That sinking feeling


14898284290_f8e8dcf3a9_zThere are some teams that whenever you play them, there is always something to talk about.  Games between Lewes and Hampton & Richmond Borough can never be classed as dull and today was no different.  Just six games into the season and the game between The Beavers and The Rooks was already being classed as a “six-pointer”.  Both sides found themselves in the bottom four coming into this game.  That certainly wasn’t in the plan for both sides at the start of the season.  But then again, if life was predictable, we wouldn’t need bookmakers.

We’ve seen sending offs galore between the two sides, last minute winners, relegation-saving goals and strikes that would have won goal of the season if it was in the Premier League.  Today, we would have swapped all of that drama for a dull 1-0 away win.  Irrespective of the result, it would be one of the better away trips of the season.

Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Lewes 1 – The Beveree – Saturday 30th August 2014
In the past few weeks we’ve been left ruing some bizarre refereeing decisions that have had a direct impact on our poor start to the season.  Today, once again there was some poor officiating although none of the decisions could be said to have ultimately impacted the result.  The Rooks only came to life when Hampton & Richmond’s full-back Ben Osman was sent off for a second yellow with twenty minutes to go.

14898233309_615b6cc306_zBoth sides looked nervous in the opening period with few chances on goal that worried either keeper.  In fact the highlight of the first half was finding out they had garlic mayonnaise to put on the chips – such refinement is sadly lacking at Non-League grounds these days.  But all of that changed within seconds of the restart when Lewes’s winger, Nick Wheeler was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the area.  Most of the crowd didn’t see the offence although the linesman was pretty quick in raising his flag.  Of course it was Charlie Moone who stepped up and slotted the spot kick into the corner.  Moone seems to have scored in every game he has every played against Lewes. In fact on the train on the way down I discussed the odds we could get on him as first goalscorer, that is if I was allowed to bet on football still.

One became two soon after when left-back Wells was allowed to head home unmarked.  The day was going from bad to worse.  But then, a ray of hope as Ollie Rowe pulled one back and then Osman was sent packing.  Could we fashion another dramatic result at the Beveree?

Ten minutes later, Nathan Crabb got to the byline and pulled the ball back to Terry Dodd.  Five yards out and Dodd managed not only to fail to hit the target but managed to clear the pretty high stand behind the goal.  I repeat, from five yards. Hampton were now hanging on, although using as many time-wasting tactics as possible.  Last season, the FA, under instruction from FIFA, instructed referees to only stop the game for an injury if it was clearly serious or a head injury.  Yet today the referee kept stopping play every time a Hampton player rolled around on the floor.  If we can be bothered to understand the rules then surely they can too.

15061901466_c05b6e76f6_zWith a few minutes to go Elliott Romain was wrestled to the floor by Hampton full-back Wells.  Then, right in front of the “assistant” referee, they had a tussle that quickly escalated to a 18 man brawl.  The officials completely lost control of the situation and it took a couple of players from each side (one being the Lewes keeper) to restore order.  Wells was yellow carded as too was Romain, yet the original offence was worthy of a booking alone.  In which case, what exactly did Romain do?  A picture tells a thousand words so make what you will of this…

Alas, for all the bluster it wasn’t enough.  A fifth consecutive defeat for Lewes was our reward for the long journey.  You make your own luck in football, so they say but someone needs to tell us the recipe!

Stirling Moss


About 6 miles off the Thanet coast is a strip of land known as the Goodwin Sands.  This 25 metre strip of sand, sitting atop a chalk escarpment becomes visible at various times each day depending on the tides.  Many a ship has met with disaster trying to navigate around the area whilst a number of schemes over the years have been hatched to try to build structures on the sands.

However, if there is one lesson that any engineer worth their salt will tell you is that building on sand, let along fast-moving sand is a very bad idea.  History has shown that time and time again, yet people still think they can tame nature.

photo 2So what has this got to do with Bank Holiday Monday football at the Dripping Pan?  Well, for starters our visitors today were Margate, one of the coastal towns that can claim the Goodwin Sands as part of their own. But more importantly, it is about the lessons that football has taught us about thinking we can follow certain paths.  Make no mistake, in the driving rain at the very aptly named Dripping Pan this afternoon, Margate showed that they are head and shoulders above Lewes, and probably most teams in the Ryman Premier League this season thanks to a massive cash injection into the club.

