The forgotten little brothers

Ferdinand, Wilkins, Rooney, Terry.  Legends in their own way I am sure you will agree.  But what if I was to tell you I was talking about Anton, Graham, John and Paul?  The siblings of Rio, Ray, Wayne and John?  Not quite in the legends bracket are they?  The same can be said for some clubs as well.  Whilst some towns and cities can boast two (or more) clubs playing at a professional level, other places in England have a definite big brother v little brother arrangement.

Norwich City v Norwich United
Last season was a good year for the two teams from Norwich.  Whilst City triumphantly returned to the land of milk and honey, beating Middlesbrough in the Play-off final at Wembley, United stormed to the Eastern Counties League Premier Division Title, finishing 26 points above 2nd place Godmanchester Rovers.  However, for a number of reasons the club declined promotion to the Ryman League.  United were originally formed as Poringland back in 1903, playing at the superbly named “The Gothic”.  They were renamed in 1987 and moved to their current home, Plantation Park back in 1990.  With United’s best run in the FA Cup coming last season when they made it to the Second Qualifying Round it may be some time before they meet in a competitive match.

Cambridge City v Cambridge United
Just a couple of seasons ago the two teams from Cambridge were separated by just one division as United were playing in the Conference Premier and City in the Conference South.  Today they are separated again by three divisions as United have returned to the Football League whilst City suffered enforced relegation in 2008 when their Milton Road ground failed a FA Inspection.  Worse was to come for City as they became embroiled in a legal battle over the ownership of the ground, which has now been demolished, forcing City to first groundshare with Newmarket Town, then Histon and now as of this season with St Ives Town. There will be playing in the Southern Premier League this season.

Oxford City v Oxford United
In recent times Lewes have actually played both City and United in competitive games, although few Rooks fans will want to remember our visits to the City of Spires as we lost in the Conference Premier back in 2009, then crashed out of the FA Trophy in November 2014 to Oxford City now playing in the Conference South as of this season after being shunted across from the North Division.  Last season City’s experiment of importing La Liga cast offs almost paid off as they finished just outside the playoffs, although the locals didn’t appear to warm to the experiment with crowds at Marsh Lane rarely broke the few hundred mark.  City were once managed by Bobby Moore, with Harry Redknapp as his assistant.

Lincoln City v Lincoln United
Whilst both Lincoln City and United play Non-League football, they are light years apart in terms of facilities.  Conference National City have the 10,000 capacity Sincil Bank with four almost new stands, perhaps a permenant sign of the excessive spending that caused their downfall out of the Football League, twice.  As each season passes, climbing out of the Conference becomes a harder and harder job, with last season’s 15th place finish a hard pill to swallow for many fans.  Travel West from Sincil Bank for a couple of miles and you will reach the leafy tranquillity of Ashby Avenue (or the more impressive Sunhat Villas & Resorts Stadium), home of The Amateurs, Lincoln United.  Currently played three levels below City in the Northern Premier League Division One South, their local derbies are against the likes of Goole AFC and Rainworth Miners Welfare in front of a hundred or so fans.

Ipswich Town v Ipswich Wanderers
In May 2013 Ipswich finally got their hands on a trophy in front of an excited crowd at Portman Road.  Ipswich Wanderers that it, not Town.  Wanderers won the Suffolk Senior Cup in that year on penalties in front of a crowd of 1,000.  Whilst The Tractor boys have been stuck in the Championship ploughed field for a decade, The Wanderers are on the up.  They were promoted back to the Eastern Counties League Premier Division in 2014 and finished last season in 9th place.  Their chairman is a familiar name to some – Terry Fenwick – the man who decided not to tackle Diego Maradona when he scored “that” goal in the 1986 World Cup Quarter-Final.  If only he did perhaps he could have now been chairman of Ipswich Town.

