LIfe in the gutter


Hope is a viable strategy for many football clubs – in fact for many it is the only strategy. It’s a motto, held together by duck tape, that underpins the grass-roots of our beautiful game. That’s not to stop the dreamers dreaming. As Oscar (Wilde not the Chelsea midfielder) famously said, “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars”. Today we were most certainly looking up at the stars.

Our day started at 8am discussing the future of the football club surrounded by history and tradition. Our home for the first part of the day was The Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw from Lewes Station,  where back on Wednesday 23rd September 1885 our football club was formed. In an article published in the Sussex Agricultural Express a few days later, it was reported under the headline “Formation of a Football Club” that a meeting the previous Wednesday at The Royal Oak Public House, chaired by Mr J Plummer Chapman had seen the created of Lewes Football Club and that “The Dripping Pan would be available for football matches during the winter months. Over 130 years later and we are still going, with the Pan now being one of the oldest 20 football grounds in the world used continuously by the same club.

FullSizeRender (1)One hundred and thirty years later, our objective was to create a strategy for the next five years for the club. In some ways we had to thank our lucky stars we had made it this far, having come so close to letting unbridled (and some might say unfounded) ambition take the club away from us. Just like any organisation in the commercial world, we need to have a clear vision, a set of objectives and a framework for growth. We may be tiny when compared to Premier League clubs but our ambitions boil down to the same thing – progress. The difference is that we have to grow within our means and in a sustainable manner, with every programme we sell mattering whilst they can just sit back and watch some of that £1bn a year TV money roll in, not even caring today that they have priced out a generation of fans.

Creating a strategic plan that everyone buys into don’t just happen overnight. An initial strategy was created back in 2010 when the football club passed into community ownership under the leadership of the original Rooks125 group. Most of those initial objectives have been met during the last 5 1/2 years with Charlie and Ed the two remaining members on the board from the original six. The new plan would see us through to 2020 as well as providing a framework for growth past that date, where it is hoped we will have more willing individuals invested in the club.

I took on the initial task of drafting the first draft of the new plan. It’s quite daunting to start writing such a document, having to balance the core, day-to-day tasks with trying to find the inspiration, aspiration and perspiration for growth. You look for clues from other clubs but have to be mindful that you don’t want to simply copy something someone else does – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m used to having to write strategies for others in my other life, being a paid outsider looking in on the business models created by others, making recommendations for improvements and hammering home the point that they, not me, have to own the actions. A strategy without owners prepared to make changes and buying into the vision is simply a word document with pretty pictures.

Some fans may question why we need a strategy – we are after all a football club – our only objective games should be to win games. If only that was the truth. Others simply lament for the free spending, couldn’t give a toss about what happens tomorrow, days gone by. The work that goes on behind the scenes will never be enough for them. But for the majority of our 1,200 owners they want to know that the club is in good hands, not just today but years into the future. That’s what today was all about. Assessing whether the ways we did things today were the right ways, and right things as well as looking for other ways to grow the club.  No idea was a bad one (even some of Ed’s ones).  The football club has many moving parts such as our community work, our ownership model, our commercial proposition, our 3G and our Academy as well as our footballing sides.  Each is somewhere intertwined with another, so creating a plan for one, would have a knock-on on another.

1_NeedhamMarket2015-282x400As a group we have differing visions of where we could and should be and what our motivations were for sitting around the table in the first place. We have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and different temperaments – as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fellow board members in a democratically elected organisation. Or something like that anyway. But we all are gathered in the same place at silly o’clock on a match day to discuss the same thing. What can we do to make the future of this football club better.

Strategising over, and safe in the knowledge that we think we were heading in the right direction it was time for some football.  To turn again to Wilde, Lewes came into this game well and truly in the gutter but recent form had seen us not only looking but in the words of S Club 7, reaching for the stars. Unbeaten in 2016 versus a side who had just one win since mid-November and had slid down the table to sit just above the relegation zone. It made a welcome change that we weren’t looking to the stars for signs of poor weather for what seemed like the first time in weeks. A Rooks win and we’d not quite be breathing down Needham Market’s neck but we’d be sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend in preparation.

