The greatest sporting rivalry?

Sitting in a bar in lower Manhattan last year my good friend Luge Pravda and I discussed what the greatest sporting rivalry was in the world.  The conversation had started after a drunk Mexican guy who had been sitting next to us suggested that the Real Madrid v Barca game on the TV was for “p@ssies” and that the atmosphere was better “in my pants” (his, not mine I hasten to add).  I asked him what he thought was the biggest and he suggested the Yankees v Red Sox in baseball.  Whilst I am not a baseball aficionado, I have been to enough games to understand some of the nuances of the game as well as being able to observe close up the wonderful character that is the faux drunk American man and his random screams of excitement.  Back in the day (well, when the Yankee Stadium was only home to baseball rather than the bizarre home of a major football side playing games at an odd angle) I actually went to a Yankees v Red Sox game with Boston running out 9-0 winners.  I certainly couldn’t remember any shenanigans on a scale of West Ham v Millwall or Celtic v Rangers apart from the odd random shouts from fans of “Red Cocks Suck”, “No.  Wankees suck” and so on..



As luck would have it I would be back in New York for a grand total of 26 hours for work just when the latest chapter of baseball’s greatest rivalry would be played at Yankee Stadium.  Tickets for virtually every US sporting event aren’t hard to get these days.  Despite this ticking all the boxes of a potential sell-out, over 4,000 tickets (8% of the capacity) were on sale on StubHub alone.

20413212851_38daf4e2bf_kSo here is where I simply do not understand Baseball (and a number of other American sports) fans.  I arrived at the stadium at 7.15, ten minutes after the “start time” thanks to almost SouthEastern train-esque punctuality of the Metro North Line.  There were thousands upon thousands of people outside the stadium.  Whilst there were long queues to get into the stadium, there were also people still drinking in the bars and eating in the restaurants.  I’m sure some will not have had tickets, but there didn’t seem to be any rush to get into watch the game.

With no time for a beer outside, we headed up to the 4th tier where our seats were.  Queues for every concession stand were massive.  Was anyone actually watching the game?  We struggled in vain to find somewhere selling a beer that wasn’t Bud, Coors or Miller.  The “Craft Beer” concession stand was selling Stella and Heineken, meaning for the sake of actually getting to watch some of the action, we went with New Castle Ale (aka Newcastle Brown Ale).  Only two each mind, and no more after the 7th innings just in case you enjoy yourself too much.  You can of course gorge yourself silly on cholesterol-loaded, heart-attack inducing fried food, served in massive buckets right up until the end of the game.

20218979630_454ac17a48_kWe got to our seats with the score at 1-0 after three innings.  It wasn’t a thriller but crowd watching from our seats in the Gods was.  I would hazard a guess that the average time a fan actually sat in his seat was less than 10 minutes judging by the constant coming and going.  To keep them amused we had “kiss cam”, “hug cam”, “smile cam”, “strange not sure what it was supposed to be cam” and “YMCA cam”.  One young lady in the front of the tier behind got a bit too excited at the “Y” action that she almost lost her top in Barbara Windsor style.

The location was perfect for a night of sport though, with the sun setting behind us and the planes leaving Laguardia passing overhead more than making up for the stalemate being played out in front of us.  Luge had been here a few weeks previous (see here) to watch New York City play and the pitch markings were still visible.  With the Yankees being as close to a national treasure as you can get, it is still amazing that “soccer” is allowed to be played here.

In the fifth innings we had some excitement as the Red Sox scored two runs.  Pockets of fans stood up and cheered without reprisal.  Had that have been Messi scoring in the Bernabau or Rooney at Anfield I would dare to suggest their celebrations would have been cut very short.  But the Yankees came back in the next innings, scoring three of their own.  We had a game on, especially when the Red Sox scored again at the top of the 7th (see I do know some of the jargon) to make it 4-3.  However, with the big hand approaching 30 it was time for me to leave for my trip back up to the suburbs.  We’d seen the best of the play, had a couple of English beers, a good chat and nearly seen a girl embarrass herself.  What more could you want for $33?

Of course it turned out to be one of those memorable victories, with the Yankees scoring 9 (NINE!) runs in the time it took us to walk from our seats to the train station, giving them a 13-3 victory and the bragging rights for, let me see, 24 hours until the teams met again (Red Sox gained some revenge with a 2-1 win).

