A century of sports reporting in Hastings

Sport is generally a conservative cultural form. The aims of running faster, jumping higher, showing greater strength – citius, altius, fortius, as the Olympic motto has it    haven’t changed essentially from the Games of Ancient Greece more than 2,500 years ago.It’s true that the Victorians showed some sporting innovation, inventing or at least codifying the modern games of cricket, football, rugby, golf, tennis, hockey and others in Britain and exporting them to the colonies, if not the world. But those codes still dominate in the twenty-first century. Though the materials that go into cricket bats, footballs, golf clubs and tennis rackets may have been technologically upgraded over the years, what we do with them has mutated far less. 

So it is unsurprising, perhaps, that a trawl through a century of sport and sports reporting in Hastings reveals more continuity than change. Taking three October weeks as reported in the Observer 33 years apart -1919, 1952, 1985 – it will be seen that there has been only a slow evolution. Skating and roller-skating seem to have been gradually replaced by martial arts, snooker and gymnastics. But football, golf and fishing have kept their hold as sports conducive to a south coast autumn. By 1952 at least, not only was Hastings United a semi-pro football club playing just outside the ambit of the Football League; Hastings & Bexhill rugby and South Saxons hockey, with both men’s and women’s teams, were well established as the town’s principal clubs in their respective sports; Rosemount and White Rock were competing against each other at bowls. By 1985 many more of the town’s still current sporting institutions were making their mark, including The Green tennis club and the Seagulls water polo team.

How many will still be there in 2051 – another 33 years from now? I’d bet (if I could be still here to collect my winnings) it’ll be quite a few.

Saturday 18 October 1919: Ladies Three-Legged
In the first full football season since 1913-14 there was a dearth of playing fields in Hastings. The Central Ground (now Priory Meadow shopping centre) was the preserve of cricketers and tennis players, and the only Hastings team that gets a mention in dispatches went by the name of Vale Orton. Football reports concentrated on local village matches in the Sedlescombe and Ticehurst Leagues: Robertsbridge United v Brede; Battle Warriors v Netherfield; Sedlescombe v Dallington. Even Ashburnham fielded a team, albeit thumped 12-0 by Herstmonceux.

Clearly more important in the sporting calendar was the forthcoming Sea Angling Festival where there were 11 trophies and cups to be won, including the South of England Championship trophy.

Skating and roller-skating were also prime activities. The Bexhill Skating Rink was holding a Grand Sports Night (skaters 1s 6d on entry, ‘observers’ 6d), featuring not only an ice hockey match, Bexhill v Hastings, but a Ladies Three-Legged Race, Ladies and Gents Tandem Race and a Gents Scooter Race. Meanwhile the Palace Pier Roller Skating Club (with ‘nearly three figures’ membership) unrolled its winter programme including handicap races for ladies (seven laps) and gents (half a mile). 

In golf there was the autumn meeting of the St Leonards and East Sussex club at Filsham, the men competing for the Gold Cup and the ladies a medal competition. The members of Hastings Golf Club, at that time playing on East Hill, were also contesting their October medal.

Saturday 18 October 1952: Tea in Ticehurst
Thirty-three years on, sea angling was still a major sport, with 142 entries confirmed for the East Hastings annual festival. The previous Saturday 20 members competed in rough seas for the Smith’s Crisps Cup and silver medal.

The Pier was a major sporting venue. There was a professional boxing tournament at the Pier Pavilion with former British lightweight champion Tommy McGovern in the fight line-up. Meanwhile, contested at the Sea End Pavilion and Palm Court of the Pier as well as the lower
hall of the White Rock Pavilion, were the Sussex Open table-tennis championships: over
350 competitors expected over the weekend including former world champions Victor Barna
(Hungarian-born but taking British citizenship that year) and Johnny Leach.

