What a difference a year makes – Chopbacks are ready to do it all again

Just a year ago Hastings’ newest senior football team was gearing up to play its first match in division three of the East Sussex football league and club chairman and team manager Neil Sutcliffe was feeling just a little bit nervous.

“This was something new for us and something really big,” says Neil, “we’d all been involved in football for years but to start our own club, at this level, well it took us right out of our comfort zone.”

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For much of the first season the responsibility of running South Coast Athletico – known affectionately as the Chopbacks – has fallen to Neil and his right hand man Tony Cook and they’ve been on a steep learning club because in addition to their commitment to league matches they have taken part in three cups and came close to winning one of those.

In addition the team finished third in the league, ahead of some much more established teams, and they really made their mark.

“Our first season was such a roller coaster of emotion. While I knew the team was good we were still the new kids on the block, so to finish third in the league in our first full season and to do as well as we did in the cup competitions was just an amazing feeling and it fills us with confidence for what we can do this year,” Neil told Hastings In Focus.

But while Neil and Tony have been learning some of the technical lessons on how to run a football team and have been helping fitness guru Luke O’Donnell knock the lads in to shape, some of the practical lessons of running the club have been a real eye-opener.

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It’s a young team but there is tremendous team spirit and a great sense of camaraderie within the Chopbacks squad.

“I think a lot of people would be really surprised just how much it costs to run a team at our level,” says Neil, who along with Tony has worked out a budget for the coming season that is just a few pounds short of £6,000. “There’s nothing in there that’s not essential,” says Neil, “that’s just what it costs to compete for a season.”

Some of the cash the club needs is generated from the players and members of the squad through their registration fees and monthly subs but the club still needs to find somewhere in the region of £2,500 from sponsors and that’s a tough job.

Hire of the a pitch for their matches in a season is more than £1,000 and hiring pitches for training sessions is another £1,300. Then there is the cost of referees, the team’s kit and practical things like insurance. At the end of the day it all adds up.

“Last year we got all the lads together and we walked from Hastings Pier to Eastbourne Pier and got people to sponsor us. We kept half of what we raised and gave the rest to a children’s hospice, so that helped pay the bills,” Neil explains.

He says the Chopbacks want to do things differently, they want to set themselves apart from other teams: “We want to find sponsors who we can work with, who we can develop a relationship with and with whom we can build a strong partnership not just for this year but in to the future as well. We don’t see a sponsor as being some kind of magic money tree, we see them as businesses who will be investing in us and expecting to see a return on that investment and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

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The club staged a pier-to-pier sponsored walk between Hastings and Brighton last year

The team is already setting itself apart and has raised the money internally to buy video equipment that will allow it to record all of its games next season and publish them to social media and more importantly to YouTube: “We’ll make sure we give our sponsors maximum on screen exposure.”

Recognising that it’s becoming more difficult to get meaningful coverage in traditional local newspapers The Chopbacks approached Hastings In Focus shortly after its launch earlier this year to ask about carrying match reports and in the five months the numbers reading those reports grew exponentially. Neil smiles when he recalls a comment left on the site after the publication of one report which said, “…after Brighton The Chopbacks are my second team.”

“That’s what we want to achieve, we want people to come and support us, to cheer us on and to drive us on to greater things. We’re an ambitious club and there is a lot we want to achieve in the coming seasons, Hastings is our home town and we want the people of Hastings to know about us and to be proud of us and thanks to the profile we’ve achieved through appearing in Hastings In Focus we know that people are becoming aware of us and our various exploits on and off the pitch.”

Between now and the first match of the season the heat is on the management team not make sure the team is scoring goals but to make sure the team is scoring with local businesses and developing those sought after commercial partnerships.

If you think you’d like to sponsor South Coast Athletico you can contact Neil on 07962 185992 or by email at sutcliffe257@btinternet.com

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