It’s about this time in the season when the manager merry-go-round begins. However, down at Hythe Town, of the Ryman League Division One South, it has been more of a revolving door at Reachfields than a merry go round so far this season. When the 2015/16 season got underway the Cannons were under the management of Tim Dixon, who had been at the helm at Reachfields since May 2014, but after a run of ten games without a win at the start of the campaign, Dixon was sacked in late September with Hythe having picked up just four points and out of two cup competitions. Tim Dixon was replaced by the joint management team of Tony Beckingham and Clive Cook who had both left East Grinstead Town in an attempt to get the Cannons firing again. However, no sooner had the pair set out their plans to turn things around on the pitch, Beckingham resigned after a disagreement with Cook, with the pair having been in joint charge together for just six games.The departure of Beckingham was also followed by that of coach Darren Anslow. Clive Cook now remains the sole man in charge and was quick to bring in UEFA qualified coach Will Graham to assist him and his assistant Mark Lane. You could say it’s been a turbulent few weeks in this part of Kent.
It hasn’t always been like this at Hythe Town. Former manager Scott Porter held the reigns at Reachfields for five hugely successful years between 2009 and 2014, in which time the club gained promotion from the Kent Premier League, reached the playoffs in the Ryman League Division 1 South – getting close to promotion in 2012/13 only to be denied by Kent rivals Faversham Town – also reaching the first proper round of the FA Cup during the 2010/11 season. Scott Porter’s assistant during that period was none other than Clive Cook.
The task for Cook here and now is a tough one, with the club struggling at the wrong end of the Ryman Division One South table having won just four times in fifteen league games so far. However, if the Hythe faithful were left somewhat perplexed by all the goings on at the club over the past month, they would have been relieved that Cook and the players begun a new era with a three-nil win at Kent rivals Whitstable Town, which lifted Hythe ten points clear of Whitstable who are also struggling at the wrong end of the table. The remit for Tim Dixon at the start of the season was to get the club challenging for a playoff place, but with Hythe already nine points off the final playoff position and a massive fifteen points behind league leaders and deadly rivals Folkestone Invicta, Cook will have to turn results around quickly if anything is to be salvaged from the early season wreckage under Dixon.
Two days before the departure of Beckington I headed to Sussex to see Hythe’s clash with East Grinstead Town.
I don’t have happy memories of a visit to East Grinstead. In my early twenties I found myself needing treatment at East Grinstead hospital with doctors having to put my jaw back together after a rather unfortunate incident on a night out. Thankfully this time I was visiting the Sussex town for very different reasons. As I steered the car off the M25 and towards East Grinstead my mind was pre-occupied by my sat nav telling me which way to go, and Danny Murphy on Radio Five Live waxing lyrical about Liverpool’s performance under new manager Jurgen Klopp in their 0-0 draw at Tottenham. I couldn’t work out which of the two was making the most sense.
After a couple of wrong turns and then driving past the turning I actually wanted, (Sat navs, don’t you just love them?), I eventually located The GAC Stadium, home of East Grinstead Town, down a narrow lane. The home team are currently enjoying their first spell at this level in the English Pyramid system having spent their whole history in the Sussex County Leagues.
It was rather fortunate that my visit to East Grinstead Town was also the day Tony Beckingham were back at their former club a few weeks after leaving the Sussex club for today’s visitors from Kent (Beckingham resigned as joint manager a few days later), and it was very much a warm welcome manager who had brought success at the GAC stadium before his departure.
Nevetherless after all the pleasantries were over and done with, it didn’t distract from the fact that this match was very much a six pointer with both clubs struggling at the wrong end of the table and Beckingham and Cook would be looking to inflict a defeat on their former club. A number of new signings had been made for Hythe since the duo took charge, but it was an old hand in striker Craig Thompson who they had to thank for giving Hythe the lead and then rescuing a point right at the death.
The opening goal came in the 17th minute and it gave the away side the perfect platform to build on. Thompson did well to turn in the box and give himself space to fire the visitors in front in the after good approach play from Ben Wilson set him up. As the half wore on the visitors looked like they might extent their lead with several good opportunities, but they were wasted and it was the home side who scored five minutes before half time when Cundle capitalised on a mistake from Hythe goalkeeper Joe Mant. Mant came rushing out to block the on rushing striker only for the striker to muscle him off the ball and slot the ball into the unguarded net. It was a just reward for the hosts and was more than a match for the visitors during the half. No further goals were scored as the score remained 1-1 at half-time.
During the half-time interval I took in the surroundings of the GAC Stadium. It’s a quaint ground surrounded by woodland on all sides, and it also has a unique main stand which sits on the top of a bank giving seated spectators a good vantage point on which to view the action on the pitch. By this point the temperature was dropping as the last rays of the sun disappeared, and I was thankful for not leaving my coat in the car as the teams re-emerged from the dressing rooms.
The second half got under way, and the goal just before half time had galvanised the home side and suddenly it was they who looked the most likely to add to the scoreline as Hythe struggled to get any rhythm or flow to their game. On the touchline Beckingham looked on from his technical area with a worried look and he would have been fuming inside when the home side went in front with just twelve minutes remaining. The Hythe defenders tried to play offside as the ball found its way through to the scorer of East Grinstead first goal Greg Cundle, but the offside flag never came and Cundle ran clear and cooly slotted the ball into the net beyond the reach of Joe Mant.
The game looked to have slipped away from the visitors as the clock ticked onto 90 minutes, but with one last effort Josh Burchell crossed into the box, Dave Cook headed into the path of Thompson who got down low to sweep home the equaliser despite the attentions of a home defender. 2-2 it finished and Beckingham were left to reflect on the missed opportunities in the first half. Two days later Bckingham was gone leaving Cook in sole charge. Clive Cook will now look to continue the good run the cannons have been on recently in attempt to climb away from trouble and further up the table.