Football can be a cruel game sometimes. Often you try to do the right thing, even though you know the end result may not work in your favour. There are few football fans who don’t love to see players that have grown up with a club pull on the shirt and play their heart out. Badge kissing in these circumstances is allowable. But few players these days are one-club icons. In the Non-Leagues where money is less (I stress “less” rather than “not”) of an issue, you will often get some club loyalty. On Wednesday night when Met Police were visitors to the Dripping Pan, their manager Jim Cooper was celebrating his 12th year in charge of the club. Whilst he may have masterminded his team’s victory over Lewes, how much of his preparation focused on the inexperience and youth of our team?
Faced with a reduced budget, managers have two choices – cut their cloth accordingly, or move on. Lewes boss Steve Brown is certainly in the former camp – in fact he positively encouraged us to invest in the youngsters, and the future development of them. “Some weeks they will get battered out there, but on the other side some weeks they will have the crowd purring”. Whilst you can’t read much into pre-season games, there was certainly evidence of the latter in those games. There was also evidence of the former in the first game of the season at Leatherhead.
We want to be a progressive club, so we have embraced Social Media as too have many other clubs at our level. That includes having our games recorded and shared across the excellent Football Exclusives platform. For those fans unable to get to a game, the ability to access highlights is fantastic. It’s also very useful for opposing teams in terms of scouting, especially as they can pause and rewind the action to take notes. Was there any surprise that Met Police played lots of high balls into the area in the first half on Wednesday night when they know we have a 17-year old making his full debut? No, but even at this level of the game you will try everything to get a slight competitive advantage.
So whilst you may feel that pride of seeing the players you have developed come through to make their first team debut, you also know that opponents will try to exploit that inexperience. But on the other hand, every minute these young players is a minute’s more experience.
Of course I wouldn’t be writing these notes if we had got off to a flyer in our opening two games and were sitting top of the league. Alas, we were propping up the 23 other teams (albeit on alphabetical order). Our visitors Harrow Borough were up there with the teams of the season in the Ryman Premier League last year out. Whilst they finished in the bottom eight, they were effectively dead and buried with a dozen games to go. Then they found some guts, passion and a will to win. Those final twelve games resulted in 25 points and safety assured with their win at the Dripping Pan in early April.
Just 24 hours after the visit of Harrow Borough to The Dripping Pan I would be heading north to take in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round game between AFC Emley and Parkgate. There was no footballing reason for this one – no player to have a look at or team to scout. It was a bit of a jolly. But what did make me smile was the message on the Emley website that defined their mission:-
“We are a small club with very little money but what we can do, we try to do well and do “the right way”. On the playing side our vision is to develop the best local talent who want to succeed for the club and community we serve. The emphasis is on development of players who want to succeed for OUR club. This vision is underpinned, on and off the pitch, by the values of communication, respect, responsibility and solidarity.”
Who can not agree with that at our level, yet how many clubs and their owners are prepared to compromise those principles at the slightest whiff of some money? But back to today and the search for our opening points of the season.
Lewes 1 Harrow Borough 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 15th August 2015
For 67 glorious seconds we had a taste of victory. That’s how long we held the lead for after opening the scoring in the 87th minute. It was a tad harsh on the Rooks who built on their second half on Wednesday with an assured if unspectacular performance today. Whilst the visitors will point to a goal disallowed midway through the second half, they rarely put young Stroomberg’s goal under threat.
Despite dominating first half possession it took Lewes until the final minute of the half to create a chance when the tireless Jimmy Muitt broke free of his marker on the half-way line, accelerated away, rounded the keeper but took the ball too wide. He got his shot in which was cleared off the line, picked up the rebound which was cleared off the line again.
Lewes came close to taking the lead on the hour mark when Lovett’s snap shot was smartly saved by the Boro’ keeper, then the visitors thought they’d taken the lead when Page headed home at the far post from a well-worked free-kick but was deemed to have been offside. The main talking point came in the 79th minute when Peacock’s clumsy challenge on Muitt saw the young Lewes striker leave the field on a stretcher. Peacock, booked in the first half somehow escaped a second yellow despite taking out the Lewes forward in the air.
Muitt’s replacement Nathan Crabb won a penalty when his quick feet tied the Harrow defenders in knots and he was tripped. No complaints and no mercy shown by Leon Redwood’s spot-kick. The relief that spread across the ground lasted just over 60 seconds before Lewes were undone at the far post again and Taylor headed home unmarked. The drama wasn’t over as in the final minute keeper Stroomberg pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem. Fortunately, the ball stayed up the other end long enough for the referee to blow the final whistle.
The point lifted the Rooks out of the bottom four, although the table really means nothing at this stage. The crowd – a disappointing 372. We can look for mitigating circumstances such as the Summer Holidays, a small travelling support or the travel chaos around the ground due to the bridge repairs and college car parks closed. Football fans are impatient. They want success right here, right now. As a fan I understand that, as someone invested in developing something special here at Lewes I’d hate to see fans missing out when this squad start to click and injuries withstanding, that could be just around the corner.