The year of 2012 will always be remembered for its British sporting achievements after a spectacular summer that included Tour de France success, US Open victory and, of course, an unforgettable Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In Eastbourne though, the year will be remembered for a variety of other things, a year when we said goodbye to some familiar faces and welcomed new ones to the scene, a year of firsts and a year of lasts.
One of the year’s most momentous changes came as early as January as Eastbourne Borough parted ways with their management duo Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood.
The pair had been at the helm for 13 years and taken the club from the Sussex County League to the Conference Premier but relegation and an inconsistent start to the 2011/2012 campaign saw them bid farewell.
They left on January, 17, just three days after what appeared to be the final nail in their coffin – a 4-1 home defeat to Dorchester Town.
Captain Ben Austin took charge for the Sports’ next game away to Tonbridge Angels, which saw the hosts take the lead after just 14 seconds and go on to score four more, while Borough notched one and were eventually reduced to nine men after two red cards.
Eastbourne’s colourful rugby rogue Joe Marler was told he must tone down his bizarre trademark hair styles if he was to earn his first International cap, while the Eastbourne Eagles pieced together their team ahead of the 2012 season.
Borough appointed a new boss in the shape of Tommy Widdrington - a former Southampton, Grimsby Town and Port Vale footballer turned manager.
Chairman Len Smith received numerous applications but opted for the Geordie boss, who had spent five years at Salisbury City before moving to Hemel Hempstead Town in 2011. He completed the move on February, 1 and, in his first interview, declared he’d been waiting for an opportunity like this and the decision to move to the South coast was an easy one to make.
Widdrington brought former Wimbledon defender Alan Kimble as assistant boss as the duo prepared the start of their new era at the Lane with one simple target: safety.
They had to wait a little while before they could take charge of their first match though as February was hit with a heavy bout of snow that caused havoc among the town’s sporting teams.
Eastbourne Eagles completedtheir team for 2012 with the acquisition of Russian rider Denis Gizatullin. Team manager Trevor Geer had his eye on the International captain for many years.
The speedway season got underway with an impressive 51-40 win against Belle Vue Aces, while Eastbourne Borough also picked up their first win under Tommy Widdrington away to Truro City .
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Oli Thompson made his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut in Australia, only to get comprehensively beaten.
In what was hoped to be a more successful exchange with the land Down Under, Eastbourne Cricket Club signed young Aussie star Aaron Mullins as their overseas player for the 2012 season.
Mullins wasn’t the only cricketer to arrive in the Sunshine Coast during March though as England duo Charlotte Edwards and Caroline Atkins also dropped by for a visit to promote women’s cricket in schools.
Eastbourne Eagles’ number one rider Joonas Kylmakorpi crashed on the first bend of the first heat during the Eagles’ clash with Kings Lynn Stars at the end of March.
News later emerged that the Finnish rider had cracked his collarbone in the collision and was immediately flown to Spain to undergo and operation to pin it back into place.
The 32-year-old also damaged his shoulder socket and was sidelined for a few months, which was a big blow to Trevor Geer’s men and their Elite League campaign.
While the speedway season was just starting, April saw the culmination of the football, rugby and hockey seasons.
Eastbourne Borough survived the drop – just – finishing two points and two places above the relegation zone. Eastbourne Town secured a solid mid-table place while Eastbourne United just missed out on promotion from the Sussex County Division Two, which was something achieved by Hailsham Town.
It was bad news for Eastbourne Rugby Club, though, as they were relegated from the London and South East Division Three to Sussex One following a difficult season that saw them win just one match, although this was later wiped out as the opposition were expelled from the division. The Blue and Golds finished bottom of the league with two points – 31 adrift of Uckfield above them. Coach Roger Stanley soon departed.
Meanwhile, Eastbourne Hockey Club finished second from bottom in the Southern Premier Division but lived to fight another day after the relegation play-off in the National League above them worked in their favour.
The speedway family said goodbye to a friendly face much earlier than they would have wished with the death of rider Lee Richardson.
Richardson, known as Rico, tragically died after he crashed head-first into a solid fence during a Polish League match, suffering leg injuries, breathing difficulties and severe internal bleeding.
Rico, 33, was a former number one rider for the Eagles, skippered them to Knockout Cup glory in 2008 and was a fond friend of many of the Arlington faithful.