The club aren’t exactly hiding their wealth under a bushel.  Talking to their charismatic chairman, Bob Laslett before the game he was very bullish when asked about his ambition for the club.  “Back to back promotion….six of them”.  You get the feeling he wasn’t kidding either. Since he joined the club just after Christmas, Margate have started to build both on and off the pitch for a future higher up the league.  With most clubs in the Ryman Premier League running with a budget between £2k and £3k a week (I guess), Margate’s appears to be significantly more.  The recruitment last season of Terry Brown, the ex-AFC Wimbledon manager who guided them out of the Non-League was a bold statement of intent and one that is starting to bear fruit.

Non-League football fans can be divided into three groups – those whose club have a financial backer and are spending money; those who don’t have access to the same resources and are deep-down jealous of the success of these clubs; and those who have been burnt by a failed strategy before.  For every Fleetwood Town, Crawley Town and Stevenage there are the Darlington’s, Hornchurch’s and very recently, Celtic Nation’s.  Nobody wants to see football clubs in financial distress – people’s livelihoods are at stake as well as years of history, tradition and the blood, sweat and tears of the fans.

photo 3My one concern for Margate is simply around geography.  They have made one big push up the Non-Leagues before, finishing in eighth place in the Conference Premier in 2002, however within two seasons they had been demoted due to ongoing issues with the redevelopment of their Hartsdown Park ground.  Twelve months later they fell into the Ryman Premier League where they have been since.  Whilst Kent currently only supports one Football League side, there are over 1.73 million people living in the county.  In Thanet District alone there are 134,000 people, more than Ipswich and Norwich who both have football teams who average over 20,000.  Margate’s current average home attendance is around 600, nearly double that of last season’s 325.  The appetite is clearly there for success, but will it be enough to sustain the club as they move through the leagues?

There is also not guarantee that the approach will be successful.  There is a big shadow looming over their success just down the A2/M2/A249 in the form of Maidstone United who are also attempting to climb their way up the Non-Leagues back to the Football League where they last played over twenty years ago.  They too have cash to spend although their advantage is a modern stadium that is already producing revenue seven days a week and being located in the heart of the county with good transport links that can bring those floating Premier League and Football League in.  During the afternoon you got the feeling that Margate are nervously looking over their shoulder at the events at The Gallagher stadium.

The Ryman Premier League is a bugger to get out of.  Lowestoft Town can vouch for the difficulty in trying to invest in a championship winning squad year after year.  Last season they finally made it at the fourth Play-Off attempt although their reward is to be put in a league where they have “short” away trips to Chorley, Barrow and Fylde.  Whitehawk invested heavily to go the same way two seasons ago then ended up in a relegation battle last season.  In other leagues, Chester and Halifax Town gambled on heavy investment to return to the Football League but are now counting the cost of over expansion.  Nobody wants to see that happen to any club.

Arriving at a very wet Dripping Pan Margate could boast a 100% record with five wins out of five, only matched by their nemesis, Maidstone United.  Their line up spoke volumes of their intent.  Ryan Moss, Charlie Allen, Kane Wills, Luke Moore. Proven players in the Ryman League and above – quite a haul considering the journeys some of these players have to make to Margate. But if the gamble pays off?  Well, who knows where they will end up.

Lewes 1 Margate 5 – Monday 25th August 2014 – The Dripping Pan
One the way out of the ground a chap turned to his mate and said, “It would have been a different result if it wasn’t for the rain”.  I’m every the optimist but nobody could complain at the result or the comprehensiveness of the victory.  Margate were unrecognisable from the team that scrambled a draw against Lewes just four months ago.  Less than a year ago the Gate came to the Pan and were sent away with a 3-0 defeat. Not one of that starting XI played in this game.  Times are certainly a-changing on the Isle of Thanet.

photo 1It is fair to say that the weather had an impact in the first half.  All three goals were rain assisted to an extent with defenders from both sides losing their footing to create the chances, first for Moss as early as the five minutes, and then again seven minutes later when James Fergany slotted home after a game of ping-pong in the Margate area.  The main talking point of the half came just before the break when Ollie Rowe was sent off for the second time in a week.  As Jason Prior took the ball passed Rowe, the centre-back tried to haul him to the ground.  Prior managed to regain his balance, carried on and shot at Banks who saved well.  The referee then pulled back play for the original offence and sent Rowe off.