Lewes 0 Needham Market 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th February 2016
After our enthusiasm at looking into the future, the present was a little more like the weather.  Dreary.  A point and a clean sheet would have been a good result a few months ago.  Today it is a small step up a big mountain.  The frustration was we did enough to win the game, and should have been celebrating another win tonight, especially as the linesman’s flag to deny Jonte Smith’s late effort was proved to be wrong on the edited highlights (in fact it was the only second half highlight).

FullSizeRender (3)The conditions were tricky, but it was the same for both sides.  The visitors started the brighter, with centre-forward Michael Brothers proving a real handful for the Lewes defence, and it was his strength and determination that should have seen Needham go in one-nil up at the break but his cross shot failed to hit the target.  A second half change to an all-energy front four by Darren Freeman tantilised the biggest crowd of the day in the Ryman Leagues but never quite troubled the visitor’s keeper, with Smith’s disallowed goal proving to be the major talking point.

Other results at the foot of the table meant we actually gained points on teams above the relegation zone in the most part, and didn’t fall any further behind.  With a game against Dulwich Hamlet to come on Wednesday the unthinkable could still happen.  Even our strategic plan can’t call that one.

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Concept of Marginal Gains


Just down the road, 2 1/2 hours before Lewes kick off in their game against Farnborough, The Football League Championship’s two clubs go head to head.  Brighton & Hove Albion are the last remaining unbeaten team in the top 10 divisions of English football, a remarkable turnaround from last season where they avoided relegation in the last few weeks of a season characterised by dull, scoreless football.  Back in the Summer, Chris Hughton brought his first team squad down the A27 and could count themselves lucky to go back with a 0-0 draw.  Confidence was high from the Lewes camp, whilst the draw against a team five divisions lower hardly increased the membership of the Hughton Appreciation Society.

Six months on and the situation could hardly be more different.  Hughton is being hailed a messiah by the North Stand faithful whilst Lewes are still looking for their first home win and are looking up the skirts of every other team in the Ryman Premier League.  We could spend hours debating why, but it is more important to touch on what the future holds in my opinion.

In the last few days I’ve read a couple of interesting pieces about the finances of The Seagulls.  The superb Swiss Ramble analysed the numbers in detail on his website last week, There can be no denying the investment by owner Tony Bloom in the club, both on and off the pitch, and for the sake of their loyal fans I hope they do reach the promised land of the Premier League, not only because they deserve a crack at it, but to also give Bloom some financial return on his huge investment.  Footballing history has given us plenty of examples as to where the single investor model turns sour at some point, and whilst Brighton fans may say “It’ll never happen to us with our Tony around”, I’m sure that is what Bolton Wanderers fans said when Big Phil was splashing the cash for Big Sam at the Reebok.

FullSizeRender (16)But what about Lewes?  We don’t have the ownership model that means we are indebted to one person.  However, we are bottom of the league.  In such situations managers tend to grab at any straw going.  How often will you see them bring in a raft of new players to try to solve an issue, normally expelling a fair few out the back door.  It is very rare that the financial situation in such cases ends up with the club making a profit on the dealings or paying less wages.  We all deep down know that, unfortunately, Chelsea will not get relegated this year.  Whoever comes in in the short-term will be given some patience and will make small changes that turn defeats into draws, and draws into wins.  Before you know it they will be knocking on the door of the top seven.  Why?  Because in most instances, teams do not become bad teams overnight or even over a pre-season.  If you can keep the same core of players then with small adjustments they will become better gradually.

This is the theory of marginal gains.  The concept is that if you improve in every variable underpinning or influencing your performance by just 100% then cumulatively you get a significant performance improvement.  The Performance Director of British Cycling, Dave Brailsford is often quoted as the biggest proponent of the theory, but it was actually Sir Clive Woodward to first openly admitted to using the concept in the preparation for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, that England would ultimately win.  “Winning the World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but by doing 100 things 1% better” he said post tournament.

