Tales from a Non-League Chairman – Part 3 – Wearing many hats


ff806c39-66d7-49e8-bf3e-bdcd3da80933-mediumIt took less than 5 minutes before my phone rang with a journalist wanting to try and get the “inside track” after we announced that we had parted company with our previous management team last month.  4 minutes 47 seconds to be precise, which was a good 60 seconds longer than I had said it would be to Club Sec Kev.

Despite being Chairman of Lewes Football Club I still would retain my other duties which meant writing the copy for the website, co-ordinating the publishing of the news across all of our social media channels at once (it is amazing how many Publish/Post/Tweet and Send buttons you can press simultaneously on multiple devices) and answering questions by email, text, phone and post such as “Can you tell me your website address”, “Can I bring my motorbike into the ground?” and one of my all time favourites “Will I be arrested if I streak across the pitch?  Does it make a difference if it was for charity?”

I was in high demand whilst we were managerless but as soon as Steve Brown had been appointed, I was dropped like a stone.  Even when BBC 5Live’s Non League show came a-calling, they wanted Steve as well as me, as if to play on the whole “interim” situation.  We showed them though, with Steve unable to take part in the interview at the last minute, meaning I had a national platform to avoid any difficult questions and turn the conversation onto chips with cheese and gravy.

So a typical home game now means a full week of preparation.  As co-editor of the award winning match day programme (have a butcher’s for yourself here) with Barry Collins we have to start planning at least seven days before the game.  Content doesn’t write itself.  In fact, as with most Non League programme editors, we end up writing virtually the whole programme ourselves, despite all of the promised made by people to write for us.

Another job on match day is to grab the radio microphone and be our cheery PA announcer.  Once again, preparation is key – knowing what to say and more importantly, what not to say is all prepared for me by our general manager, Adrian and by the time the teams take to the field, today led by one of Lewes’s oldest and most loyal fans, Ethel, I hope I have spelt phonetically those names that could be problematic.  Pre-match duties over there’s time to grab a beer and try and watch some of the game.

Lewes 0 Leiston 2 – Saturday 21st March 2015 – The Dripping Pan
CAocQglW4AAIyqfIt is always a bad sign when we lose the toss and have to kick towards the Rook Inn in the first half.  It does have one main advantage though.  It allows me to grab some double-cooked chips with French onion gravy and mature cheddar, although problems arise when the away team opens the scoring when you are mid-mouthful and wasn’t really concentrating.  Lesson number 1 – ABC – Always Be Concentrating.  I had no idea who had scored.  No TV replays, no Rookmeister’s insightful tweets, no John Murray in my ear.  Instinct takes over and you judge which player was getting the applause of his team mates.

“Opening goal this afternoon scored in the ….” checks clock “19th minute by, I think, number 8 Gareth Heath”.  I look for a reaction from the players to see if any of them looked confused at the announcement.  They didn’t.  I think I had got away with that one.

Lesson number 2 – ABC (again)  Always Be Checking.  I’d already announced the Golden Goal.  It went in after 18 minutes 58 seconds and thus the 19th minute.  I unfolded my Golden Goal ticket.  20 minutes.  Two seconds out.  Nobody would have batted an eyelid if I announced 20 minutes.

Goal number two for Leiston was as problematic as the first.  Free-kick on edge of box, pinballs in the area and the number 11 celebrates like mad, running off to celebrate with the five away fans.  The rest of the team all rush to congratulate the number 4.  Who would you give the goal to?  I said 4, Club Sec Kev posted on Football Web Pages it was number 11, Boysie thought it was number 5 and Twitter suggested it was an own goal.

The second half saw Lewes lay siege to the Leiston goal. Well, by siege I mean we pushed forward and tried to get the ball into the danger area and test the keeper.  For all the good approach play, Danny Gay will have much busier afternoons than he had at The Dripping Pan.  Then Tom Davis got himself sent off by blasting a spare ball that had strayed onto the playing surface into the opposition dug out. Despite being only a few yards away, and the bench being full, he missed everyone – a fact that summed up the whole Lewes afternoon.  Davis departed and so should have the Rooks hope.

But we were 2-0 down (“the most dangerous score line in football” according to football expert David Pleat) and down to ten men (“the most dangerous formation in football” according to football expert David Pleat).  What a combination.  How could we fail?  Well, we did.  Two-nil was the final score and our hopes for a “we are staying up” celebration party would have to be put on ice for another week, or so.

Post match I complete my duties by wishing our visitors all the best for the rest of the season before heading into the debrief with our management team.  The ground is long-empty by the time we leave.  It’s been a long week and we have nothing to show for all of our collective effort bar a litter-strewn terrace.  But we will be back to do it all again when Enfield Town come to visit on Wednesday.