Did the referee wave play on?  There seemed to be a lack of a whistle.  If the referee allowed play to go on then Rowe surely hadn’t “denied a goal scoring opportunity” as he carried on and shot.  What happens if he scored?  Would Rowe would have still be sent off?  All questions that the referee couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer when he walked off at half-time.

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the decision, Margate came out for the second period with their heads high and showed their class.  Three further goals from Allen, Pipps and then Moss to complete his hatrick made sure Margate took all three points home in style.

As Terry Brown walked off he shook hands with the fans.  Their immediate conversation was not about the victory but about Maidstone’s last-minute defeat to Tonbridge Angels.  Surely it is too early in a season for paranoia to be setting in?  Enjoy Non-League football for what it is…..

Evil Angel*


Bad things are supposed to come in three’s correct?  Try telling that to the 70 or so Lewes fans, players, management team and directors who were at the Longmead Stadium last  Tuesday night.  Two goals conceded, two players sent off both for two bookable offences, two players limped off by half-time and unfortunately just two shots on goal.  It wasn’t one of the best away trips we had experienced in the past few years that is for sure.

It is fair to say that the start of the season hasn’t been the best we could have hoped for. The fixture list threw up a difficult start but mix in a raft of injuries and suspensions and we had almost got to the stage where I would be polishing up the Puma Kings at least seven months earlier than normal.  The Rooks went into the game with freshly-relegated Tonbridge Angels with all four first choice midfielders out injured, and finished it with two full backs playing at centre-half.  After picking up just two points from the opening three games this could be the opportunity the Rooks needed to start their season.  Tonbridge hadn’t started brightly themselves, still re-adjusting to the Ryman Premier League after a few seasons in the Conference South.

photo 2In terms of Ryman Premier games, this was one of the more local games for me.  By local I mean less than an hour’s drive away.  With the little Fuller’s away learning what life was like back in the Seventies by staying at their grandparents up north, The Current Mrs Fuller jumped at the chance of a romantic night out in the heart of the Garden of England.  Perhaps I oversold the “I will buy you dinner” part by failing to mention it was to be a hot-dog in the Longmead Stadium but I can get so forgetful at my age.  Still, it was time together, as I tried to break the frosty atmosphere on the journey to the game.

The Longmead Stadium is one of the better ones we will visit in the league this year.  Decent size covered stands behind each goal and a nice size main stand down one side.  They do have a very strange little stand for Directors only on the other side which I could have tried.  They have a decent-size club house but annoyingly no beer can be taken outside although the view from inside isn’t bad.  It had been quite a few years since we had played the Angels as we had passed each other as we were relegated from the Conference three years ago whilst they were going the other way.  The added interest was the number of ex-Angels in the Lewes team including their former captain, Gary Elphick.

Tonbridge Angels 2 Lewes 0 – The Longmead Stadium – Tuesday 19th August 2014
Definitely a game to forget although the aftermath of two players suspended and two who will be unavailable due to injury for at least three weeks is one that will be fresh on our minds for a while.  You cannot take anything away from Tonbridge – they took the chances presented to them without ever looking completely dominant.  Even with Lewes down to 10 men they seemed reluctant to push forward to make the game safe.

After a cautious opening twenty minutes Lewes were dealt a blow when full-back Alex Malins was forced off the pitch with suspected knee ligament damage.  A few minutes later Tonbridge centre-half Jerome Sobers headed home unmarked from a corner.  Sobers was Malin’s man to mark. Ten minutes later Malins was joined in the red cross tent by skipper Gary Elphick, much to the enjoyment of the home fans, with a hamstring injury.

photo 1Ten minutes into the second period and Sanderson, on loan from Ebbsfleet United, picked up a needless second yellow card.  Twenty minutes later and Ollie Rowe joined him after a harsh yellow for tangling with ex-Rook Billy Medlock.  Still Tonbridge took a cautious approach, preferring to sit back and hold onto their lead rather than looking to make the game safe.  But with ten minutes left they showed some genuine attacking intent when Okojie hit the booster button down the right, beat Logan, pulled the ball back for Teniola who made no mistake from close range. Game over.

