Sports review for 2018 by David Eggleston

Image (c) Ron Hill

Cup glory for AFC Uckfield Town

It has been an unforgettable year for AFC Uckfield Town, who created club history in two national cup competitions and put the club on the non-league football map.

Uckfield went into the current season in confident mood, having ended last season strongly to finish 14th in the table.  If they had not been deducted nine points for an administrative error over fielding an ineligible player, Uckfield would have finished in an even more creditable 10th position.

But, at the start of the new campaign, few people would have predicted that player-manager Anthony Storey’s blend of youth and experience would bring such success and capture the imagination of the town.

A glorious run in the FA Cup saw them win through three rounds to reach the second qualifying round for the first time in the club’s history, before Uckfield went close to causing a major upset against Dartford, from three leagues above Uckfield in the non-league pyramid.  In front of a record crowd of 500 at the Oaks, Uckfield were leading one-nil until the 81st minute, only for the visitors to score three times in the closing minutes.

In the national FA Vase, Uckfield have again made history by surpassing their longest-ever run in the competition.  That run included a truly remarkable two-one victory at AFC Croydon Athletic, in which Uckfield astonishingly managed to cling on after finishing the match with seven men, after four players were sent off!  An impressive five-two win over a strong Sutton Common Rovers in the following round means that Uckfield have reached the last 32 of the Vase, where they will fly the flag as the only club in Sussex still left in the competition.  An eagerly anticipated home tie against Windsor awaits Uckfield on the first weekend in January.

Not surprisingly, Uckfield were well beaten at Worthing in the Sussex Senior Cup, but as well as the Vase, they are still involved in the latter stages of two other local cup competitions.  Meanwhile, in the league, Uckfield’s cup runs have meant they have several games in hand over the teams above them.  But, some excellent recent results, including three successive away wins, have shown that Uckfield are more than capable of climbing back into the top half of the table.

The cup runs have created a real ‘buzz’ around the club, but importantly they have also generated valuable income from the FA’s prize funds.  These financial benefits are being ploughed back into the club for projects such as the refurbishment of the clubhouse and changing rooms.

The club are doing the town proud, and with longer term plans for a 3G pitch at the Oaks, these are exciting times for AFC Uckfield Town, as they look forward to what they hope will be another memorable year in 2019.

In minor league football, it was yet another successful year for Ridgewood.  They came second in Division Two of the Mid Sussex League last season, earning them a remarkable seventh promotion in as many seasons.  Boosted by an intake of new players from other local clubs, Ridgewood have adapted well to life in Division One in the current season and are in the frame to challenge for another promotion in 2019.

And staying with local football, there were further accolades for the Uckfield Grasshoppers Junior Football Club, as they continue to grow from strength to strength in providing opportunities for both young boys and girls in the local community.  The Club were the recipients of the inaugural presentation of the Highlands Inn Shield, made to the organisation that has contributed the most to sport and leisure in the Uckfield area.  The Club were also awarded the Sussex FA’s Charter Standard Club of the Year.  Further recognition for the Grasshoppers came when Paul Fletcher was shortlisted for the Coach of the Year award at the prestigious Active Sussex Sports Awards, and Freddie Standing was awarded Young Volunteer of the Year at a Sussex FA presentation evening.

Third time lucky for rugby club?

In rugby union, it has been a phenomenal season so far for Uckfield, as they look well-placed to overcome the disappointment of missing out on promotion via a play-off for the second season running.  Last spring, Uckfield secured the runners-up spot with a victory over East Grinstead on the final weekend of the regular season.  But, in the play-off match, Uckfield went down to a 31-17 defeat by Vigo from the corresponding Kent League.

In the current campaign, Uckfield have bounced back in style, winning 12 out of 12, and importantly grinding out several wins in very tight contests.  Going into the

mid-season break, Uckfield have a healthy lead at the top of the table, and they will be hoping to maintain their momentum into the New Year and make it ‘third time lucky’.

Mixed season for Uckfield Anderida

Uckfield Anderida Cricket Club had a mixed season, finishing in a comfortable

mid-table position in Division Seven East of the Sussex Cricket League.  Indeed, after a string of wins in June and July, they were in contention for a second successive promotion, before hopes were dashed with a disappointing run of six defeats in their last eight games.

Meanwhile, Buxted Park narrowly missed out on promotion from Division Four East, after challenging for much of the season.

Elsewhere in local cricket, congratulations go to Isfield, who were promoted from Division Six East as champions.

More success for local gymnasts …

It was another very successful year for our local gymnasts who train with the Uckfield Gymnastics Club.  There were some outstanding results for members across all age ranges at the South East Regional Championships and also the Sussex Championships, in which Lucy Griffiths and Megan Smith were champions in their respective categories.  The Uckfield gymnasts also took the team title for a third consecutive year at the Regional Modified Championships, at which Lucy Griffiths became level 2 champion.

Meanwhile, a number of other gymnasts from the Club have been rewarded for their excellent performances in 2018 by being selected for regional and county squads.

And more success for trampolinists

There was further success this year for our local trampoline gymnasts from the Sky High Academy, based at the Funabounds Centre in Uckfield.  The Sky High team produced some outstanding results at the British Schools Championships in Belfast in March, with a team representing Uckfield Community Technology College becoming Under 14 Intermediate Team champions.  There were also first places for Daniel Bradford and Heidi Crowther in their respective age categories.

At the British Championships in Birmingham in September, Erifilly Heonos and Abi Jacques both won titles, and Erifilly went on to win a gold medal representing Great Britain at an international competition in Portugal.

Recognition for running club

Our local Uckfield Runners Club continues to flourish, and its standing in the local sporting community was recognised when it was shortlisted for the Health and Leisure Award at the 2018 Uckfield Business Awards.

The spring marathons in London and Brighton and the Beachy Head Marathon in October were again the highlight for many local runners, and a team of five Uckfield Runners also ventured further afield to complete the Barcelona Marathon in March.

Over less daunting distances, the annual Little Horsted Fun Run and Uckfield Lions 10k race were again well supported, as was this year’s Buxted Park Reindeer Run, which had a record turnout.

Meanwhile, in an exciting new running initiative, plans were drawn up to establish a weekly Parkrun in Uckfield, which it is hoped will begin next year.

Local heroes

There were several notable achievements by individual sportsmen from the Uckfield area during 2018.

These included Chris Baily, who continued his success from 2017, in which he won national and international titles in visually-impaired tennis, by winning a gold medal at the 2018 International Blind Tennis Tournament in Dublin.

Jasper Simmons, who trains in Uckfield with Frontier Schools of Karate and Kickboxing won a brilliant bronze medal at the English Karate Federation Championships in Leicester.  Competing in his first national championships, Jasper claimed bronze in the individual under-10s open weight section.

Mick Kirby competed in the Disabled Clay Pigeon Shooting English Open in Newcastle.

And, strongman Paul Price, who trains at the Iron House on the Bellbrook Industrial Estate in Uckfield, came ninth in the UK’s Strongest Amateur competition in Maidenhead. 

Congratulations to all our local sports clubs and local sportsmen and women for their outstanding achievements in 2018, and special mention again goes to all the unsung heroes who volunteer their time in so many ways behind the scenes in a variety of coaching and other crucial roles.

Uckfield FM wishes all its local teams and sportspeople every success in 2019.