Tales of a Non-League Chairman – part 2 – The away game


This week I’m on the road with The Rooks, making the relatively short journey to the fantastic Gallagher Stadium, home of Maidstone United. Turn right out of TBIR Towers, left onto the A20 and 25 mins later I’m pulling up outside The Flower Pot, one of the best little real ale pubs in Kent for a quick pre-match strategy session with the Lewes Lunatic Fringe before I head into the boardroom at The Gallagher Stadium.

16607855597_8626c47328_zYou may be disappointed to know that I’m not “suited and booted”. As I approached the gate I was looked up and down and expected to be ushered towards the turnstiles due to my dress code. The world has moved on in most places, and the sight of directors in jackets and ties is relatively rare these days, something that has mirrored real life and especially at The Dripping Pan. I’ve worn a tie once in just over a year for work purposes and on that occasion it lasted about an hour. Most companies now have a more relaxed dress code, with ties today becoming a more fashionable item to wear around the wrist than the neck, thanks to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. I fail to see why wearing a tie makes me more acceptable as a club official, a sentiment shared by everyone else on the Lewes board. One club in our league insist on the stuffy dress code to enter their boardroom. One or two give you a funny look when you wander in in jeans but don’t say anything but most give you a warm, hospitable welcome irrespective of what you are wearing.  Not that we are a scruffy bunch, mind. So once you have passed the dress code test, what actually happens in the inner sanctum at other clubs?

Some clubs put on hot food pre-match, others offer a decent fayre post match (nods to East Thurrock United, Billericay Town and Leiston in that area). Pre-match talk will be centred on recent form, perhaps a brief fact-finding interrogation about budgets (as ours are published on our website we don’t have to resist for long) or the good-old British conversation staple of the weather. Half-time is a time for inflection, a cup of tea and shaking you head at the latest scores. Nobody wants to be too cocky at this stage, irrespective of the score “just in case”.  Full-time is about putting on your noncommittal, neutral game face irrespective of the result. A win and you need to hide the smug grin. A defeat and you need to hide your disappointment, blaming it on the ref. I’ve yet to be offered a cigar and only once been given a brandy.

You don’t get a guidebook on how to be a chairman.  I’m lucky that I have chairman mentors in two generations of Parris’s and Peter Hiscox who have coached me in what to say and when.  There is a whole lexicon of boardroom speak.  When asked if I’d like a beer before the game, you should say “No thank you.  I want to stay sharp just in case I need to come on!” (then laugh out loud).  You need to remember to shake everyone’s hand when you arrive, and when you leave, not forgetting to wish them well for the rest of the season.  If you are visiting a club where you have had problems in the past then you should talk about the weather, how bad the England cricket team is and whether Man Utd are a spent force (unless of course you are in the boardroom at Old Trafford).

Few would have thought a few weeks ago that The Rooks would be travelling to The Gallagher Stadium with a better current form record than The Stones. In the last four Ryman Premier League games, the Rooks can boast two wins and a draw, whilst Maidstone United, like the other teams at the top of the league are on a bit of a wobble. Draws against Leiston and Harrow Borough, a defeat against Hampton & Richmond Borough with just a single win against Billericay Town. Is there a better time to visit the league leaders?

16627583818_ab7da6e214_zDespite their current form, the league title appears to be theirs to lose. Who can really deny them their success after over twenty years of struggle. Eight points clear of Margate and due to play their nearest rivals in an already sold-out game at The Gallagher in two weeks time, many will feel a win in that game will be one hand on the trophy.

Where there’s time, there’s hope, and with 90 minutes ahead of us that’s the best we can wish for. The Stones have only lost once at home this season, a 3-0 reverse to Enfield Town who ironically recorded the same result last week at Margate. That has been the only home game so far this season where they’ve failed to score in and they have the best home record in the Ryman Premier League. They average 2.17 goals per game at home, conceding less than 1. The Rooks on the other hand have struggled away from home this season, taking just 11 points on the road, the second worse record in the Ryman Premier League. Our 11 away goals is the lowest total out of all 24 clubs. It’s not hard to draw a depressing conclusion from these stats, but football is a beautifully unpredictable game.

Maidstone United 2 Lewes 1 – The Gallagher Stadium – Saturday 14th March 2015
16629030429_90a5890105_zIn the end, Lewes left the pitch pointless.  Up until the 75th minute this result was never in doubt, despite the home side rarely getting into third gear.  Two May goals, both tapped home from a few yards were early Christmas presents for the home side but then a late rally, thanks to a superb free-kick from James Fraser made the last fifteen minutes interesting for the away fans and very nervous for the 1,950 home fans.