I’m not sure this would rank in my top 20 (50?) rivalries that I had seen in the sporting flesh.  Whilst the opposing fans may dislike each other, it was very rare in US sport for it to ever boil over into violence.  Rivalry is perhaps too strong a word for it.  Mild irritation possibly.  It’s still a great way to spend an evening though.


That comment about US sport rarely boiling over into violence?  Well 10 days later, it did.

Getting our backsides Tanned on the opening day

3pm on the opening day of the season and everything is good.  The sun is shining, the beer tastes good, even the dubious looking food tastes fantastic.  You see the group of fans that for the next nine months will be your second family, sharing pain and pleasure, hope and despair, joy and agony.  In some cases that feeling will disappear within minutes as a defensive slip will lead to that all too familiar sinking feeling and the look of “it’s going to be a long long season” passes from fan to fan on the terraces.

For those involved off the field then the opening day comes with a sense of relief.  Work started on preparations the day after the season ended, often with a number of challenges, none more so than trying to ensure you have a squad ready and raring to go when the season starts.  Fans often vent their frustration on forums that there appears to be no activity with the team.  On the contrary, things are so fluid and change all the time that if we updated every movement of a player in or out the fans would soon get bored.  A player agreeing to sign today could be playing for another team tomorrow.  And bear in mind it is not just about the willingness of a club to offer players deals, the player’s circumstances may change and thus club X albeit one offering less money may be more practical for them.  As my learned colleague Mr Bazza Collins said this week “It’s not a question of finding players to play on Saturday but rather who to leave out”.

Non League doesn’t have the same transfer restrictions as the professional game.  Come 1st September and we can still sign players, right up until the morning of a game in fact.  The whole Enfield Town debacle at the end of last season will make club secretaries more cautious when they register a player now, although with Club Sec Kev at the helm for Lewes we know that he double and triple checks anything as it is, treating player registrations the same way as he treats the freshly ironed ten pound notes in his wallet every time it’s his round, his diligence again would prove valuable come 2pm today when the team sheet needed to be submitted.

Then of course we have the kit issues – you go online, choose what you want and it just arrives in the post right?  Alas, if it was only that simple.  A lot of it comes to the UK via lorry, who have to use the Channel Tunnel.  So delays such as the ones we have seen have caused issues for many clubs, the most ironic being Folkestone Invicta who can probably see the delivery lorry in question with a good pair of binoculars.

19784718544_28aae8ff56_kThe Rooks traveled to Leatherhead with some confidence.  The doom and gloom that sat over the club for most of last season appeared to be lifting and manager Steve Brown and new assistant Jay Lovett have built a squad on a smaller budget that looked impressive in pre-season, holding a virtual full-strength Brighton & Hove Albion side to a goal-less draw and running an impressive Crystal Palace development team close last weekend.  Youth is the order of the day at The Pan this year, with some impressive young players ready to make their mark on the Ryman Premier League.  Of course we still need the old, wise heads and between our three centre-halves we have plenty of that, with a combined age touching 100 years.

At least as that whistle blows at 3pm we can all sign in unison “We are top of the league”…for how long, well that’s anyone’s guess.

Leatherhead 3 Lewes 0 – Fetcham Grove – Saturday 8th August 2015
About 4 minutes 53 seconds to be precise.  That’s how long it took Kiernan Hughes-Mason to take advantage of a lapse in concentration in the Lewes defence and lob the ball over Dan Hutchins. The first goal of the new season seems to exaggerate the pain and pleasure for both teams and to be honest it felt awful.  Five minutes later Leatherhead hit the bar, then doubled the lead when a wickedly deflected free-kick saw Hutchins scrambling across his line only to get fingertips on it. Fifteen minutes into the new season and how we all wished we could hit the rewind button.

20219020708_32d0d8473a_kCould it get any worse?  Well how about your keeper being knocked unconscious making a save?  Yep, let’s throw that one in before half-time too with 17-year old Nathan Stroomberg coming on for his debut.  Our line up ending the half featured five players under the age of 23, with our bench consisting of two 18 year olds and a 20 year old.  We would have also had 17 year old Jack Rowe-Hurst on the bench but a minor error on his registration forms from Brighton was spotted by Club Sec Kev on arrival at the ground so he was withdrawn as a precaution.

