The Lord’s work


14718895028_80db023387_zWith the snow gently falling in South London a few weeks ago and another Rooks game coming under threat I looked around for alternatives. Having been away for the past few weeks I thought it might be a good idea to have my Plan B as sitting in front of TV with a warm cup of tea. Scanning the fixtures I noticed that Real Madrid were playing Real Sociedad at 3pm. That’ll do me I thought but then I couldn’t find any details of the game when scanning through the Sky Sports schedules. The media giant televises a Ronaldo sneeze, and with British interest not only in the form of Gareth Bale but also in David Moyes, now managing the Basques, surely there had to be a mistake?

Alas not. Television companies in England are not allowed to show a live game between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday. The ruling dates back over 50 years and was the result of a petition raised by the controversial Burnley chairman at the time, Bob Lord with the Football League. He argued that televised matches on a Saturday afternoon would have a negative effect on the attendances of other football league games that were not being televised and as a result reduce their financial income. Fifty years ago this made sense, but today is it still relevant?

In the last few months Ofcom have become vocal about reviewing the legislation after a complaint by Virgin Media, who feel that the restriction means the bidding process for TV rights is artificially high. The Football Supporters Federation have weighed in, lending their support to keeping the Saturday blackout.

“It’s very important to retain the 3pm window and we’d have major reservations about a further significant increase in televised football,” said Clarke. “A 3pm kick-off on Saturday is part of the tradition of English football.”

Of course this ignores the fact that on most weekends half of the games are played outside the blackout window for television purposes (more when the weekend falls after a European club competition week) yet nobody is objecting to that. Whilst I can see an argument for the blackout for games in England, why should it extend to European competition?

The same rules do not apply in other countries and other sports. The best supported football league in the world is Germany’s Bundesliga with an average attendance of over 43,000, 20% higher than the Premier League yet they show a live Saturday afternoon game. The ability for the broadcasted to choose more games to screen increases the rights, with more flowing down into the lower leagues. Germany’s football league structure is similar to England’s and a comparable ranked league to the Ryman Premier League such as the Regionalliga will still see crowds of up to 1,000 on a Saturday afternoon. BT Sports and Sky Sports also screen live rugby union at 3pm on a Saturday without any complaints despite arguments that it could cannibalize both rugby and football attendances.

You only have to look at the situation over Christmas to see the negligible effect of the ruling. With a relatively full programme on Boxing Day (Friday) and on Sunday 28th December, Sky were able to show live matches between 2pm and 5.30pm despite other games being played at the same time without any impact on attendances. Nobody threw their arms up in the air at the fact they screened Southampton v Chelsea AND Newcastle United v Everton on the 28th December whilst six other Premier League games kicked off at 3pm.

This archaic ruling is the source of controversy around the grey area of pubs and clubs showing live games from overseas broadcasters at 3pm on a Saturday. Technically, they are free to show games as long as they have purchased the equipment and subscription legitimately, but are in breach of the blackout regulations rule if they use it to show a game live at 3pm.

The new TV rights deal for the Premier League will be for 168 games a season, up from the existing 154 matches.  The additional 14 are being created by shifting some games in non-European club competition weeks to a Friday night, which will mean 44% of all of the games in England’s top division will be available to watch live – which by a simple deduction means at the maximum, 56% will be shown at 3pm on a Saturday.  Friday night football was the norm back in the 1980’s when live games first hit our TV screens but the new deal will cause pain to most away fans.  The police will be loathed to allow the high-profile local derbies to be held on a Friday night due to the drain on resources from policing the alcohol-fuelled High Streets of broken Britain, and the TV companies will not want their prestigious games to be shown when people traditionally go out for the night.  But then again,  the Premier League has long held the actual logistics of getting to and from games with as much regard as the Football Association with their legendary scheduling of FA Cup Semi-Final matches so that one set of fans cannot actually get home.

So for now it’s fingers crossed that the snow doesn’t settle and we will have a game to watch. Otherwise I may be forced into a trip to Bluewater – now that’s definitely something that should be banned at 3pm on a Saturday!

