Don’t believe the Hyypia


It’s always nice to build up to a climax in your season, knowing that those cold Tuesday night away trips to the corners of Suffolk when the last train leaves before you have entered injury time have not been in vain.  The thought of a cup final or a final play-off push gets everyone behind the club, pushing attendances up and general adding to the club’s bank account.  But for many Non-League clubs, that cup final often happens before the season has started in earnest.  The visit of a Premier or Football League club can have a massive boost to the season ahead as well as re-engaging with some fans who may have drifted out of love with the game or the club.

14394319070_170dcc6795_zThis is especially true for clubs who sit in the long shadows of bigger teams, having to stand by and watch glumly as hundreds of fans park up outside their grounds, only to walk on by, tucking their real team colours in their jackets as they head for their slice of Premier or Football League action.  We see this frequently down at Lewes.  The fight that Brighton & Hove Albion fans endured to a) come back to the city and then b) have a home of their own has been well documented in hundreds of places.  Three years ago they were finally given the keys to the superb Amex Community Stadium and since then, things on the pitch haven’t been too bad with two consecutive play-off spots.  All should be rosy in the Tony Bloom garden? Well, not quite.  In the last two seasons the club has dispensed with the services of their head coaches, Messrs Poyet and Junyet after the play-offs for differing reasons, so to try to make it third time lucky they have employed former Liverpool defender, Sami Hyypiä.  No sooner had he brought the players back for pre-season than he was off down the A27 to visit the Dripping Pan.

So this is our cup final.  There is no shame in admitting it (unlike Spurs fans who lost their cup final three times last season to West Ham).  Bar four or five of the Premier League teams, a game against Brighton & Hove Albion is probably as big as we could hope for, especially one where the Seagulls would bring down the whole first team squad.  Two years ago they came, weathered a Lewes early battering and left with a 3-0 victory in front of just over 2,000 fans.

We are fortunate that we do not have many fixture clashes with Brighton & Hove Albion.  When there has been conflicts in the past, we have tried to change our kick-off times so that we can try to accommodate those fans who support both clubs.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible – we have to have the agreement of the League and our opponents.  Whilst we may see the merits of a 7:45pm Friday night game, or a 12pm Sunday kick off, they normally don’t, so we have to play at the same time, knowing our car park will be full of Seagulls fans heading for the station for the 5 minute train journey to Falmer.

New Picture (84)We decided to make the game all ticket.  There were a number of reasons for this.  Our capacity is limited, although due to changes in the whole health & safety, ground grading and licencing laws, we have never got to a point where we can say we are “full”.  Secondly, we did not want to have to try to deal with hundreds of fans trying to pay at the turnstile five minutes before kick off.  And finally, we wanted to not have to worry about having thousands of pounds floating around the ground. Two thousand two hundred tickets went on sale two weeks ago and yesterday the last one was sold.  The game was officially a sell out.

You’d think everybody would be happy, right?  Alas no.  Putting aside the fact he is a Scotsman, our manager Garry Wilson wasn’t best pleased.  He broke the news about securing this valuable friendly along the lines of “the good news is that I’ve got us a friendly against Brighton here….the bad news is that I am on holiday.”  After a few minutes he broke our excited babble with “you are still thinking of the good news aren’t you?”.  Cheer up Garry, I am sure Danny Bloor will do an excellent job…but what happens IF we win??

Oh, and have I mentioned the beer?  Well, once again, ridiculous football laws in this country mean that alcohol couldn’t be consumed in sight of the pitch.  FFS – it is a friendly.  All the rule does is create absolute chaos and a very packed club house, leading to a more dangerous situation than if those having a beer could take it outside. Football authorities + logic = foreign language.

So after a few days of temperatures officially hotter than Greece (Gravesend 28 degrees at 12pm on Friday, 27 degrees Mykonos), the start of the 2014/15 season started with….rain.  Lots of it.  “It’s good for the garden” my Mum told me on the phone…but not particularly good for the 1,000 or so fans who would be without a cover this afternoon.  Fortunately, an hour before kick off the sun was shining on the carpet-like Dripping Pan surface, Sky Sports News were capturing the mood of the afternoon and the ground was filing up nicely.

14580955765_80e6a4bcc5_bOur excitement so far had been around our new signings.  We had somehow sneaked into the Tonbridge Angels Big Brother house this summer and came away with the signatures of a few of their players.  Attack would be the best form of attack this season with three (THREE!) new strikers joining the club. Messers Wilson and Bloor had obviously been reading Kevin Keegan’s coaching manual during the summer, finally binning Otto Rehhagel’s 2004 Greek tactic book.  Alas, being Non-League football, it wasn’t only Garry Wilson who was absent overseas – our new hot-shot centre-forward Terry Dodd was also enjoying his Club 18-30 holiday.

