Deal or no Deal for the Non League clubs


After the announcement that the Premier League had awarded the TV rights to Sky Sports and BT Sports last month for a jaw-dropping £5.14 billion.  The vast majority of that cash will flow into the already bulging pockets of the Premier League clubs.  Despite calls for the cash to be used to subsidise ticket prices, with full stadiums up and down the country every week, there is no compelling event for the clubs to do that.  Greed feeds greed.

15979358738_46b2a39bda_kWhilst the aristocrats of the Premier League are feeding on caviar and the finest fillet steak, clubs in the Non-Leagues are living hand to mouth, fighting for scraps.  Every season clubs in the Non-Leagues simply give up, unable to keep up with the spiralling costs of running a football club.

This should be a watershed moment for football in England.  The Premier League has an opportunity to give something back to the grass roots of English football. Will they? Probably not.  But if they are looking for ideas, how about these three simple concepts which would have an immediate benefit to clubs in the Non-Leagues.

1. Scrap the rule that means pricing of Sky Sports TV packages for football clubs are based on the rateable value of the football club.  We at Lewes have looked at Sky on numerous occasions, but because the rateable value of The Dripping Pan includes the stands and the pitch, the cost was north of £750 per month  In comparison, BT Sport charge around a tenth of that per month. So why not scrap charges for clubs below a certain level in return for free advertising at the ground?

2. Create a weekly Non-League TV show.  It seems crazy that we can access live games in most major European leagues every week on Sky and BT Sport yet Non-League doesn’t get a look in.  Why not create a weekly show, focusing on one team with an extended preview and highlights package? We’ve already seen the success of the radio show on BBC so why not roll out the format to the Non-Leagues? I can’t believe viewing figures would be worse than a live game from Holland or France.

3. Add a loser’s money pot in the FA Cup.  Every club starts the season with a dream that they will reach the Third Round and draw a big club, setting themselves up financially.  99% of them fail by the wayside but every year we have the success stories of Warrington Town, Blyth Spartans and Hastings United. There is no glory in defeat, nor in the case of the FA Cup, cash. Sure clubs share the gate revenue, but for the smaller Non-League clubs this may be a matter of a few hundred pounds.  So why not increase the prize fund in each round by 25% until the First Round Proper, with the additional amount going to the losers?

What will be a travesty is if nothing changes and the cash simply makes those clubs already awash with cash even richer. Not only will the fans suffer but football in general.  But then again, the voice of reason has no place at the highest levels of our national game.

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.

Economic Theory explained by Football – Complexity and Chaos Theory


Most economic theory is modelled on the laws of motion developed in the 17th century under the ideology that for every action there is an outcome.  The recent TV deal agreed by the Premier League is a great example of this.  The action? Sky and BT paying an eye-watering £5.14 billion for the rights to show live football.  The outcome? An increase in subscription costs to fund this investment, resulting in more fans turning to illegal, free web streams.  The action? Putting out a weakened team in the FA Cup? The outcome? A humiliating thrashing. The action? A player is sent off. The outcome? Team now plays against one less man, giving them a numerical advantage.

If the footballing world does indeed always behave like this then why do we find it so hard to correctly predict what will happen in games when certain actions occur? Austrian economist and avid SC Weiner Neustadt fan Friedrich Hayek believed that economics and football were far too complex to model in this way, building on the work of his nemesis, the big Zulte Waragem fan Ilya Prigogine who had declared at half-time in the derby versus FC Kortrijk in 2001 that predictable, regular actions by players does not necessarily lead to a predictable result for the team.  Whilst you can shoot every time you get the ball, there is no guarantee that you will win, or even score he mused over his half time pie.

14898233309_615b6cc306_zThe reason for all this hot air is described in the famous Butterfly Effect, coined by Tampa Bay Rowdies season ticket holder Edward Lorenz back in 1960.  He suggested that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could lead to a cyclone in Texas.  His theory into chaos often comes from the chain reaction of tiny effects weren’t observed as people think from his study of meteorology, but from watching his side in the NASL and how a bad back pass had resulted in a goal against the run of play and ultimately costing the Rowdies a win and the league title.  That in turn led to the sacking of their manager, who went on to manage local rivals, Fort Lauderdale, to the NASL title – all of which can be traced back to one back pass. Thirty years later we saw the theory in action again in Rotterdam when Ronald Koeman pulled down David Platt in a game between Netherlands and England. Koeman should have been sent off. He wasn’t and he then went and scored a decisive goal at the other end that ended England’s hopes of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup and thus Graham Taylor lost his job. Oh, and the phrase “Do I not like that”.

Football is unpredictable.  The same team, playing in the same formation against the same opposition two games in a row will perform differently due to external factors such as the pitch, the weather and the referee.  That’s what makes the game so beautifully unpredictable and complex.  And that, ladies and gentlemen is the basis of the theory of Complexity and Chaos.

Win Puma trainers!


Today marks the start of a very special treasure hunt where anyone can win pairs of Puma Trinomic XT1 trainers, thanks to those good chaps at JD Sports.  To enter all you need is your smartphone, access to Twitter and some hunting skills.  Running across four cities in the UK and New York, you will follow the clues on Twitter to find the Krate, the trainer storage location.  Inside you will find a winning token that you can then swap for not one, but two pairs of Puma XT1 in your size!

competition-bannerBeginning today in London, the competition will move quickly between cities, with each magazine sending out a number of clues, beginning with a map clue with an X where the Krate can be found.

To take part simply follow the magazine in your city from the list below:

London: @Flavourmag
Bristol: @Wordplaymag
Manchester: @Fluxmagazine
Liverpool: @Halcyonmag
New York: @ComplexMag

If you get to the prize first, take a quick selfie (or shoe-ie), Tweet it, remembering to tag the relevant magazine and @JDSportsfashion and add the hashtag #JDXPUMA.

Out of luck?  Then you can still buy a pair from JD Sport here.

Terms and Conditions.

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.