The Pilot Field
|Full name||The Pilot Field|
|Former names||Firs Football Centre|
|Owner||Hastings Borough Council|
|Capacity||4,050 (800 Seats)|
|Field size||110 x 75 yards|
Hastings & St. Leonards Amateurs (1921–1948)
Hastings United (Old) (1948–1985)
Hastings Saxons (1948–1949)
Hastings United (1985–present)
The Pilot Field is a football stadium in Hastings, East Sussex. It is home to Hastings United who currently play in the Isthmian League, the club have used the ground since 1985 after the old Hastings United folded.
Rock-A-Nore were the first club to play at The Pilot Field in 1920, which back then was merely a meadow situated on a large slope. The first game to be played at the ground was between Rock-A-Nore and Chichester in the Sussex County League. In 1921 the council laid out two pitches in a plan that was expected to cost £6000; however completion of the work cost closer to £32000, due to the amount of earth that had to be shifted to create two flat pitches. In 1923 the council spent a further £8000 on a grandstand, which was built on the site of where all the earth had been moved across to, the club moved to the lower pitch after drainage issues had been resolved.
In 1948 Hastings United, the newly formed professional club who had entered the Southern League, took over the Pilot Field, forcing Hastings & St. Leonards (Formally Rock-A-Nore) to move back to the upper pitch. It was also around this period that the ground started hosting greyhound racing and Speedway. The ground was used by Hastings United until 1985 when they were forced to fold, due to substantial debts.
By now Hastings & St. Leonards were called Hastings Town and were successful in applying for a place in the Southern League, moving back to the Pilot Field after a 37-year absence. By this time the ground had seen further development, including covered terracing at the Elphinstone Road end of the ground and partial concreting of the dirt track that surrounds the pitch.
In 2002 the club had changed their name to Hastings United, ensuring the ground received a major facelift to complement the new club colours of claret and blue. A new covered terrace, the ‘Cole Warren Stand’ was erected at the Wood End of the ground during the 2005/06 season, ensuring that three sides of the ground were now covered.
Structure and facilities
The ground is popular amongst stadium enthusiasts for the dirt track that surrounds the pitch and its old fashioned grandstand. The main stand itself can hold up to 800 spectators, the majority of which are seated on wooden benches. Opposite the main stand is a large grass bank, which at point spectators could have used as a vantage point, however this is now fenced off due to health and safety. Located under the stand are the changing rooms and board room (formally the club bar).
There is covered terracing behind both goals, the more modern 'Cole Warren Stand' being constructed during the 2005/06 season at the opposite end, there is a large covered terrace that had been erect during Hastings United time at the ground between 1948 and 1985. In one corned of the ground next to the 'Elphinstone Road end' terrace are the main turnstiles, club bar, toilet facilities and club shop.
For a brief period the ground was used for greyhound racing and Speedway, it is not clear how long the ground was used for Greyhound racing, but there are more accurate records regarding Speedway. The Hastings Saxons team had used the Pilot Field as their home stadium between 1948 and 1949, after the Eastbourne Eagles had been forced out their home at Arlington Stadium. However, after complaints from the local residents about the noise caused by Speedway, the team were forced to closed.
Whilst it is possible that the Speedway or old Hastings United games could have at one point regularly attracted larger crowds, the only known record attendance at The Pilot Field is 4,888 for a friendly game between Hastings Town and Nottingham Forest, the record attendance for a league game is 1,834 between Hastings United and AFC Wimbledon. The amateur international trial match on 10 January 1948 between 'England' and 'The Rest' attracted an attendance of 5,261 paying spectators with around 5,500 in attendance.(Sources: FA minute books; Hastings & St Leonard's Observer, 17 January 1948)
The ground is located 1.6 miles away from Hastings railway station which is situated on the Hastings Line to Tunbridge Wells, the East Coastway Line to Brighton and the Marshlink Line to Ashford International. The ground is also located 1.1 miles away from Ore railway station which is situated on the Marshlink Line. There is a bus service from Hastings station and town centre to the ground.