Back Home


“From back home I’ll be thinking about them 
When I am far away
From back home, I’ll be really behind them 
In every game they play
I’ll share every goal they are scoring
Out there
I will still hear them roaring 
And they’ll give all they’ve got to give 
For the folks away from home 

I’ll be watching and waiting
And cheering every move
Though I think we’re the greatest
That’s what they’ve got to prove
Once more they will meet with the best
Like before they’ll be put to the test
Oh they’ll give all they’ve got to give
For the folks away from home

I’ll see as they’re watching and praying
That they put their hearts in their playing
They’ll fight until the whistle goes
For the folks away from home”

Churchill-poster-282x400January hasn’t been the easiest month to be a Rooks fan.  A stonking away win at Grays Athletic (not that I can claim all the credit with my comprehensive scouting report mind) and the rousing home win in the Sussex Senior Cup quarter-finals versus Eastbourne Borough tempered with three defeats on the road where the team have hardly mustered a shot on target, let alone at goal. Despite the indifferent form that has yet to see the Rooks rise up the table, you have to go back to mid-September to find the last team to leave The Dripping Pan with all three points, and even them it was the league leaders Maidstone United.

For the first time in 2015 I was back in the country when Lewes were playing. My work travel schedule had so far meant I’d been in four different countries whilst Lewes had been playing recently. Following the action via Twitter is hard, especially in those nervous last few minutes. In the game versus Eastbourne Borough I was presenting at a conference in Sydney. My woops when Barry tweeted “FT: 2-1…” certainly woke up a few people at the back of the room, whilst when we conceded the opening goal on Monday at Kingstonian I’m not sure the Emirates lounge in Kula Lumpur totally appreciated my “For fuck sake” outburst. Technology gets better every day, so it can’t be long before Barry will streaming games through tiny cameras in his glasses across the world, saving me the pain of Twitter freeze.

But now I was Back Home (for those who don’t recognise the slightly amended version of the 1970 England World Cup Squad song), for a week at least, meaning all would be well with the world, Lewes would turn on the style and three points would be guaranteed. What could make the day better? How about some cheap beer left over from the previous night’s Beer Festival? Oh, go on then. Surely that would be the compelling event that would see East Thurrock bring their biggest away following ever?

IMG_3174A week ago I was sitting in a bar in Williamstown, just outside Melbourne (Victoria not Derbyshire), with a fellow Lewes Owner, sitting a Fat Yak in temperatures of 37 degrees. Heck, I even had my shorts on. Seven days later I was shivering on the pitch, reading out the teams. But who needs sunshine, well proportioned bar staff and killer spiders (I saw my first one later that afternoon) when you could have a pint of Harvey’s Scottish Ale, a Golden Goal ticket from Ethel and the roar of The Jungle? That was rhetorical question by the way.

In our award-winning* series of articles of Economic Theory explained by football, we looked the theory of value which surmised that the more football we watch, the less interest we have in each game. Having seen just three games in 30 days in 2015, my interest levels were at an all-time high. I’d take a scrappy 1-0 win today and it would be the best game ever.

Lewes 3 East Thurrock United 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st January 2015
First the positives.  We won, and up until the 94th minute, we won comfortably.  Two first half Sam Cole goals capped one of the best Lewes performances we had seen for many-a-month.  Despite the heavy, muddy pitch, you also have to doff your cap to our groundsmen Jack and Joe who had worked wonders to give us a game despite the conditions.

16413741852_73be8c88a5_hOn the negative side – East Thurrock.  Light yellow numbers on white shirts, in the dim Non League floodlights?  Really?  Nobody in the ground could see the number of the player who scored either of their goals, so when one of their officials decided to criticise us for a) announcing the wrong scorer and then b) not announcing their second scorer is a bit rich.  In the first half another of their officials had accused Lewes of cheating to take a two nil lead.  Firstly, Elliott Romain took a dive, apparently, when he was clean through on goal and had pushed the ball around the keeper.  The referee saw it as a penalty, although how he didn’t send off David Hughes was a mystery as Romain was in front of the defender before he was impeded (see Boysie’s picture and make your own mind up on both counts). Sam Cole stroked the penalty home then added a second when the ball fell at his feet three yards out after a free-kick from the right (awarded after Muggeridge dived according to same official – it was an eventful 5 minutes waiting for my food I can tell you).

IMG_3169Let’s take a minute to talk about Non-League food.  Not only did we have the beauty of the Beer Festival brews (Aspire and Scottish Ale ticked every box) but also the food on offer.  We don’t just do chips you know. We do “Poutine”…and they were absolute awesome (and so was the bagel).  Add in a superb first half performance and it was up there with my wedding day.

Lewes started the second half liked they meant business, scoring a third when Griffiths headed home, then Fraser hit the post.  Our lucky Talisman Patrick Marber thought we may need four to be safe and he was nearly right as East Thurrock came back into the game.  Higgins (although we couldn’t see that at the time) scored twice, the last one in the 94th minute to give the final score a rather flattering look.

