LIfe in the gutter


Hope is a viable strategy for many football clubs – in fact for many it is the only strategy. It’s a motto, held together by duck tape, that underpins the grass-roots of our beautiful game. That’s not to stop the dreamers dreaming. As Oscar (Wilde not the Chelsea midfielder) famously said, “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars”. Today we were most certainly looking up at the stars.

Our day started at 8am discussing the future of the football club surrounded by history and tradition. Our home for the first part of the day was The Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw from Lewes Station,  where back on Wednesday 23rd September 1885 our football club was formed. In an article published in the Sussex Agricultural Express a few days later, it was reported under the headline “Formation of a Football Club” that a meeting the previous Wednesday at The Royal Oak Public House, chaired by Mr J Plummer Chapman had seen the created of Lewes Football Club and that “The Dripping Pan would be available for football matches during the winter months. Over 130 years later and we are still going, with the Pan now being one of the oldest 20 football grounds in the world used continuously by the same club.

FullSizeRender (1)One hundred and thirty years later, our objective was to create a strategy for the next five years for the club. In some ways we had to thank our lucky stars we had made it this far, having come so close to letting unbridled (and some might say unfounded) ambition take the club away from us. Just like any organisation in the commercial world, we need to have a clear vision, a set of objectives and a framework for growth. We may be tiny when compared to Premier League clubs but our ambitions boil down to the same thing – progress. The difference is that we have to grow within our means and in a sustainable manner, with every programme we sell mattering whilst they can just sit back and watch some of that £1bn a year TV money roll in, not even caring today that they have priced out a generation of fans.

Creating a strategic plan that everyone buys into don’t just happen overnight. An initial strategy was created back in 2010 when the football club passed into community ownership under the leadership of the original Rooks125 group. Most of those initial objectives have been met during the last 5 1/2 years with Charlie and Ed the two remaining members on the board from the original six. The new plan would see us through to 2020 as well as providing a framework for growth past that date, where it is hoped we will have more willing individuals invested in the club.

I took on the initial task of drafting the first draft of the new plan. It’s quite daunting to start writing such a document, having to balance the core, day-to-day tasks with trying to find the inspiration, aspiration and perspiration for growth. You look for clues from other clubs but have to be mindful that you don’t want to simply copy something someone else does – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m used to having to write strategies for others in my other life, being a paid outsider looking in on the business models created by others, making recommendations for improvements and hammering home the point that they, not me, have to own the actions. A strategy without owners prepared to make changes and buying into the vision is simply a word document with pretty pictures.

Some fans may question why we need a strategy – we are after all a football club – our only objective games should be to win games. If only that was the truth. Others simply lament for the free spending, couldn’t give a toss about what happens tomorrow, days gone by. The work that goes on behind the scenes will never be enough for them. But for the majority of our 1,200 owners they want to know that the club is in good hands, not just today but years into the future. That’s what today was all about. Assessing whether the ways we did things today were the right ways, and right things as well as looking for other ways to grow the club.  No idea was a bad one (even some of Ed’s ones).  The football club has many moving parts such as our community work, our ownership model, our commercial proposition, our 3G and our Academy as well as our footballing sides.  Each is somewhere intertwined with another, so creating a plan for one, would have a knock-on on another.

1_NeedhamMarket2015-282x400As a group we have differing visions of where we could and should be and what our motivations were for sitting around the table in the first place. We have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and different temperaments – as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fellow board members in a democratically elected organisation. Or something like that anyway. But we all are gathered in the same place at silly o’clock on a match day to discuss the same thing. What can we do to make the future of this football club better.

Strategising over, and safe in the knowledge that we think we were heading in the right direction it was time for some football.  To turn again to Wilde, Lewes came into this game well and truly in the gutter but recent form had seen us not only looking but in the words of S Club 7, reaching for the stars. Unbeaten in 2016 versus a side who had just one win since mid-November and had slid down the table to sit just above the relegation zone. It made a welcome change that we weren’t looking to the stars for signs of poor weather for what seemed like the first time in weeks. A Rooks win and we’d not quite be breathing down Needham Market’s neck but we’d be sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend in preparation.

