of moving to Melbourne Park pipe dreams, but not any more.

“Billericay have been great friends to us, but at the end of the day New Lodge wasn't our home, it was theirs.”

Chelmsford City met the costs of its new clubhouse, changing rooms and social facilities on the land which has been leased to them by the council.

Paul Hopkins, joint chairman, said: “I am confident that having a new permanent home will provide a big boost for the players and help us to push on from our current mid table status.

“We are keen to re-establish our place in the local community and hope that we will receive support from the public in our new home.

“We are obviously delighted with the tremendous support the borough council has provided and will continue to work closely with them to help make this move a success.”

Maureen Moulds, the councillor responsible for leisure, said: “I am thrilled that at long last the council has been able to return Chelmsford City FC to Chelmsford.

“The new facilities at Melbourne Park will also benefit the wider community and should help athletics continue to flourish at the centre.”

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