Changing Places


In a week’s time, step three of the Non-League pyramid will be concluded with the final promotion places decided by the play-offs.  Unfortunately, the process of determining who will be playing where starts at this point as the respective leagues will enter into horse trading to ensure a fair and equitable split of teams.  This undoubtably will lead to winners and losers.  Unfortunately, the nature of the Non-League pyramid means that the words fair and equitable simply will not exist next season.  In the past few seasons “Southern” teams such as Gloucester City , Worcester City, Bishops Stortford and Histon have had to ensure travel misery as they were placed in the same league as Workington, Barrow and Harrogate Town meaning teams have to travel thousands of miles each season.  In the Ryman Premier League we have three three hundred mile plus away trips to Suffolk, hardly fun on a Saturday, let alone on a Tuesday night.

Rumours started surfacing a few weeks ago that the most westerly clubs in the Ryman Premier League may be asked (and by asked I mean in footballing terms which equates to an order with a complicated appeal process involving unicorns and dragons) to move across to the Southern Premier League. With Wealdstone powering their way to the Conference South, it has left Harrow Borough and their current tenants Hendon in a potentially sticky situation of not knowing whether they will be heading to the seaside of Margate or Poole next season, or wearing their Christmas jumpers against Hampton & Richmond Borough or Chesham United.  The 300 mile long return trips east to Lowestoft Town and Leiston would be replaced by near 600 mile jaunts to Truro City or 450 to Bideford FC.  Fun for all the family I’m sure.

photo 2 (28)Travel costs are a big part of any clubs budgets at this level, with coaches a pre-requisite for most away games with a match day squad of up to twenty five people when you factor in the management team.  Gone are the days of players hoping on public transport with their boots to games.  Today it is all about Travel Suits, Beats by Dr Dre and Snapchat.   Guernsey’ position potentially in our league next season, assuming they win through the Ryman South play offs, has raised a few interesting eyebrows as they currently fund trips to the island for away teams and their management team, although that has led to a few issues this season including away teams delayed by fog, air traffic control restrictions and on one occasion, an air rage incident. Continue reading

Bury the bad news


The end of a football season is a day of mixed emotions.  For some fans there will be the euphoria of promotion, the nervousness of not wanting to be totally embarrassed playing at a higher level next season, whilst for others there is the dread of relegation, the gnarling feeling that your team is too good to go down and that immediate promotion is so much of a certainty they may as well not relegate you at all.  For the vast majority of us though it is simply a time to breathe a big sigh of relief that another campaign of broken dreams and false hope has ended.  “Next season, it will be all so different” we tell ourselves, knowing deep down that apart from the odd result here and there, it wont be any different at all.  In fact it will be exactly the same, with only the players names being different.

In the Non-League world we have the added concern about whether the club we support will still be going come August.  In the past nine months a number of teams have simply given up mid-season, realising there is no future for them.  Spare a thought for the Eastwood Town or  Rye United fans who would have started the season will hope in their hearts only to see the club they loved vanish before the first signs of Spring.  You can’t be a glory hunter in the grass roots game that’s for sure.

13938821455_382e6265ca_bToday was my last visit to the Dripping Pan for the season (for footballing reasons anyway). With a work trip taking across the Atlantic next weekend, the visit of Bury Town would be my sign-off for the season.  The lot of being a Director of the club however, does mean I will still be involved in the club every day of the Summer break.  And what a Summer it promises to be.  We have some big plans this year, plans that will hopefully see us start the long climb back up the Non-League pyramid. For us at Lewes it has been all about stability in the past few years, picking up the pieces of the broken Non-League dreams of our fathers and patiently gluing them back together to make sure they don’t shatter again.  Get the off the field stuff right and on the field it will click into place.

Our season has been no different to 75% of the rest of the Ryman Premier League clubs.  We have had high points – a fourteen game unbeaten start to the season gave us all hope that this season could be the one, followed by six weeks without a game due to the weather that ultimately decided our fate.  A mad March saw us having to play nine games, including matches against the six of the top seven in the division with a heavy injury list.  Things got so bad that it was nearly time for me to polish up the Puma Kings.  But our Premier League survival was ensured mathematically a week or so ago meaning that we would be living to fight another day next season.

Planning for the end of season period starts around Christmas time.  We need to ensure we have budgeted for all the essential work that needs to take place around the ground, including the pitch. Many fans forget that we have zero income from the end of April to July when we start selling Season Tickets, yet costs are still incurred. The land grab of trying to find a “big” club to come down and play in a pre-season friendly often starts a year in advance, and this year, without mentioning any names, we think we have pulled the golden rabbit out of the hat – I would say more but fear for my life from the wrath of Garry Wilson.  A game against a big name side can generate a huge amount of cash for a Non-League club – a crowd of even 1,500 paying an average of £10 (inc food and programme) would be enough to bring in two or three more decent players for a season.  Yet it is the hardest job in the world to get any of the big clubs interested – they probably received dozens, if not hundreds of requests to play against Non-League teams every season, each one as deserving on paper as the next.