20219009168_3cfbc17679_bThe second half saw Lewes have more of the play but fail to create any real chances until the dying minutes of the game.  The third Leatherhead goal came against the run of play in injury time but was meaningless, the only real impact was seeing The Rooks drop to the bottom of the league on goal difference on day one.  Well, I suppose the only way is up from here.

Football can be a cruel mistress.  The traveling fans left with an air of doom and gloom, those months of anticipation and hope wiped away in 90 minutes.  But we will go again, 45 more times before April is out and a lot can happen.  Alan Hansen may be right all along, we may win nothing with kids but we will certainly give it everything we’ve got.

Just who made the decision to play that side?

I could be accused of being mellow-dramatic but I believe that last night could have been the last time for a generation that West Ham played in a major European Competition.  Few fans who watched the game will feel that the decision to field the team they did was justified in terms of the “long game” of ensuring Premier League survival.  If that was ever an issue, then why have the owners sanctioned such pre-season signings as Lanzini, Payat and Ogbonna or even recruited Slaven Bilic?  In his post match interview the Croat said he was “bitterly disappointed” to have lost but showed complete contempt for the competition, the opponents and the West Ham fans who traveled to the far reaches of Romania for the game against FC Astra by fielding a team that would have been considered “inexperienced” in Capital One Cup terms.  When perennial fence-sitter Michael Owen says “I think West Ham may have made a mistake here” prior to kick-off you know that you have a problem.

Last week the Hammers were cruising at 2-0 up at The Boleyn Ground.  Collins is then sent off and the team fall apart.  Players get sent off week in, week out and don’t lose, or even concede a goal.  The footballing guru David Pleat always tells us it’s harder to play against ten men than eleven.  That’s the theory of Numerical Disadvantage.  But why did it all go wrong?  If you were lucky enough to see the game you will notice that both goals came as a result of West Ham standing off the player with the ball, allowing them far too much time to in the first instance shoot and for the second goal, play the ball into the area.  It’s all very well in having flair players such as Zarate, Payat and Jarvis in the side (you could add Lanzini in that but he didn’t play last week) but if none of them are prepared to close down the man on the ball you are asking for trouble whether you have 10,11 or 12 players on the pitch.  A few years ago that would have been Mark Noble’s role.  Today?

Bilic had already made his mind up before last week’s game that the match versus Arsenal was far more important than the Europa League tie against the Romanians.  Yet that should have given him even more incentive to take the competition seriously and reach the Group Stage.  Let’s face reality.  Arsenal, like they have for 18 out of the last 19 seasons, will finish in the top 4 at the end of the season.  Why?  Because they are a good team, with a good manager who despite seeming reticent to use it, has funds at his disposal.  Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd are in almost the same boat.  It would take a brave man to suggest the title, or even the top four will not feature one of those four (or all in the case of the Champions League qualifiers).  Liverpool and Spurs may say otherwise but it is for the top four to lose rather than the other two to win.  West Ham’s record away to these top teams in the past few seasons has been poor – four defeats, ten goals conceded last season for instance.  It would take a very brave man to bet on anything apart from a defeat on Sunday.  In all reality there are games that the management will target as “must wins”, others that are “should wins” and some that are “could wins”.  Arsenal away is unlikely to be in those.  So why rest players for the second leg? And what is the ambition this year?  Finish in the top six or seven just to qualify for the Europa League and go through the same thought logic next season?

The most annoying aspect here is that Bilic used twenty first team players in a pointless friendly last Sunday against Werder Bremen.  Why? A meaningless game played in front of a crowd of 10/15,000 at the expense of putting out a decent team who would make a fight of the game in Romania and whilst the chance of reaching the final is slim, every game they play in in Europe they earn cash.  Whilst not in the same league as the Premier League TV money, it is still cash.

“Bring back Allardyce” someone suggested to me today.  But let’s not forget that he did something similar in a televised cup game away at Nottingham Forest two seasons ago where they were beaten 5-0.  Whilst managers will outwardly say they they listen to the fans, they only really answer to one master.  And if that voice is saying that Premier League points are the most important thing in the world then there can be no room for any risk in a tournament such as the Europa League.

