The story of Eastleigh FC since its foundation by Derik Brooks in 1946 as ‘Swaythling Athletic Football Club’ has been one of upward mobility.
Playing home matches firstly on Southampton Common, and then at ‘Westfield’ in Swaythling, the new club were promoted into the Hampshire League in 1950 after two campaigns spent in the Southampton Senior League (West). Within another year, Athletic, (that appellation was dropped in 1973) had topped Division Three (West) and won the Hampshire Intermediate Cup.
By 1956, Swaythling were playing in the 1st Division of the County league. They would return to that level in 1970 as champions of Division 2. In keeping with their early progress, the club moved to a new ground at Ten Acres in 1957 – which remains home to this day.
The change to their current name was made in 1980, six years before Eastleigh F.C. became founder members of the Wessex League. The club settled at that level, until a distinguished period under the management of present Sutton United boss Paul Doswell which began in 2002/2003.
Eastleigh were that season’s Wessex League Champions. Twelve months later, they finished 4th in the Southern Football League Division One East. The club were beneficiaries of the F.A.’s restructuring of the non-league pyramid, and were elevated to begin 2004/2005 in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League.
On-pitch advancement was being matched off the field. A new stand was constructed in time for the Isthmian campaign, which the team finished with a run of 14 unbeaten matches. That was enough to earn Eastleigh a play-off berth, which they capitalised on fully.
Victories over Braintree Town (2-0), and Leyton (1-0) ensured that Doswell had taken his team from Wessex League to Conference South in the space of three heady years.
Development of the ground has continued, with improvements made in 2006 both to the stand opposite the main grandstand, and that behind the goal furthest from the clubhouse.
Eastleigh’s present owners, Bridle Insurance, whose purchase of a majority shareholding in the club was confirmed in February 2012, have further upgrading of the ‘Silverlake Stadium’ high on their list of priorities.
Over nine years in the Conference South, Eastleigh have twice flirted with promotion to non-league’s highest tier.
In 2009, under the management of former Leeds United forward Ian Baird, the Spitfires lost a play-off semi-final against Hayes & Yeading United. A 4-0 extra-time home defeat cancelled out Eastleigh’s 4-2 first-leg victory.
In 2012/2013, a campaign which saw Baird replaced by current boss Richard Hill in September, the Spitfires’ second half of the season form took them from 21st to 4th place, and a play-off meeting with Dover Athletic. A 3-1 home reverse was wiped out with a 2-0 win in Kent, but, ultimately, a losing penalty shoot-out ended Eastleigh’s promotion aspirations.
The intervening years brought the Spitfires’ only ever appearance in the F.A. Cup first round, and some silverware. The 2009/2010 cup adventure was ended by a last gasp goal which earned then Conference Premier team Barrow a 2-1 home win.
Eastleigh’s trophy joy came in the 2011/2012 Hampshire Senior Cup. In a final played at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium against AFC Totton – on a night which featured the first live testing of goal-line technology – the Spitfires were 2-0 winners.
Eastleigh can lay claim to their part in football history then, but they hope to make headlines all of their own in the coming years. The high ambition of all involved with the club comes at no cost to the inclusive and fan friendly atmosphere which exists at the Silverlake Stadium. That is a fact to which founder, Director, and Life President, Derik Brooks will undoubtedly testify.
Eastleigh adopted their ‘Spitfires’ moniker after consultation with supporters during the close season of 2005.
Southampton International Airport (previously known as Eastleigh Airport) was home for the assembly of the Supermarine Type F37/34 Spitfire once the aircraft had been built in nearby Woolston.
The F37/34’s maiden flight, piloted by ‘Mutt’ Summers’ and watched by designer R.J. Mitchell, took place at Eastleigh Airport on 5th March 1936.