2001/2 Sussex Floodlight Cup winners
The victorious Hornets celebrate after beating Crawley Town on penalties to win the 2001/2 Sussex Floodlight Cup

The Sussex Floodlight Cup was born out of the ashes of the old Sussex Professional Cup, inaugurated in 1961. This was in the days of strict divisions between the different classes of footballer, where a player who earned anything at all above his expenses was classed as a professional and could not compete at amateur level. Indeed, to reclaim amateur status a complicated procedure would have to be gone through and a permit obtained. As such, the levels of professional football encompassed many degrees of ability, ranging from the top league clubs where players obviously made a living from the game, to small non-league teams where players only gained small rewards.

In 1961, there were very few non-league teams who did pay players, and the basis for the Sussex Professional Cup was pitifully small. Brighton and Hove Albion were the obvious competitors and they were faced by three or four of the bigger non-league teams. The result was predictable. The Sussex Professional Cup became in reality the Brighton Annual Piece of Silverware Trophy, the league side winning the cup no fewer than twelve of the fourteen times it was competed for (there was no competition in 1966, probably due to the World Cup being held in England that year). Twice they shared the trophy with Hastings United (in 1961 and 1968) and, on the two occasions they failed to win, the cup went to Crawley Town (1970) and Bognor Regis Town (1974). Naturally, the trophy raised little interest and, as the face of football changed and the professional/amateur divide grew less rigid, the competition became largely redundant. Many non-league teams had started to pay their players by 1975, and the semi-professional was now becoming the norm. For the 1975-76 season, then, the rules changed and the Sussex Floodlight Cup was born.

This new competition was a voluntary competition open to all clubs affiliated to the Sussex FA whose facilities met the required standards (i.e. they had adequate floodlighting). However, it was a dramatic case of shooting yourself in the foot. Just as more and more clubs were becoming eligible to compete in the old competition, the new one exiled most of them once again. Whereas the old professional/amateur divide had fallen, very few clubs yet had the right facilities to allow entry and so the trophy carried on rather as before, with the exception of Brighton & Hove Albion who ceased to enter. This at least gave the bigger Sussex clubs a good chance of winning something in the year.

Hastings United continued their good showing in the competition, becoming the initial champions, and Lewes and Horsham also added their names to the list of victors. Inevitably, though, the small basis of qualification and general lack of interest took their toll and the competition was scrapped after 1978. Non-league football continued to prosper in the intervening years, however, and clubs became better managed and more committed, so that by 1988 many had the resources they lacked ten years earlier. It was time to dust off the trophy and dangle it in front of a much wider group of eligible teams. Worthing became the first winners of the re-born competition in 1989 and the club retained the Trophy the following year. For the next three years Crawley dominated and, as the most senior Sussex side entering, generally began the competition as the favourites.

In later years, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bognor Regis Town and Hastings Town tended not to compete while Horsham, Worthing and Crawley also declined to take part, resulting in County League teams going on to win the Trophy. The competition retained largely the same format throughout its existence and despite some suggestions to change to a mini-league format, thus giving the competitors more guaranteed games, the Competition Committee stuck with the traditional two-leg knockout formula so as to avoid meaningless games in an already crowded fixture schedule. With this in mind, in 1999, the competition became a straightforward knockout competition up to the semi-finals which retained two-legs. It was hoped that this would encourage more clubs to enter and play down criticism that the competition was just another irritation in a season packed with tournaments of every kind. Yet, just three years later, the competition was played out for the final time as dwindling gates and general apathy brought about its demise, with Horsham the last-ever winners courtesy of a penalty shoot-out success over Crawley.

Adam Hammond