Lewes 0 Needham Market 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th February 2016
After our enthusiasm at looking into the future, the present was a little more like the weather.  Dreary.  A point and a clean sheet would have been a good result a few months ago.  Today it is a small step up a big mountain.  The frustration was we did enough to win the game, and should have been celebrating another win tonight, especially as the linesman’s flag to deny Jonte Smith’s late effort was proved to be wrong on the edited highlights (in fact it was the only second half highlight).

FullSizeRender (3)The conditions were tricky, but it was the same for both sides.  The visitors started the brighter, with centre-forward Michael Brothers proving a real handful for the Lewes defence, and it was his strength and determination that should have seen Needham go in one-nil up at the break but his cross shot failed to hit the target.  A second half change to an all-energy front four by Darren Freeman tantilised the biggest crowd of the day in the Ryman Leagues but never quite troubled the visitor’s keeper, with Smith’s disallowed goal proving to be the major talking point.

Other results at the foot of the table meant we actually gained points on teams above the relegation zone in the most part, and didn’t fall any further behind.  With a game against Dulwich Hamlet to come on Wednesday the unthinkable could still happen.  Even our strategic plan can’t call that one.

Conditional decisions


Up and down the country teams who haven’t had the best of starts to the season will be encouraged by the fact they come into the first game of the new year unbeaten in 2016. Yep, we’ve all said it, more out of hope that our team’s fortunes will miraculously change simply because the calendar has rather than through any other event. Of course, for those fans who follow a team in the top four leagues the prospect of the transfer window now being open brings the hope that you may sign someone who will turn your season around, or get an opportunity to offload someone who has been the root cause of your problems.

Down here in the seventh tier of English football we don’t have the same type of transfer window. Ours is more of a fly screen which can be opened at will. Few players at our level are on anything more than a nod and a wink contract, with the mystical 7 Day Approach process often the only thing standing between that key player shooting you up the table or seeing you fall through the relegation trap door. I don’t really deal with that side of footballing affairs. Give me a notebook, a pen and a little video camera and send me off to watch a game and I will give you a full tactical analysis of a team, their strengths and weaknesses, set-piece routines and quality of pies on a nicely presented PDF within 24 hours. But ask me which form needs to be signed by our new Spanish winger (no word of a lie by the way) and where to send it then I’m lost. Thank goodness for Club Sec Kev and his magic cardigans is all I will say.

Suffice to say that if someone puts in a “Seven Dayer” you have a week to convince the player to stay with you. My idea would be to play on the ‘caring, sharing’ perception of our fantastic community club. A bunch of flowers delivered to Mrs Centre Forward, some sweets for Holding Midfield junior or a case of Becks for Goalkeeper’s flat mate. It’s all very well the club’s chairman trying to lay on the charm but when it comes from their nearest and dearest it tends to resonate more.

Alas, it normally comes down to cash. You will have managers who are simply better negotiators and persuaders than others but nothing peaks the interest of a footballer than money, especially at this level of the game. By money I also mean opportunity costs – the reduced time (and cost) of getting to training, the fact we never fail to pay players on time, that we have a very cool shirt manufacturer and sponsor.

But back to today. It’s the start of a New Year and a win could put us top of the first 2016 table. Well, when you’ve had such a desperate 2015 you will cling to any hope.

FullSizeRender (25)The first victory of the day was over the elements. Heavy rain overnight may have dampened the pitch but not the spirit of everyone at the club. Alas, in true Lewes style the elements rallied and scored a late equaliser. At 1pm when the referee arrived, the pitch was playable. At 1.45pm after over half an hour of heavy rain it wasn’t. By the time I arrived at 2pm and congratulated myself at being able to park outside the ground for the first time this season fans were heading in the opposite direction.

At 9am the pitch was playable. At 11am it was almost good enough for a garden party. At 1pm when the officials arrived it could have hosted world championship bowls. Then it started to rain….and rain…and rain. At 1.45pm the referee decided that the conditions were bad enough to warrant an inspection, and consequently, postponed it. “You should have communicated the game was in doubt” said one fan. But the game was never in doubt until the referee said it was. Five minutes later it was called off. You can’t make decisions on contingent liabilities. The heavy rain was forecast from 9am. It didn’t materialise until 1pm. Of course, we could have communicated that the 3pm kick off was subject to final approval of the officials but then that’s the same for any game. The pitch could be too hard, the snow could obliterate the lines on the pitch, the wind could cause structural damage, the ice could make spectating areas dangerous. Only the referee can determine how the weather conditions impact on the game. I totally get the frustration of anyone who travelled to the game but we could only work with absolute facts and not what ifs.

