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PHC heading back to their roots

Open for business: PHC will play at PHC Stadium for the first time in almost 17 years when they face Village in the Premier Division this weekend

PHC Zebras will be hoping history does not repeat itself when they return to PHC Stadium for the first time in almost 17 years this weekend.

It was back on March 22, 1998 that the last game — PHC v Dandy Town Hornets — was played at the Warwick ground a week before PHC were relegated from the then First Division along with Somerset Trojans after finishing bottom of the standings.

Yesterday, after years of trying to reopen the ground, Johnny Ball, the club president, confirmed that PHC will play North Village at PHC Stadium, a facility that has changed much since the ground hosted its last senior football games, including the clubhouse being demolished.

Back in November, Ball revealed that the club was close to returning home, though the club had not set a date at the time.

Yesterday, the PHC president confirmed that the date will be January 25 against Village that was originally scheduled for Southampton Oval, PHC’s home field for several years.

“The entire public should be proud of this accomplishment,” Ball said. “The progress that has been made is due to the invaluable support of the corporate sector, government, and the wider community.

“The PHC executive want to send a huge ‘thank you’ to all involved.”

Ball said that the reopening of the ground is just the first step in the club’s bid to meet its long-term aim of making itself financially stable.

“The reopening of PHC Stadium is by no means the finished product,” he said. “PHC is still working towards a clubhouse and other field amenities in order to service our various youth programmes and to build a solid financial platform. The reopening of PHC Stadium is a small but positive step in achieving our longer term objectives.”

PHC and Dandy Town drew 1-1 in that final match, the two goals coming in the first 15 minutes as Damon Ming, one of the few present players to have played at the old PHC Stadium, gave Town the lead after just eight minutes with a shot from 22 yards.

Brian Anderson equalised for PHC seven minutes later from a corner.

Ming has special reason to remember that goal. “That was my first Premier [First] Division goal,” said the midfielder, now 36, who also played at PHC Stadium with Devonshire Colts early in his career.

All of Ming’s team-mates that day have now retired from top-flight football. Playing for Town were the likes of goalkeeper Antoine Lightbourne, Neil Paynter, Dano Outerbridge Dean Bailey, Devarr Boyles, Kris Martin, Paul Cann, Heys Wolffe, Reggie Tucker and Chris Anderson, while PHC’s side was made up of Ellsworth Bean, Blenn Bean, Roderick Lew is, Desmond Burgess, Eddie Dowling, Kenny Mills, Stanton Lewis, Stephen Astwood and Ricky Mallory.

Ming may have to wait until next season to play another game at the ground as Town’s next match against PHC in the league is at St John’s Field.

“It should be a good experience for the younger players who have never played up there,” said Ming, who also played at PHC Stadium with his first club Devonshire Colts as a teenager.

“Colts were in the Premier [First] Division then but I just hadn’t scored for them. Then I went away to Prep school and then university so I was only playing on my breaks when I came back.

“In my time playing up there you used to get big crowds and it is nice to see PHC getting their home field back, hopefully it will bring more people out to the games.

“It should be a good experience for anybody who hasn’t experienced playing there and it is a positive thing for the community. It is good they are heading back in the right direction.”

PHC spent one season in the Second Division before coming up and winning the league title in their first season back in the top flight.

They are one of several teams chasing the league title this season.