Having co-edited the world-famous, award-winning programme for this game (a sell out long before kick off I am pleased to say), it was time to not only grab the mic for this game but also to slip into twitter mode as a substitute for Orlando-bound Rookmeister.  And where better to situate myself than between the two dugouts.  If there was going to be 20-odd substitutes then I needed to know what was going on.

Lewes 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 5 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 5th July 2014
Rule number 1 of pre-season.  It is all about the performance and not the result….assuming that you lose or draw to a team lower than you.  Did we seriously think we could beat the Seagulls?  In our hearts, yes.  But our brains are in our heads and logic says that a team playing six levels above should win and potentially win with ease.  And that is exactly what happened.  Over 2,400 saw Brighton & Hove Albion win with ease, with football and the club’s bank balance the winners today.

14579184744_2eed47d812_hThe media hype was all about Hyypiä with Sky Sports bringing their cameras down.  When you haven’t the rights to the World Cup, Wimbledon or the Tour de France then live coverage of headline sports is a bit difficult.  Their loss was our gain. For the first thirty minutes the main talking point was how many times the new Brighton manager would jump up from his seat in the dug out and hit his head on the roof (five times in the first half).

Lewes certainly held their own during the opening period and could count themselves unlucky to go 1-0 down just after the half hour mark when Calderon turned in the ball at the far post after corner had eluded the 18 players in the penalty area.  If that was unlucky, then LuaLua’s strike a few minutes later from distance to double the score certainly wasn’t.

The half-time whistle was the signal for a complete 11 man substitution by the Seagulls, which as the announcer made it a relatively straight forward second half for me.  Less than a minute after the restart Craig Mackail-Smith scored a third (his father-in-law Barry Fry was in the crowd btw) and that killed off the game.  Whilst Lewes toiled, the absence of graft players such as Walder and Nathan Crabb meant that it was always going to be a mountain to climb to get back into this game.

14601068993_767f533128_kTwo further goals from Goodwin put a one-sided gloss on the final score but there were no sad faces from the Lewes fans or management.  Today was raising the profile of the club, and some kind words to the TV cameras from the new Brighton manager helped the cause no end.  Our season starts in earnest when we finally get to see our opening fixture…or if we beat Hassocks on the 16th July.

Football is back…we’ve missed you.  Don’t leave us again.

Five things from….Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0


The quarter-finals haven’t yet set the competition alight after such a barn-storming group stage.  So far the games have gone to form and there was little chance that the final game would throw up a surprise.  Whilst our hearts may have wanted Costa Rica, the 66/1 outsiders, to progress, it would take a super human effort for them to outwit the Dutch.  They’ve been what has been good and bad in the tournament so far.  Good – the domination over world champions Spain and THAT goal by Van Persie and then the Bad – Robben falling over whenever someone coughs in Brazil.  Say it like it is – irrespective of how talented he may be, he is a cheat.  Cheats never prosper is the saying….try explaining that one to your kids when Robben takes home millions of pounds every year.

1. The Dutch Bench – Surely smartest bench of the World Cup?  Immaculately turned out in their blue jackets and orange ties.  Looking like secret service agents on a dress-down Friday. Two hours after they walked out onto the pitch they still looked as “smart as the Man from Burtons” as my Mum would say. There is no dignity in a pensioner wearing a tracksuit.

2. “Intriguing” – When any commentator says the game is intriguing then it is time to go and make a cup of tea.  Why don’t they simply say it is a shocker – it is what we are all saying and thinking.   And then when it is still goal less with 10 minutes to go it changes to a game with a “Grandstand finish”…what on earth does that mean?  To mean that just conjures up images of Frank Bough and his misdemeanours.  In fairness, he was spot on (Mowbray not Bough) – it was a Grandstand finish to the game in normal time.

image (2)3. World Cup of keepers – The stars of the tournament so far have been the keepers.  Howard, Neuer, Ospina and Costa Rica’s Navas have all been outstanding. In fact every keeper could probably say they have performed on the world’s stage.  Well, Iker Casillas excepted.  Navas once again put in a fantastic shift, although probably felt that he would have had a busier two hours.  In fact for the first hour he could have sat in his goal and caught up on 24 without many problems.