13915682416_12fa913d62_bThere’s no better place to watch a game when the sun is shining than at The Dripping Pan, and with Brighton not having a game today the hope was a decent attendance.  Sure, there was nothing to play for but pride and a mid-table league position, but at least there are no dodgy dealings going on akin to a Biscotto, the Italian term used for convenient drawn games at end of season which hinders neither side.  Our attendances this season had fallen in the past two months with so many midweek home games but still we would finish the season with an average just over 500 – a figure higher than more than 60% of the teams playing in the Conference North/South.

Everyone was looking forward to the game.  After the win in midweek this was a banker walk in the park.  And then our mood changed.  At the side of the pitch was Patrick Marber.  The doom-monger.  The curse of the Lewes win.  If we had any sense we would have left there and then and headed down the road to Whitehawk for the afternoon.  His track record of not seeing us win this season played on all of our minds.  Despite his place in the Lewes Hall of Fame somewhere in the past few years he had brought a curse across the Pan whenever he visited.  Dave suggested we all pissed on him to remove the spell and had to be forceably stopped dropping his trousers on the Jungle as the game kicked off.

Lewes 1 Bury Town 4 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th April 2014
After 30 minutes there wasn’t anyone in the ground who thought this wasn’t going to be our day.  Winning one-nil thanks to Joel Ledgister’s sixteenth minute headed goal, and Rikki Banks having saved a harshly-awarded penalty when the Bury forward ducked his head into Malins clearance, it was the best day ever.  The sun was shining, the Harveys was a perfect temperature and even Patrick Marber was admitting the curse had been lifted.  And then it went wrong.

13939255594_f7b5e073b6_bJust before half-time Bury Town’s Wales stumbled into the area, picked up a deflection or two and manage to stab the ball passed Banks to equalise.  It hadn’t been the best of halves, enlightened only by the goal, penalty save and the heated debate between Marber and Lord Plumpton about the fact both held the same Golden Goal ticket.

If the first half was low on excitement then the second was utterly forgettable, at least for the Rooks.  Ten minutes in and Allen smashed the ball into the roof of the net to put the visitors into the lead.  Five minutes later and the referee was once again called into action to make a big decision, this time deeming Jack Dixon had stamped on Bennett, although the influence of the two Bury centre-backs who ran 70 yards to give their opinion seemed to sway his opinion that is was a straight red and not just a yellow.

13938869523_2de803e060_bThe goal meant Lewes had to throw on the not fully fit Nathan Crabb up front and pull Blewden into midfield.  Bury simply stepped up a gear and scored two more without the Rooks ever threatening the visitors goal.  Chants went from “sack the board” to “say away Marber”.  But like water of a duck’s back he vowed to be back next week for the visit of Leiston.

It was a disappointing end to my Dripping Pan season but I would be back (well, I have to as we have bi-weekly Board Meetings) next season, which would undoubtably be the best season ever.

Playing away in Dreamland


13804963363_e4a9f3df14_b“Well I’ve been working hard to reach me sales target
To earn a few quid for an away trip down to Margate
I’m gonna blow my commission tomorrow on all me football family
We catch the train at eight so don’t be late, were off to see the sea”

We are the luckiest fans alive today. Who else wouldn’t want to be spending a day at the sunny British seaside today. It is fair to say that prior to the release of the fixtures back in July, Margate away in either the earlier part of the season or towards the end would have been perfect.  In the last two season we had been down to the Isle of Thanet in October and January, so it was time that the fixture computer was kind to us. What better way to celebrate our promotion than a knees up on the golden sands and sewage outflow pipe of the Costa del Thanet.

Well, as our big sweaty transatlantic friend still warbles, two out of three ain’t bad. We were going to get our day in the sun in April at Margate, and ‘that’ sign was still warning us about staying away from the pipe carrying ‘stuff’ into the sea, but alas there was to be no promotion party. In fact our recent, and by recent I mean the last half of the season, has been a bit of a mystery. With a third of the season gone we were one place and two points outside the playoffs. However, the harsh weather, which first kicked in in October for us seemed to throw a spanner in the works and since then we have taken on average a point a game.

I still get the “sack the board” chants aimed in my general direction by those who still don’t quite get this community club aspect and realise that I can’t be sacked by the fans (voted out in October, indeed) but we will finish the season in a stronger position both on and off the field than last season and can look forward to next season when the regeneration project will commence on The Dripping Pan which will ultimately give us a new viable revenue stream. Continue reading

Falling in love with you


Six years ago I was a happy Hammer. Happy because I didn’t know what the joy was in watching football without Big Brother(s) watching over me, telling me when to sit, stand, shout and be quiet.  My epiphany came when I started going to watch Non-League football on a regular basis.  One of the first games in my “new life “was at Grays Athletic at Their New Recreation Ground against Canvey Island (how life has changed for all partied involved!).