And, if ever proof was needed as to just how popular Rico was, a huge total of £122,000 has been donated to the Lee Richardson Support Fund so far, which was set up to help the wife and three children Lee sadly left behind.
Cricket Captain Mark Tomsett described the opening game of the season at Brighton as ‘one of the strangest games ever’ The home side notched 345-4 thanks, in large part, to Eastbourne’s fielders dropping an incredible 11 catches.
However, they managed to salvage a draw after a Luke Wells century set them on the way to 318-8 in a match where 660 runs were scored at a rate of more than six runs an over.
In Rugby news, Eastbourne recruited the RFU’s Development Officer for Sussex Mal Chumbley as their Director of Rugby for the upcoming season.
All attention turned to the AEGON International Tennis Tournamentespecially after it was announced that former world number one and crowd favourite Andy Roddick would grace the Devonshire Park courts.
The highest-ranked female Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon Champion Kvitova and US Open finalist Wozniacki all lost their first round contests, as did top men’s seed Gasquet and starlet Bernard Tomic.
A further surprise story was that of Jade Windley, a 22-year-old from Brighton who defied a 466-rank difference to beat world number 77 Stephanie Foretz Gacon in the second round of qualifying to earn herself some well-deserved headlines. Eastbourne’s Johanna Konta fell before the final qualifying stage. For most of the tournament, it looked as if Marion Bartoli would retain her crown with blistering performance after blistering performance. However, she stumbled and it allowed Tamira Paszek to take the title after also winning the support of fans with her smiling displays. It was little surprise to see Roddick storm his way to victory in the men’s draw in what turned out to be his final trophy before his retirement later in the year.
It wasn’t only stars of the tennis world who came to the Sunshine Coast though, with legends of the Lashings cricket squad also making a cameo appearance in a charity event hosted by Eastbourne Cricket Club. Former Eastbourne Borough captain Ben Austin made the switch to local rivals Eastbourne Town, soon to be followed by Matt Crabb, and rugby star Joe Marler made his International debut for the England Rugby squad in South Africa.
The dust settled on the AEGON International Tennis Tournament, although not before Eastbourne Royal Golf Club dispelled rumours that they turned golfing superstar Rory McIlroy away for no good reason.
The world number one was in town supporting girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and did swing by the Royal for a practice round. However, after word started circulating that the club refused to let him play as he was wearing the wrong socks, the club released a statement saying they would have welcomed him with open arms but ‘fact is, he would have reached the 11th fairway from the practice area’ so they recommended him another course.
The town began to get Olympic and Paralympic fever, with local girl Bethany Woodward getting a call-up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games while the Swedish Olympic Tennis team, comprising of Robert Lindstedt, Sofia Arvidsson and Johan Brunstrom, chose to base their preparations in Eastbourne, using the courts at Devonshire Park and the fitness facilities at the University of Brighton’s Chelsea School.
During July, Eastbourne also hosted its annual extreme sport weekend in far from summery conditions. The wind and rain really tested the enthusiasts performing death-defying stunts on mountain bikes, motorbikes and jet skis, among other things.
Attention turn to the Olympic Games, with Eastbourne being represented by Yachtsman Steve Morrison, competing in the 49er class with Ben Rhodes. The duo, despite a slow start and capsizing, entered day five in silver medal position and continued to battle for a place in the top three.
However, they eventually crossed the line in fifth in what turned out to be a tense finale. The sailor will now set his sights on Rio 2014, as will badminton star Heather Olver and triathlete Todd Leckie, who both just missed out on Olympic qualification.
Football got underway after much chopping and changing over the summer. Eastbourne Borough manager Tommy Widdrington was no doubt the busiest of the local bosses eager to stamp his mark on the team he inherited earlier in the year.
While Borough lost the opening match of their campaign, away to Dorchester, Town started theirs with a thrilling 3-3 draw with Faversham Town.
Eastbourne United opened their account with a 6-0 thrashing of Storrington at a new-look Oval stadium after the club received a £100,000 cash boost to bring the ground up to Sussex County League standards. August proved to be a tough month for Eastbourne Cricket Club too as they found themselves in a relegation dogfight, even more so after a five-point deduction was slapped upon them after unsporting behaviour from latest addition Mohammad Akram.
Eastbourne Cricket Club’s fate was sealed as they suffered the first relegation in the club’s history after finishing second from bottom in the Premier Division with just five wins from 19 during the season.