4. Extra-time – Hard to believe that the final 15 minutes were being played by the same two teams that had contested the previous 105.  Absolutely top stuff – end to end, with the Costa Ricans suddenly realising that they could still win this game without penalties.

5. Tactical master stroke or balmy old cack – Van Gaal’s decision to bring on Tim Krul for Cillessen just to face penalties – it’s not a pre-season friendly or a testimonial is it? Is the Newcastle keeper that good? He’s no Paul Cooper is he?  Alan Shearer reminds us that he has only saved 2 penalties from 20 for Newcastle.  Is Cillessen hoping for a win or defeat whilst he sits on the bench? The result? Tactical Genius.

The Beer World Cup

Still no luck in tracking down a Costa Rican number so we substituted in a Fuller’s Honey Dew to compete against a few Oranjebooms.

Netherland 1 Costa Rica 1 – Costa Rica win on penalties because Oranjeboom is actually brewed in Faversham and not Netherlands.

Five things from….Brazil 2 Colombia 1


I thought the wait would never end…finally we have football back on our TVs.  With it being hotter than Greece*I decided to keep the al fresco feeling going and took the World Cup to the masses.  Well, my neighbours actually by using my little travel (work) projector to beam the game onto the side of the house.  They were impressed.  So impressed that they announced 10 minutes before kick off they were going to the pub to watch it. Love Thy Neighbour?  Not in SE9 obviously.

This game, probably more than any of the other quarter finals, would have a significant impact on the competition.  The host nation have stumbled through to this stage, playing unconvincingly in every game, bar an hour of the opening game against Croatia.  They relied on penalties to beat Chile whilst Colombia have got stronger as the tournament has progressed, with James Rodriquez the man of the moment.  The days of loveable, laughable Higuita, Asprilla and Valderrama are long gone, replaced by a team of flair and workmen.  And let’s not forget their most influential player, Radamel Falcao is injured, spending his time this summer with one of my friends, Natalia Velez (have I told you I met her?).

1. Making it up – ITV’s Jon Champion hints at dissent among the Brazilian ranks during the penalties in the last game against Chile, singling out Thiago Silva who “took himself off to sit on his own”…This is two hours after BBC had shown a feature at HT in the France v Germany game about how Thiago Silva, among others, prayed during the penalties and that is why he sat alone. Nothing like the truth to get in the way of a story.

photo2. “Good refereeing” – According to Andy Townsend, because the game is close then the referee is doing the right job in not yellow carding persistent offenders to let the game flow.  Townsend believes that there should be a different set of rules in every game.  Five minutes later he said “Yellow card has to come out soon.  You cannot keep letting them get away with it”.  Townsend is paid to watch and comment on football.  Champion also suggests that players should be booked so that the more creative ones can “breathe”….

3. “The next goal wins” – Great comment at HT by Adrian Chiles who suggests the scorer of the next goal wins….of course if it is Colombia who score then the game would be a draw…Mouth/Brain/Engage.

4. Referee! – James Rodriquez is kicked to pieces in the first half and gets nothing.  Then he makes one challenge and is carded…oh, and to rub it in, Luize scores from the free-kick – one of the first direct free-kick of this World Cup.  Then he doesn’t send off the Brazilian keeper for bringing down the Colombian forward….No suspicion of referees favouring the host nation then.

5. Say no to racism – Why is the sign only in English?

Beer World Cup

Sorry, but was still indulging in the German efforts from earlier….so this ended..

Brazil 0 Colombia 0

*as of 4pm it was 28 degrees at TBIR Towers and only 27.5 degrees in Mykonos, Greece.

Five things from….France 0 Germany 1


We had a bet at home that the 1982 Battiston incident would be mentioned within 30 seconds of the TV coverage. We were wrong – it was 45 seconds and then it seemed every 10 minutes under Jonathan Pearce’s commentary. He did tell us though that Germany have never won the World Cup wearing anything but black shorts.  Thanks JP.

In terms of intrigue, this game promised a lot. Neither team were particularly fancied in the run up to the tournament. Both teams themselves would have played down their chances, claiming their young squads needed a tournament more under their belts for experience.  Whilst France comfortably brushed aside Nigeria in the Second Round, Germany were taken to extra time by an impressive Algeria, whose never-say-die spirit would have sapped the Germans energy.  Couple that with a Lasagne-gate style illness in the camp and you would have to say France came into the game as favourites.