During the next few seasons I started going more regularly to Non-League games, discovering new places that were almost on my doorstep.  Once I chose a Forest Green Rovers versus Oxford United over West Ham v Fulham I knew I was on a slippery slope.

397502_10152258011760853_1378592530_nMy first game at the Dripping Pan was a Conference Premier game against today’s visitors Grays Athletic.  It was the club’s one and only season in the highest level of Non-League football.  If ever there was a club that were a fish out of water, then it was Lewes during the 2008/09 season.  Just six wins and six draws all season, including just seven points taken on their travels the team were relegated by Easter.  Speaking to those who experienced the whole season tell the tale of not only the club being out of their depth but also of the joyless environment of playing at this level.  The club had to implement segregation, stop people drinking on the terraces and even have a sponsors board to facilitate live interviews post match.  Anyone who has visited the Pan since knows that is not how we do things.

Last year I was asked to contribute to a book – the task being to write “How I fell in love with my club” in less than 3,000 words.  I didn’t choose West Ham, the club I had supported for the best part of thirty years of my life.  I chose Lewes.  Last week the book was finally published by Ockley Books and not only features a chapter on Lewes, but similar ones on Weymouth, Tooting and Mitcham and the 1990 Cameroon World Cup Squad.  What the book tells me is that I am not alone in upgrading my footballing pleasure.

Lewes v Essex 2014Today the club is very happy playing two levels below the Conference Premier.  Crowds are increasing, bar takings are up and the football is making people smile once again.  Our ambition is to play at a higher level but as a board we will always make sure every step is a sustainable and financially viable. Today we welcomed Grays Athletic, a club who had endured a similar annus decadus.  Whilst Lewes’s free fall had been almost terminal, we always had the parachute of our ground.  Grays haven’t had that luxury and have endured somewhat of a nomadic existence since the heady days of finishing third in the Conference Premier and back to back FA Trophy wins.  Their Recreation Ground was sold to developers in 2010 and since they have ground shared with East Thurrock, West Ham reserves and now Aveley.

It had only been ten days since we last faced Grays, losing 4-2 in an entertaining game at Mill Field.  Since then both sides had played two league games, winning them both as too had Lewes.  Two weeks ago both sides would have put the file “Play Off Chances” in the filing cabinet but with games in hand over those above both sides who knows what could happen, especially as the respective home form has been so strong. Continue reading

The bigger they come, the harder they fall


In terms of great days, few can beat the combination of beautiful sunshine, a win against the league leaders and winning some money out of the blue.  Oh, and a choice of 20 different guest ales.  So perhaps I should have simply called it a day at 5.30pm on Saturday in terms of supporting Lewes.  But football just keeps sucking you back doesn’t it?  So here I am, pint in hand watching us take on Maidstone United, currently second place in the Ryman Premier League on a chilly Tuesday evening.

Thanks to the weather it is Saturday-Tuesday for Lewes until the end of the season, with nearly twice as many games still to play at home than away. Only Wealdstone have lost fewer games than Lewes this season, leaving us to think about the “what-ifs” from earlier in the season when we drew games we could have won (other the other hand we were drawing games than last season we would have lost). The re-arranged fixtures meant that the top four teams in the Ryman Premier League had to visit The Pan in the space of four weeks in March. Dulwich Hamlet opened the festivities on Saturday with Maidstone United following quickly behind.

1380099_10152275799706240_720740824_nToday had been another good day even before I reached the Lansdowne for the pre-match warm up. Being Pancake Day I headed up to Borough Market in my lunch hour to see if I could grab a sweet treat. As I walked around the market I saw a familiar face albeit one that was a lot thinner than usual. Television is supposed to make people look fatter but Man versus Food’s Adam Richmann looked as if he had shed his twin brother. Thanks to Luge Pravda’s eagle-eyed twitter search he had discovered Richmann was in town to do some pancake judging and lo-and-behold he just happened to be standing next to me.

Richmann is a big Spurs fan, although he admitted he had always had a soft-spot for the Hammers. “Oh, my God. Frankie McAvennie. Now he was the Brad Pitt of the 1980’s. I loved his Capri Sport”. A few tourists came up and WE, yes WE posed for photos. As I walked away someone even asked me who WE were. Of course five minutes later when my mobile rang and I had to field another question about DPML exceptions (one for the real techies) I was brought back to earth with an almighty bump.  Head down, work finished, it was finally time for some football. Continue reading