CHAIRMAN Stewart Donald says non-League Eastleigh are well on their way to establishing themselves as “a proper football club”.

The Spitfires are less than a month into their maiden Vanarama Conference season, but already their fame is spreading, with season tickets now topping the 700 mark and the all-ticket September 30 visit of former Football League outfit Bristol Rovers heading for a sell-out, writes WENDY GEE.

Eastleigh started on a high with a 1,914 crowd for their Silverlake opener against Aldershot and have averaged over 1,300 for their three home games so far.

It’s a dramatic improvement on the 680 average who watched Richard Hill’s men soar to the Conference South title last term.

But the ambitious Donald believes it’s only the tip of the ice-berg for Eastleigh who, until their rise began 12 years ago, were playing in front of crowds of less than 100 in the Wessex League. He is targeting an average gate of 1,500 this season, including several of 2,000-plus.

To mark Non-League Day the Spitfires are preparing to welcome FA chairman Greg Dyke and former referee Howard Webb, now technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, to tomorrow’s home game against Southport.

Eastleigh are confident of getting a decent crowd in for that one, given that there are no Premier League or Championship games, so are sticking with normal admission prices.

Instead they are offering special incentives to fans later this month.

Admission is FREE for Forest Green Rovers’ visit on Tuesday week (September 16) and it will be ‘Kids for a Quid’, with under-16s getting in for £1 with a paying adult, for the Braintree Town game on Saturday, September 20.

“We did a free admission game last season and loads of our new season-ticket holders came for the first time that night, so it will be interesting to see if it happens again,” said Donald.

“We’re hoping the steels for the roof of the new stand will be in by then so people can come in for free and see the progress the club’s making.

“We’re trying to get a theme going for all our home games.

“We’ve got Non-League Day tomorrow and we’re expecting a slightly bigger crowd for that one anyway. We’ve had a lot of enquiries from people who’ve never been here before asking for directions to the ground.

“The Bristol Rovers game is all-ticket and we’ve only got around 600 left for the home end and they’re going fast.”

Eastleigh’s record home league crowd is 2,283 for the Conference South visit of AFC Wimbledon in March 2009 – and Donald is hoping it will soon be bettered.

“Hopefully we’ll get a record crowd in for Bristol Rovers,” he said. “If we get 2,500 we’ll be pleased. All the corporate packages are sold.”

Such is the heightened interest in Eastleigh these days that they have taken on three new employees to help cope with the demand.

“The club’s gone up a notch and we needed help dealing with clubhouse bookings etc. and also matchday and ticketing promotions and school liaison work,” the chairman explained.

“To start with I thought we’d get 750 as a lower gate and 1,200 for the bigger games this season, but now it looks more like being 1,000-plus at the lower end and hopefully 1,500-2,000 for the big games.

“We’re trying to keep it cheap so people can come and have a look without it costing an arm and a leg. If they like it here and they like the atmosphere, hopefully they’ll come back.

“We’re averaging about 1,350 at the moment, putting us above some better established Conference teams – and we’ve only just begun.

“It looks as if we’ve got 950 home fans on a Saturday, but we’ve never been good at getting schools, academy teams etc involved and, if we can do that, it would add another 200-300 and all of a sudden we’re knocking on the door of 1,500.

“We’d feel like a proper club then."