1. Ridiculous ceremony – Why subject the players to all of this ceremony and public displays of unity on important areas of racism and homophobia when if someone is found guilty they will get a risible fine and a pathetic slap on the wrist.  How do you stamp it out of the game?  By throwing the book at offenders. Making players stand behind a sign has what effect exactly?

photo 4 (5)2. Camera angels – I am in love with that camera that zooms across the pitch at grass level as the teams walk out…I want to see more of those camera angles during the game, tracking the runs of the players.  Apart from the annoying super slow motion replays I think the camera work in the tournament has been outstanding.  Loved the little interlude of the shot of the stadium and Christ the Redeemer as well.

3. Jaunty yellow boots – The French and their fashion style.  Just seven of the starting line up sported the bright yellow boots, and three had the dual colour ones made by…..oh yes, Nike.  At least they haven’t decided to both play in their away kits tonight.

4. Official top stats – David Luiz is the top player of the World Cup, according to FIFA stats.  What tournament have they been watching? Betting sites do not even have him in the top ten – in fact Jozy Altidore at 500/1 is ahead of him.  He has been his usual inconsistent self in the middle of an inconsistent defence.

5. Girl cam – The TV producer must have been snoozing for this game because it took them a full 26 minutes before we had the gratuitous shot of the pretty girl in the crowd.  This time, it was a French lass, looking very pensive who, when she saw she was on TV, gave a nonchalant flick of her hair.

The Beer World Cup

No content here – a fridge-full of German beer with one of the little “stubbies” of Saint Omer beer.  Stick to chocolate, wine and cheese.  The better team won on and off the pitch. Even armed with a Becks Vier this was a walk over.

Germany 4 France 0

 

Five things from….Belgium 2 USA 1


Back by popular request for potentially his last run out in the World Cup is Andy Mack with his view from downtown Manhattan on the mood in the US Camp for their game against Belgium.

Many questions coming into this game needed to be answered:  How much time will Jozy Altidore play? (Zero.) How would the Belgian attack look? (Strong.)  Could the US see enough of the ball to pull off the upset? (Almost.) We would have our answers after a grueling 120 minute affair.

1. Tim Howard - How could we start with anyone else?  US goalkeeper Tim Howard gave one of the most courageous performances in World Cup history. Tim broke the record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16, and the US needed every one of them to stay in the match.  Howard was named Man of the Match, even in defeat.   To put things in perspective, Belgian defender and captain Vincent Kompany tweeted after the match   “Two Words.. Tim Howard #Respect #BelUSA”

2. Belgian Dominance -  The even possession numbers masked the fact that the Belgians seemed to have virtually all of the best chances to score throughout the match.  The last ten minutes of regulation time had the Americans holding on and hoping for extra time.  The insertion of Roman Lukaku into the Belgian attack provided the Red Devils the spark in the final third that impacted both goals.  The goals, and win, were well deserved.

photo 1 (28)3. Wondo…. OH NO - Many US fans knew that chances were going to be few and far between. The only path to victory was to take advantage of any scoring chances that the Belgians may concede. That single moment came in stoppage time when the ball came down on the foot of Chris Wondolowski in the 6 yard box with only the keeper to navigate.  With only charging keeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, Wondolowski skied the ball over the net. The way the game played out, you could feel that this would come back to haunt the US.

4. Klinsmann Making Great Moves - US coach Jurgen Klinsmann proved that he truly understands this team with impactful substitutions during the match. With Fabian Johnson forced to exit with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Klinsmann looked to Deandre Yeldin. Yeldin’s speed proved to be menacing down the sideline, causing problems for the Belgian defense. With Chris Wondolowski having the chance to be a hero and Julian Green’s late goal, all three of Klinsmann’s substitutions were impactful.

5. Heads Held High - The US should walk away from this match with their heads held high.  This team proved to have the grit and guts that has been the staple of US soccer for decades.  Losing to a Belgian side (who, going into the tournament, was considered a dark horse to win it all) is not something to be ashamed of. The US will need to pair their resilient mentality with a better touch in the midfield in order to take the next step in their progression of becoming a top team.  Belgium will be moving on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals, which appears to be a matchup of two teams who have yet to fire on all cylinders.

The Beer World Cup
The beautifully crafted Delirium Tremens has the sophistication to edge out the bold, brash, Brooklyn Lager by the same score line.

Belgium 2 US 1

Five things from….Germany 2 Algeria 1


“It was the best of times, it was one of the worst of footballing crimes.”  Paul Doyle’s opening line in the Guardian two weeks ago took us back to darker World Cup days when skullduggary was all the rage and no-one ever mentioned the “M” world (Matchfixing).  The Germans back then obviously had a “West” as company in the 1982 World Cup but no one was prepared for their defeat to the Algerians.