Just like the campaigns of 1999 and 2006, it was fun whilst it lasted.  But with an outlook that the Premier League is so important, we are hardly likely to take any cup competition seriously and thus denying any further route back into Europe.  Hull City fans only know too well from painful experience last season that treating the Europa League with disrespect ultimately meant nothing as they were relegated nine months later.  Was that down to playing competitive matches in July?  Of course not.

Update – so we go and beat Arsenal against all the odds. What do I know about football anyway. Come on you Hammers!

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Two weeks ago I wrote about the lack of tactics and what appeared to be a naivety in the way West Ham approached their first leg Europa League tie against the Maltese team Birkirkara.  With an injury time, fortuitous goal being the only thing that separated the two teams as they headed for Malta, there was an assumption that The Hammers would raise their game on the night and comfortably progress.  After all, no English team had ever lost to a Maltese side in European competition, and the odds on a West Ham defeat were still as long as South Eastern Trains running my train on time for a week.  But West Ham once again showed their lack of discipline, and what appeared to be once again a lack of preparation.  Tomkins became the second West Ham player in this season’s competition to be sent off for an “off the ball” incident, with Noble incredibly lucky not to follow him for some pathetic, childish behaviour, mocking Birkirkara’s Fabrizio Miccoli for his weight (all captured on camera)…Miccoli’s response was to score the only goal of the game.

Fortunately, the only credit (bar the support from the fans) The Hammers could take from the game was their ability to take penalties meaning they progressed into the Third Qualifying Round by the skin of their teeth.  Drawn to play Romanian side FC Astra Giurgui you would expect Bilic to have learnt his lesson, prepared correctly and told the team to keep their discipline..right.

FullSizeRender (2)Once again the fans took advantage of the £10 tickets.  There is a lesson here for all clubs.  Whilst it has been nearly a decade since the fans tasted European football, it is clearly the right thing to do to bring in potential new fans or those simply priced out of the Premier League games.  Two interesting side points to this.  Despite marketing the fact (to death already) that this is the Club’s last season at The Boleyn, the first two home games have not yet sold out despite being on general sale.  Perhaps it is the fact that the cheapest ticket is £42 (and £25 for an Under16), or that potentially the games may move from their 3pm on a Saturday slot due to progress in the Europa League.  The second will be the crowd for the friendly game on Sunday versus Werder Bremen.  The last pre-season friendly has traditionally been played at The Boleyn, always versus a foreign side and nearly always for some strange-named cup.  This Sunday it is the Betway Cup (Last season West Ham beat Sampdoria in the Marathonbet Cup) with ticket prices £20 for Adults (£15 for STH) – it will be interesting to see how many will come to that game.

IMG_5164Bilic shuffled his team around for this game against FC Astra with new signings Angelo Ogbonna and Dimitri Payet coming in for their home debuts, whilst James Collins replaced the suspended James Tomkins.  In midfield youngster Reece Oxford was given another chance after performing so well in the first round against the Andorrans.  The Romanians had filled their section of the stadium, their number boosted by locals from London.  They are on an upward trajectory thanks to the investment in the club by owner Ioan Niculae, who bought the club in 2010 and moved them from Ploiești to Giurgiu in 2012.  Whilst this was potentially the biggest game in their history, they weren’t coming to London just to make up the numbers.

West Ham United 2 FC Astra Giurgui 2 – The Boleyn Ground – Thursday 30th July 2015
It was as if West Ham had learnt nothing from the four games already played in this competition in the end and the boos that echoed around the stadium at full-time suggested that the fans felt the same.  Yes you could put it down to a “bad day in the office” but that would be the third bad day in a row with no idea how to make it better.  The icing on the cake was Bilic’s dismissal from the technical area near the end.  Quite why he got himself is a mystery in a game which wasn’t dirty nor did the officials get much wrong.  Worrying early signs of a temperament issue?

Two-nil up and in control of the game and we f@#k it up…royally.  It could have been worse I suppose.  We could have lost.  But the complete lack of discipline, tactical awareness and reliance on a striker that gives us all hope we could still play in the Premier League lays bare the fact the Hammers simply got this all wrong, again.

FullSizeRenderThe first half domination was plain to see as corner after corner was delivered into the box.  It wasn’t a question of if but when they would score.  Valencia finally broke the deadlock with a smart header before departing on a stretcher after a nasty fall.  With Carroll on permanent sick leave and Sakho still suspended from his lack of discipline in Andorra, the only real option was Maiga.  That is worrying for the season ahead.  Still, if we need an attacking midfielder we are fine – we can field a full XI of those at the moment as the club seem reluctant to sell any of them.