I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming.  Football, beer and food.  Three of the four ingredients to a great day.  I will keep tight-lipped on the fourth just in case the Current Mrs Fuller has other ideas.

 

 

Rooks Actually


10308569_1562939613952439_3537806835309713134_nChristmas football.  It seems that everyone loves Christmas football.  Apparently, football on Boxing Day is a tradition – so much so that Lewes’s decision to move our derby game with Bognor Regis Town to 24 hours later nearly caused an online riot.  We made the announcement back in August when Christmas was still a speck on the horizon, after discussions with our opponents.  Some saw the decision as simply pandering to the fact Brighton & Hove Albion were also at home – which came into our thought process but wasn’t the deciding factor, others bemoaning our lack of respect to the traditional festive game.  With Boxing Day falling on a Friday AND the popular movement to return games to their Saturday 3pm position, that is what we did.  With no Premier League/ Football League or even Conference football to be played on the 27th, we would have little competition – in fact there would be a very good chance we could draw the biggest crowd in England. Bognor fans, who had no public transport options on Boxing Day were happy, heck, even a few of our fans were too.  Interestingly enough, only four games were played in the Ryman Premier League yesterday, with the remaining eight games kicking off today.  Fair decent attendances for those local derbies too.  Those seven other clubs hosting games today also saw sense in moving it to Saturday.

In the run up to the game, a small number of Lewes “fans” seemed to be willing the weather to turn, wanting the game to be called off, simply out of spite it seemed, the “told you so” mentality.  The fact that dozens of people had put in an extra shift to get everything ready for one of the biggest games of the season seemed irrelevant. Fans are free to express their opinions on any decision a club makes but you have to question those who seems so hell-bent on being so disingenuous at every opportunity. When the team are losing it is “sack the managers”, when the fixtures are changed it is “disrespectful” and when all of those are going OK, dissent turns to the catering or the half-time crowd at the bar.  These are of course the same “fans” who as soon as the fortunes of the team turn, disappear from public view.

Despite the game being moved to the 27th, it was still our Christmas game. Despite our nearest “rivals” now being Peacehaven and Telscombe, The Ryman League retained our traditional local derby. Lewes’s biggest crowds in recent memory have come over the Christmas period – over 1,000 versus Horsham in 2011/12 and crowds double that for games against Eastbourne Borough in our Conference days. Last season we were denied a bumper New Years Day crowd when our game versus Maidstone United fell foul to the weather, annoying as the weather the week previous on Christmas Day and Boxing Day had been so good.

A number of supporters of other clubs, who played yesterday, ventured down to the Pan to take in the game too – Barnet, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Harrods fans that I knew of.  Faces who come down once or twice a year such as England’s foremost female cricket writer Lizzy Ammon,  as well as a couple of Dripping Pan virgins including the lovely Lucie Allen.

Xmas DayThere was a time when Christmas Day games were the norm in England. Mr Fuller Snr talks fondly of getting on his bike and cycling to Upton Park to watch West Ham on Christmas Day, and up until 1957 there was a full Football League programme on December 25th. Interest waned in subsequent years with the last ever Christmas Day game played in 1965 between Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers, although a decent crowd of over 20,000 suggested that there was still significant interest in Yuletide football.

In 1983, Brentford announced that they would be hosting Wimbledon on Christmas Day with an 11am kick off, “to revive the old tradition of husbands going to football on Christmas Day while the wives cook the turkey,” according to a Bees spokesman. But the wives thought differently and the fans’ protests in the run up to Christmas saw the match brought forward to Christmas Eve, when a 6,689 crowd, the second highest League crowd at Griffin Park that season, witnessed a 4-3 Wimbledon victory.

The Christmas Day games weren’t always without their problems. Due to a lack of local derbies, Portsmouth ended up having to travel to Blackpool back in 1954. In 1940, with the war in full swing, teams often struggled to put sides out, and players were allowed to play for more than one team, which saw Len Shackleton play for Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City on Christmas Day. That same day was a Christmas to forget for Brighton & Hove Albion, who turned up for their game versus Norwich City with only five players! Anyone who had a pair of boots was invited to play and unsurprisingly the Seagulls suffered an 18-0 defeat.

FullSizeRenderObviously, bad weather affects the Christmas fixtures. Two year’s ago our Boxing Day game against Bognor Regis shouldn’t have finished due to the torrential rain, and we have suffered with postponements due to snow, such as the game versus Ebbsfleet United back in our Conference South days. But that pales in significance to the First Division game in 1937 between Chelsea and Charlton Athletic, when heavy fog caused the game to be abandoned.