Fast forward thirty two years and eight World Cups and the Africans would have an opportunity for revenge.  The German machine had simply re-invented itself every few years and whilst they were quietly confident coming into the tournament, few would have backed them to go all the way, especially as they are in the top half of the drawer, putting them on a collision course with the hosts in the semi-final.

I had a feeling this would be the game of the round, so I invested heavily in the Früh Kolsch and sat back, preparing to be entertained.

1. Why do goal keepers always seem to stand next to the captain? - I only noticed this on Saturday but since then almost every keeper when lining up for the national anthems has stood next to the captain.

BrZ6C9lIEAA0BPS2. Photographer with the hat – 16 minutes in and Algeria attack again.  What a cross from El Arabi Soudani, Islam Slimani gets ahead of Jerome Boateng to fire in a low header in off the post.  Alas he is offside and we get a close up of the linesman raising his flag.  But hang on. The photographer behind him is wearing a Mexican hat.  A bloomin’ big green wide brimmed Mexican hat.  Arriba, arriba, andale, arriba! (thanks to Dan Campbell for sending me a screen shot).

3. The problem of sock tape – Stupid rule number 1332 from FIFA was the one about the tape that players use to keep their socks up has to be the same colour as the socks themselves. So can you use red tape on white socks if there is a red bit at the top of the socks, like Germany’s? What if you want two bits of tape, one at top and one at bottom?  Do you need two different coloured tapes?  And what about tape used around fingers for rings?  Shouldn’t that be skin-coloured?  FIFA once again not thinking through the really important aspects of these law changes (that was irony for the benefit of my German followers).

4. The cavity search – Mustafi falls awkwardly and lays face down as the German medical appear to be checking all his cavities. The TV cameras focus on his wincing face and then the physio’s gloved hand going up his shorts. Grown men around the world looked away in agony.

5. Neuer centre-back – Time after time the German keeper came off his line and out of his box to act as the last defender. His timing was impeccable, risking not only a goal if he missed a challenge but also a certain red if he took out the player. A sure sign of problems at the back for the Germans. Would a better side have taken advantage? Who knows…

The Beer World Cup

Like the earlier tie, there was never going to be any competition in this game.  I could have chosen one of two hundred German beers (not that I have 200 different ones in my beer fridge, but you get the idea) whilst I have never seen an Algerian beer, let alone try to buy one.  I went with a cheeky Kölsch option for tonight – light, smooth and less likely to give me a hangover than a Paulaner.

Germany 7 Algeria 0

The five best keepers of the World Cup…so far


Normally in these major tournaments we see more keepers who fall into the “oh dear” bracket rather than the “Wow” one.  In general, the goalies have had a good tournament so bar, with the exception of Iker Casillas, but which ones have been the stand outs?  Here are our top five so far.

Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico): The Mexican stopper arrived at the World Cup looking for a job next season after ending his time with French club Ajaccio, and it’s fair to say he won’t be short of offers after the tournament if you listen to the Betfairodds. Following a promising start to the World Cup with a clean sheet against Cameroon, Ochoa made the headlines with an incredible performance in the 0-0 draw against hosts Brazil.

Keylor Navas (Costa Rica): Costa Rica have undoubtedly been this World Cup’s surprise package, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas have been integral to the underdogs shocking the world to progress from their group. Levante stopper Navas has been attracting interest and plaudits aplenty during the tournament, and the 27-year old could be set for a big-money move to Atletico Madrid this summer, according to the Betfairodds.

Tim Howard (USA): While maybe not as surprising as Costa Rica coming through their group, USA’s progression to the second round upset a number of Betfairpunters. As ever, Howard’s commanding presence in goal has set the tone for his team’s defence, and the Everton stopper has further cemented himself as one of the world’s most consistent goalkeepers.

Victor Enyeama (Nigeria): As well as being one of the tournament’s most eccentric goalkeepers, Nigeria’s Victor Enyeama has also proven himself to be one of the most reliable. Behind a questionable Nigerian defence, Enyeama has brought a sense of calm despite his sometimes-wacky antics and has been key to the Africans coming through their tough group despite being written off by many Betfair fans.

Thibaut Courtois (Belgium): While the Belgians may have not torn up as many trees in Brazil as many expected, their young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has proven why he has been labelled as the best prospect in world football. The 22-year old is expected to be given his long-awaited chance at Chelsea next season, but Belgium fans will be hoping Courtois still has a job to do in Brazil this summer.