Haywards Heath is a generally unremarkable Sussex commuter town. It has few characteristics which make it stand out writes NLD writer Ian Townsend
It is a reasonably pleasant place to live and work, convenient for London on the odd occasion when the trains actually run on time, relatively prosperous, fairly low on crime, and not particularly ugly whilst having little of architectural merit.
There is every chance that if you are not a resident of Sussex you will know little about it, unless you’ve heard former resident Richard Osman singing its praises on Pointless.
That said, if you are a Non League football fan there is perhaps a small chance that you may have recently become a little more familiar with this corner of Mid Sussex.
Both Haywards Heath sides have been in the news, albeit for entirely different reasons.
Haywards Heath Town have suddenly become rather upwardly mobile, winning sixteen straight games earlier this season and since then only losing to higher league sides in cup competitions whilst looking certainties for promotion to Southern Combination Football League Premier Division.
The only downside to that success is that it has coincided exactly with the dramatic decline of the town’s other side, St Francis Rangers.
With a record that shows twenty two matches played, twenty two matches lost, one hundred and fifty one goals conceded and only two scored, St Francis Rangers currently hold the record of being the worst team in England.
The likelihood is that Rangers will be the side replaced by Heath in the SCFL Premier. Turning the situation around would perhaps even be beyond that fellow from Assisi.
This season, if St Francis Rangers Chairman John Goss found that he had a jackpot winning lottery ticket in his possession, you could be sure that the deadline for claims would have been the previous day. Goss has been at the club for twenty years, and during that period he has done almost every job you could imagine as his club has grown.
He ended up in charge (supposedly on a temporary basis) twelve years ago, and has overseen a side which has consistently overachieved. Until now, anyway. When I spoke to him for the Non League Paper in mid December I got the sense of a man who has never courted authority nor publicity but who was always determined to do his very best for his football club.
He was, as you can imagine, unhappy with the current reasons for his club being in the limelight, but despite that had not lost his good humour nor his ability to find positives from a seemingly dire situation. He also sounded quite exhausted.
After a mid table 2014-15 manager Glenn Charker decided to leave. Charker had been part of the managerial setup manager for almost three years, initially as Assistant to former Kingstonian legend Geoff Pitcher.
Whether his departure was for footballing reasons or for personal reasons remains unknown and depends very much on which account you believe, but leave he did- indeed, effectively he left, came back and then left again. Sadly the entire squad departed too. Three weeks before this season was due to start, Rangers had no manager and no players.
Goss accepted an offer from former Eastbourne United and Langney Wanderers manager Dave Shearing to take the helm, but with little time and even less money it was a side almost entirely made up of youth and under 21 players who lined up against Horsham YMCA on August 8th and lost 7-0. It has been downhill ever since.
By October Shearing could take no more and decided to resign, but offered to stay on until a replacement could be found. Eventually that replacement was named as former Burgess Hill Town and Shoreham player Kai Bichard, but he was already banned for six matches for apparently assaulting a referee, so it was December before he could properly take on his player/manager role.
He has spoken very positively about how he has never been relegated and has high hopes, but results haven’t improved- although arguably, performances have.
Whatever the stated hopes of their new manager, you’d struggle to get any odds on St Francis Rangers pulling themselves out of the relegation spots this season-but that might not be the end of the world. Crawley Town Gatwick ended last season with just thirteen points but are currently leading the charge for promotion straight back after a summer rebuild, so proving that you can recover from disaster.
Coupled with the fact that the Youth Team are once again challenging for the title, and the Under 21’s looked to have real potential before many of their members were thrust prematurely into the first team spotlight, you’d have to think that the club could conceivably recover. Their biggest problems may turn out to be off the pitch.
Chairman Goss does so much work at the club that if it were to be renamed St Goss’s Rangers it wouldn’t be particularly far fetched. This isn’t a new phenomenon, although the level of his endeavour has undoubtedly increased over the past year, but it creates an enormous potential problem. How would they cope if he wasn’t there? Who would step into the void?
These aren’t necessarily hypothetical questions; Goss has stated that he will step down at the end of the season, and although he has said this before only to be talked out of it, he does seem rather determined on this occasion.
You can’t blame him, and there is no doubt that he’d walk away reluctantly, but looking at his level of responsibility, including many roles which he took on simply because there was no-one else willing to do them, he can’t possibly have time for a life away from the club- and it’s costing him money, too, as particularly this season he’s ended up paying fines for players who were booked and then didn’t return. He’s even persuaded his Son-in-Law to manage the Youth team, risking the ire of his daughter!
It would seem that if the good folk of Haywards Heath want St Francis Rangers to continue, then they need to step up and get involved. The club has no social media presence, no working website, very few funds, and to a great extent only functions because of the hard work of Goss, a couple of dedicated sponsors and an ever dwindling band of volunteers. If Goss was indeed to go, then that band of volunteers would need to increase dramatically if the club wasn’t to fold.
St Francis Rangers is a friendly club with a county-renowned youth setup. They deserve to be known for that, rather than for being the worst team in England. But in the long term the performances on the field may be the least of their worries, for after all, how do you replace a one man army?
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Article and Images: Ian Townsend