The second half started well with Zarate dancing through the defence before slotting home a fine second goal for The Hammers.  Then it all went wrong.  Yellow’s for Noble (no surprise), Payat and Collins as the West Ham domination failed to materialise into any further changes.  Then Collins picked up a second yellow and off he went.  Three red cards in five games.  Whilst there is irony in the fact of how we got into the competition, it more importantly shows the lack of discipline and awareness of how playing European opponents differs from Premier League teams.

Within minutes the Romanians were back in the game when Boldrin’s stunning strike from distance cannoned off Adrian’s bar and over the line.  Many of the West Ham fans could not help applauding – it was a superb strike.  The visitors grew in confidence, forcing corner after corner before Ogbonna headed into his own net ten minutes later to level the tie.

Despite having over 66% of possession, 15 shots on target and 15 corners West Ham travel to deepest, darkest Romania in a week’s time knowing they have to out score their opponents.  A draw will see The Hammers exit the competition and potentially the last chance to play in Europe for a very long time.  That regret may take a while to sink in.

So how do they prepare for next week?  For starters, watch this game time and time again.  Look at how the Romanians exposed the defensive weaknesses after the loss of O’Brien in the first half and Collins in the second.  Fortunately Sakho will be available but unless he gets the service from the midfield it will be tough.  Payat showed some promise but he is a player used to playing with more intelligent footballers around him.  And please, no more red cards!

Screw you guys, I’m going home

To be fair there was a dozen or so titles I could have used for this mini-blog about my visit to watch South Park.  Not since Rhubarb & Custard Rovers went bust back in 1978 has a football club spawned its own animated show.  Not even the Oil and Gas billions of Chelsea and Manchester City led to the resurrection of a new series of Hong Kong Phoey or Top Cat (rumours that Barcelona have signed a deal to remake that as “Top Catalunya” are yet to be confirmed).  According to the Buzzfeed website, the catchphrase in the title is the most recognised line in the animated sitcom that has been running for 18 series since the late 1990’s.  Oh how the fans of Ryman League South side South Park must laugh every time visiting supporters leave.  The club apparently still has a ban on signing players called “Kenny” for fear of their lives.

The football club’s trajectory has been at the expense of the TV show.  There could only be the place for one South Park in the media and it was the time of the football club to claim their rightful mantle.  Just ten years ago the club were playing in the Crawley & District League.  They didn’t play their first national cup game, the FA Vase tie against Shoreham, until 2006 and five years ago entered the FA Cup for the first time.  In 2014 they won promotion to the Ryman League and more than held their own in their debut season last year, mainly thanks to the goals of Chris Smith (34 goals) who had now joined tonight’s opponents, Burgess Hill Town.

FullSizeRenderOne of the keys to their success is having a 7 day a week facility that is used by the community.  Whilst the clubhouse sits a couple of hundred of yards from the ground, it is used for all hospitality for the club as well as a cricket pavilion and darts.  Dare I say there was a fast shoe shuffled there a few nights a week too.  For those who don’t know where South Park is then let me enlighten you.  Head around the M25 to junction 8, follow signs to Reigate, navigate the one-way system and then head down the narrowest, twisty country lanes for 1.4 miles and you have arrived at your destination.

Tonight’s game was a bit of a bonus as it gave me the chance to have a little look at one of our opponents next season, Burgess Hill Town who swept all before them last season and judging by their pre-season acquisitions will be quite a proposition this season.  Not that you can ever learn anything from friendlies, apparently.

South Park  1 Burgess Hill Town 4 – King George’s Field – Wednesday 29th July 2015
The one vital component in scouting a team is a team sheet.  It’s all very well in the professional era where all of the players have names on their shirts, but at a Non-League level it is neigh on impossible to find out who is who unless you know the club well.  Which I didn’t.  Still you can look at formations and style of play – that is until they change that two or three times in the game.  Still, I had a nice bottle of Hog’s Back Brewery TEA which more than made up for my almost blank sheet of paper at half time.

FullSizeRender (1)This really was a game of two halves.  It also broke my run of twelve consecutive games where both teams had failed to score, a run that had taken me across the world and back. South Park started the brighter and took an early lead and had the better of the midfield exchanges in the first period, then after the break it was a different story as Burgess Hill changed things around and scored four goals which their dominance deserved.

