When Burgess Hill Town appointed Ian Chapman as manager at the start of the 2012/13 season, the Hillians had only just avoided dropping into the Sussex County League in the previous campaign with two wins from their final two games.
Chapman’s first signing was Darren Budd, who was instantly named as club captain, and together the two have been crucial to the club’s continued success.
The next three years saw big changes at Leylands Park, on and off the field, culminating in last season’s Ryman South championship winning showing, propelling the club into the seventh tier of English football for the first time in their history.
Speaking prior to a training session on Tuesday, Budd said: “I came in three years ago, the year before that they had just scraped staying in the league by one place on the last day, so from three years ago to now its been a great progression, each year you’ve seen a vast improvement and hopefully in the next couple of years you will see it again. What Chappers, (Stuart) Tucky, (Paul) Dollner and John (Rattle), and everyone at the club has done, I think it has been brilliant.”
The Hillians are currently sitting ninth in the Ryman Premier, 19 points above the relegation places and only eight off of top spot.
Budd was realistic about Hill’s chances this season, but didn’t rule out the possibility of being the surprise package in the league and said: “A good achievement for us would be a top ten finish, I think if we go on a great run and get to the play-offs then so be it, but I think a top ten finish would be a great achievement for the club and everyone involved.”
Of the four side’s promoted into the Ryman Premier, Burgess Hill are the highest placed thus far and have also scored the most goals.
It is the cup competitions that have proven to be the biggest problem for Chapman and his men this season, where they’ve been knocked out of three cups already.
Last Saturday the Hillians were knocked out of the FA Trophy, a competition where they beat Conference Premier side Aldershot Town during a superb run last year.
Although thoroughly disappointed, Budd played down the poor cup displays: “In my first season here it was similar, we went out first game of every cup we were in and it’s happened again this year.
“Last year we managed to take our league form into our cup runs, but you don’t beat teams like Aldershot every year. It’s the way it goes really, hopefully next year we can have another big cup run. The ones (the cup runs) that happened last year have softened the blow for this year.”
Reflecting on a steady start to the league campaign of eight wins, four draws and seven losses, it has been a satisfactory start to life in the Ryman Premier for Budd and his teammates. Budd summed it up by saying: “We’re pretty pleased, it could have gone better and it could have gone worse to be fair, we’re kind of bang in the middle, but I think everyone would be happy with that.”
This Saturday Hill travel to Grays Athletic, a team a place below them, but with the benefit of four games in hand.
It will be a tough test for Burgess Hill against a side that inflicted upon them their first defeat of the season back in August with a 2-1 win at the Green Elephants Stadium.
Regardless of the result at the weekend, when put into perspective, the Hillians have come a long way since 2012, where it could have been a very different story had they dropped out of the Ryman League.