SPORT in Portsmouth has taken a big leap forward with the historic handover of the former Royal Navy playing fields to the community.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, signed off a 25-year leasehold of the 20.4-acre green area next to the old barracks in Eastney to Meon Milton FC and Mayville High School.
The youth football club and private Southsea school – that form a joint venture called the Cockleshell Community Sports Club – will be able to grant licences to any organisation which wants to use the grounds that comprise three football pitches, a summer football pitch, a rugby field and a cricket square.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who secured the council’s purchase of the field for £410,000 along with Governor’s Green in Old Portsmouth from the Ministry of Defence last Autumn, said: ‘This is a fantastic day for sport in Portsmouth.
‘This land has been with the navy for many years, since 1904.
‘As soon as I heard a rumour a year ago they wanted to sell off areas of green space I was extremely concerned.
‘We are really short of playing fields in the city and I wanted to keep these for community use and protect them from developers.’
He added: ‘There’s a real renaissance of sport in the city and this is part of it.’
Meon Milton FC has 20 teams, each with 15 youngsters aged from six to 18, which have been hiring the field for training on Saturdays – when not in use by the navy.
Rob Smith, club rep, says the new acquisition means his 400 young footballers will be able to train there every day of the week as well as play home fixtures on Sundays.
He said: ‘It’s going to be great not just for us but for the whole city and young sportsmen and women in particular.
‘This is a facility that could be used by schools and groups for anything from an end-of-year sports day to a major competitive tournament.
‘We’re delighted the fields have been rescued for the community and not sold off to a developer. We’ll be seeking to encourage a range of sports including netball and hockey, as well as improving the facilities for disabled sport.’
Martin Castle, Mayville’s head, said: ‘We’ve never had a home for our sports so this is great news for us and all the young people in the city.
‘One of the pitches at the site is even referred to as Wembley, after the Royal Marine bandsmen used it to count out their paces before playing on the real pitch in London.
‘With the Olympics around the corner, it’s a fantastic boost for Portsmouth.’
The field will be maintained by Cockleshell Community Sports Club and Cllr Vernon-Jackson said he hoped Portsmouth Cricket Club would become a partner in future.