Time will tell how far the South Park journey will go.  For now they seemed very much at home in their little country pad, with an excellent community facility, looking to upset the bigger teams in the league.


Frank who? Pirlo consigns Lampard to the bargain bin on his debut

Our Englishman in New York, Luge Pravda,  breaks his vow never to set foot in Yankee Stadium, to see the Pirlo show.

Yesterday, Sunday, just as I was wondering how I would get over the void left by the Tour de France finishing my laptop beeped with the familiar sound of a message in my Gmail chat. It was good friend and fellow sports nut Andy, asking me if I fancied seeing NYCFC at Yankee Stadium vs. Orlando City? Furthermore, we would be in the “Ultra’s” section! Moreover, it was a free ticket. I quickly checked the MTA for travel time. I would have to leave before the end of the last TdF stage. Andy informed me of a recent invention called “DVR” and what with the stage being largely processional for the Maillot jaune I was very soon on the subway heading to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Changing for the 4 train at Union Square I was instantly greeted by a sea of sky blue on the platform. 75% of the passengers getting on had on club colours of some sort.

Talking of sky blue, it is probably worth reiterating for newer readers of my extremely occasional pieces for this hallowed blog that I am a lifelong Utd fan, that being Manchester United of course. Since their inception I had vociferously told anyone asking about NYCFC that I could never in a million years endorse a City outfit. That all went up in a puff of smoke when I considered that a) Andy was going b) Pirlo was going to make his debut and c) the ticket was free. I should also add d) courtesy of a friend who tweeted me, somewhat sarcastically:


Turns out the “Ultra’s” section is simply the “Supporters” section: those most vocal and loyal fans occupying the bleachers (can they be loyal in their inaugural season?) I have to say it was hugely impressive to see such a turn out and so many fans of a new club so into it. The cynic in me may wish to ask if the fandom and apparent passion is all somehow manufactured, but frankly, the more people get into the beautiful game here in the US, the better in my opinion. And New York was crying out for a team that plays in, er, New York (here’s looking at you New York Red Bulls, now home to not one but two Wright-Phillips, in Harrison, New Jersey).

3As for the match? Well, the first half was edged by Orlando until David Villa scored a good goal right on half time. When asked about the quality of the sides, Andy confidently informed me that both teams had a few stars surrounded by “guys like me”. Which means Andy sees himself as English League One quality! And on topic one of the stars on show, Kaka, had a right old barney at least 4 of his teams mates, finger wager and remonstrating with them; presumably for never having won a World Cup.

The match ended 5-3 to the home team, and in typical LP style, I was not actually looking in the right direction for about 3 of those goals. But I was most definitely concentrating in the 56th minute. Pirlo time:


And boy the place went bonkers. As in full on popcorn showering bonkers. And boy did Pirlo look good out there. As one of Andy’s friends succinctly put it: “every time Pirlo passes the ball it is the best pass in the history of MLS”! I think my tweet sums it up:

All-in-all a very enjoyable experience. Mostly I have to admit for the Pirlo show. But also to see a large crowd so into it, even trying to sing chants that don’t along the standard US “let’s go____ <insert team name>”whilst flinging beer and popcorn everywhere. There were even some flares being set off outside after the match. Ultra’s indeed. Even if this is a City franchise, my wish to see soccer the biggest sport in the USA, outweighs my own personal club allegiance. And quite why the Glazers don’t do something similar I will never know.

Lastly, very different circumstances to the last time I saw Orlando play, last year up in Rochester, in the league below the MLS. Which you can read all about here.

Everybody needs good neighbours

19183144984_09dad2cd1c_kHaving a professional club just five miles down the road often appears to be a bad thing for a Non-League club.  You have to make the best of the situation and respect the pecking order in terms of league position.  Sometimes, when home league fixtures clash, we have to compromise on either suffering lower gates or moving our game much to the annoyance of our fans.  But the cold, hard economic truth is that if we don’t, we lose out.  Our bigger, stronger neighbours don’t even register a raised heartbeat if we move to an earlier or later game to accommodate the few dozen fans who otherwise may not come to us. But that few dozen matter.  Financially, that’s another £500 in the bank.  Whilst that is less than a couple of hours pay for some Championship players these days, that is a quarter of our budget for the whole of our squad.

