Sweetman out, Westlake in as Hassocks opt to change boss

Hassocks FC are delighted to announce the appointment of James Westlake as the Robins’ new first team head coach - after relieving head coach Brad Sweetman of his first team duties.

A hugely popular figure at the Beacon, Westlake has made 228 appearances for Hassocks across three spells spread over 11 years. He is planning to combine his new role with continuing as a player.

Westlake first joined the club in the 2010-11 season, signed from St Francis Rangers by Mickey Jewell. He was a mainstay of Jewell’s Hassocks side who finished fourth in the Premier Division in 2011-22, the club’s highest ever league position before he returned to St Francis in the summer of 2013.

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A brief spell with Haywards Heath Town followed before Westlake re-joined the Robins midway through the 2015-16 season.

James Westlake in action for Hassocks back in 2017 / Picture: Phil Westlake

His signing had a major influence in Hassocks completing a great escape from relegation in the second half of the campaign under Mark Dalgleish and Phil Wickwar.

Westlake scaled back his football commitments in 2018, focusing instead on his running career. That led to him being the sixth British finisher in the London Marathon, winning the Worthing 10k in a course record and the Brighton 10 Mile in a PB.

He was also selected to represent England in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Despite an injury-hit preparation, Westlake ran the event in another PB of 2:23:05 to finish 20th. Those achievements saw him named in the Mid Sussex Times top 10 sportspeople of 2018.

Westlake was lured back to football when appointed assistant manager of Loxwood by Magpies boss and his former Hassocks teammate Spencer Slaughter in the 2020-21 season. The duo did an excellent job in leading Loxwood to the final of the Southern Combination Premier Supplementary Shield, where they were beaten by Isthmian League-bound Lancing.

When Slaughter left Plaistow Road in September 2021, Westlake soon followed to sign for Hassocks for a third time. The Robins were again deep in relegation trouble but his return helped spark another turnaround to finish the season in 16th spot, some nine points clear of the bottom two.

Hassocks also reached the semi finals of the Sussex Principal RUR Charity Cup. They bowed out 2-0 to Southern Combination League champions Littlehampton Town, who were chasing an historic quadruple.

Westlake will be aiming to build on that improved second half of the campaign under former head coach Sweetman when the 2022-23 season gets under way on Saturday 30 July.

To help him with that aim, Westlake has named Phil Gault and Tom Hughes as his assistants. Gault of course needs no introduction to Hassocks fans. He is the club’s record scorer in senior football having notched 190 goals in 345 matches, including five in seven in 2020-21.

Like Westlake, Gault joined Hassocks from St Francis Rangers. He has had several spells at the Beacon since first arriving in 2006, the latest of which was his fourth. As well as Hassocks and St Francis, Gault has also played for Horsham YMCA and Haywards Heath Town in a long and distinguished career.

Hughes meanwhile made a name for himself on the Surrey non-league scene, breaking into the Sutton United first team as a 20-year-old centre half. He went onto play for Merstham and Croydon before moving to Sussex and representing Rye United, Lingfield and Horsham.

Completing Westlake’s backroom staff will be Hassocks stalwart Phil Wickwar, who will continue to offer matchday support behind the scenes and in the dugout.

Meanwhile Hassocks have paid tribute to the hard work Sweetman has put in over his five years at the club – but especially in the 2021-22 campaign.

Sweetman and his assistant Jordan Wilson combined securing Premier Division safety with leading the Robins to their first Sussex Principal RUR Charity Cup semi final in a decade.

The duo faced a tough job with many challenges along the way. They began the season with a very young squad, the majority of whom Sweetman himself had helped develop in four seasons as Under 18s manager. Results were had to come by and approaching the midway point of the season, the Robins had just three wins on the board and looked in danger of relegation.

A much improved second half of the campaign saw Hassocks win six, draw seven and lose six of their games to end the season in 16th spot, nine points clear of the bottom two.

Victories over Montpelier Villa, Crawley Down Gatwick and Seaford Town took the Robins all the way the final four in the RUR Cup. Unfortunately, the draw paired Hassocks with Southern Combination League champions Littlehampton Town.

The Robins gave it a good go in their attempts to reach a first ever final in senior football, but found the Marigolds a little too good as the visitors won 2-0 to continue their bid for an historic quadruple.

As well as their first team duties, Sweetman and Wilson managed the Under 23s through the current campaign to runners up spot in the North Division and the semi finals of the League Cup.

Sweetman arrived at the Beacon as assistant manager of the Under 18s for the 2017-18 campaign. Working alongside Dave John, the duo helped to deliver a treble of Southern Combination Under 18 League Overall Champions, Central Division title and League Cup. Sweetman took over as manager of the Under 18s for 2018-19 and led Hassocks to a second placed finish.

In 2019-20, the young Robins were one point off the top when the season was curtailed and in 2020-21, Hassocks led the way having won six and drawn one of seven matches. Hassocks also reached the semi final of the Supplementary Shield that year.

Those achievements meant that in his four seasons with the Under 18s, Sweetman helped deliver one of the longest periods of sustained success that the Robins’ youth setup has enjoyed in its 30 year history.

Sweetman first began working with the first team in 2019 under Mark Dalgleish and served as John’s assistant in 2020-21 before being appointed head coach last summer.

A Hassocks spokesman said: “We would like to thank Brad for all his efforts over the past five years, from the success he delivered for the Under 18s and the players he has brought through to his recent work with the Under 23s and senior side. He will always be welcome at the Beacon and we wish him the best of luck for whatever he decides to do next in football.”