Lovett returns – and Pope, O’Neill, Worrall and Davies are new recruits at Burgess Hill Town

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Burgess Hill Town mean business.

That much is clear from the appointments they have confirmed in the past week – both in terms of who they are signing and how they are adding to their management team.

The big news is that Jay Lovett has agreed to return to Burgess Hill as joint manager alongside Gary Mansell for the 2024-25 season – less than 18 months after parting company with the club at the end of his first spell as boss.

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With Lewis Taylor also on the first-team staff with Mansell and Lovett, it means the Hillians will have a trio who have each been sole Hill manager guiding them.

The new Burgess Hill Town management line-up | Picture: BHTFCThe new Burgess Hill Town management line-up | Picture: BHTFC
The new Burgess Hill Town management line-up | Picture: BHTFC

Hill finished 12th last season – which was an improvement on 2022-23 when they were close to being dragged into a relegation play-off – but they will be aiming miuch higher in 24-25, and their first batch of signings will have some tipping them for a promotion push.

News of Lovett’s return – which had both him and Mansell saying they were looking forward to working with another and complementing one another – was quickly followed by a raft of signings that will surely have rivals in the Isthmian south east division sitting up and taking notice.

The first to be announced was of central midfielder Brannon O’Neill from Three Bridges. It will be the second time he has appeared for the Hillians – he had a short spell at Leylands Park during the 2017/18 season in the Isthmian Premier. He made 17 appearances scoring one goal in that time.

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The dead-ball specialist who has an eye for goal has also played for Crawley Town, Whitehawk, Horsham YMCA, St Francis Rangers, Dorking Wanderers and Worthing, where he enjoyed an excellent few years.

Brannon O'Neill meets the BHTFC management | Picture: BHTFCBrannon O'Neill meets the BHTFC management | Picture: BHTFC
Brannon O'Neill meets the BHTFC management | Picture: BHTFC

His most recent spell at Three Bridges saw him last season act as captain, first team coach and also U18s manager, a position he has held the for the past five seasons. He played a big part in helping Bridges reach the play-off final last season and has made over 200 appearances for them.

Striker Ben Pope has joined the Hillians for his second spell with them, having scored nine goals in 28 appearances in a short spell at the club in the Isthmian Premier during the 2018/19 season. Pope joins the Club from Lancing and has previously played for Whitehawk, Hastings United, Lewes and Worthing.

Ollie Davies has returned to the HomeCall Carpets Community Stadium from Eastbourne Town. He played a massive role in helping Eastbourne Town return to the Isthmian League as the side from The Saffrons were victorious in the Southern Combination League play-offs.

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He won Manager’s Player of the Year, Players’ Player and Supporters’ Players of the Year in a clean sweep of the first team awards last season for Eastbourne. He hit 18 goals in 47 appearances last season and over the two seasons he has appeared 91 times scoring 23 goals.

Ben Pope is back at Burgess Hill Town | Picture: BHTFCBen Pope is back at Burgess Hill Town | Picture: BHTFC
Ben Pope is back at Burgess Hill Town | Picture: BHTFC

The forward originally joined Eastbourne from the Hillians on loan before making the switch permanent. Having come through Hill’s youth team he broke into the first team making five appearances before joining the Saffrons outfit.

Ryan Worrall was the fourth new player to agree to join the Hillians, moving from Isthmian Premier side Whitehawk. The central midfielder made 44 appearances for the Hawks last season scoring three goals as they finished ninth. Prior to that he spent four seasons with Hastings United helping the club earn promotion alongside fellow new Hillian Ben Pope during the 2021/22 campaign.

A roving midfield maestro, he was previously with the Hawks during their National League South days, and also played at that level for Eastbourne Borough. During that time with Borough he enjoyed a loan spell at Tonbridge Angels. A spell in New Zealand saw him play for Tasman United for 15 months but he returned to Sussex to feature for Horsham.

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Some big players have also been retained, such as last season’s top scorer Dan Perry. The striker, who won the Management’s Player of the Year last season, was the first retained player announced. ‘The Hitman’ reached a milestone last season as he recorded his 150th appearance for Burgess Hill Town. He has scored 67 goals in that time and sits in joint 9th place with Paul Williams on the Hillians’ all-time goalscoring list in senior football.

Fan favourite Martyn Box has committed himself to the club for the 2024/25 season, becoming the second of last season’s squad to do so. Box, who is Burgess Hill born and bred and lives in the town, is a left-sided player who reached an appearance milestone midway through last season when he reached 100 appearances for the club. He now totals 120 appearances for BHTFC with 14 goals to his name.

Defender Marcus Allen has also committed for the 2024/24 season. The former Saltdean United and Peacehaven defender joined the Hillians from Lancing last summer but suffered an early injury in his career at the HomeCall Carpets Community Stadium when he fractured his ribs during the opening day of the league season.

He returned six weeks later and put in some impressive performances as he made 31 appearances in all competitions last year scoring two goals.

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Last season’s Young Player of the Year, Harry Lawson, has also agreed to sign for the 2024/25 season. The midfielder broke into the first after an excellent first part of the season with the U18s as he played a big part in their excellent FA Youth Cup run.

Once he broke into the first team there was no moving him as he put in some excellent performances which resulted in him picking up the Young Player of the Year gong. He totalled 29 appearances in the first team last season and scored once in a 4-0 away victory over Beckenham Town.

There is also a management team to lead the new women’s side at Hill. Tom Clingo will manage the side assisted by Jacob Bennett while Callum Jewell will be coach.

Chairman Vince Alfieri said “Myself and the board are hugely excited about Tom and the team joining us. We have a large girls section here at the football club that we have been building since 2019, and with a women’s team in place we will have a talent pathway for girls to progress and we will be able to inspire more girls to get involved in the younger age groups.

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"We are looking forward to creating an enjoyable, innovative and personalised spectator experience on Sunday afternoons for people to enjoy women’s football right here in Burgess Hill.”

The trio join the Hillians from AFC Crawley.

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