Younger Than That Now
The early songs of Bob Dylan are hardly likely to feature on the playlist of Hastings United manager Chris Agutter. At 30 Chris is the youngest manager in the Bostik League, and the Nobel Laureate was putting the music of another generation to vinyl more than 25 years before he was born. Nevertheless I commend to him the refrain from My Back Pages: “Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”. For Chris’ team seems to be going further back to the future with every month of the current season.
Back in the autumn when he was first appointed in succession to Andy Hinshelwood, the United team was being criticised on its fans forum and other social media for promoting too many teenagers from the academy. However Chris’ first selections featured several stalwarts from the past: Lee Carey (aged 30), Rhys Whyborne (31) and Kenny Pogue (30), each returning to Pilot Field as the scene of former glories after several years away: the plan seemed to be one of judicious mixing of youth with experience. But, if so, it hasn’t lasted long. Of the United teams which turned out last week for respective 1-1 draws at South Park in Reigate, then at VCD in Crayford, only captain Sam Adams (31) and centre back Ollie Rowe (25) are over 23. Lee was shipped out in October, Chris praising him for his input and assistance both on and off the field during his tenure but stating that he could not be offered the amount of first team football he would want. Rhys was released on similar grounds in December. And last week it was announced that Kenny would be joining Sevenoaks FC “in pursuit of much needed game time”.
Hastings will retain Kenny’s registration for Bostik League services and could in theory recall him again, but Chris’ statement on his departure has a clear valedictory air: “I’d like to put on record that he has been a huge part in the recent turnaround that we’ve made both on and off the field – his professionalism, conduct and attitude has been an example to everyone, the love for Ken within the group was reflected by everyone’s reaction to his announcement that he would be heading to Sevenoaks, however everyone appreciates Ken’s desire to play football and he goes with our best wishes”.
These sentiments are properly respectful of a very popular player. However the truth is that Kenny and his senior colleagues have been edged out of first team spots by a succession of bright young recruits ten or more years younger: Dayshonne Golding and Calum Davis, each aged just 20, arrived in October from Phoenix Sports and Leatherhead respectively to provide speed, energy and scoring capability up front; Antonio Walker, just 18, another speedy winger, was snapped up from AFC Wimbledon in December. Latest signing is Sinnkaye Christie, a 6 foot 3 inch centreback, aged 19, from Merstham. Chris speaks of him as “another player who we’ve signed with a view not just to the short term but more importantly longer term – he’s strong and powerful, hungry and ambitious, with the potential to play higher: exactly the type of player that we want to bring to the club”.
Academy teenagers Tom Climpson, Davide Rodari and Ansu Janneh continue to feature regularrly in the first team squad. Meanwhile Sam Cruttwell, playing his best season yet in either defence or midfield, can be regarded as a veteran performer, having just celebrated his 200th game in United colours – and he is not even 21.
The two away draws last week have left Hastings pegged back in tenth position in the Bostik League South, 14 points off the promotion play-off positions. With only 13 games left it would take a minor miracle to close the gap now. So focus is shifting towards next season, with manager Chris Agutter talking already about securing contracts for the majority of players he wants to keep. He issued a statement last month that by early March the club would be be aiming to announce the existing players that are committing to extended or longer term deals. Rather than having another summer rebuild of foundations Chris is aiming instead to be “adding the finishing touches to an intact and familiar squad of players”. The majority will be young, that’s certain.