“….and so I face the final curtain”….not my words but those of Frank Sinatra, Ol’ Blues Eyes. And what could be more apt for a final day game in the Blue Square Premier League than a trip back to one of my favourites, Lewes for their last game at this level. Since seeing them beat Grays on the 22nd November (see When Two Blogs Collide) the team have played twenty five league games, winning three times and losing the remaining twenty two games. Nine points out of seventy five is not really play off material so it comes as no surprise to anyone, including the Lewes fans that the team confirmed their relegation some weeks ago back to the Blue Square South. Hopes were never very high for this season after the farcical events of last summer after promotion had been confirmed, and hadn’t been helped by the management of ex-Brighton & Hove Albion commercial manager (i.e no football management experience) Kevin Keehan being in charge of team affairs for most of the campaign.
Last April things were so different in this lovely little town in East Sussex. The club has risen from Rymans League Three to the Blue Square Premier in just seven seasons, an amazing effort and I doubt that any visiting fan can ever have a bad word to say about visiting the Dripping Pan. Then the owners of the club made some bizarre decisions and have reaped the rewards of their bad harvest this season. Administration has been avoided, which appeared to be the only option a few months ago for the club. So there are some positives for next season andI have vowed to adopt them as my second team from August and get to as many away games as I can in the Blue Square South to keep up our commitment at TBIR to cover non-league as much as European football.
But for this last horaahI was obviously going to be attending with Mr. Last. The man who has taken his blog (EFW) to new levels of reporting by securing endorsement this season from the creator of Steptoe & Son (Alan Simpson), two Ashes winners (Jimmy Anderson and Jack Russell) and a comedy genius (Frank Sidebottom). This would obviously involve a number of Harvey’s being sampled – when in Rome, etc so the train was the carriage of choice for this one.
York were the visitors for the last day, and after a bit of squeekybum time in the past few weeks they secured Conference football with a 2-1 away win at Weymouth on Friday night. I had seen York on four occasions already this season and their performances had varied from solid (Histon), attacking (Burton Albion), defensive (Salisbury City) and woeful (Eastbourne Borough). Of course there was always the passionate support to look forward to. The York fans have supported their club through thick and thin over the past few seasons and are one of the only clubs to have a recognised “Ultra” following. Some of their fans can be a bit exuberant to say the least (see February 2009′s post on “I do like to be beside the seaside”) but at least they care and show a bit of passion. They have exceeded a number of expectations though this season. The form of centre-forward Brodie has been nothing short of sensational at times, and with 18 goals this season he has been their shining light. His goals also secured a first trip to the New Wembley Stadium for the club as they are due to play Stevenage Borough in the FA Trophy final in a few weeks.
With all four relegation places confirmed these two had nothing to play for. I had some money on an outside bet for Oxford United to reach the play offs which required a Torquay defeat at home to Burton Albion and a Kidderminster draw or defeat at home plus the assumption that Oxford would beat already relegated Northwich Victoria themselves. So I would have one eye on the Blackberry and one eye on the fantastic bar at the Dripping Pan.
The sun was shining as CMF taxi’s pulled up in Brighton andafter an hour on the beach with the Little Fullers I was off up the road to meet Mr Last at the European Football Weekends HQ – aka The Lord Nelson, officially the darkest pub in the world. Obviously a couple of Harvey’s were in order and after a discussion on the latest non-league gossip we were off to Lewes on the train.
Lewes 1 York City 1 – The Dripping Pan – Sunday 26th April 2009 4pm
The weather was so good in East Sussex that it seemed a shame to play a football match. One good thing to come out of the relegation of the club is that next season they do not have to abide by the ridiculous rule that means that no alcohol is allowed to be served during the game from the bar behindthe goal will not be enforced. The amount of revenue the club will see next season should make up for the lower number of away supporters. This season the biggest attendances have been when the big clubs have come to visit. York brought a couple of coaches with them and filled the small away terrace at the far end, enjoying the BBQ in full force. Danny took the opportunity to induct a couple more people into the EFW fanclub, snapping Richard Brodie and Martin Foyle from York City into the gallery.
To tell you the truth the game was poor. York City played witha number of squad players starting, with Foyle looking at likely candidates for their big Wembley appearance. He had kept top scorer Brodie on the bench, and even Lewes chose to rest their teenage sensation David Wheeler for the first half. I cannot remember one single chance in the first half, although you would have never guessed by the noise the few hundred Lewes fans made. Scored kept filtering through from around the country. Firstly Torquay scored against Burton, and then news came through that the divisions form team Northwich Victoria had taken the lead at the Kassam against Oxford United.
Half time came and another Harvey’s disappeared and it was touch and go whether we went back out onto the terrace. But we did and both teams decided to take it a bit more seriously and on came Brodie and Wheeler. York City eventually took the lead with ten minutes to play as Brodie headed a free kick across the goal for York captain Mark Greaves to turn the ball in, and the hopes of all home fans that there would be anything apart from another defeat.
But the team obviously wanted to give the fans something of a summer send off and from a Foreman free kick, Cullip knocked the ball on and top scorer Joe Keehan was on handto bundle the ball home with just two minutes left on the clock. So a predictable result in the end, which is more than can be said from elsewhere in the Conference as Kidderminster Harriers, Stevenage Borough and Burton Albion all lost. Now that could (and should) have meant that Cambridge United and Oxford United winning their home games to secure automatic promotion (Cambridge) anda play off place (Oxford United). But with matters in their own hands they could not deliver and so Burton Albion won automatic promotion, and Oxford United fell short of the end of season shakedown. And Lewes? Well they will be looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Havant and Waterlooville, Bromley and Welling United next season. Of course this will mean a few new grounds for the travelling Rooks including Dover Athletic. One thing is for sure, this will not be the last time I visit the Dripping Pan….