FullSizeRender (25)So instead of watching The Rooks I headed down the road, along with a fair few other Rooks fans plus a smattering of Whitehawk fans also without a game, to watch over the young ex-Rooks (Peacehaven & Telscombe) play older ex-Rooks (Hastings United). Not quite the afternoon I had in mind but having travelled so far, I couldn’t go home empty-handed.

Peacehaven & Telscombe 0 Hastings United 4 – The Sports Park – Saturday 2nd January 2016
Just before Christmas, Peacehaven announced that they were going to cut their playing budget. The announcement went on to explain that the decision, whilst a very difficult one to make knowing the potential ramifications for the team, was in the best interests of the club. Most of the senior, and potentially bigger weekly earners had departed, leaving manager Simon Colbran with a very young squad. However, despite their age and experience, and Colbran’s absence due to illness, Peacehaven put up a strong fight against a Hastings side who would still consider a play-off spot as a realistic ambition this year.

FullSizeRender (26)With the postponement of both Lewes’s and Whitehawk’s games, Peacehaven saw a significant increase in spectators – we simply cannot deal with a Saturday afternoon without our football – which hopefully translates into some additional cash into the budget for them.  The 250-odd fans will have seen a decent, open game, played in testing conditions.  Peacehaven certainly had their chances to equalise Billy Medlock’s early goal for Hastings in the first half, hitting the bar and missing a couple of great opportunities.  Players slipped and slid around the muddy pitch, with the referee letting the game flow as much as possible.  Hastings scored a second when former Rook Sam Cole finished off an excellent move that ripped apart the home defence to give them a comfortable lead at half-time.

The second half saw Hastings dominate, with conditions worsening.  The Peacehaven keeper struggled to stay on his feet on many occasions but he could do little with the two late goals.  First, a Sam Adams free-kick seemed to stick in the air due to the wind, and despite trying to re-judge where the ball would finally come back to earth, it slipped from his grasp and Richardson-Brown tapped home.  The scoring was complete when Cumming-Bart shot from the edge of the area after some neat build up play.

Whilst Hastings walked away with three points, Peacehaven can also pride themselves on being winners.  Not only did they manage to get the game on (or perhaps have a referee who wanted to officiate a game despite the conditions) but they also competed for long periods with a team short on experience and age.

Village people


My footballing year started on New Year’s Day with a dilemma as to where to head to.  AFC Goole or North Ferriby United.  A toss of a coin some 362 days ago determined our destination for the first game on 2015, The Victoria Pleasure Grounds in Goole, where we watched a 1-1 draw against Lincoln United.  Almost a year on and as we headed across The Humber Bridge we had the same options.  That was until Northern Steve checked the Interweb and discovered that The Amateurs (Lincoln United for those unfamiliar with step 8 team nicknames) game at Goole had fallen foul to the weather.  North Ferriby United v Bradford Park Avenue it was to be then.

It’s been quite a year for The Villagers.  Their penalty shoot out win over Wrexham at Wembley Stadium in the FA Trophy gained them national headlines, then just a few weeks later owners Eman and Steve Forster, Daughter and Son-in-Law of Hull City’s multi-millionaire owner Assem Allam announced they would be selling up, throwing the club into chaos.  Their investment into the facilities and squad gave the club a clear advantage, allowing them to compete with clubs with much bigger resources.  Their average attendance is just over the 300 mark and shows just how much the club has to fight to compete with the likes of Stockport County or FC United of Manchester who average crowds nearly 10 x the size.

FullSizeRender (23)During the summer the owners had a change of heart, deciding to stay put and that appears to have spurred the team on to push for promotion to Conference National.  Prior to this game they sat in 3rd place, just two points off the top of the table and on a decent run of form, although nobody wants to remind them about the defence of the trophy they proudly have on display at the ground, losing 2-1 in the FA Trophy First Round to Stocksbridge Park Steels from the Evostik League South.

The first thing that strikes you driving into North Ferriby is that it is tiny.  A one pub, two church village sitting on the banks of the Humber Estuary with a population of 3,893 to be precise and once the home to William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce, a man who fought against all the odds to see his dream of a slave-free British empire come to pass, would certainly approve of the dogged approach The Villagers are taking to make their mark on Non-League football.  The approach to the ground is still very county league – down an unlit lane alongside the allotments.

