MORE than a decade of protracted negotiations may come to an end this summer as New Forest football clubs Bashley and New Milton Town finally seem set to merge.

The move would see New Milton resign from the Wessex League with one club, playing at Fawcett’s Field, replacing Bashley in the Southern League.

The on-off deal to join the clubs could finally come to fruition if Bashley are granted permission from the FA to change their name to Bashley New Milton after an initial request was rejected by the Southern League.

New Milton would also need to gain planning permission to move an existing stand from Bashley Road and meet Southern League ground grading requirements.

And with time running out to satisfy grading chiefs, the respective chairmen have called on the FA to move quickly on the biggest barrier – Bashley’s name change.

New Milton chairman John Breaker told the Daily Echo: “We have been talking to Bashley for some time and we are fairly close but unless these two things happen, and quickly, it absolutely cannot happen from New Milton’s point of view.

“We do feel there is a very good chance this will go ahead – both clubs want it – but no decision can be made unless everything is in place by March 31.

“The door would not be closed if it doesn’t happen this season but there are certain deadlines if it is to happen in time for next year.”

Bashley’s Richard Millbery added: “We have looked at our ground and it needs a lot of work to maintain the required grading.

“We want to have a realistic hope of Conference South football in the near future and it would |be much easier to make the necessary improvements to Fawcett’s Field.

“It makes sense to get behind one senior club because we’re both vying for the same sponsors and support.

“We hope that our members will back the will of the committee because it is the only way for football in the area to move forward.

“We do have the tightest of deadlines, though, and every day is precious.”

Both chairmen remained tight lipped on the playing and management side of any new club, claiming those decisions would only be taken if a merger was confirmed.

Bashley confirmed the move would need the support of the FA at national level, but Hampshire FA spokesman Dan Berry said: “We have received Bashley’s request and have responded. We are waiting on more information from both clubs as well as the Southern League.

“In principle, the Hampshire FA has nothing against the move as long as it is in the interests of football in the area.”

Meanwhile, Bashley’s hopes of Southern Premier survival were dented by a 3-2 defeat at relegation rivals Hitchin Town on Saturday. The result left Bash two points and two places off the drop zone.

Bash: Moore, Strickland (Knight, 78), Oliver, Stephenson (Foster, 85), Middleton, Richardson, Casey, Colson, Stokoe (Gradwell, 78), Gamble, Finlay. Unused subs: Gazzard, Kearn.