Nothing strange about that until Charlton Athletic realised their goalkeeper, the legendary Sammy Bartram, was missing. The keeper was still on the field, completely unaware that the game had been abandoned, and just assumed that Charlton were putting pressure on the Chelsea goal. Now you know why Rikki Banks wears a bright yellow outfit.

So for my 51st game of the season so far, and the last time I will visit the Dripping Pan in 2014, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present you with the story of The Rooks versus The Rocks.

Lewes 1 Bognor Regis Town 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 27th December 2014
In the 85th minute I had the pleasure of reading out the official attendance as 1,007, making it the best attended match in England.  To put that gate in context, our last two games we have played on Boxing Day were against Bognor in 2012 where the crowd was 883, and against Dover Athletic in 2010 when it was 505.  On both occasions the weather was similar to this year and Lewes were floating around the bottom of the table.  So much for ruining Christmas tradition. Whilst some many still think we could have got more people, we will never know.  The crowd was almost double our budgeted average attendance and thanks to the result, most went home with that warm smug glow of victory.

It wasn’t a classic but when you are fighting for every point it rarely is.  Unbelievably, despite sitting just above the relegation places, The Rooks haven’t lost a league game since the 19th October – four wins and four draws.  With the next two games against Margate and Dulwich Hamlet, it was important to get a positive result today, and that’s exactly what happened.  The goal that warmed up the Philcox Stand came in the 58th minute.  The very impressive Nicky Wheeler crossed, and Luke Blewden’s powerful header did the rest.  The last ten minutes were a bit of a backs to the wall job, made harder by losing Matt Crabb to two soft yellow cards, but Rikki Banks’ goal stayed in tact.

IMG_2443Last season in the corresponding game at Christmas, the pivotal moment was the Bognor Regis goal keeper getting Lewes’s Jack Dixon sent off in the first half.  After deliberately tripping the Lewes player as he ran back from a corner, unsighted by the referee, Dixon reacted and the keeper fell to the ground as if he had been taken out by a sniper.  Great sportsmanship.  The relevance of the incident seemed lost on the Bognor fans in the second half of this game when they were loudly accusing Lewes keeper Rikki Banks of feigning injury after a clash with Ollie Prior.

B55cQQOCQAAZRJzFull time and most fans went home happy including our contingent from the good ol’ US of A, Mr Luge Pravda, who couldn’t resist the chance to try to get the biggest every Lewes FC selfie.  The Bognor faithful, who had come in numbers, made an excellent contribution across the bar and sang/shouted their hearts out may feel aggrieved at the final score.  We’ve all been there before, we know how it hurts and we look forward to our fourth meeting of the season at Easter when we hope both of us are looking up the table with confidence rather downwards with concern.

 

 

December 2014 – Cold, bright and clear


15826233910_5e3bb2333b_kAfter the euphoria of the last-gasp win in the Sussex Senior Cup it was time to return to Ryman Premier League action with a trip to the purveyors of fine free-flowing football, Billericay Town. Those of us who made the trip to Horsham on Tuesday night were rewarded with a smorgasbord of the elements as well as some late drama to pitch The Rooks into the last eight in the race to reach The Amex.  So what better way to follow that than to spend a cold, damp afternoon in mid December than in deepest, darkest Essex craning our necks in the air as the ball by-passes the midfield?

At least you know what to expect when you play The Blues.  Their manager, Craig Edwards has modeled his side on those of Beck, Basset and Taylor, leading them to the Ryman Premier League title two years ago before they fell from the Conference South just a year later.  Whilst The Blues are one of a large pack of “middling” teams in the third tier of English football, they do hold the honour of being the first club to win the FA Vase three times (ticks box of doing research on Wikipedia). Matches between the two sides have hardly been dull in recent years, and if I was a betting man (which of course thanks to The FA I’m not allowed to be) I’d have a sneaky £10 on a red card. Last season it was our captain fantastic, Jack Walder, who saw red. Walder was back from his long-term injury although he would be soon be missing again after picking up a red in his comeback game, playing for a Ringmer last week.

15391229254_3a4fe1075e_kThis was to be my last outing to watch the Rooks before Christmas, so there was bound to be plenty of festive cheer as we descended on New Lodge, Billericay’s ecletic ground on the edge of the Essex countryside. Despite the Rooks lowly position, you have to go back to the 19th October for the last defeat in the league.  In fact, that bizarre game at Oxford City two weeks ago aside, it had been a pretty impressive run with wins in the FA Trophy and Sussex Senior Cup to go with the unbeaten league run.

