Former Eastbourne Borough skipper Ben Austin believes the unique set of circumstances that came together to deliver such success for Eastbourne Borough will be extremely difficult to replicate in the near future.
Austin made almost 500 appearances for the Sports and was an integral part of the Borough side, managed by Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood, that rose from the County League to the Conference Premier.
His sobering assessment comes as Borough languish near the National South relegation zone and after their exit from the FA Trophy. He believes supporters should lower their expectations of what the club can achieve in the short-term.
“I said at the end of the Wilson/Greenwood era that the club may never get that success again. The club were fortunate that they had a core of local and loyal players who were able to play at conference level. The likes of Matt Smart, who travelled three times a week from Basingstoke after a day’s work, for the best part of 10 years, don’t exist anymore.
“The likes of Matty Crabb and Darren Baker, who when push came to shove, would’ve played for free if the money had dried up, don’t exist anymore. The likes of myself, who would’ve and did play through serious injuries because it meant that much, don’t exist anymore. We weren’t the best players in the world, but we wanted it more than pretty much everyone we faced and the fans appreciated that.
“I’m not saying the current crop don’t want to win, I’m not saying they don’t care about the club, but on the current budget, without the correct standard of local players, it’ll be a hell of a job to move forward. That’s not the manager’s fault, the chairman’s fault or the club’s fault, it’s just the way it is. It was a one off era that may not happen again without a serious cash injection.”
Austin added, “As a group of individuals and ultimately as a team, we were very tight. It was a dressing room full of genuine mates who would go the extra mile.
“We had a core of consistent 7-8 out of 10 local lads who held it together week in week out. The club doesn’t have that now. I’m not looking to criticise the current squad, there are good players at the club, but when they head home and out of town on a Saturday evening, does it really matter to them?...I don’t know.
“All I do know is when we were below par and went out in town, we’d have to justify our performance to half the people we met. It mattered. Without having local lads with the necessary quality to progress the club, the only alternative is to spend fortunes on the best players in the league, who regardless of their feelings towards the club itself, will win games because they are better than their opponents. Seemingly Borough don’t have the funds for that. So I think expectations need to be realistic.
“On budget and subsequent performances, Borough are a mid-table team and anything above that is a bonus.”