There are others of course.  Swindon Town may consider their local rivals to be Oxford United or Bristol City but Swindon Supermarine, the original works team from the Supermarine airplane company, will have a different opinion.  Southend United fans may think that their local rivals are Colchester United but what about Essex Senior League Southend Manor?  There was a story a few years ago about a disillusioned Newcastle United fan deciding to turn his back on St James’ Park and support Newcastle Town.  The only problem with this one is that the teams play 191 miles apart – Newcastle Town are based in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Busting the Pleat myths one by one

“It’s always difficult to play 11 against 10 away from home,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last month after his team beat Newcastle United 1-0. But managers and pundits often go further, saying “it’s harder to play against 10 men”. That one quote has been a staple punditry line of David Pleat’s for years.

The logic says that if you have a one player advantage you should find it easier.  In rugby union the loss of a player to the sin bin for 10 minutes has an average advantage of 3.5 points, based on stats from the Aviva Premier League.  But in football teams often struggle to break down teams with less players.  Lewes’s own experiences this season of the impact of red cards has been mixed to say the least. In the game back in August against Hampton & Richmond Borough, our favourite referee David Spain sent off keeper Seb Brown and allowed us to equalise.  However, in the final ten minutes we weren’t able to create a threat on their temporary keeper, but in the away game it was 0-0 when their centre-back Joe Hicks was sent off. From the resulting free-kick we scored and went into grab 3 more.

When Billericay Town travelled to Enfield last month for their FA Cup replay, keeper Kharshiladze was sent off with the score at 0-0. With no sub keeper on the bench, a sub went in goal, only to have to pick the ball out of the net with his first touch.  Enfield scored a second soon after then Billericay had a second player sent off.  Despite having a two man advantage, Billericay looked more likely to score in the final 20 minutes than the hosts.

The rule around “triple jeopardy” for teams is due to change next season.  Situations such as Hampton’s Seb Brown will be handled differently.  Today, a keeper can be sent off for “denying a goal scoring opportunity” that results in a penalty and a one match ban.  Such decisions can have a massive impact in games, as we saw to our cost when Will Godmon was incorrectly sent off at Farnborough back in August when the score was 1-0. With no sub keeper, George Brown donned the gloves and we lost 5-1.  Next season such offences will result in a penalty and a yellow card for the keeper.

The belief that it’s harder to play against 10 men seems to stem from the belief that they will retreat back and focuses on defending, making it harder for the team with an extra man to win. But research has now been published that proves David Pleat and co’s long-held belief is rubbish.

According to Adam Greenberg, a graduate of economics and econometrics at the University of Nottingham, a team scores significantly fewer goals and gets fewer points after having a player sent off.  Greenberg’s research was from a study of 1,520 Premier League matches between 2009 and 2013 and published in Significance magazine.

“The research shows that the difference in points between a team playing with 11 men and 10 men is maybe as much as half a point on average,” he says.  Greenberg also found that the effect of having a man sent off differed, depending on whether the team was playing at home or away.  “The home team will actually suffer a lot more from having a player sent off than they would gain if the away team had a player sent off,” Greenberg says “It’s actually over twice as big an effect.”

Home teams won an average of 1.69 points per game when the sides were equal but when the away team went down to 10 men, home teams won an average of 2.05 points per game.  However, when the home team had a player sent off the average number of points they won was over 50% less at 0.83.  Greenberg theory that a home team suffers more when reduced down to ten men because the pressure not to lose in front of its own fans is so great.

Having a defender sent off resulted in an average loss of about 1 point, while an attacker resulted in an average loss of about 0.9 points. Most dispensable were midfielders – when they got a red card, the average loss was only 0.6 points.

So when we cheer loudly at the referee’s decision to send off an opponent let’s hope we already have a lead!

I’m sure Greenberg is now working to put the final nail in the commentary coffin of David Pleat by disproving 2-0 isn’t in fact the most dangerous score line in football.

Can Charlton start to look up and not down?