Deaks had done his homework and found a decent pub in the town centre with a few new ales to sample, including possibly the best toilets this side of the West End.  Two (2!) types of hand lotion in the toilets.  As Dave said, you expected a little chap to pop out from behind the door with a squirt of Kouros.  Not what you’d expect from the location.

A swift pit stop on the walk to the ground at Greggs ended in disappointment as they had run out of sausage rolls.  That’s like a bank running out of cash, a pub running out of beer or Michael McIntyre managing to actually say something funny. It’s just not British is it?

The winter sun was causing us a problem as we walked down to the ground, meaning the toss could be a match decider.  Of course, we lost that and Rikki Banks was soon regretting leaving his baseball cap in his car glove compartment.

Billericay Town 2 Lewes 2 – New Lodge – Saturday 13th December 2014
Six minutes into injury time the ball is launched into the Lewes area, surely for one final time.  The initial four added minutes that the referee had said he was adding on have come and gone. The ball falls to Lewes’s stalwart Chris Breach, he slips, allowing a Billericay player a sight of goal.  Lovegrove dives in, taking one for the team and it’s a penalty.  One final hope of all three points stands 6ft 4inches tall.  Rikki Banks dives the right way but Richard Halle’s spot kick has too much pace and the wild celebrations from the home side just shows the relief of grabbing a point.

Of course we could complain.  But on at least four occasions this season the Rooks had benefited from extra injury time to grab valuable points or progress in the cup competitions.  As they say, these decisions even themselves out over a season.  It hurt – don’t get me wrong, but that’s football.

15987708636_9d934316be_kDespite dominating the opening exchange, including hitting the woodwork before we’d even picked up our chips from the refreshment kiosk, Billericay faded in the first half as Lewes simply out-passed them. There was no surprise when The Blues took the lead, although it wasn’t the long ball that led to the goal, rather than a powerful run from Sappleton through the middle of the Lewes defence before slotting home with ease.

Despite the state of the pitch, the Rooks looked to play the ball behind the Billericay back line with new signing Fraser, Davis and returning skipper Walder dominating the middle of the park.  Confidence grew, chances came and finally so did the equaliser.  Davis to Fraser to Cole, running onto the ball in the area and the ball was in the back of the net.

Tails up we went for another.  Davis showed his dancing feet when the ball appeared to get stuck in the mud, shifting his weight from left to right, wrong-footing the defence and calmly slotting the ball into the net.  Lewes were rampant. Blewden beat the offside trap but the final obstacle, the pitch, beat him.

15825991210_fbe3729e06_kThe second half was a tighter affair with both sides struggling with the conditions. Billericay were reduced to ten men when Sappleton went in late on Fraser, the subsequent handbags essentially costing Lewes their victory with the time being added by one of the better referees we’ve seen at this level this season.

The final drama certainly gave us our money’s worth and no Lewes fans can really complain at the last gasp decision. We’d done our homework, stuck our game plan and came away with a moral victory if not with all three points.

Postscript: the title of today’s report relates a line from the song All Together Now, describing the events in The Somme from 100 years ago. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them

No sixth sense in the FA Trophy


15726618097_9f4d2dcc05_k (1)When the fixtures are released each summer we instinctively look for when we will be able to visit somewhere new.  A new ground, new pubs, new fans to banter with, new pubs, new cultural experiences and of course, new pubs. When you’ve been in the same division, like Lewes, for a number of years the excitement of visiting Margate on New Years Day or Leiston on the 6th January doesn’t really cut the mustard.  As much as we love wandering along the seafront with Tel wearing his “kiss me quick” hat, or watching Deaksy’s hair stand on end as we near The Vulcan opposite Sizewell B nuclear reactor, we want to try something new.

This season we have already visited the delights of Witham (twice), where the main attraction is the Olly Muirs walk of fame (being the town and football club’s most famous son), Tonbridge Angels and our old friends at Leatherhead.  We still have the delights of Crayford in the spring to come when we visit VCD Athletic for the first time as well as a very short hop over the downs to Peacehaven & Telscombe.

Of course the real excitement comes when the respective cup draws are made.  Our run in the FA Cup lasted all but as we crashed out away at Witham Town. The Ryman League Cup saw a home defeat to Peacehaven & Telscombe.  A home victory in the Sussex Senior Cup versus Brighton & Hove Albion has seen us drawn away at Horsham YMCA, a ground we’ve visited on many occasions.  But in the FA Trophy is where our current interest lays. Not that there are thousands of pounds at stake for each round we reach – oh no, it’s not all about the money at all.

