This time last year Burgess Hill Town were the talk of the Non League community writes NLD writer Ian Townsend.
Still unbeaten in Ryman Division One South, reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup and the Second Round of the FA Trophy (both times bowing out to Conference Premier League Dartford), and having disposed of Sutton United and Aldershot away from home, the future looked exceedingly bright.
Even forward Greg Luer departing for Premier League Hull City BHT failed to slow their progress, as they continued unbeaten until mid-March, a run of 36 matches, before winning the League title eleven points clear of runners up Folkestone Invicta. This season, their first ever at Step Three, has been a bit of a mixed bag.
Victories over front runners Dulwich Hamlet and Tonbridge Angels have contrasted with defeats against Harrow Borough and Farnborough, and first hurdle cup losses to Hitchin Town and County League Horsham YMCA, yet most supporters will be content with their mid-table position and, until this week, will have been far more worried by off the field matters, with the Hillians threatened with relegation unless they get their ground improved by the end of March.
The delays to the improvements can all be laid firmly at the door of Mid Sussex Council, who have prevaricated since first being approached in September, but on Monday the authority- undoubtedly shamed by local newspaper headlines- committed to supporting the club; although they have not yet committed to extending the lease on the Green Elephants Stadium, without which Football Association grants will not be available.
General Manager John Rattle (pictured below left), speaking last week, was confident that the work could be done quickly once permission was granted, and must now expect it to be finished before the League deadline.
“The construction required is fairly straight-forward, and we’ve all the plans in place to do the work- and the finance- whether we get the increased lease or not. Every improvement we’ve made (so far) has been self-financed anyway, including the work we’ve done to the clubhouse and the installation of the uncovered ‘Subway’ Stand next to it.”
The relationship between the club and District Council has not always been harmonious- indeed in the past the club has faced winding up orders due to non-payment of rent- but Rattlewith the club now run in a sustainable way and bringing a positive spotlight to an area that hasn’t too much else to crow about, it had been hoped that those issues had been firmly left in the past.
Certainly after the success of last season the local authority- or rather its elected representatives- were happy to be seen basking in the reflected glow of the clubs’ achievements.
The tardiness of those representatives to help the club move forward the ground changes- which aren’t complicated and will have no impact on the local community- had therefore been surprising, but hopefully there will be no further hiccups, as the local electorate- particularly in view of comments about the matter via community website Burgess Hill Uncovered- would undoubtedly take a dim view of their club being relegated due to council inaction.
Away from off-field concerns, Rattle – a long serving member of an ever- expanding band of volunteers, and who also performs the role of Goalkeeping Coach- is extremely happy with progress.
“We got points on the board early this season, without ever really feeling in control, but we’ve finally found our feet and are playing the way we’d like.
We knew we wouldn’t repeat last year, that would never happen again- indeed you wouldn’t even expect that in under eleven’s football- and we’ve tried to keep the majority of last years squad together, with a couple of additions where we needed to be more physical in a more demanding league. “
Asked to predict who would win the League, Rattle was non-committal.
“If you’d asked me to tell you who were the best team we’ve played this season, I’d have said Staines Town-BHT HOME and they are nearer the bottom than the top!
Dulwich Hamlet are an impressive club, with great support and a good manager, and I think they deserve to have a crack at a higher level- even though we beat them!
But we’ve played better against the better sides, and a number of them, like Dulwich and Leiston, have been very complimentary about the way we’ve played the game.
It’s perhaps taken our players a little time to realise that, although the teams we play against may have different styles to those we played against in the Ryman South, we need to keep playing our way.
Even our Under 21’s and Youth team play the same way, Ian’s (Chapman- the First Team Manager) way- and it’s that style that helps us attract players so we’ve no plan to change it.”
So long as the council don’t go back on their word, and barring a glut of injuries, you’d expect the Hillians to consolidate their Ryman Premier League position this season and push on next. Whatever happens, you know they’ll keep to their principles, continue to play their passing game, and hopefully continue to attract admirers across Sussex.
Who knows, perhaps they might even banish their inconsistency and go on a roll for Mr Rattle!
Article: Ian Townsend
Images: Burgess Hill Town