After a brief visit to the club shop to pick up some Official North Ferriby fizzy rings,  the smell from the snack bar enticed us. “Sorry luv’, we’ve not got any cheese for the cheesy chips.  I can do you them with gravy but they won’t be called cheesy chips?” Who were we to moan? Pre-match got even better when we were invited into the boardroom to “meet” the FA Trophy himself, possibly the biggest football trophy I’ve ever got my hands on and approximately 7 times larger than the UEFA Intertoto Cup which is still on display in the boardroom at Upton Park.

The crisp Humberside air was frequently punctuated by the rattle of a train passing above the far-side stand.  Ironically, the last ground I went to where the game could be watched from a passing train carriage was Goole’s Victoria Pleasure Grounds.  I’m sure there is a whole book out there somewhere, combining two of the least social past times.

FullSizeRender (22)There was a decent crowd in for the visit of Bradford Park Avenue, although it appeared the visitors hadn’t brought any fans with them, until I realised Bradford normally played in green and white, the same colours as North Ferriby United.  Bradford FC, as they are often referred to, are one of 35 clubs to have played in all four of the top tiers of English football, although they are along way from being able to compete at that level again.  The original club which competed in the Football League were replaced by Cambridge United in 1970 after failing to gain re-election and folded a few years later.  The new club has climbed up from the very bottom of the county league structure, and should be applauded for how far they have come, joining the Conference North in 2012.

Formalities over, it was time to enjoy the final game of 2015, cup of tea in one hand, non-cheesy gravy soaked chip in the other.

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North Ferriby United 1 Bradford Park Avenue 0 – Grange Lane – Monday 28th December 2015
This was one of those games that for an hour seemed as if it was destined to be goal less.  Despite the efforts of both teams, and the antics of both keepers, the goals seemed to be living charmed lives.  It is always interesting watching other Non-League clubs and trying to assess how we would fare against them.  North Ferriby’s centre-forward, the giant Tom Denton, may have looked like a stereotypical target man but the home side’s approach play was more subtle than that.  Denton threw himself at everything and if I was allowed to bet on football I would have had a tenner on him being he opening scorer.  Northern Steve, who can bet on football, suggested that it would be a waste of a tenner and backed Stoke City v Everton to have less than 1.5 goals.

FullSizeRender (24)The second half saw both teams have chances in the opening exchanges.  That man Denton should have done better when he was unmarked in the box but he put too much force into his downward header and it bounced over the bar.  However, he was on target in he 64th minute, finishing off a superb run and cross from Middleton.  Alas, the full back got himself sent off ten minutes later with a needless tackle from behind on the touchline that saw the referee brandish a second yellow.

Despite having the one man advantage Bradford PA couldn’t breakdown the stubborn North Ferriby defence in the last 15 minutes and the final whistle brought relief more than anything from the 500 plus crowd, as well as three vital points in their push for the top spot.

FullSizeRender (21)Despite the hype around the off-the-field set up at North Ferriby United you couldn’t visit a nicer club.  Everyone we met seemed to be proud to work for the club and the danger here could actually be promotion to a higher level.  Having seen what the step up actually means in terms on infrastructure for a club at this level I’m not sure they are ready for it yet.  Having to handle the logistics for the visit of Stockport County and FC United of Manchester twice in a season is very different to having to arrange segregation and policing for every home game. But that’s the pay off for progress I guess.

Merstham Tanned in Battle of M25 Junction 8 and 9


Since 1965 Christmas football has been the preserve of Boxing Day. One of the most eagerly anticipated days of the season, where crowds are bumper, especially in Non-League football.  This is despite the complete lack of public transport.  Take Brighton & Hove Albion’s trip to Brentford for a 1pm kick off.  The Seagulls fans had to set off around 8am, get three trains and a rail replacement bus to arrive by 12.30pm for the 60 mile journey.   Then, of course there is the weather.  Fortunately, the South had been spared, for now, the torrential rain that had caused widespread flooding in certain areas.