So what does that actually mean for a grass-roots club like Lewes?  It means working with the management team to make sure when the team step onto the pitch they are 100% prepared.  Kit may seem a small issue, but for one player having a pair of shorts that aren’t too tight could be that 1%.  Energy drinks – another 1%.  Ensuring the showers are hot – 1% and so on.  That’s obviously not going to be the reason why Chelsea improve but their 1% gains may come from preparation patterns, pre-match meals, warm up routines as well as personnel changes.

Lewes manager Darren Freeman has been used to winning both as a player and a manager.  He has a formula as to the type of player that he wants to see pull on the red and black shirt each week.  Coming into the club where it was already in the bottom four and three months into the season, his marginal gains are a lot tougher to deliver. But that doesn’t stop him trying.  There’s not going to be one single event that can turn the current situation into a rosier one – unless half a dozen teams all play ineligible players for 5 or 6 games in which they win and get 15 point deductions.  So the club has to look at improving marginally, and more importantly, within budget, in a multitude of areas.  Obviously, players will come and go such as this week where a new winger and a new centre-forward have come in, replacing an existing proven scorer.  Unusually, the net effect of the transfer dealings is financially positive.  Two for the price of one – a marginal gain in terms of squad numbers.

Fans obviously play a part as well.  Any Brighton & Hove Albion supporters heading back to Lewes that could be enticed in, irrespective of the price they pay should lead to a marginal financial gain.  The cost of admitting one extra fan is essentially zero.  There is a stewarding cost, but you can only set that prior to the game based on what you think the crowd would be.  If an additional 1,000 fans turned up today it would cost the club nothing extra but we would gain from whatever they pay through the turnstile and then food/drink/merchandise and so on.  That revenue would then boost the budget which would then be re-invested in different aspects of the club and thus delivering that marginal gain.

PastedGraphic-2-page-001It’s fair to say that the biggest marginal gain from today’s game though would be three points.  In fact, anything less than three points would be a significant blow to the club.  Farnborough’s off the field problems are well documented, falling from being just one game away from the Conference Premier four years ago to facing expulsion from the league.  We’ve been there and know how the fans pain feels, knowing that their fate is often out of their hands.  But for today it would be all about the Lewes win.  Still without a home win this season, Lewes could at least look to Farnborough’s away record of drawn one, lost ten as a positive omen.

The marginal gains philosophy and approach is  hardly rocket science. It’s a simple idea, but with many simple ideas, takes some energy, commitment and discipline to see the positive results.  Alas those three words are often lost on fans who want immediate results.  As a club we have to balance both.

Lewes 1 Farnborough 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th December 2015
It has only taken 269 days but finally we have a home win to celebrate.  25th March was the last time we really got to dance a silly jog of delight on the Philcox at the full-time whistle but yesterday we got that winning feeling again.  In terms of marginal gains the result was huge. We got 3 points, 3 more than the six teams above us.  In the grand scheme of things it makes little difference to the table or the threat of relegation, but we came out of the day the winner at the bottom end.

FullSizeRender (15)Farnborough were poor.  They lined up with a 5-3-2, failed to get one shot on goal, picked up five bookings and the only threat they posed was when Estonian striker Vastsuk threw himself to the ground in the penalty area and picked up a caution – interesting that we normally only see antics like that from players with league experience, and Vastsuk is no different, on loan from Reading.  Good to see the professional game teaching players the importance of ethics.

Lewes were good.  They started strongly and could have had a couple of goals (and at least one penalty) before Phil Appiah’s 25 yard blockbuster on the stroke of half-time put The Rooks in the lead.  By then the curse of the new striker had struck as George Landais limped off on his debut.  His replacement Trevor McCreadie was denied a penalty in the second half by yet another poor performance by the officials, being tripped in exactly the same spot as last week in the area.  OK, it wasn’t a vintage performance, probably not as convincing as last week’s draw against Leiston BUT you could see the 1%’s.  Winger Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe beat his man more frequently, the two centre-backs blocked more shots on the edge of the area, James Fraser looked a little more match fit.  Marginal gains.