After a 3-2 win at Heybridge Swifts on Tuesday night, Lewes would be travelling to Oxford City of the Conference North.  Finally, a proper away day.  No disrespect to Witham or Heybridge, but the local hostelries can’t really hold a candle to the dreaming spires of the land of Morse, Bannister and Lawrenson.  The Lewes Lunatic fringe would be out in full force for this one, with Linda having the job of making extra rounds of cheese and pickle for the long train journey.

Whilst we were all excited about the big day out, it was water off a duck’s back to our Vice-President, Terry Parris. “Did I tell you about the time Bobby Moore offered to put my disclosed finger back in place at Oxford City, Stu?” Now that’s a way to start a conversation.  For those who don’t know Terry then you obviously don’t know anything about Non-League football.  Terry has held virtually every position in the Lewes team and subsequently in the club itself,  He’s played more games than anyone else in the club’s 129 year history (over 650 times), managed the club, been the groundsman, commercial manager, secretary and even run the line.  He has the east terrace at the ground named after him and until last month was the club’s chairman.  He is full of stories that would put some of the banal, bland best-seller “expose’s” of today’s players to shame.

Back in the early 1980’s, a new chairman took over at Oxford City.  Jealous of the success of United on the other side of town, who were just starting their march up the divisions that would ultimately see them winning the League Cup at Wembley, the then chairman managed to persuade former England captain and one of the legends of the English game, Bobby Moore to manage the club.  City had just been relegated to the Isthmian Second Division and played Lewes for the first ever time in 1980/81.  Moore recruited a former team-mate from West Ham to be assistant, a young chirpy chap called Harry Redknapp.  In the game in February 1981 against Lewes, Terry managed to injury his finger and ever the gentlemen, Moore offered to put it back into place.  Terry declined and headed to hospital, although Moore still took the time after the 3-0 defeat to find out how he was later in the evening.

15911801292_1e0dfbe78a_zToday City haven’t really met the expectations set 35 years ago.  Playing in the second tier of Non-League football is the highest level they’ve played at. Whilst they came within touching distance of neighbours United a few seasons ago during their brief foray into the Non-Leagues, they are still miles away in and off the pitch today.  Whilst both clubs have moved to new stadiums, the money pumped into United by former owner Kassam has seen them take up residence in a 12,500 seater stadium in whilst City have moved to a very rural location close by the A40 – by rural we mean there are no pubs within a 15 minute walk.

Promotion to this level has been bitter-sweet for City. Every club wants to progress but being bumped into Conference North must be hard to stomach.  Whilst they have localish games at Worcester City (45miles) and Gloucester City (47 miles) away trips to Barrow (250 miles), Harrogate (190 miles) and Fylde (180 miles) put a huge burden on the club.  Incidentally, Maidenhead United and Wealdstone (40 and 42 miles away respectively) are their nearest Conference rivals, both playing in the Conference South.  With average attendances rarely breaking the 400 mark, there is a big price tag on progress and the club should be applauded for doing everything they have not only to hold their own in the league but to start to push for the play-off spot.

The odds certainly appeared to be stacked against Lewes.  However, a seven game unbeaten run had given everyone at the club confidence despite a mounting injury crisis that would have seen both Baz Collins and Big Deaksy in the squad for the game if they hadn’t both been cup-tied after playing for Lewes on FIFA14 (damn rules, as Club Sec Kev told them). Avoiding defeat here would mean we would have remained unbeaten for a whole calendar month – the last time that had happened was in June when we didn’t play anyone.

We would travel to parts we’d never traveled to before with hope in our hearts, a bellyful of ale and pockets full of Scotch eggs. There is nothing better than a proper football awayday.  There was talk of a coach, rosettes, a special squad-sung version of Sussex By The Sea to mark the occasion but that would be presumptuous (and we’ve heard Nathan Crabb sing!).

Saturday morning, London Paddington station.  As we wait for the 11:15 Great Western service to Great Malvern via Honeybourne, Charlbury and Pershore, we see other groups of fans.  We are all a band of brothers, off to do our bit for our own clubs.  It doesn’t matter what race, sex, creed or colour we are, we are all football fans, prepared to travel to the four corners of this country to support our team, even if they are a step seven club like Lewes. Alas our attempts to engage with Crystal Palace fans on their way to Swansea didn’t work – “who are you?”, “small town in Brighton” and “you’re going to get your head kicked in” suggested that perhaps we weren’t as welcome as we thought we would be.  Even the Met Police fan heading to their game at Maidenhead blanked us.