Every December there is a call from various Premier League managers that they play too many games and that there should be a winter break. This nearly always comes from manager’s who have just lost (again) and need to blame something other than the fact their team was actually crap.  The BBC News reported that “Even Premier League players had to train on Christmas Day”. So , someone who is paid up to £500k a month (and the rest!) has to work on Christmas Day? How is that a story? Policemen, nurses, firemen and soldiers also had to work. Did they get a mention? No of course not.

With an impending trip to the North and the need for a bit of intel on our opponents next week, I navigated around the shopping traffic, or as the BBC said “Millions braved the Boxing Day sales” (no hype there then) to take in the South M25 derby.  To sum up the game in five phrases – Muddy, End to End, Howling misses, No burgers, Late chested winner.

Merstham 1 Leatherhead 2 – Moatside – 26th December 2015

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Concept of Marginal Gains


Just down the road, 2 1/2 hours before Lewes kick off in their game against Farnborough, The Football League Championship’s two clubs go head to head.  Brighton & Hove Albion are the last remaining unbeaten team in the top 10 divisions of English football, a remarkable turnaround from last season where they avoided relegation in the last few weeks of a season characterised by dull, scoreless football.  Back in the Summer, Chris Hughton brought his first team squad down the A27 and could count themselves lucky to go back with a 0-0 draw.  Confidence was high from the Lewes camp, whilst the draw against a team five divisions lower hardly increased the membership of the Hughton Appreciation Society.

Six months on and the situation could hardly be more different.  Hughton is being hailed a messiah by the North Stand faithful whilst Lewes are still looking for their first home win and are looking up the skirts of every other team in the Ryman Premier League.  We could spend hours debating why, but it is more important to touch on what the future holds in my opinion.

In the last few days I’ve read a couple of interesting pieces about the finances of The Seagulls.  The superb Swiss Ramble analysed the numbers in detail on his website last week, There can be no denying the investment by owner Tony Bloom in the club, both on and off the pitch, and for the sake of their loyal fans I hope they do reach the promised land of the Premier League, not only because they deserve a crack at it, but to also give Bloom some financial return on his huge investment.  Footballing history has given us plenty of examples as to where the single investor model turns sour at some point, and whilst Brighton fans may say “It’ll never happen to us with our Tony around”, I’m sure that is what Bolton Wanderers fans said when Big Phil was splashing the cash for Big Sam at the Reebok.

FullSizeRender (16)But what about Lewes?  We don’t have the ownership model that means we are indebted to one person.  However, we are bottom of the league.  In such situations managers tend to grab at any straw going.  How often will you see them bring in a raft of new players to try to solve an issue, normally expelling a fair few out the back door.  It is very rare that the financial situation in such cases ends up with the club making a profit on the dealings or paying less wages.  We all deep down know that, unfortunately, Chelsea will not get relegated this year.  Whoever comes in in the short-term will be given some patience and will make small changes that turn defeats into draws, and draws into wins.  Before you know it they will be knocking on the door of the top seven.  Why?  Because in most instances, teams do not become bad teams overnight or even over a pre-season.  If you can keep the same core of players then with small adjustments they will become better gradually.

This is the theory of marginal gains.  The concept is that if you improve in every variable underpinning or influencing your performance by just 100% then cumulatively you get a significant performance improvement.  The Performance Director of British Cycling, Dave Brailsford is often quoted as the biggest proponent of the theory, but it was actually Sir Clive Woodward to first openly admitted to using the concept in the preparation for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, that England would ultimately win.  “Winning the World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but by doing 100 things 1% better” he said post tournament.

So what does that actually mean for a grass-roots club like Lewes?  It means working with the management team to make sure when the team step onto the pitch they are 100% prepared.  Kit may seem a small issue, but for one player having a pair of shorts that aren’t too tight could be that 1%.  Energy drinks – another 1%.  Ensuring the showers are hot – 1% and so on.  That’s obviously not going to be the reason why Chelsea improve but their 1% gains may come from preparation patterns, pre-match meals, warm up routines as well as personnel changes.

Lewes manager Darren Freeman has been used to winning both as a player and a manager.  He has a formula as to the type of player that he wants to see pull on the red and black shirt each week.  Coming into the club where it was already in the bottom four and three months into the season, his marginal gains are a lot tougher to deliver. But that doesn’t stop him trying.  There’s not going to be one single event that can turn the current situation into a rosier one – unless half a dozen teams all play ineligible players for 5 or 6 games in which they win and get 15 point deductions.  So the club has to look at improving marginally, and more importantly, within budget, in a multitude of areas.  Obviously, players will come and go such as this week where a new winger and a new centre-forward have come in, replacing an existing proven scorer.  Unusually, the net effect of the transfer dealings is financially positive.  Two for the price of one – a marginal gain in terms of squad numbers.