Charlton Athletic’s last two seasons have been characterised by a flirtation with relegation, a decisive change of manager and then pulling clear of trouble, but could there be a wind of change in the air at The Valley this season?

Certainly, the way Charlton have come through an exceptionally difficult opening month of the season gives rise to hope that they can stay away from the bottom three for the entire campaign.

8706585543_ea13f36989_kIn beating Queens Park Rangers and Hull City, two clubs relegated from the Premier League, at home, along with picking up draws at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, Charlton have showed they can be a match for any of the Championship’s top teams on their day. Even a 2-1 defeat at Wolves in the final game in August could not take the shine off an encouraging start to the season, especially when you also add in 4-1 wins over both Dagenham & Redbridge and Peterborough United in the Capital One Cup to set up a third-round date with local rivals Crystal Palace.

They are certainly making any price boosts on winning promotion worth a second look, with the club having not played in the Premier League since 2007.

True, it would be folly to get carried away just yet given that Charlton went unbeaten in 11 league games at the start of last season before a winless run at the end of 2014 and start of 2015 cost Bob Peeters his job and saw the Israeli coach Guy Luzon appointed as his replacement.

The season before, Charlton were always playing catch-up after winning just once in their opening 10 games and, after Roland Duchatelet bought the club in January 2014, Chris Powell eventually paid the price as Jose Riga was brought in to stave off the threat of relegation.

Luzon achieved the same feat last season in dragging Charlton away from any trouble after overcoming the doubts of the players upon his appointment. You could understand why the players were concerned whether Luzon had the requisite experience and qualities to succeed, but he has shown in his short time in charge that he can handle the division.

What potentially could be most beneficial to Charlton this season is the slightly more varied approach to their transfer business during the summer. Though the Standard Liege connection still remains through Luzon, along with Duchatelet, there was no mass influx of players from the Belgian club in the latest transfer window.

Instead, casting the net further afield could well have landed Charlton with some astute signings in the likes of Simon Makienok and Patrick Bauer, who should continue to improve with more experience of English football.

Allied to home-grown products like Jordan Cousins and Morgan Fox, along with the experience of Alou Diarra in midfield, Charlton have a core group of players with the quality to not just stay out of trouble, but potentially aim a little higher.

Given the form they have showed against many of the favourites for promotion so far, Charlton shouldn’t be under-estimated over the coming months. If they can maintain consistency, they will also break the habit of changing manager during the season.

The Christian way

Living in a hot-bed of Premier League and Championship fans (oh, and Millwall), Non-League football sometimes doesn’t get a look in.  It’s all Chelsea, Charlton Athletic, Arsenal and West Ham in these parts (oh, and Millwall), yet on our doorstep there are some grassroots clubs who are doing quite nicely too.  Of course they’d all like more fans, but it is hard to move the Soccer Saturday crowd from their comfy sofas.  Just down the road from TBIR Towers is Badger’s Mount (yes, I know it technically should be Set), home of Cray Valley Paper Mills, a club who currently play at step five of the Non-League pyramid, or in words that a Premier League fan may understand, eight promotions underneath them.  They’ve built up a nice set up, with a tidy ground, new well-appointed club house and thriving youth football.  They also share their facilities with fellow South Eastern Counties League side Erith Town, and it was the tenants rather than the landlords that I was wandering down the road to watch in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.  Doing my bit for the environment you could say, by walking.  The fact that The Park Tavern enroute had a beer festival had no bearing on my mode of transport at all.

20998353722_a806bd3e75_kThe clubhouse was heaving when I arrived, not due to an influx of Groundhoppers, although there were a fair few of them too clutching their plastic programme wallets and discussing the merits of Britain’s smallest Wetherspoons (The Banker’s Draft up the road in Eltham apparently).  There was a wedding reception on.  South East London’s finest with 50 shades of orange, had taken over the club. I would imagine when they booked that they had no idea they’d be sharing their big days with a bunch of Dockers of Erith and Christians from Horsham. However, with a decent crowd for yesterday’s cup game against big-spending Hasting United and the profits from the function, it will have been a “nice little earner” for the club over the weekend.