Deaksy had done his research and eight minutes after getting off the train, we were in pub number 1 – The Four Candles (not to be confused with the Fork Handles obviously).  37 minutes later we were in the Grapes and then 26 minutes after that, Far From The Maddening Crowd.  Military precision from Deaks.

Marsh Lane is some distance from the city centre – a £10 cab ride distance to be precise.  It seemed that few of the locals had been gripped by FA Trophy fever, and as the two sides took the pitch a quick scan of the ground saw less than 100 fans ready for the game.

Oxford City 6 Lewes 1 – Marsh Lane – Saturday 29th November 2014
15911798662_b10d63841c_kOK – let’s start with the positives.  The City Banger, a roll with three local sausages in for just £2.50 was outstanding.  We ate about a dozen between us.  The Lewes support was close on a third of the whole attendance and we scored a goal.  They were my three positives.  That’s not to say the rest of the afternoon was bad – we were clinically undone by a team who play in a way that is alien to our lowly Non-League position.  What was interesting was hearing some of the comments of the locals who didn’t particularly like the number of overseas players being brought into the club under Head Coach Enrique Guillen.  The starting XI contained five Spanish players, brought in by Guillen.  Talking to some of the fans it seemed that not everyone was happy with the direction the club were going in.  Could some external forces be pulling the strings here?

Oxford City have a style of play that either reduces teams to gibbering wrecks, or is like defending the Alamo.  A 1-8 home defeat to Fylde earlier this season was proceeded by a 7-2 away win the following week at Boston United.  5-0 away win at Bradford Park Avenue, then a 4-0 defeat to Guiseley seven days later.  Today they were on the back foot from the first minute and Lewes had two golden chances to take the lead in the first five minutes.  Ten minutes later and Oxford City were 3-0 up.  Fast, counter attacking play, moving the ball from wing to wing that undid our 3-5-2 formation.

15290184084_9c7d6db89d_bBut then Lewes came back into it, forcing the Oxford defence onto the back foot.  Nicky Wheeler’s excellent effort reduced the arrears and a few minutes later his lob looked to have made it 3-2.  Lewes certainly ended the half on top.  But less than five minutes after the restart we were 4-1 down – again another fast counter attack and the ball was in the back of the net.

That goal was the final nail in the coffin. We pushed forward more in hope than anything else and did force the keeper to make a couple of smart saves. However, two further goals by Isaac and Benjamin gave the final score an unfair look.  Oxford has certainly been the better side but not by a five goal margin.  But that’s football. It had been a decent day out and we can have no complaints at the result.  Now it is all about Wednesday night and the visit to the Pan of bottom of the table Bury Town.

A lesson in Public Announcing


As Saturday’s go, this was always going to be a challenge in terms of logistics. A few weeks ago I’d agreed to speak at a conference in Brussels to a large firm of IP attorneys on the subject of “Brand infringements in the digital age”. I can see you nodding off at the very thought of listening to that for 90 minutes, although it’s very entertaining stuff, even if I do say so myself. Nothing out of the ordinary about the event – I spend a lot of my time talking at similar events most weeks, but this was due to be on a Saturday. A Saturday when Lewes were at home, no less.

As luck would have it, the venue shifted to one just 2.5 miles from the airport and my speaking slot was moved forward to 10am. For once, travel logistics worked in my favour and I was able to fly from Heathrow to Brussels and back in less than 6 hours, meaning I could still make the game.

24 hours before I was due to travel I got a phone call informing me I had won tickets to watch England v Samoa at Twickenham…7pm kick off. Technically, it could be done – Leaving Lewes by 5pm I could potentially make Twickenham by 7pm but it would be tight. I couldn’t turn it down – it was “competition month” at work where we all entered one competition per day, the winner being the person who had come up trumps (and could prove it) the most times. This one would put me in the lead.

So my Saturday agenda now read:-

4.30am departure from TBIR Towers – Heathrow – Brussels Airport – Diegem – Brussels Airport – Heathrow – Lewes – Twickenham – arrive at TBIR Towers 11pm

What’s not to like about that? Well, apart from the 800 odd miles travelled of course and the fact I could have more than a beer or two during each “segment”.