Fans obviously play a part as well.  Any Brighton & Hove Albion supporters heading back to Lewes that could be enticed in, irrespective of the price they pay should lead to a marginal financial gain.  The cost of admitting one extra fan is essentially zero.  There is a stewarding cost, but you can only set that prior to the game based on what you think the crowd would be.  If an additional 1,000 fans turned up today it would cost the club nothing extra but we would gain from whatever they pay through the turnstile and then food/drink/merchandise and so on.  That revenue would then boost the budget which would then be re-invested in different aspects of the club and thus delivering that marginal gain.

PastedGraphic-2-page-001It’s fair to say that the biggest marginal gain from today’s game though would be three points.  In fact, anything less than three points would be a significant blow to the club.  Farnborough’s off the field problems are well documented, falling from being just one game away from the Conference Premier four years ago to facing expulsion from the league.  We’ve been there and know how the fans pain feels, knowing that their fate is often out of their hands.  But for today it would be all about the Lewes win.  Still without a home win this season, Lewes could at least look to Farnborough’s away record of drawn one, lost ten as a positive omen.

The marginal gains philosophy and approach is  hardly rocket science. It’s a simple idea, but with many simple ideas, takes some energy, commitment and discipline to see the positive results.  Alas those three words are often lost on fans who want immediate results.  As a club we have to balance both.

Lewes 1 Farnborough 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th December 2015
It has only taken 269 days but finally we have a home win to celebrate.  25th March was the last time we really got to dance a silly jog of delight on the Philcox at the full-time whistle but yesterday we got that winning feeling again.  In terms of marginal gains the result was huge. We got 3 points, 3 more than the six teams above us.  In the grand scheme of things it makes little difference to the table or the threat of relegation, but we came out of the day the winner at the bottom end.

FullSizeRender (15)Farnborough were poor.  They lined up with a 5-3-2, failed to get one shot on goal, picked up five bookings and the only threat they posed was when Estonian striker Vastsuk threw himself to the ground in the penalty area and picked up a caution – interesting that we normally only see antics like that from players with league experience, and Vastsuk is no different, on loan from Reading.  Good to see the professional game teaching players the importance of ethics.

Lewes were good.  They started strongly and could have had a couple of goals (and at least one penalty) before Phil Appiah’s 25 yard blockbuster on the stroke of half-time put The Rooks in the lead.  By then the curse of the new striker had struck as George Landais limped off on his debut.  His replacement Trevor McCreadie was denied a penalty in the second half by yet another poor performance by the officials, being tripped in exactly the same spot as last week in the area.  OK, it wasn’t a vintage performance, probably not as convincing as last week’s draw against Leiston BUT you could see the 1%’s.  Winger Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe beat his man more frequently, the two centre-backs blocked more shots on the edge of the area, James Fraser looked a little more match fit.  Marginal gains.

So we danced all night to the best feeling ever.  Three points can make or break your weekend.  Hopefully the couple of dozen Brighton fans who decided to stick around after their painful first defeat of the season will have enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s, a slice of Christmas Pie and a goal worthy to win any game.

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Doom Cycle


In the last year I have written a number of articles trying to explain some common Economic Theories using football as a reference point.  Up until now they have all been hypothetical but today there is a real link between the theory and the reality that Lewes are currently experiencing.

The “Doom Cycle” is a phrase often used to refer to the current boom-bust-bailout structure of the financial sector that leads to economic crises.  The pain of the last few years is still too real for many people to have forgotten.  The Doom Cycle has been defined by The New York Times as: “a virtueless circle in which banks take ever-greater risks to boost returns”

In footballing terms, it means trying every possible variable to try and break a cycle of bad results.  Just like Lewes’s current run which has seen us exit all four cups and take just one point from the last fourteen Ryman Premier League games.  I think you could say that was a bad run of form.  Yet within that sequence there have been many positives.  Alas, football is a cruel game and failure to take chances when presented, or convert possession into something meaningful.  The virtueless circle where you try anything different, whether than is a formation, personnel, preparation or set pieces to find a win.  It is fair to say that you get to a point somewhere along the line where you will take any win, irrespective of how it comes.

