“Sorry Tinie, I’m off to Hastings”

Hastings United CEO Billy Wood was once an executive working with N- Dubz, Tinie Tempah and more – until he jacked it all in for the eighth- tier Sussex side

- Niall Doherty

Billy Wood’s allegiance­s haven’t always been with the club for which he now works as CEO. Before having the hots for eighth- tier Hastings United, Wood was a player and fan at their local rivals, St Leonards.

One day in his teens, though, Wood found himself on enemy territory to watch Hastings take on Brighton in a friendly. Everything changed. “I just fell in love with the place,” recalls the Croydon- born 35- year- old. “It seemed bigger, grander than St Leonards. It had this feeling of something special.”

His affection for the U’s has stayed with Wood ever since. It’s the reason why he recently made what he calls the “absolute madman” decision to conclude a glorious career as a music agent – where he worked alongside grime stars including Tinie Tempah, Skepta and Chipmunk, plus hip- hop icons Snoop Dogg and Run DMC – to take up a permanent gig at The Pilot Field. It’s a long way from the O2, where Tempah’s first Wood- booked arena tour visited, to the Isthmian League South East Division, but he couldn’t be happier.

Previously occupying a part- time role as Eastbourne United chairman,

Wood went full- time at Hastings last summer. “I left the music business in September,” he reveals. “Who would quit an industry where you’re earning comfortabl­e money and have a good life, to take a bet on a non- league club?” he wonders, before providing the answer: he thinks Hastings could eventually reach the “promised land” of the Football League.

Promotion in a year was his original target, but right now he’d be content to finish a season. Hastings were top on both occasions when the league was prematurel­y curtailed due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, first in 2019- 20 with only 10 games left and two in hand over their nearest challenger­s, and then again last term after a more palatable seven matches had been completed. Given the club haven’t been in the Isthmian League Premier since 2013 – and the sixth tier since 2003 – getting back there is a big deal.

“It doesn’t change the plan,” says their unflappabl­e CEO, “it just slows the plan down slightly. I hoped we’d be speaking about Hastings being in the National League South – instead it’s another year in the same league. But you roll with the punches.”

One of their talents from last year, 16- year- old midfielder Benn Ward, signed a two- year scholarshi­p with Premier League Burnley in January. Things are looking equally promising for Hastings, then, where Wood says more than a decade spent wangling lucrative festival deals has given him ample skills to thrive in football.

“I was a music agent, which is very different, but I can smell bulls** t,” he insists. “Being in the music industry, every day was spent negotiatin­g, and at this football club we negotiate on sponsorshi­p and different deals with suppliers. It’s been quite transferab­le.”

Looking out for his artists has now become protecting his players. “This club is very player- centric – we look after our lads and our women too,” he says. That’s hard to dispute, after Wood & Co wrapped up a two- year, five- figure kit sponsorshi­p for the U’s women’s team in July.

Wood is hoping that come May, he finally gets the promotion he’s been dreaming of. “We will get there,” he declares. “I won’t give up until we do.”

Not even a global pandemic can put a stop to that.

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