Ups and Downs of 2017
In April Hastings United footballers stood at the brink of a play-off final for Ryman League promotion, largely outplaying eventual winners Dorking before losing to them on penalties. Eight months later they have a new chairman, a new manager (with another come and gone in between), only two players out of the starting line-up at Dorking still on the playing staff, and have languished for most of the current season in the bottom half of what is now the Bostik League South.
Sounds like a sad reversal of fortune. However there are reasons to look on the bright side. The changes at boardroom level do not reflect any turbulent struggle for power. On the contrary former chairman Dave Ormerod has stepped away from centre stage for purely personal reasons to become club president. The resignation of last season’s manager Darren Hare was a disappointment, and the quick loss of first-choice replacement Andy Hinshelwood, who had found the travel commitment from his west Sussex home too onerous, seemed to compound it. However Chris Agutter, Hinshelwood’s number two, has stepped up with some aplomb to the dual role of first team manager and head coach of the academy. The two surviving players from Hare’s era, Ollie Rowe and Sam Cruttwell, have become leaders on the field along with four popular returnees, Sam Adams, Tom Vickers, Rhys Whyborne and Kenny Pogue. For the rest the onus has been on promoting youthful talent, both from United’s own academy – including Italian teenage hot-shot Davide Rodari and precocious defenders Bradley Pritchard and Ollie Black – and by watchful recruitment: keeper Charlie Horlock, arrived from Eastbourne Borough, has had a splendid season so far; winger Dayshonne Golding, in from Phoenix Sports, and striker Calum Davies, from Leatherhead, have made immediate impacts.
At the time of writing United have climbed to twelfth position in the table, unbeaten since October, and with half the season – 23 league matches out of 46 – still to play, promotion via the play-offs can once again be a realistic aim.
On the rugby field we will look back on 2017 as a memorable year for Hastings and Bexhill RFC, their promotion from the Kent League and Sussex Cup successes being consolidated by robust performances over this autumn in the higher London and South-East League. They may not have quite enough scrummage power up front or kicking skills in the back line, both in penalty-conversion and in open play, to overcome the top sides in this division, but they have been consistently competitive, maintaining a safe league position in mid-table. Tim Sills in particular has reprised his try-scoring prowess, running in six in a one-sided match against Sheppey in October. Head coach Chris Brooks, who has achieved so much with the current squad, will want to go out on a high if he retires, as previously signalled, at the end of the season.
South Saxons mens hockey team have performed by contrast somewhat inconsistently. With prodigious talent George Eldridge fit again after missing most of last season with a broken knee-cap, they have shown themselves capable of beating any team in their division of the Kent/Sussex League. In successive matches last month the two current leaders Ashford and Kings & Alleyns were dispatched, 4-2 and 2-1 respectively. But they have also conceded draws and defeats against lesser teams, and will have to up their consistency to mount a promotion challenge.
The ladies, having rallied strongly last spring to keep themselves in the Sussex Premier division, started the current season brightly with a couple of victories, but thereafter suffered a sequence of agonising odd-goal defeats to leave them near the foot of the table. Defence has been strong, with only 14 goals conceded in 12 games; goals at the right end have been even harder to come by. Last Saturday’s welcome win, 1-0 over East Grinstead, will send them into the New Year in good heart.
Back in the summer the town’s major cricket team Hastings & St Leonards Priory ended on a high, winning their last three games in the Sussex Premier League, including a thrilling 260 run-chase at Horntye to overhaul eventual runners-up Roffey with a two wicket margin and another narrow win to see off already relegated neighbours Bexhill. It sealed a second successive season in the top half of the table, a creditable team performance without the assistance of any overseas player and with neither an individual batsman nor bowler featuring in the league’s top twenty individual averages. With youth to the fore, the side can surely only get better, provided that its talented young performers are not snaffled for the Sussex county squad.
The fortunes of local tennis clubs Amherst and The Green have also been generally on the up. In the summer Aegon Team Tennis championships, the top club competition in Sussex, Amherst coaching staff of Doug Keen, Matt Golledge, Pete Farthing and Jack Graham made themselves available for the three matches allocated to their home courts and swept to victory in each. Unluckily the two top teams in the division, Weald and Maresfield, had to be visited with seriously weakened squads and proved too strong.
In the Wilson Sandford doubles competitions Amherst Men maintained their standing in Summer Division 3 and are on course to do likewise for the winter season. The Ladies team also kept equivalent status in the Summer women’s doubles but, having won promotion in the spring to Division 2 for the current winter schedule, have reached halfway without a single rubber win. They should not despair, however, since their remaining three matches will all be against, on paper, less exalted opposition.
One division below them The Green Ladies continue to motor upwards, with the formidable pair of Amanda Ruck and Beaula Page dominating most of their matches, and teenager Olivia Stapley, when available, powering opponents into submission.
Meanwhile Amherst head coach Jack Graham is enthused about the progress of his juniors. Jada Ani, aged 14, who qualified for the national finals of the Road To Wimbledon tournament in August, has departed for full-time education in an international tennis academy, Globaltennis, in Mallorca. However there are a number of boys – among them Pierre Sooh, Ollie Bellhouse, Zac Prawanna and Hayden Hoxey – all showing considerable promise. The clubhouse proudly exhibits pennants proclaiming 2017 Aegon county titles at under 14s (girls and boys), under 12s (boys) and under 10s (mixed). Meanwhile club members have also invested in the future by subscribing to the installation of two state-of-the-art artificial clay courts.
Speaking of improved facilities, all mainstream sports enthusiasts of Hastings will be watching the development of the intended Combe Valley complex in 2018. Planning applications to Rother District Council in respect of the site itself (including further residential building behind Bexhill Road) and to Hastings Borough Council for digging up Pilot Field and Horntye have yet to be determined, but there seems at this stage to be a substantial tide of goodwill flowing for the project on all sides, and not too many rocks yet appearing as obstacles. Will the construction be under way this time next year? That’s a fair wish to stir into the Christmas pudding.