So we danced all night to the best feeling ever.  Three points can make or break your weekend.  Hopefully the couple of dozen Brighton fans who decided to stick around after their painful first defeat of the season will have enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s, a slice of Christmas Pie and a goal worthy to win any game.

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Doom Cycle


In the last year I have written a number of articles trying to explain some common Economic Theories using football as a reference point.  Up until now they have all been hypothetical but today there is a real link between the theory and the reality that Lewes are currently experiencing.

The “Doom Cycle” is a phrase often used to refer to the current boom-bust-bailout structure of the financial sector that leads to economic crises.  The pain of the last few years is still too real for many people to have forgotten.  The Doom Cycle has been defined by The New York Times as: “a virtueless circle in which banks take ever-greater risks to boost returns”

In footballing terms, it means trying every possible variable to try and break a cycle of bad results.  Just like Lewes’s current run which has seen us exit all four cups and take just one point from the last fourteen Ryman Premier League games.  I think you could say that was a bad run of form.  Yet within that sequence there have been many positives.  Alas, football is a cruel game and failure to take chances when presented, or convert possession into something meaningful.  The virtueless circle where you try anything different, whether than is a formation, personnel, preparation or set pieces to find a win.  It is fair to say that you get to a point somewhere along the line where you will take any win, irrespective of how it comes.

“You can’t buy any luck when you are at the bottom” said someone to me at a League meeting last week.  Every club has sympathy with teams at the bottom (well, at least to your face), saying platitudes such as “your luck will turn” or “It will turn out alright”.  To those 23 other teams in our league they will hope we stay down at the bottom – after all it is one less position for them to worry out.  Last week at East Thurrock we felt the full effect of fate – three players ending up in hospital, one of which with a long-term injury just days after signing a contract plus a sending off that embarrassed the basic rule of refereeing about being impartial and not influenced by the actions of the teams.

CaptureAs results continue to be poor, crowd numbers fall.  Football fans are either unconditionally loyal (circa 20% of the fan base) or are results driven (70%) with 10% sitting somewhere in between.  When times are good, the crowds come and watch and spend money in the ground.  When scores go against you, those results-driven fans decide to spend their time and money elsewhere on a Saturday afternoon.  That is totally understandable.  Alas, when budgets are set at the start of the season you do not factor in being bottom of the league – you set realistic targets for average gate revenue and yield per spectator.  You can’t factor in those 2 or 3 big games that provide some extra insurance being postponed or being moved.  Today we were supposed to be welcoming Dulwich Hamlet and their army of beer-thirsty fans.  Instead they are in FA Trophy action.  With no disrespect to Leiston, but their dozen or so fans will not make up for the hundred or so from Dulwich.

So as results decline, so do the crowds and match day revenue.  To keep a balanced budget that means having to cut spending in other areas, which potentially impacts the performance of the team even further.  And so on – the club enters a Doom Cycle or a virtueless circle of short-term decline.  I think we have dispelled the myth now that the answer to any problem is to “increase the budget”.  Most fans understand that we are not in a position to do that.  We have our cloth, cut to size and we have to wear it.

Some fans have questioned the commitment and focus of the club, even suggesting that there is foul play at work on the board in how we manage the club’s finances.  It’s tough to have the answer the same questions time and time again, especially those around the budget.  There is no secret fund, piggy bag or plastic bag full of cash.  Sure, we could take money from elsewhere – not paying our electricity bill or income tax, but we’ve been there, done that.  Still some think that the responsibility of the individual board members is to constantly put their hand in their pocket.

The game would also see the launch of our new 12th Man scheme – a different approach to adding to the first team budget.  Launched at 12:12pm on the 12th of the 12th (clever, eh?) the concept has been used with some success elsewhere but even this initiative was scorned upon by some fans on Social Media – suggesting that the move was an admission of failure and neglect from the board for not putting in money the club didn’t have into the budget. Sometimes I truly wonder whether the stress is really worth it.

