IT IS the ambitious multi-million-pound masterplan aiming to catapult a rapidly growing Hampshire non-league football club into the big time.

Not so long ago, Eastleigh FC’s home had no more than a clubhouse and a single covered stand for diehard fans to cheer on their beloved team.

Now the Daily Echo can reveal that club is boosting its march towards the Football League by launching a bid of up to £10 million for a multi-purpose, 9,000-seater stadium – nearly doubling its current capacity and creating scores of jobs.

The flagship plan comes just weeks after the National League team’s heroic FA Cup run climaxed with a clash with mighty Championship team Bolton Wanderers, in what was the biggest match ever held at the Silverlake Stadium.

Now business leaders and politicians have hailed the plans a “fantastic” project which will put the town firmly on the map in the footballing world.

The club – which has celebrated four promotions in 11 years – is already close to fulfilling the criteria for promotion to League Two, its capacity increased to 5,000-plus with last year’s addition of the 2,290-seat Mackoy Community Stand.

It hosted a stadium-record 5,025 for the recent FA Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers, but the long-term vision is to be able to double that.

Now chief executive Mark Jewell has confirmed the club is preparing a planning application for further expansion and said: “We just need to make a few tweaks to have a stadium ready for the Football League, the main job being to improve the quality of the floodlights.

“But having a stadium that will be used by the community all year, not just on matchdays, is the long-term objective.”

Eastleigh were asked to submit a full-scale planning application by Eastleigh Borough Council after applying for a new, £3 million main stand.

Mr Jewell added: “The council have been very helpful but now they’ve seen how serious we are about making the Football League, we need to provide them with our vision of where we want to be.

“We’ve completed phase one and now we want to kick on into phase two.

Daily Echo:

PICTURED: A stand at the stadium

“What we’re looking for is facilities to enhance what we can offer the community as well as increase match-day revenue.

“We don’t want everyone to expect the Etihad [home of Manchester City FC] and are aiming at a cost of £5 million, but that may well rise.”

Eastleigh’s plans are currently being drawn up by designers, who have been given a generic image of a 9,000-capacity stadium to work to – believed to be Slovakian outfit FC VSS Košice’s Lokomotíva Stadium.

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PICTURED: Silverlake Stadium as it is

“It will be roughly in keeping with that model and gives us a general idea of how it could look – but that’s a few years down the line,” said Jewell, who hopes to be in a position to release artists’ impressions in the next fortnight.

Eastleigh chairman Stewart Donald has already pumped more than £3 million into the club since taking over in December 2011 and will be funding the new stadium out of his own pocket.

He is thought to have broken the club-record fee of £18,000 to sign defender Luke Coulson last week and plans a piecemeal approach to the stadium’s development to save ground-sharing costs.

Last April, Oxfordshire businessman Donald told the Daily Echo: “When I said three years ago that I wanted to take us into the Football League and build them a stand, the fans must have been saying: ‘Yeah, whatever. Why does this chap from outside the area want to do this?’

“But I’ve put my money where my mouth is and we’ve done remarkably well to turn round a Conference South club who were struggling to stay in the league, a club that had had one budget cut already and were probably going for another.... the club now runs on a profit, although bigger gates have also helped, but the sponsorship is at such a level now that my personal contribution can stop.”

Donald’s company, Bridle Insurance, is Eastleigh’s main sponsor and he also has a ten per cent stake in Oxford United.

His vision for a stadium that enables the club to be self-sustaining at a higher level is not unlike what Rod Bransgrove has achieved down the road at Hampshire Cricket’s Ageas Bowl.

“It’s absolutely like the Ageas Bowl and we hope the local authority take the same view,” said Jewell.

He is keen for the stadium to include terracing to satisfy much of the club’s support and added: “We don’t want to move, this is our historical home.

“It doesn’t have to be all-seater. A core of our support likes to stand so we’ll be looking for a mixture of seating and standing areas, as long as it adheres to the latest safety regulations.”

Eastleigh, currently fourth in the National League with games in hand on their play-off rivals, average crowds of 1,800-plus this season.

Promotion would increase their pull-factor significantly and their catchment will also be boosted by the new housing development at North Stoneham Park.

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PICTURED: The current pitch at Eastleigh FC

Work will not begin on building 1,100 new homes there until next year, but it is a project that has already helped the club develop their relationship with the council.

“Eastleigh Borough Council has been a pleasure to work with,” says Jewell. “The North Stoneham Park development involves the provision of sports facilities to replace the playing fields.

“So it makes a lot of sense for us to liaise with the local authorities to make sure what we’re planning complements what they’re planning.”

The North Stoneham Park development will swallow up the home of AFC Stoneham of the Sydenhams Wessex League - a level Eastleigh were playing at just 13 years ago. But AFC Stoneham are due to be rehomed.

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  • EASTLEIGH have come a long way since being founded as humble Swaythling Athletic in 1946 by current president Derik Brooks, 92, and his friends in the Fleming Arms pub.

It played its first ‘home’ games on Southampton Common, opposite the Cowherds pub, before moving to Walnut Avenue, Swaythling where an air-raid shelter was used as a changing-room.

The club moved to Ten Acres in Stoneham Lane in 1957, a few years after buying the land from ‘Farmer Brown’, after having their initial planning permission refused.

The ‘Spitfires’ climbed the pyramid with three successive promotions under Paul Doswell from 2003-05, winning the Wessex League title before continuing their ascent via the Dr Martens Eastern League and the Isthmian League.

Following Donald’s arrival, the fairytale continued with promotion from Conference South to the heady heights of English football’s fifth tier 18 months ago.

They are hopeful of success at the first time of asking this time and that they will not have to leave their home of 59 years to achieve their ambitions.

  • BUSINESS leaders and politicians in Eastleigh have praised the club’s ambitious expansion plans.

UKIP councillor for Eastleigh East, Cllr Andy Moore hailed the plans as “fantastic” and added: “This is something that will put Eastleigh on the map. It is great to have an established football team and will bring wealth to the town.”

He said that the development of the new link road will alleviate extra traffic generated by fans visiting the stadium on match days while supporters could be encouraged to arrive by rail. He added: “The infrastructure is there and it is something we can get behind.”

Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Dunn welcomed the plans and added: “This will bring added facilities to home and away fans and create many jobs at the ground itself and boost the local economy. It comes on the back of a great FA Cup run and they’ve done a terrific job.”

Jamie Mathieson, general manager of the Concorde Club, often hosted away fans in overnight stays including many Bolton fans following the milestone game. He said: “It’s fantastic news for Eastleigh and good news for businesses.”

Eastleigh supporters have struggled to contain their excitement since Donald revealed the extent of his ambitions at a recent fans’ forum.

“Martfergie’ commented: “The future is bright for this club. I for one and super excited and back Stewart and the board in every choice they make.”

‘Tenacres legend’ wrote: “It’s great that the council have effectively suggested it - that bodes well and is very encouraging.”

‘Cfordspitfire’ blogged: “This whole idea is another exciting instalment in the history of this club.

“Can’t quite believe it sometimes! Obviously only in the initial stages but I do hope the club make it a mix of seating and terracing.”