COPA90 uncover the wild world of Eastbourne Town FC, English football's ninth-tier club with a crazy but welcoming ultras culture.
Eastbourne is a quaint and quiet seaside town. Wafts of battered fish and chips fill the air, making their way through the winding and cobbled streets. Locals nonchalantly potter about, occasionally strolling down to the pier to admire the coastal scenery. Daily life is peaceful. That is, until you discover the local football club.
Eastbourne Town F.C. currently play in the ninth-tier of English football. Church spires from several architectural eras dominate the skyline from the first-team pitch. On the face of it, it’s just another run-of-the-mill, non-league ground. However, every weekend, it's brought to life through an array of flares, banners and chants.
Those responsible are known as the Pier Pressure Ultras: a group of local fans who take inspiration from Italy’s rowdy supporter culture. They were founded in 2017 when a group of football-loving locals, disillusioned with the modern professional game, took it upon themselves to get behind their local club.
“It was a £150 day out to go to a football match,” Leon Jarvis, Pier Pressure founder and former Premier League match day goer tells COPA90. “Here, you can come for £6”
Unlike some other ultras groups, who carry an infamous reputation for acts of hooliganism and right-wing political beliefs, Pier Pressure reject the fan violence stereotype and instead focus on engaging their local community and project leftist views.
“Pier Pressure’s pro-inclusivity stance extends further than just words and chants,” Showcase film producer, Lewis Isbell, explains. “Pier Pressure and the club frequently raise money for various local charities and food banks. Beyond this, they also champion diversity and inclusivity at their ground and when they travel.”
Everyone and anyone is welcome at Eastbourne games. The stand on match days regularly plays host to pro-LGBTQ and refugee banners, and welcomes women as well as people of all race and religion.
“From my personal experiences, it’s a very tight knit community compared to the upper echelons of the Premier League,” Showcase director and co-producer, Jacob Dodd tells COPA90. “Being a Liverpool fan all my life, it’s easy to feel disillusioned with your place in a club which is supported by millions of people around the world.”
“Being a woman watching football, I feel my opinion is valid and valued by other people.”
Tracie Searle, Eastbourne Town fan
In addition to generating a boisterous yet inclusive atmosphere, Pier Pressure are also very hands-on when it comes to helping the club out. Over the years they have, voluntarily, helped design match programmes, maintained the website, and offered to run the club’s social media accounts.
Eastbourne as a town has historically been right-leaning in terms of its political outlook, but the injection of passion from the club’s supporters has started to shift some of the local’s mentality.
“Typically, Eastbourne is a conservative place,” explains Club Secretary, David Jenkins. “Obviously Pier Pressure aren’t that, and they come with a noise, vigour and youth.” In 2017, some supporters even successfully campaigned to oust local conservative MP, Caroline Ansell, at the local elections.
While not always on the same page, the football club itself is very much appreciative of the support Pier Pressure supply. Regularly boasting the league’s highest attendance, club manager John Lambert recognises just how integral the fans are: “when the chips are down and we need something, they are a godsend.”
“There’s not a prescribed way to support Eastbourne Town, I just welcome everyone and want them to enjoy the experience together.”
Leon Jarvis, Pier Pressure founder
It may be worlds away from the Premier League's glamorised, packaged brand, but in Eastbourne, football is reflected in its purest form.
With more and more supporters defecting to local, non-league sides and building a sense of identity – see Dulwich Hamlet or Clapton – there’s a growing movement to instil a united message throughout our divided society.
As Pier Pressure have shown, football often represents the perfect platform to achieve just that.