The afternoon started very well – a visit to the Flower Pot was, as expected, superb.  They only had 10 guest beers on tap.  As we left we expressed our regret at this being our last visit for a few years due to Maidstone’s pending promotion. “Don’t worry lads – we’ve got a beer festival with even more guest beers on in late July”.  As chairman, I have now arranged a friendly here for that date.

The welcome in the boardroom was warm.  The lovely ladies who were looking after us, once I had managed to convince them I was chairman, quipped I must be the money man as I didn’t look like a former player. We were wined (well tea’d) and dined (biscuited) and then it was kick off time.  You cannot fail to be impressed by the Gallagher and the passionate fans inside.  This isn’t a Ryman Premier set up – in fact it is hard to imagine it in the Conference South.  There are League One and Two clubs that would die for the facilities (obviously, less the pitch) and passion the Maidstone fans show.

Despite injuries,suspensions and absences, Lewes battled well in the first twenty-five minutes, adapting to the pitch well and playing a passing game.  Heck, we should have even taken the lead when Matt Crabb’s shot almost saw the Lewes faithful drop their pints of Whitstable Bay Oyster Stouts (another tick in the box).  Then a dangerous free-kick flew into the Lewes box, keeper Rikki Banks came flying out and was a second too late getting in front of a Maidstone player who headed on and May had the easiest job of tapping into an empty net.  It was disappointing that the Maidstone player didn’t get down on all fours and head it home, just like you used to in the playground before you got a kicking for being so cheeky.

16627584528_c146b3d66f_zLewes went two down in the 52nd minute when May once again tapped home from three yards out after a great cross from Collin had eluded the Lewes defence.  Time to tighten things up?  Not really. Faint heart won no fair maiden so they went onto the offensive.  With fifteen minutes to go James Fraser stuck a beautiful free kick into the top corner and all of a sudden Maidstone started to wobble.  Worgan was the busier of the two keepers and made a couple of good stops.  However, the home side hung on for all three points.  There was no shame in losing this one, and the Rooks showed some real fight.

We headed back to the boardroom, shook hands with our victors, craning our heads to look at the results flowing through on Sky Sports.  “How about Dulwich Hamlet, eh?” was the standard line as everyone came into the room.  Homemade pea and mint soup, a bottle of Spitfire and a trip down memory lane to the dark days at Watling Street were the order of the day before it was time to depart.

Obviously we wish Maidstone every success in the future.  Their fans have been through the mill, sticking by them and now reaping the reward.  But we will miss this away day – it never fails to deliver on every level (apart from the result of course).

Tales from a Non-League Chairman – part 1 – The home game


It’s fair to say that when I was asked to become Chairman of the team I support I was chuffed to bits. Images of cigar-smoking, brandy-swilling, blonde-holding flashed through my mind but alas being Chairman means I’m still programme co-editor, match day announcer, website editor and communications co-ordinator. But it’s still a bloody great honour and I agreed to do it because I deeply care and believe in what we stand for and do as a club. We’ve got a vision and we are going to deliver on it, and to be leading that is bloody exciting.

So 10 days into the role and we find ourselves without a management team, looking down at the relegation zone and facing our biggest cup game in 10 years. So Stuart, what are you going to do now? The words of Lance-Corporal Jack Jones came into my head. Don’t panic. Fortunately, having the likes of Bazza Collins and Club Sec Kev around meant we quickly had a plan. Even Kev’s wife Laura giving birthday to baby Henry didn’t knock him off his stride. Within 7 minutes of the announcement of Garry Wilson, Danny Bloor and Dean Lightwood leaving the club I received my first phone call. A journalist (no names) asked if “mutual consent” was agreed by both parties. 4 minutes later I received the first job application by email. And so the madness began.

IMG_3423Despite Lewes “just” being a step 7 Non-League club we received over 20 applications. Some well-known people, and not just in terms of the Sussex footballing scene, applied including four candidates who had Premier League experience. Never judge a book by its cover is as true in this situation as anywhere else. Good footballers rarely make good managers. We also had applications from people with absolutely no background in Non-League football or management in general, who put over compelling arguments why they should be considered. Perhaps in different circumstances where we weren’t fighting for our Ryman Premier League survival we may have talked further to these people but we needed a wise head who could guide us out of the tricky situation. Our caretaker team of Martin Hinshelwood and Steve Eke did us proud in the interim period, taking four points from a possible six and more importantly, guided us to our first cup final in ten years.