Of course, all of the pressure would be worth it if we could grab that first win at home this season.  It would be nice for once to head home with a smile on my face.

Lewes 1 Leiston 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 12th December 2015
This was one occasion when a draw felt like a win to the 370 Lewes fans in the ground (plus 25 Dulwich Hamlet ones – more on that later).  Seven minutes into injury time and Lewes launched a final ball into the box, looking for a goal that their pressure deserved.  The ball must have hit every player, bar Lewes keeper Winterton in the box before James Fraser got a final touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The outpouring of emotion was clear to see.  There was no time to restart the game, alas as I genuinely thought we could go onto win the game.

For 93 minutes of this encounter The Rooks had dominated play.  Unfortunately, the same old issue haunted the team in the opening few minutes – a failure to clear the ball, a missed tackle and an opponent left unmarked.  The result? 1-0 down after 4 minutes 43 seconds.

image1The strong wind certainly played into Lewes’s favour in the first half but no matter how many times the ball went into the box, there was never a head or a foot on the end.  Last week a fellow Ryman League chairman made a valid point.  “The reason why week after week we have poor officials is that anyone with any potential is fast-tracked up the leagues, so we are left with those who will never get any better” Those words echoed around the terrace when the officials failed to see a clear push on Pacquette in the first half when he looked to get on the end of a Redwood cross, and more clear-cut, failing to see that McCreadie was fouled in the box in the second half, despite the marks in the turf, giving a free-kick a yard outside.

The Rooks pressed in the second period, but once again the goal was leading a charmed life.  At the other end Winterton was an almost spectator.  This had been the story of the season – playing well for long periods but failing to convert possession into goals.  That’s not down to us being a community club, the beach huts or our match posters.  That’s down to not being able to find an out and out goalscorer.  In fact, that is something the club have been missing for years – someone who could score us 20 goals a season and probably win us 15/20 additional points.

I’m sure we all felt we had run out of time, but it was actually our opponents who gave us the goal.  Despite Leiston having a goal kick, one of their players decided to make a comment to the referee.  Cue long lecture and a yellow card, allowing us the additional time to score.  Thanks for that!

The whole crowd appreciated the point – even the 20-odd fans from Dulwich Hamlet who had come down for a stag do, arranged before their club’s progression in the FA Trophy and consequently the cancellation of our game with them.

Perhaps that goal was the tipping point for our season? The one moment where our luck changes.  We know that we are still in Intensive Care but for the first time in weeks we had a faint heartbeat.  Has the Doom Cycle been broken? Well, we will see in 7 days when fellow critically ill patient Farnborough arrive in East Sussex.

Football is nothing


E5C6DC2D-F1C5-44C4-970B-D8A1426B8C24Being a football fan means having to take the rough with the smooth.  You often hear manager’s bemoan their luck when decisions don’t go their way, or when a break in a game goes against them.  “Over the course of the season, these things even themselves out” is a line straight out of the David Pleat Talking Bollocks guide – they don’t.  Football has a habit of building us up with hope then cruelly knocking us down.

After our last minute defeat to Tonbridge Angels on Tuesday, The Rooks fell to the bottom of the league.  It has now become irrelevant on how others are doing – it is all about us.  100% focus on preparation for each game, with a no-lose mentality.  As fans we have unconditional love for our team.  Some fans may show signs of weakness when times get tough – although if you listen to a Chelsea fan of a certain age they will swear blind that they stood back in the day on the crumbling Shed when the team battled against relegation to the third tier of English football.  Amazing how they were the best supported team back then, eh!

Each game brings a new challenge.  As a fan you look at the stats, trying to find some crumb of comfort from recent form or head to head results against our opponent.  For the visit of Kingstonian there wasn’t anything particularly warming about either.  It’s now been 240 days since we last won a home game, whether that is a league, cup or friendly.  Since our last win against Enfield Town we’ve seen a new government elected, One Direction split up and England win the Ashes – global events that have shaped our world, yet still The Rooks can’t find that win at home.

