It was on April Fool’s Day 2015 that Dave Ormerod, former postman, put his pension savings into buying majority shares in Hastings United. After two and a half years as chairman of the board he stepped down last November – or rather up, becoming president  – because he felt unable, for personal reasons, to go on shouldering day-to-day responsibilities.  But he has remained a major shareholder, and in practice found he couldn’t keep away, not just continuing to sit in on board meetings but also undertaking any number of tasks.  (When I visited Pilot Field recently on a non-match day, he was there wielding a broom in the kitchen area to help prepare for a later meeting). It was announced last week that he will be re-joining the board though former player and long time Hastings Town chairman Dave Nessling will remain in the United chair.

Now 71, Dave Ormerod has been involved with Hastings football for most of his life    and yet he says he virtually never kicked a football, and had no great interest in the sport growing up. He joined the original Hastings United supporters committee in 1966 at the age of 19, at a time when home gates averaged over 2,000 and the team was well established in the Southern League, only two tiers below Football League status.  He undertook fund-raising duties for a number of years.  In 1985 the club collapsed financially and was supplanted at Pilot Field by Hastings Town, moving down from the Firs pitch above (and changing their name back to Hastings United in 2002). Dave was asked onto their management committee and acted as treasurer for 14 years. 

It was the knowledge he gained from that experience, coupled with unbroken devotion to the two Hastings clubs over almost 50 years, which spurred him into his bid three years ago. United were at a low ebb, on a long losing streak and facing the humiliating prospect of relegation to the Sussex County League. Still in loyal attendance as a supporter, home and away, though uninvolved in the management for the past eight years, he was at an away game at Carshalton when he heard that the then owner Dave Walters was looking to sell. He made an immediate bid, and took charge for the team’s dramatic end-of-season recovery that kept it in the Ryman League.

The three subsequent seasons have not all been fair sailing: far from it.  A succession of managers have come and gone. Three of them, Garry Wilson, Darren Hare and Adam Hinshelwood have serially jumped, rather than being pushed, each citing family commitments elsewhere. But the club has found a new identity under current manager Chris Agutter, who doubles as Head of Coaching and Recruitment in the football academy set up in conjunction with Sussex Coast College. Not only has the academy team itself performed well, reaching the semi-finals of the National League Under 19s League Cup (a competition for all clubs below Football League status). Chris has been uncompromisingly committed to promoting youth players into the first team, a
policy met initially with a degree of scepticism if not downright opposition from regular supporters, but which has brought increasingly consistent results over the course of the season. The
team’s poor start meant that league promotion never became a serious prospect. However out of 32 league games played since the beginning of November, 16 have been won and 10 drawn with only six defeats (the last, disappointingly, in the final match last Saturday). If that level of form is maintained next season, with the academy players who have come through a year older, and more in the pipeline, the future looks good.

How long will that future be in Elphinstone Road? It will clearly be a sad day for Dave Ormerod when (if?) currently stalled plans to move to the intended new sports complex at Combe Village come to fruition.  But he agrees that the Pilot Field stadium is “past its sell-by date”.

He has seen a lot over the years. But he says he is “very pleased” with the current set-up.  “We’ve got one of the best managers we’ve ever had.  We’ll be up there next season”.

 

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