The winner of this tie could look forward to hosting Burgess Hill Town in the First Qualifying Round as well as a cheque for £1,925.  At this level, with most players on sub-£100 per week wages, that is a decent boost to the budget. Horsham YMCA, not that long ago of the Ryman League, came into the game as favourites at kick off, sharing a five-way lead in the Southern Combination League and still unbeaten whilst Erith had two wins from three games in the league.

The Dockers of Erith used to have their own stadium, in Erith, called bizarrely, The Erith Stadium.  A relatively impressive multi-use facility owned by the council. And therein lay the issue.  The club used to turn up to find grass unmowed, goal posts absent and huge holes in the pitch from shot put competitions.

Happier times indeed here and within touching distance of welcoming The Hillians.  All that stood between them and a potential £3k in prize money was the Young Man’s Christian Association of Horsham.  Not that you’d have known that’s who they were judging by the language from their bench during the game, which included an impressive three-hyphenated swear word at the linesman at one point.

Erith Town 2 Horsham YMCA 4 – Badger’s Mount – Sunday 30th August 2015
And so to the action.  First thirty minutes it was all square with little to write home about.  Then Horsham took the lead when midfielder struck from close range. Erith’s response took ten minutes when Tom Garrick beat the offside trap, dance round the keeper and slotted home.  Horsham should have gone in at half-time in front but for Sullivan’s powerful goal bound shot hitting an Erith player on the line squarely on the chest, knocking him into the net in the process.

20385635374_fde5b94f53_kTen minutes into the second half Horsham took the lead from one of the many free kicks awarded on the edge of the box.  Dan Evans strike clearing the wall and the keeper.  Number three arrived soon after, centre-back Matt Crane headed home from a free-kick then Brown made the tie safe with his second and Horsham YMCA’s fourth.  Despite a late Garrick goal for the Dockers, poor discipline in the second half in conceding so many free-kicks had been their undoing.

20820186050_5170df7dc0_kWith rain looming overhead and an approaching bus that run to the end of my road it was just too tempting.  Of course I hopped off one step early and stepped up the pace so I arrived home all of a fluster.  My reward for my healthy afternoon, a beer or two “because I’d earned it”.  Who doesn’t love the FA Cup?

If you want the rainbow…

With the mighty Rooks making their longest league trip of the season to deepest Suffolk at Leiston, I volunteered to go and retrieve the youngest Fuller’s from my in-laws in Newark.  This annual ritual normally involves having to re-educate them on certain aspects of every day life, such as how to use electricity, eat with a knife and fork and not to douse every food item with gravy.  It also gave me the opportunity to enjoy a night out in Lincoln, with £1.99 pints a norm, with The Current Mrs Fuller and a football away day on the Saturday.

20764588296_5d7ec14ff0_kBut where to go?  Northern Steve had to work so I would be flying solo.  I ruled out a visit to North Ferriby United in protest to their owners, laughed at the amount Notts County wanted to watch a League Two game (and the fact that their ticketing website was down) and had been to the likes of Grimsby Town, Boston United and Alfreton before.  One new name caught my eye – Basford United down in the Evostik League Division One South.  Promoted to the league at the end of last season as Midland League Champions, the club are probably best known for featuring not one, but two Hendries, Stuart and Lee.  Yep, that Lee.  The 38-year-old former England international is still on the books at the Mill Ground along with his younger brother Stuart.

Just one line below on the list of fixtures was Carlton Town v Leek Town.  Carlton was at 4 O’Clock on the map of Nottingham, essentially on the right side for my trip back up the A46.  Google Maps said that with a fair wind, no Sunday drivers and a run of green traffic lights I could get between the two grounds in 16 minutes…or a half-time break.  Would be rude not to do a Souness (“One half and he’s off) and cover two games.  First stop – north Nottingham and the home of the Shipstones Beer, back in the suburbs after a twenty year holiday in Burton-on-Trent.

