Sporting Summer: The Season So Far
Hastings and Bexhill RFC‘s rugby players should take pride of place. Odd perhaps to include them in a summer round-up, but their 25-8 triumph over Burgess Hill in the final of the Sussex Shield, the county’s prime knock-out tournament, took place on the suitably hot afternoon of 27 May, seven weeks after the end of their championship-winning Kent League campaign. There are still nearly two months until the players return to action in the London 3 South-East Division, but coach Chris Brooks will no doubt be calling them in for the new season’s training well in advance.
The cricketers of Hastings & St Leonards Priory CC have struggled to replicate their form of 2016 in the Sussex Premier League. Captain Tom Gillespie suffered a dislocated shoulder while fielding in the first home match against East Grinstead. His absence for several weeks depleted the batting line-up, already deprived of last year’s Australian import Joshua Hahnei. The bowling attack has also been less penetrating this year, with leading wicket-taker Jed O’Brien hampered by a broken finger. Wins at Ansty and Cuckfield in May, then against Brighton & Hove on 24 June and Bexhill on the Polegrove ground a week later, have kept the team afloat, but the latest defeat at East Grinstead last Saturday confirms the gap in form, if not in class, between them and the top league sides.
At tennis Amherst‘s coaching foursome – Doug Keen, Matt Golledge, Pete Farthing and Jack Graham – spearheaded three high quality home wins in the Premier division of the Aegon Sussex men’s competition. Unfortunately the team’s matches against the two top clubs in the division, Weald and Maresfield, were contested away without either Doug or Graham being able to travel: they were well beaten in both, and thus failed to progress further. In the Wilson Sandford doubles both men’s and women’s teams have been competing well in respective Division 3 leagues. More impressively, The Green Ladies head Division 2 after four matches: teenager Olivia Stapley has been in fine form.
No football since April, and Hastings United‘s manager of last season, Darren Hare, resigned disappointingly in mid-May a couple of weeks after the play-off defeat at Dorking, citing family and business commitments. The club were quick to appoint a new manager Adam Hinshelwood for the 2017-18 campaign and have subsequently announced the return of some old favourites. As players, striker Billy Medlock and goalkeeper Josh Pelling, who each suffered serious injury while representing the club two seasons ago and were released last year, are back; so, on the sidelines, are Lee Carey, who captained the side in the famous Cup run of 2012-13, as coaching assistant to Adam, and Dean White, former ‘U’s manager, now appointed Director of Football. On the other hand a number of Darren’s recruits of last season, including top forwards Frannie Collin and Matt Bodkin, have been poached by Margate, where his assistant of last season, Steve Watt, is now in charge.
Darren’s one-season reign was marked not only by the glut of goals scored but also by a regular influx of players connected with his previous coaching job at Gillingham. This year any new recruits may be expected to arrive from the opposite direction, reflecting Adam’s equivalent position with Brighton.
Hastings fans may be reminded then that, from August onwards, Premier League football at the Amex Stadium will be only an hour’s drive or train-ride away. But I hope that most will still opt for surely more reliable, if rather less illustrious, entertainment at Pilot Field. The former Ryman League has been re-branded the Bostik League, so we’ll have to get used to any number of cliches about sealing wins and sticking together as the ‘U’s compete in the Bostik South. First friendly will be this Saturday (22 July) at home to Kingstonian.