Everyone I bumped into at the ground when I arrived at 1.30pm told me “we’re going to win today”.  I had that same confidence.  The performances in the last two games against Hailsham Town and Tonbridge Angels had been encouraging to say the least.  A win today and all would be well with the world, enough to warm even the coldest heart on a freezing afternoon.

Lewes 1 Kingstonian 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 21st November 2015
FullSizeRender (12)
It all started so well.  Four minutes in and a smart move saw Henry Muggeridge slot the ball home.  The sense of relief both on the and off the pitch was palpable. Some teams in a similar position would have immediately retreated but Lewes kept the tempo up, trying to find a second.  Whilst the half ended more on a whimper than a bang, we went in ahead for the first time in sixteen games.  Darren Freeman’s half-time teamtalk revolved around not sitting back.  So what did we do?

We sat back and allowed Kingstonian to come into the game.  It could have been all over with twenty minutes to go when Richard Pacquette’s shot across the keeper bounced back off the bar.  Two-nil would have been game, set and match.

One of the soft underbellies of Lewes in recent years has been conceding late, crucial goals.  Tonbridge Angels (lost 1-0), Hampton & Richmond Borough (lost 2-1), Billericay Town (lost 3-2), Harrow Borough (drew 1-1) this season alone. So when Kingstonian threw on veteran striker Ricky Sappleton in place of a centre-back with five minutes to go, the sense of foreboding swept across the terrace.  It took him 90 seconds to score the equaliser and a further 3 minutes to grab the winner.  Words couldn’t descibe the feeling as we saw all 11 Kingstonian players, bench and fans celebrate the goal in the far corner.  To give the players credit they pressed for an equaliser.  Laing ran into the box but was scythed down.  Penalty!!!  Not if you are a referee who is 20 yards behind play it isn’t.  Free-kick a yard outside of the box.  Thanks for that.

Not all defeats are the same.  When you are truly beaten you need to hold your hands up and say “fair do’s”.  But when you lose in such a manner, time after time you are simply lost for words.  Whilst Bill Shankley said football was more important than life itself it isn’t.  It hurts when you lose, deeply when you in a situation like ours.  But what can you do?  You can’t change the past only the future.  So we go back to the drawing board and plan for 3 points next week at Staines Town.

We may be in the gutter but we are looking up at the stars


 It’s not been the best starts to a season down here at The Dripping Pan. A cracking pre-season, with our young squad passing the ball on the ground and scoring goals lured us all into a false sense of optimism that disappeared after 45 bruising minutes in our first league game at Leatherhead. Seventeen league games on and we are still in the bottom four, on our second manager of the season and were dumped out of both the FA Cup and the League Cup in the first rounds. You have to endure a lot of rain to see a small rainbow supporting Lewes.

But in the past few weeks we seen little slithers of light among the dark clouds hovering over East Sussex. Losing by one goal in seven last week, then gaining a point and a clean sheet on the road on Tuesday was encouraging from a performance if not a pure points point of view. New faces have been brought in who seem to want to play for the manager rather than for money and that spirit is starting to shine through. Whilst we don’t yet have to climb Everest to retain our place in the division, Kilimanjaro is still a challenge, but knowing that my 60 year old neighbour managed it with the right preparation gives me hope.