The defeat left Lewes in esteemed company at the wrong end of the Ryman Premier League table, joining some other sides quite fancied to be at the other end of the league including AFC Hornchurch, Hampton & Richmond Borough and last season’s Play-Off semi-finalists, Bognor Regis Town.  Still, only 42 games to go.  I’m sure we will look back at the indifferent start to the season in a few months and laugh….hopefully.

*P.S – I learnt a few years ago about the power of titling blog posts in a particular away, so the term “Evil Angel” in no way relates to Tonbridge Angels, their team or their hospitality, rather than the fact a very large Adult film producer uses that title for some of their films and thus thousands of people search for it (allegedly).

Don’t play to the whistle


“Moving the ball on the floor now Frase you’re a bird of paradise
Brinky’s Pink and yellow Nike’s that he believes are very nice
With a step to the left and a flick to the right Nicky Wheeler’s way out wide
He know he’s something special although some think Luke’s the best

photo 1It’s name is RIO, it means no more practicing on sand
No longer will we have the disappointment of training being canned
And when it’s built it will sit sort of behind the Main Stand
Oh Rio, Rio you are the future of the Dripping Pan

We’ve seen them at Maidstone and we’ve seen them overseas on TV
A new 3G pitch will mean so much to the Rooks
Like a cup run or a transfer deal
But owned by the fans, the owners and of course especially you

The scheme’s called RIO but it’s not to do with sand,
We want to build a 3G pitch on nearby land
So here’s our message now to every football fan
Oh RIO, RIO all we need’s 200 grand”

 

Welcome back to the Dripping Pan for the start of another season of highs and lows, of excitement and boring bits, of goals and misses, of poor and hilarious refereeing decisions (depending on whether it was in our favour or not).  But this is no ordinary season in the history of Lewes Football club.  The conversations, dreams, arguments and blue sky thinking relating to the redevelopment of the Dripping Pan finally moved off the drawing board last season and into the planning phase.  Thanks to the hard work of a few, the majority stand to enjoy new facilities by the end of the season….that is depending on getting the final funding parts in place.  We’ve filled in every grant application, found funding from the most obscure pots and now just need the contributions of the great and good from the Lewes faithful.  So near yet so far.

After the bruising encounter at Witham on Saturday, we regrouped at The Pan for our first home game of the season.  With the ground looking absolutely tip-top after a summer make over, all we needed was the sun to shine and the football to flow on the pitch.  Two issues – heavy rain was forecast for 8pm and David Spain was our referee.  Remember him?  Most Lewes fans do for a number of reasons, none of the good.  One day we would surely be talking about the positives in a game he officiated in?

If the choice of referee wasn’t a bad enough omen, the beaming face of “Jonah” Marber in the bar as I walked in was almost enough for me to turn straight back around and drive home.  His record in recent years read LDLDLLD.  Surely the combination of rain, Spain and Marber wouldn’t be the unholy trinity?

Lewes 2 AFC Hornchurch 2 – Wednesday 13th August 2014 – The Dripping Pan
Where to start on this one?  The rain arrived 15 minutes early, just as we made our way around to the Jungle.  Within a minute it was so heavy that it had us all running for cover.  All?  Not quite.  Messrs Lamb and Williams, discussing a new idea for Come Dine With Me featuring married couples and their secret lovers, where the illicit affair would be revealed over dessert, stayed on the terraces.  Hardcore fans to the end.

No sooner had we taken our spot under cover than the main talking point of the game happened.  Even 24 hours after the game it is hard to believe what actually happened.  Hornchurch won a free-kick, somewhat fortunately, on the left-hand touchline close to the half-way line.  The free-kick was hit long and whilst the ball was in the air the referee blew his whistle.  The players “stood down” putting no pressure on keeper Banks as he caught the ball.  All of the players turned away and started walking back up field, obeying the whistle for the free-kick (although no one actually knew what he had blown for).  Banks threw the ball on the floor, Hornchurch’s centre-back, still up for the original kick walked up to the ball, dribbled it to the left and put it in the net.  No-one could believe he had awarded the goal.  The Hornchurch bench stood amazed, the Lewes bench and players went ballistic, the referee ran around the pitch like Benny Hill, being chased by people wanting to slap him on the head.  But the goal stood.

