The most celebrated sporting moment for Hastings in 2018 came arguably on New Year’s Day when former local electrician, Rob Cross, who had turned professional  less than 12 months before, won the William Hill World Darts Championship at London’s Alexandra Palace. After a series of close encounters in previous rounds, memorably with world number 1 Michael Van Gerwen in the semi-final, he swept to a 7-2 victory in the final over multiple former champion, Phil Taylor. As the Guardian newspaper reported: “Cross is clearly affected by extreme pressure: it makes him play better”.

Cross had to wait until August to replicate his victory in a major tournament when he beat Van Gerwen again in the final of the Brisbane Masters. Nevertheless, he will enter the 2019 championship as world number 3, with plenty of local supporters betting on him to repeat his success of a year ago.

Another local hero, Mark Davis, enjoyed unprecedented success at the snooker table when in October he reached the final of the English Open contested at the Crawley K2 Leisure Centre. In the semi-final he produced a commanding performance to defeat favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan, making breaks of 102, 93, 84, 65 and 52 in a 6-1 score line. Narrow defeat in the final by Stuart Bingham left him with the consolation of a £30,000 runner-up prize. In contrast to Cross, Davis has been a pro for 27 years but only achieved a ranking within the world’s top 16 at the age of 40 in 2013.

Hastings United manager Chris Agutter greets FA Cup victory at Leiston
PICTURE: Scott White

The footballers of Hastings United, who finished in mid-table of the Bostik League South in the spring, have been attracting markedly increased crowd numbers to Pilot Field this autumn with a style of skilful possession, passing and control not usually seen at eighth tier level. And if this column had been written just four weeks ago, after a 3-1 home win over Whitstable Town had consolidated their second place in the South-East Division, in which they now play, it would have been able to recite a record of nine wins in the opening eleven league games as well as a feisty FA Cup run early on.

Fortunes have turned since then, with the team suffering four defeats (three in the league) and a draw from the last five games. What has gone wrong?

Supporters who look on the bright side can point to a number of marginal decisions, individual errors and disciplinary indiscretions (three players sent off in different games during this winless run), which account for what they hope is a temporary blip. Sceptics can – and do, particularly on the uncensored fans forum website    question certain management decisions, including departures of defender Sinnkaye Christie and attacker Dayshonne Golding, who had each originally signed for the season.  The jury is still out too on whether the team’s style, closely resembling that of Gareth Southgate’s England team in playing out from the back, is really compatible with comparatively lesser ball skills and, more particularly, the wind, rain and mud of English pitches in winter. Young manager Chris Agutter has so far been even more obdurate than Theresa May in insisting that he is not going to be diverted from his Plan A set-up. But there is only one automatic promotion available from this division; next best is qualification via a complex play-off system. Football results, like Parliamentary votes, may have to be respected and different tactics adopted as the season draws on. 

Chris Brooks, coach of Hastings and Bexhill rugby team, retired in April after safely piloting his charges to secure their place in the London & South-East League for another season. New coach Ben Davies took the helm with two home wins in September, but since then the team has suffered six defeats out of seven, the only victory being achieved at Hellingly, who are seemingly out of their depth at this level. H & B certainly are not, and should have enough quality and determination to survive, but they need either to improve their away form or else ensure that they keep beating the lesser sides on the home slope of the William Parker playing fields in order to keep at least one other below them.

Priory club cricket stays at Horntye
PICTURE: Mihnea Chiuia

It was an ‘annus horribilis’ for the cricketers of Hastings and St Leonards Priory, for whom almost nothing went right over the 2018 season. Even gorgeously dry and sunny conditions can’t do much for the sporting spirit when a losing run gains momentum into an unstoppable slide. Priory lost 16 Sussex Premier League matches out of 18, winning only their two contests with Ifield, relegated alongside them. 

Wicket-keeper batsman Joe Billings notched 619 runs, including two centuries, and Jake Woolley also scored well amidst the general carnage. But even on the few occasions when a good total was posted, or bowlers took early wickets, Priory were seemingly unable to force home their advantage. Pace bowler Adam Barton, who before this season seemed on course for a county career, took only nine wickets in nine games; spinner Jed O’Brien, two summers ago the league’s young player of the year, managed only 13 in 14; all-rounder Ellis Hooper, absent for the first two and a half months, took 21 in his eight games but never got going with the bat. Even Harry Finch, who batted successfully on a regular basis for the Sussex county side, and was recalled for a couple of spare Saturdays to bolster his former club’s fortunes, failed to make an impression.

Priory’s Ladies team dropped out of the Whitehorn 40-over league, having fulfilled less than half their allotted fixtures in 2017, and played only four T20 matches all season. No junior side managed to participate in any age group of the Sussex summer holiday festival.

Horntye, which seems destined to remain Priory’s home for the foreseeable future after the collapse of plans to relocate both cricket and hockey to a new ground at Bulverhythe, was also the scene of ultimate dismay for the South Saxons Ladies  (SSL) hockey team.  Back in March they suffered the cruellest fate, relegated from their Sussex Premier League when rivals Lewes equalised to draw 2-2 there with the very last hit of their final match. However SSL have found a new lease of life in Division 1, and at the time of writing are unbeaten with nine wins and a draw out of ten matches played so far this autumn.

Meanwhile the men’s team, playing in the Kent/Sussex 2 League, have had to cope with the loss of a couple of visiting Australian players who spearheaded last season’s campaign. Nevertheless, they are holding their own this time round in the top half
of a competitive league table. Jeremy Bunday, who is a trustee of Horntye as well as chair of the club, is concerned on both counts at the deteriorating hockey surface there, but pleased on the other hand with the general upward trajectory of results and playing numbers at lower levels of the club. Two out of the four men’s teams were promoted in the spring from respective league divisions. Local private schools, particularly Claremont and Battle Abbey, are producing more recruits, and the club aims to repeat its junior tournament for the town’s primary schools in the spring.

Tennis remains a popular sport for all ages, with the 6-Love coaching team at the Amherst club running very successful junior programmes as well as “Rusty Racket” sessions for adults. Zak Prawanna, aged 14, and Hayden Hoxey, at the time just 12, dominated Division 2 of the Sussex Team Tennis under-16 competition, winning six matches out of six both in singles and (combining) in doubles without conceding a set. Both have already played for the adult men’s first team and seem likely to eclipse their seniors before long, though it is fair to congratulate Jeff Gedge on winning the men’s singles title in the club’s annual tournament at the age of 67.

In the primary team competition, Sussex Team Tennis, the Amherst men’s team, which included coaches Doug Keen, Peter Farthing, Jack Graham and Ross Cudmore were unbeaten in the top division but found themselves scratched from the event after failing to raise a side for an away fixture.

The Green club, Amherst’s rivals a mile away in St Leonards, relied on their women’s team to make a splash, with long-established and always competitive pair Amanda Ruck and Beaula Page joined by hard-hitting teenager Olivia Stapley. A head-to-head with Amherst Ladies, scheduled for the first Sunday of the New Year, 6th January, should be keenly fought.

There are of course many other sports and sporting institutions which this column has tracked over the year, from the golf club under new management at Beauport Park to the weekly 5 km Park Run along St Leonards seafront; and from world championship crazy golf  in June to the international Battle of Hastings BMX at the Source Park in September. Sport is alive and kicking in this town.

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