Basford United 1 Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 – The Mill Ground – Saturday 22nd August 2015
With the sun shining, there can be few better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon than watching Non-League football.  From the moment I arrived at The Mill Ground you could sense that this was a club who were starting to make their move up the Non-League pyramid.  Smiles all round as you enter, buy a beer, order a sausage cob (had to use my local dialect look-up app for that).  Whilst it was only game 3 of the season, the visitors arrived from Sheffield with a 100% record.  However, it was the home side who did all of the early running, having an early goal disallowed for offside and commanding the midfield, thanks to the impressive Jermaine Hollis.  They got their reward just before half time when Rob McCormick scored on his debut.

20764573206_079dc6bb40_hThe second half report comes courtesy of Basford United’s website as I headed off to Carlton.

“Basford again started well in the second half and had chances to extend their lead but as the game wore on, Stocksbridge began to find their feet and they equalised through sub Richard Patterson on 69 minutes.  Five minutes later United were awarded the perfect opportunity to go back in front but substitute Stuart Hendrie’s penalty was saved by substitute keeper David Reay.

Both sides then continued to push for a winner but it was the visitors who then snatched all three points in the first minute of stoppage time, as Hinchcliffe’s 30 yard thunderbolt crashed off the underside of the crossbar and into the Basford net.”

Carlton Town 1 Leek Town 3 – Stoke Lane – Saturday 22nd August 2015
If you plan to visit Carlton Town in the future and use Google Maps, don’t.  Because it will direct you to Stoke Lane but the wrong side of possibly the most ludicrous 10 metre section of road known to man.  Outside the entrance to the ground is a small stretch of road that is a bus only route, meaning if you are coming from any direction bar the A612 you will need to go on a 3 mile diversion just for a 3 second journey.  I’m sure some local counsellor is feeling very pleased with himself about putting that in place.

20797791321_ca638e0faf_zAnyway, due to the unforeseen diversion, my arrival at Stoke Lane meant I had missed the first few minutes of the second half.  Once again, I rely on the official match report to fill in the first 47 minutes:-

“Carlton came out of the blocks fighting as Leek struggled to get into the game. With Daniel Gordon setting the tone, as he ran into space and delivered a shot that was just wide of the post. Then the away side were struggling to get the ball away, but the best the Millers could offer came from Nangle, as he dragged his shot wide of the target.

Josh Rae was then the latest player to cause a threat, as his cross seemed to be destined to meet Daniel Fletcher, but Chris Martin was able to parry the shot just before the striker got there. Then a few moments later Fletcher had a second chance from a Tom McConway corner, but his header went out of play for a goal kick.  Then finally the hosts broke the deadlock, as an error of judgment from Martin ended up with the ball at Nangle’s feet, who turned Dan Shelley as he cut inside, to then launch a shot onto the left boot that Martin could only get a hand to, before the ball rippled the net.

However, the lead wasn’t to last long, as Tim Grice managed to find himself through one-on-one, after a pass from midfield. With the striker taking the ball round Curtis McDonald, before gathering his composure, and slotting it into the bottom corner.  Before the break, Carlton had another chance to take the lead, as again, Martin played the ball straight to Nangle, but this time his effort, on his right foot was just over the crossbar.”

20764526866_24f8edd4a3_kThe bright blue skies were slowly being eaten up by dark, grey thunderous clouds.  On the pitch Leek Town looked the stronger of the two sides, controlling the midfield and constantly looking at a ball over the top of the back four. Grice was the main threat and he didn’t hesitate when presented with a one-on-one chance, as Conor Green was unable to deal with his header, and the striker didn’t wait for McDonald to come out, instead just smashing the ball into the back of the net. Grice completed his hatrick with a fine solo effort when it appeared that the opportunity had gone with ten minutes left.