After a rallying end to their campaign that included a last-day victory against Roffey thanks to a century from captain Tomsett, Eastbourne were just two points behind Worthing and safety.
The season also ended in disappointment for Eastbourne Eagles too as their year petered out with a fifth-place finish in the Elite League. Despite vying for a play-off spot for the majority of the season, a string of poor results away from home saw this goal gradually inch out of reach.
A beacon of light from their season, though, was the revelation of young star Timo Lahti, who surprised everyone with a series of top-scoring performances to see him promoted up the order for the final few meets. There was success for Eastbourne in the Paralympic Games, though, as young Bethany Woodward secured a silver medal in the T37 200m. Bethany, who has cerebral palsy, took second place in London with a time of 29.65 seconds.
In the football world, former Eastbourne Borough manager Garry Wilson made a return to football by agreeing to the role of assistant manager at Eastbourne Town. Borough, meanwhile, suffered a blow as striker James Walker, who had recently been called up to the Antigua and Barbuda International squad, picked up a knee injury while playing for his country in the Caribbean.
October arrived, as did more new faces at Eastbourne Borough, who picked up their first away league win at AFC Hornchurch on October, 20.
Eastbourne United, meanwhile, continued to storm the Sussex County League Division Two and managed to ease through the month without losing a single game.
The Rugby Club could also boast an unbeaten month as they kicked off their Sussex Spitfire Division One campaign with six straight victories.
The arrival of new Director of Rugby and First Team Coach Mal Chumbley coincided with a restructuring at the club as they looked to find stability following their relegation. After a promising start to the season for Eastbourne Hockey Club, they suffered a comprehensive defeat on the opening weekend of October as Chichester trounced them by nine goals to nil. The Hockey Club had also brought in a new face in Chris Bristow – a former Surbiton goalkeeper drafted in as a first team coach to help manager David Adelston steer his club to a more successful season in the Premier Division.
The Olympic visits continued into November as Pete Waterfield attended three sessions at the Sovereign Centre as part of a Sportivate ‘Dare to Dive’ scheme, which was a six-week lottery funded course for 14-25 year olds.
The former silver medalist diver, who partnered Tom Daley in the 10m synchronised high dive for Team GB at London 2012, introduced 10 young people to the sport of diving with masterclasses on strength and flexibility. At Arlington, November brought news that Australian International rider Adam Shields will return to Eastbourne for the 2013 season. Lewis Bridger, who had an unusually quiet season in the Eagles line-up, moved in the other direction and joined the Hammers ready for next year’s campaign, which it was also revealed this month will not include the Elite League Knockout Cup after the sport’s governing body decided to ‘shelve’ the event for the 2013 season due to a lack of available dates in the speedway calendar.
November was a miserable month for Eastbourne Town as they lost each of their league and cup encounters to continue their run of an eventual eight-match losing streak that saw them plummet from third to 18th in what is a ludicrously tight Ryman League Division One South table.
December came and shone a light on Eastbourne’s successful young stars, such as Joe Guppy, Abigail Freeborn and Callum Jackson.
Rower Joe Guppy, 19, was this month chosen to compete against the world’s best after he was selected to represent Great Britain for the 2012 Youth Olympics in Australia. He’s due to fly out to Sydney on January, 5 to race on the same water where Sir Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold medal in 2000.
Callum Jackson was also selected to represent his country after he was picked for the England Under-19 team due to tour South Africa at the beginning of next year.
Also receiving cricket recognition, Abigail Freeborn was hand-picked for the Under-19 England Women’s Development Programme after a series of impressive performances for Hastings and St Leonard’s Priory and Sussex. She is due to tour Dubai early next year.
Finally, Team GB Paralympic star Steve Brown, who captained the wheelchair rugby team in London earlier this year, gave talks at Eastbourne’s Cavendish School to encourage pupils to get active and try new sports.
And so the year draws to a close. Eastbourne Rugby Club continue to fly in Sussex One, as do Eastbourne United in Sussex County Division Two. Things finally seem to be starting to gel for Eastbourne Borough, who are unbeaten away from home in three months and sitting in the top half of the Blue Square South table, while Eastbourne Town and Eastbourne Hockey Club will hope the New Year will bring a turn in fortunes for them. Whatever happens, though, a line will be drawn under 2012 and the New Year will start with an air of promise, uncertainty, excitement and, above all, hope.