In a very short space of time I’ve come to realise that being chairman isn’t just about swanning into the ground at 2.55pm having parked the Jag in my reserved space and shaking hands with a few fans. Firstly, I’m in the ground around 2pm on a match day taking care of all those duties that I did before being chairman that, like at most Non-League clubs, most fans think the pixies do. There’s no Jag either, nor is there a reserved parking spot unless you call the one marked “Reserved for Hair & Beauty clients” in Sussex Downs College car park, which for some strange reason nobody ever parks in but me. Being a Chairman means that people expect you to do things that other people won’t do.

In just a month I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard from my colleagues the phrase “As Chairman, you should do that Stu”. Not that I’m complaining – after all if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d do the same. Being manager less for a few weeks also means I have to field the calls from journalists. Some will write what you say, others will try and second guess the meaning of what you have said and print that instead. Just one “added” word can cause offence, embarrassment or anger to anyone and everyone. Fortunately, in my real word job I’ve had a bit of training in dealing with journalists so am pretty good at keeping things “on record”. During the period where the managerial search went on there was very little speculation in the press bar a few names that the journalist in question had observed watching our games.

I found it amusing to see headlines in the local press using my adopted new name “Chairman Fuller”. In the space of a few days my Christian name had been lost, replaced by a title more akin to a Communist Party leader. I also received random texts from people telling me where I was and what I was doing. “I see you were on the early train down to Lewes today. Interviewing a new manager?” and “I saw you shaking Kingy’s hand at Lancing – please don’t tell me he is coming back a third time?”

We’ve all heard the stories about secret trysts in service stations to do deals (legitimate ones not featuring shoeboxes full of cash I hasten to add!) away from prying eyes but I never thought that’s what really happened. That was until I’d agreed to meet one prospective candidate for the manager’s role and he asked if we could meet in a pub, some miles away from Lewes in a very rural location. Even as I pulled into the car park I doubled checked the mirror to make sure I hadn’t been followed. The Current Mrs Fuller even questioned me as to whether I was meeting another woman (or women as she said – I like her style at suggesting I still had the energy).

IMG_3432But the story has a happy ending. We got our man and today we welcome ex-Charlton Athletic legend Steve Brown into the dug out for the game versus Kingstonian. Could he start with a win? Our record in previous seasons against the K’s isn’t good, having taken just 2 points in the seven games we’ve played against them in the last four seasons. There has also been a red card in every game we’ve played against them in recent times. Expect a dull 0-0 draw then!

Lewes 1 Kingstonian 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 7th March 2015
Nil-nil it nearly was but it certainly wasn’t dull. Lewes can mark this one down to the Footballing Gods, smiling down at them as Kingstonian were well and truly robbed. The Rooks finished the game with nine men whilst Kingstonian could only rue a hat-full of missed second half chances including a missed Gomez penalty.

To be fair to both sides, the extraordinary sight of the sunshine probably distracted them from trying to play football in the first half, with neither side really creating any chances in the first period. The half was livened up in a three minute spell just before the break that saw two red cards. First up was Kingstonian’s Alex Addai who simply lost the plot, planting his head into the face of Tom Davis for a tackle made by Matt Crabb. Addai then displayed all of the characteristics of a 5 year old being told he couldn’t go to Thorpe Park. Jumping up and down, trying (and failing at first) to remove his shirt and then sitting on the naughty step.

He was joined there a few minutes later when Sam Cole appeared to leave his foot in when challenging for the ball and he saw a straight red.  10-a-side it was to be after the break.

Lewes started the half well, with the K’s now infamous keeper Rob Tolfrey being called into action to keep out a James Fraser shot from 40 yards and then a point-blank range Elphick header.  Seconds later Lewes keeper Rikki Banks charged out from his line and took out Pico Gomez. Clear penalty.  Gomez stepped up and smashed the kick against the post.  Perhaps this was to be our day.

With five minutes to go Lewes launched a free-kick into the box.  Tolfrey came for it, dropped it and Rowe slotted home.  Cue manic scenes as the players joined in with fans celebrating including one chap who had obviously given his wife a break and brought their baby to the game.  He was almost offering his child to the players to celebrate with.  In my experience that may get you a telling off a home, especially if you also douse the child in beer.

From the rather long lens of James Boyes

From the rather long lens of James Boyes

There was still time for the referee to make a complete fool of himself by only booking the K’s centre-half for scything down Sam Crabb, a tackle far worse than Sam Cole’s first half red.  Brotherly concern and love took over as Matt Crabb pointed this out to the ref and was given a red card.

So three points, a winning start for our new management team and a pretty decent roast pork loin ciabatta with apple lavender slaw and smoked chilli for a pre-match snack.  We will have better days, we will have worse days.  But for today, the lot of the chairman is a happy one.

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.