The injustice of the goal seriously affected the Rooks.  They lost their head and their game plan.  Twenty minutes later it was two-nil when Tuohy turned the ball in from close range.  Half-time couldn’t come soon enough.  A posse was sent to search out Mr. Marber and eject him from the ground but he had gone to ground.

The second half didn’t start much better for the Rooks until they made a couple of tactical changes, throwing on the pace of Crabb and Romain.  Fifteen minutes to go and Romain’s persistence saw a great ball played across the box and Nick Wheeler smashed the ball home.  Hope.

photo 3With the clock ticking down towards the 90th minute Lewes hit a hopeful free-kick into the area.  Somewhere in there the assistant referee saw an infringement and flagged for a penalty.  We’d already discussed the possibility of a “soft” penalty being given to even things up and here it was.  Cool as a cucumber Luke Blewden stepped up and smashed it home. 2-2.

Did we deserve a draw?  Probably not based on the whole game.  We were poor after we conceded the first goal until the substitution in the second half.  Did the rain have an impact? Nope.  Was the presence of Mr. Marber a factor?  Not really.  And the referee?  Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

 

Back on the long and winding road to ultimate disappointment


It’s a glamorous life sometimes.  Commonwealth Games one week, the luxury of being a guest in an executive box at the Schalke Cup, a visit to see the New York Cosmos and then hobnobbing with the world’s press fawning over Gareth Bale in the Super Cup final. Hard life, some may say.  But I’d swap it all for a bit of Non-League action.  Well, maybe not all of it.

14872309423_d2ca07abff_zSo sandwiched between the MetLife Stadium, New Jersey and the Cardiff City Stadium, in er Cardiff, is a trip to the Village Glass Stadium, Witham.  I can imagine your thoughts are racing, heartbeat speeding up and a few more butterflies fluttering in your stomach. Or is it just me.

The new Ryman Premier League season is upon us once more and The Mighty Rooks are on the road on day one, travelling down the A12 to visit newly promoted Witham.  Let’s get the main fact about ‘The Town’ out of the way early shall we? Olly Murs once graced the turf here in his pre-billy big balls days.  Few Non-League teams can boast an X-Factor runner-up as one of their old boys but that’s no excuse for playing his songs as part of the pre-match entertainment. That would just be cruel on us visitors.  Just like those 100,000 Chelsea fans who were all in the Allianz Arena two years ago when they won the Champions League, thousands of Murs fans saw him make his September against Waltham Abbey six years ago and double that witnessed his one and only goal for the club a week later at Potters Bar Town. Perhaps one day there will be a Louis Tomlinson-style take over the club (or not)? Stranger things have happened.

After a shaky couple of pre-season results, the Rooks new-look team began to gel, earning very credible draws against big sides like Eastbourne Borough and Charlton Athletic. Oh, and Whitehawk.  However, the side that would take the field today against Witham would look very different due to injuries to key players like Jack Walder, still getting back to full fitness after his horrific injury at Thamesmead in March, and the impressive Henry Muggeridge.  Also missing in the centre of the park would be the suspended Jack Dixon.  Still we always had Fraser Logan as cover there….except judging by his Instagram snaps, Fraser was a few hundred miles away in a sunny beach with his family. That is of course unless it was Clacton-On-Sea rather than Kos.  We were also going to be missing our physio Natalie who chose to get married instead of working at our game last week at Eastbourne. Priorities, eh!

14869072015_fd1bc59c90_zThis is the best Saturday of the year in Non-League calendar.  All of the hopes and dreams of a record-breaking season are still alive at 2.59pm – longer in a number of cases.  The sun is shining, the banter is fresh, we can excuse a bad pass or two and even Terry’s jokes are bearable.  We all know that it will never last and soon we will be caught up in a spiral of frustration as our dreams, in the words of many a West Ham fan, “fade and die”.

My long journey to Essex started at midnight when I boarded a flight from JFK to Heathrow.  Six hours later and I was kissing the tarmac in London.  If only our transport network was so efficient.  Three hours, FIVE trains later and I was back at TBIR Towers.  A short re-introduction to the family and I was back in the car, this time re-acquainting myself with the M25 as it crawled at 10 miles per hour north. When I eventually arrived at the, deep breath, Village Glass Stadium, I had spent six hours travelling since landing early.  But I’m sure come 5pm it would all be worth it.