In football Hastings United were in Southern League action away at Hereford, only one tier below the Football League. However they had just been beaten in an FA Cup replay (second qualifying round) at Pilot Field by ‘amateurs’ Worthing of the Corinthian League before a crowd of over 3,000. The Observer report didn’t pull any punches describing the match as a ‘a typical cup-tie of low quality’. Hero of the hour was Worthing’s captain Bowles who, from 40 yards, hit ‘a mighty shot that curled over Humpston’s head’ in the Hastings goal. There were also reports on Hastings Rangers v Cuckfield in the County League, and results and tables from the Metropolitan League, East Sussex League, three divisions of a Hastings League, and a Youth League.

At rugby the Hastings & Bexhill club also played Worthing at three levels. The first team had ‘a lucky win in the last few seconds’, a rather harsh assessment when it turns out that this was achieved by ‘a magnificent goal from 40 yards out on the touchline’.

At hockey South Saxons men lost at their Bulverhythe ground to Indian Independents, but the women beat the Folkestone Optimists 4-1.

Motorcyclists were invited to compete in a 40-mile ‘Night Trial’ over ‘main and secondary roads’. Cyclists could join the ‘Kentish Run’, a pedal through Staplehurst and Yalding, then either Penshurst or Tunbridge Wells, but all meeting back for ‘tea in Ticehurst’.

And plenty more sport to cover: swimming results from the Hastings & St Leonards club; archery outdoors at Summerfields; a rifle shooting match in the Eastbourne and District League between Bexhill and Hastings & St Leonards. Rosemount defeated White Rock at indoor bowls. In the Watneys League darts and shoveha’penny teams included the North Star, Silverhill Tavern and Welcome Stranger.

Thursday 17 October 1985:  Some Familiar Names
By the 1980s local football was at an all-time peak, with six divisions of the East Sussex League, four more of the Hastings and East Sussex Sunday League, and an Eastbourne and Hastings District League.

Earlier in the year the original Hastings United had collapsed financially and given up their lease of Pilot Field to Hastings Town (who changed their name back to United a decade later). Town had been playing for several seasons at the Firs, the upper level ground on Elphinstone Road, in the Sussex County League but made a successful bid to join the Southern Division of the Southern League and were now in their first season there under manager Joe White.

The Observer reported on a 1-1 draw at Tonbridge in the FA Vase, ‘a game remembered for
hot heads, off-the-ball spite and the dismissal of Dean White.’ Dean, Joe’s son and a former League midfielder with Millwall and Gillingham (and now, 33 years later, director of Hastings United Football Academy) was ‘involved in a running battle all evening with Tonbridge’s Nicky Sansom. He was booked for a first half squabble and when Sansom was floored from behind in the second half, Sheerness referee John Smith ordered White off the field.’

Other sporting names may also be familiar. Cathy Bargh, Hastings badminton legend and in 2018 All England Seniors over 55s champion, was already the town’s Ladies Round Robin champion. In fact she had been barred from competing in 1984 because she had won for the two previous years – but came back to win again in 1985. Richard King was playing for The Green tennis club in their first fixture of the winter season. His wife Sheila was representing the Tigers table-tennis team.

There were 19 sea anglers for the St Leonards club’s Presidents Cup. Best specimen fish was a conger eel weighing 2 lbs 5 ozs. And there was a preview of the annual International Sea Angling Festival with numbers of entries close to the permitted maximum of 135. But big fishing story of the week was a new club record for Clive Vale angler Richard Lovewell, hooking a 7 lb 5 oz bream at Scotney Court dyke.

At waterpolo Hastings Seagulls won the Observer International tournament at Summerfields, where the Summerfields Gymnastic club were also competing in the Surrey/Sussex Speedo competition. Across the road Falaise beat Worthing at indoor bowls. In boxing there was a professional debut for Hastings 23-year-old middleweight Gordon Janner. In judo, an award was presented to YMCA club coach Neil Chalcraft for ‘outstanding sporting achievement’.

Derek Stevens of Hastings Athletics club was off to Japan to run in the prestigious Fukuoka Marathon. Back home the club put on a three-mile fun run, starting down Bottle Alley.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.