FOOTBALL has finally come home to its purposebuilt ground in Andover – Portway Stadium.

In May 2011, when Andover Football Club had completed their last Southern League and Hampshire 2004 League fixtures for that season, few had any inkling that it would be the best part of three years before football was again staged on the 24-yearold Portway Stadium.

At that time, despite its relative youth, the ground was showing more than a little neglect with smashed fences, wobbly floodlight pylons and a pitch which had suffered from all manners of harm in the previous years, but it was expected that the Lions would continue, as usual, as they had done since the 1880s.

As is now well documented, the club subsequently went the same way as the likes of Rushden and Diamonds, Witney Town, Walthamstow Avenue, Leytonstone, Edgware and many others, who were swallowed up by financial crisis, ground problems or just plain apathy.

In the subsequent years the stadium was left to slowly be overtaken by flora and fauna and at times resembled a set from a western movie, but last Saturday the public were invited to see for themselves just what a transformation had taken place since a combination of parties got together to forge a plan to save the stadium and set up what has now become the new town club.

The biggest crowd at the ground since September 2009 gathered for the first game including Andover College principal Tim Jackson, who outlined the future for the site, which will shortly include classrooms where the old clubroom used to be, which will be in use on a fulltime basis for age groups from 14-19.

Mr Jackson said before the game: “Many people have been instrumental in putting together what we see here today and it is sure to benefit the town and the community in all sorts of ways.

“A consortium of head teachers and governors have all played their part in helping to build what will be a separate skills centre away from the senior football section and we expect the new facility to be fully used every day.

‘It will all go towards what we aim to do which is develop skills and create aspirations, and part of that involves giving footballing youngsters the chance to build a career, in or out of the game.”

The whole project came about initially through the vision of assistant principal of Andover/Sparsholt College Stuart Barlow and Lawrence Blair, sports curriculum manager, who spotted the potential after seeing the finished article at Team Solent in Southampton, coincidentally Andover Town’s opponents on Saturday.

Mr Barlow was naturally delighted with the progress which has been made at the Portway.