By Dave Bradbury
On Saturday 7th January I visited what is now my local team Bude Town FC to face a team, which will be well known to many Hillians supporters, Porthleven FC in the South West Peninsula League Division 1.
The Hillians faced Porthleven almost 15 years ago in 2002 in the last 16 in the country of the FA Vase as both teams were riding high in their respective leagues.
Both were fancied highly for the competition but it was the Hillians that romped to victory with Gary Croydon’s men winning 4-0 in front on an impressive crowd of 1215 at Leylands Park.
The Hill went on to win their league whilst the Cornish visitors ended as runners-up.
Since that day both clubs have fared rather differently. Whilst Porthleven has dropped a level, the Hillians have established themselves and climbed the leagues.
Hill went on to win the Sussex County league again the following season under Danny Bloor before progressing to the Doc Martens League where we finished just outside of the playoffs.
The following season we transferred across to the Ryman League after the Non-League Pyramid was restructured.
It wasn’t all high riding for the Hillians as spells under Steve Johnson and Simon Rowland as well as battles with the local council behind the scenes threatened the Hillians. But during those times the Hillians stayed strong with everyone pulling together and the Club establishing themselves as a well-respected Ryman League Club under the spells as manager of Gary Croydon.
The Club then took a different approach and Ian Chapman and Richard Strange took over the leadership roles on and off the pitch respectively and this re-ignited the Hillians and more spells of success followed.
After surviving the drop on the last game of the season in 2011/12 season by beating Dulwich Hamlet, the Club appointed Chapman as 1st team manager.
Ian has brought a level of professionalism to the club never seen before. After rebuilding the squad Chappers and his backroom team lead the club to become Ryman league South champions in 2015 by a then record points margin.
This season the Hillians continue to strive to cement our position as a Ryman Premier club.
The Club have also been lucky enough to see some fantastic cup matches in that time and also some of the best players in Sussex football over the years; Daren Newman, Ashley Carr, Paul Thomsett, Alan Ingledew, Sean Edwards, Steve Harper, Stuart Tuck, Pat Harding, Daren Budd, Joe Keehan to name a few, and this season’s signing of Dean Cox was a massive coup and really showed how far the Club has moved on.
Of course, there was also Greg Luer who moved to a then Premier League side, Hull City, for a fee from the Club.
Off the pitch, the Club has also improved massively. Three stands have been erected, tea hut built, bar and toilet facilities improved amongst many things. The ground isn’t recognisable from 15 years ago. Not just the ground but the world of social media has seen the Hillians improve massively.
The band of people behind the scenes have always been first class and continue to do the Club proud. People over the years such as Jim Collins, Garry Newton, Richard Strange, John Rattle, Kevin Newell, John Buck, Allan Turpin, Tim Spencer, Roger Puttick, Peter Miles, Sharon Collins, Colin Obbard amongst the many others.
The Hillians are well known for their excellent hospitality to visiting clubs and supporters and much credit must go to those behind the scenes.
Attendances have also risen from those days in the Sussex County League.
But as the Hillians have progressed the same cannot be said of the Cornish side. They finished third the following season and after that, it was all downhill.
After that their struggles started, they finished bottom the following season. Luckily for them, they avoided relegation and the following season they finished 9th. That finish was enough for them to move into the newly formed South West Peninsular League Premier Division but due to financial reasons they withdrew their application and were effectively relegated to Division One West which they still play in now.
It’s a far cry from the level BHTFC play at.
They have finished mid table in all of those seasons but had more bad news in 2012 when they were refused entry into the FA Cup and FA Vase due to a change in the ground grading regulations so have missed out on not only revenue but the involvement in these prestigious competitions.
So as the Hillians continue to progress not just as a football team but a club the same cannot be said of Porthleven and you wonder what might have been for the Hillians and where they would be playing if things went differently.
Win, lose or draw everyone associated with Burgess Hill Town FC should be proud of this great Club.
Good luck and as always the Hillians result will be the first one I look out for!