As the final whistle blew, the seventy or so fans made a hasty retreat before the rain fell.  It had been an interesting afternoon, getting another couple of perspectives on how other’s approach Non-League match experiences.  For both home side, the start to the season hadn’t been ideal.  However, nothing is decided in August.



In God’s Country

The new TV deal signed last season by the Premier League sides meant that this weekend’s football coverage started in unusual circumstances with a live Friday night game.  With games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday night, there has never been more games on TV than today (metaphorically not literally).  And for every game that is shown, cash flows onto the pockets of the clubs and ultimately the players pockets.  But whisper it quietly, Friday night also marked the start of the 2015/16 FA Cup.  In fact just 15 miles up the road from Villa Park, Coleshill Town were hosting Ellesmere Rangers at Tamworth FC in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round.  Whilst you would need the best part of £50 to get a top range ticket at Aston Villa versus Manchester United, you could pay almost a tenth of that to see the first step on the Road to Wembley.

The first few rounds of the FA Cup often bring some of the best moments of the season.  Normally, the FA will drawn the first three rounds of the competition, meaning that Step 7 clubs like Lewes will know the four potential opponents we will play before a ball in the competition is kicked.  I know that my good friend, and half of the brains and brawn behind The Real FA Cup, Damon Threadgold believes one way to bring a bit more interest into the competition is to draw all of the rounds up until the Semi-Final at the start of the season, so that every club know who they could play if they win their next game (and the nine after that).  Slipping on my Chairman’s coat again you also have an eye on the draw for the potential to earn some cash.  Three wins in the competition at our level means £15k in prize money plus half of the gate receipts, or around another £500 a week on the playing budget.

20009867753_9c172e40a1_kWhilst we all dream of a trip to the Third Round, few teams ever get that far in reality.  On Sunday one of the final ties of the round featured AFC Emley of the Northern Counties East League Division One host Parkgate.  Whilst they may be eight victories away from the Third Round, the club has been there before.  Well, sort of.  Back in 1997/98, Emley AFC reached the 3rd round where they were drawn against West Ham United. Given zero chance of getting anything from The Boleyn Ground, they found themselves 1-0 after just four minutes.  But they weathered the storm on and off the pitch and equalised in 55th minute.  West Ham finally found a winner with eight minutes to go but the Yorkshiremen were given a standing ovation as they left the field at full-time.

The glory day for the club was forgotten within a decade as the club had been forced into a merger with Wakefield, then lost their identity altogether.  But Non-League fans are made of sterner stuff and in 2005 the new club, AFC Emley had been formed, bringing football back to the Yorkshire village.  In their first season in the West Yorkshire League they gained promotion to the level they are at now.

So why was I driving up into God’s Country to watch the start of the FA Cup?  That will be David Hartrick’s fault.  Being not only a jolly good chap but also the publisher of my next book (in all good bookshops by Christmas) we had boring stuff like fonts, typefaces and binding to talk about. Back in the day Hartch used to grace the turf at The Welfare Ground, not that he likes to talk about it.  On doing my research for the game I couldn’t help noticing the following words on the Emley website, which too me could have been stolen straight off my Lewes FC laptop (in fact it probably was it is that good).

“We are a small club with very little money but what we can do, we try to do well and do “the right way”. On the playing side our vision is to develop the best local talent who want to succeed for the club and community we serve. The emphasis is on development of players who want to succeed for OUR club. This vision is underpinned, on and off the pitch, by the values of communication, respect, responsibility and solidarity.”

With such a mission, who was I not to pay them a visit, picking up Non League Day’s finest, and fellow Ockley Books author, Mike Bayly who just happened to be hanging around Barnsley Interchange on a Sunday lunchtime.  He was on his own mission to find the top 100 grounds that we should all visit before we lose our marbles and whilst I am quite sure that The Welfare Ground wasn’t on his list before the game, perhaps it could be afterwards.

