Nice Beaver…oh get stuffed

“Nice Beaver”….
“Thanks – I just had it stuffed.”

Whenever I hear the name Hampton & Richmond I recall that classic line from Naked Gun.  As I found out recently, few of my work colleagues have ever heard of Lt Frank Drebin, let alone Leslie Nielson (some had never heard of, or seen Back to the Future – what do they teach people in school these days???).  Even fewer of them have heard of Hampton & Richmond Borough which again sent me into a mad rage as I remind them the importance of our Non League teams.  Alas we have too many Chelsea/Arsenal bandwagon jumpers in the office.  Too many people, who like most of society, has never been within 3 miles of a Premier League ground, have no idea what Non League football is all about.  So, in a week where we celebrate Non-League Day for the third year I dragged a couple along to the aforementioned H&RB FC for the visit of the mighty Rooks.

The Beveree (the home of a Beaver apparently – although I am not sure what happened to the “a”) is one of the classic Non League grounds.  Surrounded by trees in one of the more affluent areas of commuter belt London, with a hodge-podge of stands and some of the nicest fans to boot.  The club’s president is Alan Simpson, the legendary comedy writer who brought us Steptoe and Son (come on – even my 9-year-old has perfected her “you dirty old man” line).  Last time I was here, watching Lewes win back in February 2011, Alan was sitting alone in his self-named stand, looking happy with the world.  And why not.

Fast forward 18 months and the two teams were due to meet again, albeit in a division below last time.  Hampton’s relegation last season would be a bitter pill for a few months, tempered by the knowledge they would get to visit some decent new away grounds.  In fact one of their loyal fans always makes a point of telling us when we play them how much he enjoys playing Lewes because “It’s what football’s all about – having a beer with your mates”.

They had also acquired some old Rooks. Max Hustwick was now shoring up their back line and would get a rousing acknowledgement from the travelling fans, whilst centre-midfielder Gary Holloway wouldn’t. Less said about his “spell” at the Dripping Pan last season the better I think. The law of Football Sod meant that he would therefore play a blinder against us as well as scoring a last-minute winner.

They had started the season well, and like the other two teams Lewes were playing on their week-long road trip, occupied one of the spots at the top of a very congested league table. They had had a bit of a wake-up call on Saturday when they had been well and truly spanked by Bury Town in the FA Cup, but as any manager who has just been knocked out of the cup will tell you, “It’s all about the league anyway”.

The transition between the Blue Square Bet South and Ryman Premier League on the field is negligible. The standard of football is very similar ASSUMING that the budget can be kept around the same. Which, of course is the big risk. If you are relegated, do you gamble on a swift return by trying to retain your playing squad, or do you cut your cloth accordingly. There is no co-incidence that the teams currently at the top almost certainly have been able to increase their budget on last season.

Margate’s piggy bank was boosted in the back half of last season by the sale of leading Ryman League goalscorer Kwesi Appiah to Crystal Palace. With a play-off spot almost out of reach after the January transfer window deal, they look to have banked their money and invested wisely in a promotion push this season. Wealdstone of course had that fantastic run to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy which will have boosted their budget this season and of course, Hampton & Richmond were one of two relegated sides from the Blue Square Bet South (ironically the other, Thurrock, had been propping up the table).

But back to tonight.  I’d managed to persuade Bruce from the office to make his Rooks debut.  Well, technically he was but actually his wife was having an Arts and Craft party at their house a goal kick away from the Beveree and he needed a safe house to stop him being mobbed by women high on Pritt Stick.  Legside Lizzy is another local closet Rooks fan and had made the short journey down the A316.

As usual we got a warm welcome from the Hampton fans when we entered Hammonds Bar.  They love their football down here, but they love having a beer with mates even more.  No real surprise in the Lewes starting XI with the only change from the defeat at Kingstonian the return of Carl Beckford in midfield.  My bet for the evening had any three from the following starting with Lewes draw along with banker home wins for high-flying Forest Green (v Tamworth), Dartford (v Telford), Luton Town (v Braintree Town) and Woking (v Cambridge United).  What could go wrong?

Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Lewes 1 – The Beveree – Tuesday 9th October 2012
Of course it was a late winner for the home side.  Of course it was Gary Holloway who set it up and of course high-flying, odds on Forest Green Rovers, Dartford and Luton Town all lost at home meaning it was a miserable journey home not only for me but for the dozen or so Lewes fans who had made the long journey from East Sussex.

The first half was a decent spectacle.  Both sides packed the midfield but there was enough pace and controlled passing that the minutes flew by.  The home side took the lead was a stunning strike from Joe Turner who met a cross field ball on the half-volley from the edge of the box into the back of Thorp’s net.  There is no shame in conceding a goal like that in any game.

The Rooks head’s didn’t drop and just a few minutes later.  A long ball up to Ben Godfrey was headed away by Hustwick but it fell to Anthony Thomas who was running in from distance and struck the ball over the keeper’s head.  Not quite as good as Turner’s strike but still up there with the best.

The second half saw Hampton gain the upper hand, especially in midfield where too many Lewes passes didn’t find their men.  Thorp made a couple of excellent saves, and the home side hit the bar before Holloway had the last laugh against a team he probably felt “owed him”.  Fifteen minutes to go and he floated in a free-kick that landed at the feet of Joel Ledgister who was able to turn and smash the ball home.  Of course, Holloway had the referee to thank for the fact he was on the pitch at all at this stage after an off-the-ball incident with Jack Walder was followed by a very high and very late challenge on Brinkhurst in the first half.

Ben Godfrey almost equalised for the Rooks in the dying seconds when his header bounced off the top of the bar, but Lizzy summed it up on the final whistle.  “ENOUGH NOW” she shouted, causing a few of the players to look around at her.  Of course, she was referring to the constant peeling of the church bells, right?

If Lt Frank Drebin would have been here tonight he would have surely said, “Nice Beveree, shame we were stuffed…again”..

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