The work part went smoothly, the BA lounge at Brussels airport was well stocked with Belgium beers and so I arrived back in the UK at 1pm “refreshed”. Despite the constant drizzle, the M25 and M23 behaved themselves meaning I reached The Dripping Pan in time to slip on my warm coat, pick up my clipboard and read out the teams as they took the field at 2:55pm.

image1The life of a PA announcer is pretty dull actually. Having agreed to take on the role in the summer, I wanted to do it my way. No sitting up in the stand, no cheesy announcements, no muffled voices. It had to be big and bold, whilst still standing on the terraces with a pint of Harveys. Of course this leads to problems, especially when we concede a goal at the other end.

“Keeper, who scored for you?” Is a common phrase of mine as my eyesight often fails to reach the halfway line let alone the far end of the pitch on a dark night. At least in that instance I’ve remembered I’ve got to announce the scorer. For the first few weeks doing the job I stood there waiting to hear who had scored the opening goal, and thus won the golden goal, only to realise the rest of the crowd were waiting for me to announce it.

Life on the PA system isn’t as simple as I first thought. Apparently you need to pay attention all of the time to what’s going on on the pitch. Chatting to your mates, or even going for a Jimmy Riddle can lead to embarrassing periods of silence when something has happened on the field. Taking a bite of a burger, or a sip of beer are not easy. At half-time people want half-time scores, raffles winners, next game details whilst I was a soup if tea and a slice of cake.

What is the etiquette for announcing own goal scorers? One chap told me to announce it as a goal to the last attacking player to touch the ball, someone else said simply say “own goal”. What about if you genuinely do not know who scored and there are no helpful tweeters in the ground – do you just announce who you think it was? How long should you wait to try to identify the right player based on the number of team mates giving him love? Is it “time added on” or “injury time” at the end of each half? Is it Fer-ga-ny or Ferg-any? They don’t put pronunciation guides on team sheets these days. The temptation to adopt Alan Partridge-style exclamations has so far been suppressed but it is only a matter of time before one or two slip out.

The rules keep on coming – Don’t announce the man of the match or official attendance too early. Last week versus Brighton, Sam Crabb got the award when we were 1-0 down but then two Tom Davis specials saw us win and would’ve had won him the award. Then you need to thank the away fans for attending, even if they’ve smashed up half the ground and invaded the pitch, and wish then luck for rest of season and a safe journey home.

Not that today there would be many away fans visiting The Pan. Our visitors, Witham Town, are new to this division but get modest crowds at home, and a small following away. Lewes is one of their furthest away trips (well, second longest behind Bognor Regis Town) so expectations were on the small side. Not that the club’s ambitions match the away following – they’ve adapted to life in the higher division well, enjoying a decent run in the cups including beating Lewes in the FA Cup 4-2 last month. Lewes’s recent current form of 4 wins and a draw from the last 5 games pointed to a home win. But football’s a fickle mistress sometimes and come 5 o’clock when I would be tearing back up the A23 to Twickenham, the only 3 points I may be nursing is that from a speed camera.

Lewes 2 Witham Town 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 22nd November 2014
It’s fair to say that for 83 minutes this was a bit of a shocker for The Rooks. Nothing seemed to work and the visitors had scored two, probably could have had a couple more, whilst the Witham goal, well marshalled by our 2nd favourite keeper in the division, Martyn Guest who gives as good as HR gets in the banter stakes, was rarely troubled. But then seven minutes (plus injury time) of passion saw Lewes grab a share of the points.

IMG_2075The first half didn’t throw up any PA issues, although Deaks accused me of adding a sarcastic inflection in my voice when announcing there would only be two added minutes. The second half I had to re-unite a purse with their owner without actually saying what I had or whose it was. I’m still yet to deal with missing parents, cars with lights left on or any baby birth announcements but I’m sure the time will come.

Those final seven minutes saw the Rooks change their 3-5-2 formation for a 4-3-3, which immediately brought pace into the Lewes side, with Blewden, Romain and Nathan Crabb chasing every ball. Wheeler, now freed from his defensive duties, took on the full-back, moved inside, shot and Guest, unsighted as the ball moved in the air, dropped the ball and Blewden tapped in.

Four minutes of injury time were displayed. Witham were taking their time but for the umpteenth time this season a final set piece saw chaos in the box and Nathan Crabb headed home through a crowd of players. Very late goals have become a habit this season but who was complaining. I turned the microphone on and let the crowd noise fill the ground before announcing the goal.

Sometimes you get things you don’t necessarily deserve. Those events shape your character, making you stronger, constantly reinforcing the need to be fluid in preparations and execution. Whether that may be playing in the Ryman Premier League or trying to work out with player has just scored 110 yards away.