20636702625_1b299a43fb_kThe opponents, Parkgate, played in the league above Emley – the Toolstation Northern Counties Eastern League Premier Division (that one rolls off the tongue – and came into the game full of confidence after a fine 4-3 win away at Tadcaster last week.  Few would have backed the home side to get anything from the tie, but fortune sometimes favours the brave.

Sometimes beauty comes from the most unlikely places.  There couldn’t have been anything more beautiful than the afternoon we spend in Kirklees, West Yorkshire.  “Go down the country lane and just head for the Big Tower”, Dave told us.  You can’t appreciate the instructions unless you have been to Emley and seen the Emley Transmitting Tower for yourselves, a 330m erection that is the tallest freestanding structure in the United Kingdom.

AFC Emley 7 Parkgate 1 – The Welfare Ground – Sunday 16th August 2015
20444075419_cfeb6c092b_kFrom the moment we paid £6 (SIX!) to get into the ground and saw the first prize in the raffle was a “do-it-yourself” breakfast, an upmarket spin on a meat raffle – well, it contained at least two non-meat products, we knew we had arrived in one of the closest places to Non League heaven.  Decent food, served with a smile and just for a pound (pie, peas and gravy – tick), locals who loved to chat and one of the best team displays I’ve seen for a long long time.

Emley didn’t just win, they destroyed a team from a higher division.  It could have easily have been double figures.  Parkgate were missing a number of key players due to work commitments but even Huddersfield Town may have struggled to contain the attacking threat of Emley, who at times seemed to play with five up front.  Defending appeared to have gone out of fashion this far north.

It all started relatively calmly, with both teams playing the ball around, feeling each other out.  Then in the space for seven first half minutes Ash Flynn scored a hatrick, notable for the fact that Mike missed the first two (on the pie and peas run then toilet) and Hartch the third (bathroom).  Parkgate pulled one back from the penalty spot and had they gone on to convert one of their other chances before the break it could have been a different story.

20604498906_5ef88aa001_kBut Emley went for the kill as soon as the second half started.  Flynn scored a fourth, again missed by Hartch before the star of the show, right midfielder Jordan Conduri set up Kieron Ryan for the fifth after a superb exchange of passes, before scoring the sixth himself.  Number seven came in injury time when Alex Hallam drove home.  It was truly a rout and one that Parkgate will want to forget very quickly.  For Emley, the delights of Burscough await in the Preliminary Round.  Half as good a performance as this will see them progress even further.

Alas, we didn’t win the raffle but we did find the winner – he offered us the prize for a tenner, fifteen if we wanted to go to his Mum’s house and she would cook it for our tea.

67 seconds of joy

Football can be a cruel game sometimes.  Often you try to do the right thing, even though you know the end result may not work in your favour.  There are few football fans who don’t love to see players that have grown up with a club pull on the shirt and play their heart out.  Badge kissing in these circumstances is allowable.  But few players these days are one-club icons.  In the Non-Leagues where money is less (I stress “less” rather than “not”) of an issue, you will often get some club loyalty.  On Wednesday night when Met Police were visitors to the Dripping Pan, their manager Jim Cooper was celebrating his 12th year in charge of the club.  Whilst he may have masterminded his team’s victory over Lewes, how much of his preparation focused on the inexperience and youth of our team?

FullSizeRender (1)Faced with a reduced budget, managers have two choices – cut their cloth accordingly, or move on.  Lewes boss Steve Brown is certainly in the former camp – in fact he positively encouraged us to invest in the youngsters, and the future development of them.  “Some weeks they will get battered out there, but on the other side some weeks they will have the crowd purring”.  Whilst you can’t read much into pre-season games, there was certainly evidence of the latter in those games.  There was also evidence of the former in the first game of the season at Leatherhead.