We are fortunate to have Brighton & Hove Albion almost on our doorstep.  Relations between them and us (in that order as it’s not a symbiotic relationship) are good, and for the second year in a row, they agreed to send a first team squad down the A27 in a luxury coach for our first home game of the season.  Interest for the game locally is obviously very high.  So high that we have to make the game all ticket and cap the attendance at 2,300.  Whilst the Pan probably could hold more, fans want to be able to buy food, get to the bar and have a decent view.  At that number all of that is possible.

19185004683_23c0e26130_kObviously we have to make a number of logistical changes for the game.  As tickets are only sold online and have to be printed out, we need an army of volunteers armed with scanners, rather than turnstile operators taking cash.  We need additional toilets, food kiosks and car parking for the TV crews (yep, plural this year) who will be attending.  Because we are playing a Championship side then the draconian FA rules on when and where alcohol can be served have to be adhered to.  Yep, we know it was just a friendly, and yes we know that they will probably never know if someone sneaks a pint out of the clubhouse, but rules are rules. *takes health and safety hat back off*

Off the pitch the club is in rude health at the moment.  The 3G is the talk of the town and has had a very positive impact on the first team’s training, with smiling facing, fitter, stronger players and a queue of players who are interested in signing for us.  Alas for the reduced budget.

The result is more irrelevant for us than for the Seagulls.  They will be expected to win.  The fans are growing more and more impatient with Chris Hughton after his negative tactics at the end of last season (which did keep them in the division mind).  Last season it ended 5-0 to Brighton and no Lewes fans would go home feeling ashamed by that.  But manager Steve Brown was having none of that, telling anyone who would listen that we would give them a fight.

19183085844_5c7a44553b_kSo with the sun shining, the drummers drumming, the pitch looks superb and the fans are in full voice as the two captains led the teams out. Neither season will be made or broken today, but to 2,300 fans of East Sussex football it promised to kick off a long, hard season.  Before the football could start the whole ground observed a minute’s silence in memory of Don Lock, a life-long Brighton fan who had been killed a few days earlier.

Lewes 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 18th July 2015
Some may think that the awarding of the Man of the Match to the young Lewes keeper Dan Hutchings told a different story to the one the score line did.  However, they would be wrong.  Whilst Hutchings was called upon to make a couple of good saves, he was one of five or six Lewes players who could have won the award, chosen by the Match Sponsors.  He would have been my choice, both for the excellent second half double save that denied Colunga a nailed-on goal (and would have won me the Golden Goal!) but also for the way he has slotted into the side in the last week.  It probably helped having a vastly experienced back four in front of him, made up of two A Trialists (OK – Steve Sutherland from Met Police and Jordan Wilson from Grays Athletic if you really want to know), Rooks legend Chris Breach and new signing March-Brown.

For the first few minutes Lewes probably gave the visitors too much respect, allowing them to retain possession of the ball.  But when they realised that Brighton’s best chance of a goal came from 17 year old James Tilley, confidence grew and they started playing the ball around.  It was always going to be a tough ask to win this one but Lewes had a very good shout for a penalty in the first period when Nathan Crabb was wrestled to the floor by the Seagulls keeper and Calderon as a corner was on its way over.

19183340834_64e028387b_kThe second half saw 20 changes made in total, which for me on the PA was a nightmare.  At one point I announced Brighton’s third choice keeper Sanchez had donned the number 26 shirt and was playing on the right wing, whilst Josh Courtney came on for the Rooks, looking very similar to Steve Brinkhurst (because it was Steve Brinkhurst).  Whilst Brighton fans will point to the very young eleven that finished the game, so can Lewes with Hutchings, Welch, Marshall, Conlon, Laing and Brown all still young enough to turn out for our Under21’s/Development squad.

19810651691_5e4511b218_zWhilst Brighton should have wrapped it up at the death when Ward pulled his shot wide, a draw was a fair result for both teams, although obviously one set of fans went off down Mountfield Road much happier than the other set.  Putting my Chairman’s hat back on, we couldn’t have been happier.  Excellent crowd, good bar and food takings, award-winning programmes all sold out, great TV coverage and I even got to nutmeg Gully, the Brighton mascot.  Not quite up there with the wedding day but close.  Roll on 8th August and the start of the new season.