Hastings United footballers had last weekend off, or at least no league or cup game to play. The action instead was in the boardroom at Pilot Field as three long-serving directors – chairman Dave Nessling, secretary Tony Cosens and former chairman Dave Ormerod – all resigned, less than a week after the appointment of a new CEO, Billy Wood.

On 18th September the club had issued a suitably upbeat press release to herald Mr Wood’s arrival. With a professional background in the music business, working for global entertainment agencies UTA (United Talent Agency) and WME-IMG, he clearly presents well. He was quoted as saying: “Hastings has been my home since I was a young boy, my friends and family are all here, and to be given the opportunity to drive my hometown club forward as CEO is something I couldn’t turn down. Hastings United in my eyes is a sleeping giant and with its geographical reach has potential unlike any other club in East Sussex…. I have many times stood at the Pilot Field or sat in the main stand and imagined what I would do if I was involved in the club, and the dream is now a reality at the right time for all parties.”

Majority shareholder of Hastings United, Daren Burney, declared that “the chairman and I looked long and hard at who we could bring in to add enthusiasm and vitality to the Club and Board, and Billy was the stand out candidate to deal with day-to-day management of the football club and also oversee the club’s strategy in commercial activities, club profile and branding, merchandising, website and social media matters.”

As to football credentials, he had “revitalised Eastbourne United AFC as chairman of their committee. Under his reign the club improved their facilities, strengthened their branding and image, and made shrewd movements in their committee that enhanced the administrative side of the business.”

He had also presided over a dramatic improvement in Eastbourne’s fortunes on the field.  Having appointed former United player Arron Hopkinson when the club was 14 points adrift at the bottom of the Southern Combination Premier Division table with less than four months of the season to play, relegation was avoided on the last day of the season.

Departure from Eastbourne

What wasn’t apparent from the press release, however, was that Mr Wood had spent less than a year at Eastbourne, having declared on arrival there in November 2018: “Eastbourne is a very exciting prospect, we have a special club … Success can happen here and I am fortunate to have a committee with me that can push this club into the modern era.”  Nor, unsurprisingly, did Hastings United refer to the circumstances of his departure from their close neighbour. But, according to Eastbourne United’s own website, Mr Wood’s farewell ten months later came as “a bolt from the blue”. Could it have been connected with the sudden resignation a week earlier of his relegation-avoiding manager, Mr Hopkinson?

Hastings Directors Step Down

It was reported in the Hastings club’s initial press release that Mr Nessling would continue in the role of chairman “focusing on delivering important elements for the future sustainability of Hastings United including the brand new stadium complex at Tilekiln”.

But six days later, on 24th September it was announced that he, Mr Cosens and Mr Ormerod “have decided to step down”.

No further explanation has been offered publicly by these directors, nor by the club. However, on the following day Mr Wood issued his own comments: 

“If I’m completely honest, while I have full respect for them, I think their resignation at this time is quite naive if anything.

“When I met with them, I never said that they would be marginalised at this football club or they wouldn’t be an asset to [it]. I made it very clear to all my board members that I want to work with them to understand them and how they operate at this club before we make any radical decisions.

“They’ve made a decision, based on my willingness to work with everyone, that it’s not right for them. And that’s fine, and I respect that. But at the same time, they shouldn’t have feared change, because all I’m doing is trying to make Hastings United more accessible for our community, and that’s it.”

Scepticism

There has been considerable scepticism expressed on the Hastings club’s fans’ forum website at the turn of events. Among 30 postings, while the majority accept that the club should welcome in their new CEO, and give him a chance to show his worth, there is not only sadness at the loss of three directors who have each served the club faithfully over many years but also multiple concerns about the ‘new broom’s very limited track record in terms of footballing experience or commitment. 

The comments of a self-described ‘lifelong supporter’ of the club, styling himself ‘Overthehill’, are typical of many. “I am saddened to see the departures of three individuals who have put so much into the club, often with resultant personal sacrifice, over many years. You simply can’t put a price on that amount of experience, loyalty, commitment, skill, and desire to do things in the right way … In my view, all three deserve better than being apparently marginalised to the point where they feel the need to walk away.” 

Another ‘veteran member’, styling himself “TimN” wrote: “I fear for the next few weeks. Big changes not always good for the team. Certain people think Billy is going to come in and make us a bigger and better club. His past experience is not all that. Chairman of the 4th best side in Eastbourne (Eastbourne United). What is so special about him and what has he done in the past? After saying all this I hope I am proven wrong.”

Then, last Sunday Mr Wood posted on the forum himself, insisting that he hadn’t asked the three directors to leave. “My intention was to work alongside them, get a feel for what’s being done at the club – what’s being done great and what we can improve on. Ignoring the past success or the methods only a fool would do, and that is never my intention … Some will doubt me, say I’ve not done enough to earn this position or I have not enough experience compared to the previous. All three men have 50 or so years at this club, which you only get if you are in the job. Anyone who doubts me I do not blame you, but I ask you one thing. Let me prove to you why I am here.”

The ‘U’s currently stand third in the BetVictor Isthmian League South East with four wins and three draws in their first seven matches. They host leaders Sevenoaks at Pilot Field tomorrow (Saturday).


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