Witham Town 1 Lewes 1 – The Village Glass Stadium – Saturday 9th August 2014
You can look at this result in one of two ways.  Any draw away from home when the conditions aren’t suited to your style of play and you have a number of key players missing, is a good result.  Alternatively, you can look at the balance of play and the fact you had the best chances and go away disappointed.  On the whole I would say that our view moved from the latter at full time to the former on the long journey home a view shared by the Lewes Manager, Garry Wilson twenty minutes after the final whistle.

We all gathered in hope behind the goal as the Lewes team, wearing their new “bright” kit that brought Barcelona so much luck a few seasons ago.  The pitch, to coin a James Boyes, was like a “deep shagpile carpet made of straw”, seeming to be suffering from the effects of the sun so early in the season. Lewes had managed to extract Fraser Logan from a bar in Kardamena at 3am and he anchored the midfield, allowing the new strike force of Blewden and Dodd to run the two centre-backs ragged in the first twenty minutes.  Both defenders were yellow carded for heavy tackles in the first half an hour, one of which forced Ross Treleaven out of the game, adding more woes to our midfield situation.

Lewes started well, using Wheeler on the wing to get behind the defence and putting the balls into the box for Dodd and Blewden although their efforts were well saved by the Witham keeper, who was firmly in the banter bracket, enjoying giving as good as he got with the travelling fans.  Nothing nasty, all good-hearted and of course he was clapped off the pitch by us all at the end of the game.

14682454688_29960b2b9b_zThe club had recently had the bad news of the death of their chairman and he would have been proud to see how resolutely they played in the remainder of the half.  The home side should really have scored themselves when Ryan Blackman blazed over the bar from eight yards out with the goal at his mercy.

After a swift slice of cake, served with a cheeky smile by the ladies in the boardroom we were back at it.  Finally Lewes broke the deadlock when Dodd’s effort was blocked and strike-partner Blewden smashed it home from close range.  Alas, the lead just lasted seven minutes when Banks hesitated and Godbold headed home.  Witham were now holding their own, looking dangerous when they came forward and being cheered on by the hundred or so home fans.

The drama was over though.  As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute a high ball over the top of the Witham defence saw Nathan Crabb get in from of Ruel who appeared to deliberately run into the Lewes forward felling him in the penalty area.  The Witham defender, using every trick in the book stayed down until the referee stopped play as Lewes were preparing another assault on the Town goal.

That was the last chance.  The Rooks had to make do with a point, coming away from Essex with another injury that will hamper team selection for the two games coming in the next week against AFC Hornchurch and Billericay Town, two sides who tend to play on the physical side.  But football is BACK.  Who cares about traffic jams, delayed trains and bobbly pitches.  The season is well and truly underway once again.

Spanish eyes aren’t smiling today


During the summer months my licence to roam to watch football carries a few endorsements.  I have to factor in “family time” around any games I want to get to, and my wanderlust desire is relatively muted – after all who really wants to drive 5 hours to Bangor City on a Thursday night just to watch some football (that’s what I told myself after I lost a coin toss a few weeks ago).  Last weekend, with the sun shining brightly I suggested a trip to the Outlet Shopping Centre at Hatfield whilst I went to watch Stevenage v West Ham United, and next weekend there is the small matter of tickets to see the “is she/isn’t she up the duff” Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo whilst I go to watch Hearts v Annan Athletic.  This weekend it was all about a trip to Hastings.

Despite being the birthplace of Erasure’s Andy Bell, everybody’s favourite comedian Jo Brand and Neil Ruddock (now listed on Wikipedia simply as “bankrupt”) it did give the world the genius talents of Alan Turing, Spike Milligan and Suggs.  Oh, and Anna McNeill Whistler, better known as Whistler’s Mum for all you Mr Bean fans out there.  It also has a pier, arcades, fish and chip shops and some amusements that look more dangerous than they really are, especially as a parent AND that they appear to be the same ones, with the same operators from when I came here as a child back in the 1980’s. Oh, and a football team who coincidently happened to be playing Lewes on the very day I suggested a Fuller Family day out. Funny that.