“You can’t buy any luck when you are at the bottom” said someone to me at a League meeting last week.  Every club has sympathy with teams at the bottom (well, at least to your face), saying platitudes such as “your luck will turn” or “It will turn out alright”.  To those 23 other teams in our league they will hope we stay down at the bottom – after all it is one less position for them to worry out.  Last week at East Thurrock we felt the full effect of fate – three players ending up in hospital, one of which with a long-term injury just days after signing a contract plus a sending off that embarrassed the basic rule of refereeing about being impartial and not influenced by the actions of the teams.

CaptureAs results continue to be poor, crowd numbers fall.  Football fans are either unconditionally loyal (circa 20% of the fan base) or are results driven (70%) with 10% sitting somewhere in between.  When times are good, the crowds come and watch and spend money in the ground.  When scores go against you, those results-driven fans decide to spend their time and money elsewhere on a Saturday afternoon.  That is totally understandable.  Alas, when budgets are set at the start of the season you do not factor in being bottom of the league – you set realistic targets for average gate revenue and yield per spectator.  You can’t factor in those 2 or 3 big games that provide some extra insurance being postponed or being moved.  Today we were supposed to be welcoming Dulwich Hamlet and their army of beer-thirsty fans.  Instead they are in FA Trophy action.  With no disrespect to Leiston, but their dozen or so fans will not make up for the hundred or so from Dulwich.

So as results decline, so do the crowds and match day revenue.  To keep a balanced budget that means having to cut spending in other areas, which potentially impacts the performance of the team even further.  And so on – the club enters a Doom Cycle or a virtueless circle of short-term decline.  I think we have dispelled the myth now that the answer to any problem is to “increase the budget”.  Most fans understand that we are not in a position to do that.  We have our cloth, cut to size and we have to wear it.

Some fans have questioned the commitment and focus of the club, even suggesting that there is foul play at work on the board in how we manage the club’s finances.  It’s tough to have the answer the same questions time and time again, especially those around the budget.  There is no secret fund, piggy bag or plastic bag full of cash.  Sure, we could take money from elsewhere – not paying our electricity bill or income tax, but we’ve been there, done that.  Still some think that the responsibility of the individual board members is to constantly put their hand in their pocket.

The game would also see the launch of our new 12th Man scheme – a different approach to adding to the first team budget.  Launched at 12:12pm on the 12th of the 12th (clever, eh?) the concept has been used with some success elsewhere but even this initiative was scorned upon by some fans on Social Media – suggesting that the move was an admission of failure and neglect from the board for not putting in money the club didn’t have into the budget. Sometimes I truly wonder whether the stress is really worth it.

Of course, all of the pressure would be worth it if we could grab that first win at home this season.  It would be nice for once to head home with a smile on my face.

Lewes 1 Leiston 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 12th December 2015
This was one occasion when a draw felt like a win to the 370 Lewes fans in the ground (plus 25 Dulwich Hamlet ones – more on that later).  Seven minutes into injury time and Lewes launched a final ball into the box, looking for a goal that their pressure deserved.  The ball must have hit every player, bar Lewes keeper Winterton in the box before James Fraser got a final touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The outpouring of emotion was clear to see.  There was no time to restart the game, alas as I genuinely thought we could go onto win the game.

For 93 minutes of this encounter The Rooks had dominated play.  Unfortunately, the same old issue haunted the team in the opening few minutes – a failure to clear the ball, a missed tackle and an opponent left unmarked.  The result? 1-0 down after 4 minutes 43 seconds.

image1The strong wind certainly played into Lewes’s favour in the first half but no matter how many times the ball went into the box, there was never a head or a foot on the end.  Last week a fellow Ryman League chairman made a valid point.  “The reason why week after week we have poor officials is that anyone with any potential is fast-tracked up the leagues, so we are left with those who will never get any better” Those words echoed around the terrace when the officials failed to see a clear push on Pacquette in the first half when he looked to get on the end of a Redwood cross, and more clear-cut, failing to see that McCreadie was fouled in the box in the second half, despite the marks in the turf, giving a free-kick a yard outside.