We want to be a progressive club, so we have embraced Social Media as too have many other clubs at our level.  That includes having our games recorded and shared across the excellent Football Exclusives platform.  For those fans unable to get to a game, the ability to access highlights is fantastic.  It’s also very useful for opposing teams in terms of scouting, especially as they can pause and rewind the action to take notes.  Was there any surprise that Met Police played lots of high balls into the area in the first half on Wednesday night when they know we have a 17-year old making his full debut? No, but even at this level of the game you will try everything to get a slight competitive advantage.

So whilst you may feel that pride of seeing the players you have developed come through to make their first team debut, you also know that opponents will try to exploit that inexperience.  But on the other hand, every minute these young players is a minute’s more experience.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing these notes if we had got off to a flyer in our opening two games and were sitting top of the league.  Alas, we were propping up the 23 other teams (albeit on alphabetical order).  Our visitors Harrow Borough were up there with the teams of the season in the Ryman Premier League last year out.  Whilst they finished in the bottom eight, they were effectively dead and buried with a dozen games to go.  Then they found some guts, passion and a will to win.  Those final twelve games resulted in 25 points and safety assured with their win at the Dripping Pan in early April.

Just 24 hours after the visit of Harrow Borough to The Dripping Pan I would be heading north to take in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round game between AFC Emley and Parkgate.  There was no footballing reason for this one – no player to have a look at or team to scout.  It was a bit of a jolly.  But what did make me smile was the message on the Emley website that defined their mission:-

“We are a small club with very little money but what we can do, we try to do well and do “the right way”. On the playing side our vision is to develop the best local talent who want to succeed for the club and community we serve. The emphasis is on development of players who want to succeed for OUR club. This vision is underpinned, on and off the pitch, by the values of communication, respect, responsibility and solidarity.”

Who can not agree with that at our level, yet how many clubs and their owners are prepared to compromise those principles at the slightest whiff of some money? But back to today and the search for our opening points of the season.

Lewes 1 Harrow Borough 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 15th August 2015
For 67 glorious seconds we had a taste of victory.  That’s how long we held the lead for after opening the scoring in the 87th minute.  It was a tad harsh on the Rooks who built on their second half on Wednesday with an assured if unspectacular performance today.  Whilst the visitors will point to a goal disallowed midway through the second half, they rarely put young Stroomberg’s goal under threat.

Despite dominating first half possession it took Lewes until the final minute of the half to create a chance when the tireless Jimmy Muitt broke free of his marker on the half-way line, accelerated away, rounded the keeper but took the ball too wide.  He got his shot in which was cleared off the line, picked up the rebound which was cleared off the line again.

FullSizeRender (3)Lewes came close to taking the lead on the hour mark when Lovett’s snap shot was smartly saved by the Boro’ keeper, then the visitors thought they’d taken the lead when Page headed home at the far post from a well-worked free-kick but was deemed to have been offside.  The main talking point came in the 79th minute when Peacock’s clumsy challenge on Muitt saw the young Lewes striker leave the field on a stretcher.  Peacock, booked in the first half somehow escaped a second yellow despite taking out the Lewes forward in the air.

Muitt’s replacement Nathan Crabb won a penalty when his quick feet tied the Harrow defenders in knots and he was tripped.  No complaints and no mercy shown by Leon Redwood’s spot-kick.  The relief that spread across the ground lasted just over 60 seconds before Lewes were undone at the far post again and Taylor headed home unmarked.  The drama wasn’t over as in the final minute keeper Stroomberg pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem.  Fortunately, the ball stayed up the other end long enough for the referee to blow the final whistle.

The point lifted the Rooks out of the bottom four, although the table really means nothing at this stage.  The crowd – a disappointing 372.  We can look for mitigating circumstances such as the Summer Holidays, a small travelling support or the travel chaos around the ground due to the bridge repairs and college car parks closed.  Football fans are impatient.  They want success right here, right now.  As a fan I understand that, as someone invested in developing something special here at Lewes I’d hate to see fans missing out when this squad start to click and injuries withstanding, that could be just around the corner.