Alas, the mother of all storms on Friday night had driven the littlest Fullers under their beds, still not emerging by breakfast time on Saturday and the BBC weather forecast clearly said rain from 12pm to 5pm.  Perfect football weather.  So the family fun day was off (boo), but I was still able to go (yah!).  It was still only a friendly, and we had lost our previous two, including one last week to Sussex County League side Hassocks.  We all know it is all about the performance not the result at this stage of the season…unless you win of course, when it is vice-versa.

cropped-14692633105_6708776470_k.jpgHastings United’s The Pilot Field is a cracking old ground.  Once upon a time it hosted Speedway and Greyhound racing (not at the same time of course as that would be silly) and you can still see remnants of the track today. You can also see the overgrown old grandstand on the upper pitch, once the home of Rock-a-Nore FC on the walk down Elphinstone Road.  Today, with its cavernous grandstand and tall covered terrace it is showing its age.  Three years ago Hastings United reached the Third Round of the FA Cup, losing to Middlesborough, although there appears to be little in the way of a legacy of that brilliant cup run (and the significant prize money) apart from a half and half scarf above the bar.

Whilst the two clubs are both in East Sussex, there is little in the way of animosity between them.  Both seem to enjoy the challenge of beating Eastbourne Borough, sitting almost equidistant between the two towns.  Of course I say this with the fact that Hastings have had the better of the most recent games against the Rooks despite our different league fortunes.

14692344702_d3d2264174_kOf course when we finally arrived in Hastings, after a tortuous 3 hour detour to avoid the bane of modern motoring, the over turned caravan, the sun was shining.  The BBC weather app was still telling me that right now I should be cooling off in a heavy shower, rather than standing on the veranda (such a colonial word), enjoying a cold pint of MasterBrew as the teams emerged.  Modern technology can tell us who scored the opening goal in the game between Tammeka v Paide in the Estonian Meistriliiga within seconds of the ball hitting the net (Nigerian-born Jasper Uwaegbulam as you asked) yet ask it to report what is going on above us in the sky and it is rarely right.

Hastings United 2 Lewes 1 – The Pilot Field – Saturday 19th July 2014
Most games will throw up one main talking point, with both sets of fans arguing the toss for hours.  Whilst this game was only a pre-season friendly, it was a game of football and thus was played under the rules that the FA set out.  So I do not buy the “it’s only a pre-season game” when controversial issues are discussed.  In normal circumstances, and by that I mean in any other game refereed according to the laws of the game, Hastings would have gone in at half-time down to ten, possibly nine men.  That’s taking nothing away from the result – Hastings’took advantage of two pieces of calamity defending to win the game – but without their first choice keeper for over an hour, the result may have been different.

The first incident happened when new signing Elliott Romain chased what appeared to be a lost ball over the top but got in front of the defender and knocked it past the on-rushing Hastings keeper, who simply brought the Lewes forward down.  Clear penalty, clear professional foul yet the referee didn’t even produce a card.  Jack Dixon stepped up, and put the ball in his favoured corner.  1-0.

A few minutes later and veteran Sean Ray appeared to strike Romain in the face with his arm.  The Lewes forward didn’t make a big deal of it, although the referee decided to take the Lewes player to one side to have a chat.  A few minutes later the referee sided up to Ray and said something…no guesses what it was.

14505964729_feeb73921c_hHastings equalised just before the break when a corner was dropped under pressure by Rikki Banks and the ball was finally bundled home by Sawyer.  Even-stevens although the Lewes bench were clearly unhappy with the lack of action about the two incidents.  In normal instances we would have all gone down the opposite end for the second half, but our viewing position was more than adequate in the sunshine and close to the bar.  What else could you want in Non-League football?

If they weren’t bad enough then the Hastings keeper decided to try his luck again, this time flattening Romain outside the box when he was clear on goal.  This time the referee pulled out a yellow card.  What’s the point in that?  If he gave nothing for either incident in first half, why caution the player in the second?  He was never going to send him off in the game so it simply because a gesture that had no meaning.

With fifteen minutes to go Hastings once again capitalised on indecision and inability to clear the ball in the area and substitute Bankole had a simple job of turning the ball in.  The result gave the home side some local pride, although it counts for very little once the season gets underway.  Overall, a very pleasant afternoon on the Sussex coast.  It may not have been hotter than the Mediterranean but we did feel the pain in Spain…..*

*The referee, David Spain, isn’t that well liked in Lewes due to a number of refereeing performances in seasons gone by…let’s just leave it there.

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.