The Rooks pressed in the second period, but once again the goal was leading a charmed life.  At the other end Winterton was an almost spectator.  This had been the story of the season – playing well for long periods but failing to convert possession into goals.  That’s not down to us being a community club, the beach huts or our match posters.  That’s down to not being able to find an out and out goalscorer.  In fact, that is something the club have been missing for years – someone who could score us 20 goals a season and probably win us 15/20 additional points.

I’m sure we all felt we had run out of time, but it was actually our opponents who gave us the goal.  Despite Leiston having a goal kick, one of their players decided to make a comment to the referee.  Cue long lecture and a yellow card, allowing us the additional time to score.  Thanks for that!

The whole crowd appreciated the point – even the 20-odd fans from Dulwich Hamlet who had come down for a stag do, arranged before their club’s progression in the FA Trophy and consequently the cancellation of our game with them.

Perhaps that goal was the tipping point for our season? The one moment where our luck changes.  We know that we are still in Intensive Care but for the first time in weeks we had a faint heartbeat.  Has the Doom Cycle been broken? Well, we will see in 7 days when fellow critically ill patient Farnborough arrive in East Sussex.

Counting the real cost of football


Last year the BBC’s indepth look into the cost of watching football in Great Britain threw up more questions than answers.  Whilst the report highlighted some interesting information, the results on many levels was flawed because they asked the clubs to submit the information rather than doing the research themselves.  Commentators soon picked up on this, pouring cold water on some of the claims being made by the report and the clubs alike.  Headline figures of the “cheapest ticket” for instance often related to one game where the club discounts all tickets for a particular purpose rather than the cheapest average ticket cost across the whole season.

Despite having ample opportunity to correct the approach, the same methodology produced the same type of result this year. At West Ham United for instance, the cheapest ticket is apparently £25, which it is for the pre-Christmas game versus Stoke City. The game before, versus West Bromwich Albion the same seat would cost you £45 (for a ‘Category A’ game this would rise to £70). To therefore report the cheapest ticket is so low is simply misleading. It took less than 30 seconds to find that publicly available ticket information. The Hammers also take the prize of having the highest away fans ticket price at an eye-watering £85.

The question of value for money is a hard one to quantify. If you asked a Leicester City, Crystal Palace or Hammers fan whether they feel they are gaining value year over last, I’m sure they would say they are, due to the superb starts to the season the clubs have had. Likewise, fans of Chelsea may suddenly feel that paying a minimum of £52, the most expensive cheapest ticket in the Premier League, it’s a price too much after the poor start they’ve had.

imageIt’s also a shame that the BBC didn’t venture further down the pyramid. Whilst some fans will not begrudge paying Arsenal FC £106 for a ticket at The Emirates, a pie, cup of tea and a programme, perhaps they should take a look further down the pyramid where for £20 you’ll get all of the above plus a pint to sup on the terraces. Fans paying those huge sums talk about an entertainment value in the same way that someone going to the theatre will. At grassroots level entertainment comes from the whole match day rather than just 90 minutes. In fact it is normally the match action that tarnishes an otherwise great day out.

Down in the Ryman Premier League there’s no such thing as differential pricing. Every adults pays the same admission fee whether the opposition is at the top or bottom of the league and whether they are a home, away or neutral fan – that’s how football should be priced. Why should I pay more as a home fan to watch Chelsea or Manchester United than I do to watch Watford or West Brom? I’m paying to watch my team perform, not the opposition. It appears that professional clubs feel that it’s justifiable to charge extortionate prices even in times of record TV deals. Whilst they watch their bank accounts fill up, just down the road Non League clubs fight for every penny.

Paying £11 to watch the Rooks play is around a tenth of the average weekly wage for one of our players. At Arsenal, paying £95 is certainly not a tenth of a Gunner’s average weekly wage. In fact I’d bet it’s not a hundredth of the weekly watch. Fans count significantly more to grassroots than they do in the professional game. With no central TV money or sponsorship deals clubs have to,fight for every penny. The true cost of football at our level means the difference between survival and a potential out of control spiral downwards.

The BBC report paints a far too healthy position of the cost of football in most instances. I’m sure there are hundreds of fans up and down the country that would happily contribute to a much more subjective review next season that could also go down deeper than step 5 of the pyramid. Fans want to genuinely understand whether they get value for money – unfortunately the research simply doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to defining that.