This week we held our first ‘meet the manager’ session along with our AGM. It’s fair to say that the club has taken a bit of a battering on social media and the fans forum this season on a number of topics. These of course escalate when we lose, with the world and their wife having their say – which is quite right. The fans forum should be a place to air concerns, criticism and comments. But disappointingly, when given the opportunity to direct questions specifically at the manager and more importantly the Board and executive management of the club, only a dozen or so turn up. For those who did attend I’m sure they got a greater insight into the time, effort and resources that go into making the club work towards financial stability. Nobody shy’s away from the fact that football on the pitch has been, in the words of my learned colleague Mr Ramsden, “relentlessly mediocre and conspicuously awful” in recent years and that’s what brings people through the gates. But likewise without the activities that take place off the pitch the club would be no more.

imageWe may be unusual from a Non-League budgeting point of view that we never include any potential cup revenues when we draw up the financial plan for the year. Every club starts the season with dreams of what could be with a bit of luck in the draw and a couple of decent performances. Our feeble exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Phoenix Sports back in September in from of less than 150 saw us earn about £5 from the cup this year whilst Staines Town, the last Ryman League representative left in the competition can look forward to travelling to East London next Saturday and taking on Leyton Orient, having already pocketed £25,000 in prize money and will get a 50% share of a very decent gate next week. So today’s tie against Hampton & Richmond Borough becomes significantly more meaningful with a bit of cash on offer. Should we win it will essentially provide an extra week’s wages for the squad.

Sounds easy right? Especially when we have already taken four points off The Beavers this season, or in other words, 57% of our total points. Back in mid-September we went to The Beeveree and came away with an impressive 4-0 win that gave us all hope that the tide had turned. Lewes then went on a ten game losing streak, only arrested, with no pun intended, at Met Police on Tuesday whilst our visitors today have ascended the table to arrive at The Pan in second place in the table.

The FA Trophy is an incredibly tough competition to progress in for clubs at our level. The financial gap between us and even teams in the league above is huge. Last season we know that Maidstone United were spending in the region of £9k per week, Margate potentially more or in other words up to five times the amount we spend on our playing budget. I would guess that both have increased that amount for this season yet Margate sit just above the relegation zone. Factor in that almost fifty percent of the Conference National have relatively recently played in the Football League and you can see how tough it is to progress.

imageThe other issue any club that has a good run in the competition faces is fixture congestion. Back in 2012 Wealdstone reached the semi-finals of the competition, the last time a team from the Ryman League reached that stage. Their reward was to have to play 3 or 4 games a week at the back end of the season because of the rules stipulated by the league. That ridiculous concentration of games ultimately saw them lose any hope of automatic promotion.

I think we all echo the words of manager Darren Freeman in “I’d rather be playing someone else” today, but perhaps this is just the test we need to see how far we have progressed I a short period of time before we return to base camp and preparation for our league table ascent. Cover your ears Ed but it’s not about the money, it’s about the performance.

Lewes 0 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 -The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st October 2015

Cup football in the middle of a run of league games can be a help or a hindrance for a team. In some ways this game was a free role of the dice for the rapidly reforming Rooks side – ninety minutes to gel as a team rather than focusing on the result. With injuries and player ineligibility the Rooks certainly started as the underdogs but left the field after ninety minutes feeling that a draw was a bit harsh on themselves.

Not only were key players missing from the Rooks line-up but the ridiculous FA rules meant that no-one could have a beer on the terraces. Yep, this is the same tournament that for seasons was sponsored by Carlsberg. Still, chips with curry sauce were back on the menu at the Chuck Wagon – in my mind we were already in the next round.

imageDespite the absences Lewes put in their best performance of the season, bar the last time they played Hampton & Richmond. Players knew their roles, played to their strengths, won 50/50 balls, timed the last ditch tackles and adopted a ‘attack is the best form of defence’ mindset. The only thing that was missing was the winning goal, although not for the want of trying.

Two consecutive scoreless draws do not make a season, but when you’ve had the run of form we’ve had recently gone through its a massive step in the right direction. We go again on Tuesday with our eye still on that big cheque.

Ten out of ten


Words have been hard to come by in recent weeks.  I’ve not let up in the number of games I have been watching, although for once my work trips haven’t coincided with any games (they’ve wised up to my little games perhaps?)I’ve just been short of motivation on what to write.  Being a fan of a team who go through a poor run isn’t much fun.  Being in a position of accountability of a team who go through a poor run is even less fun. Match days become longer and longer as you examine every little detail to see what you can do to end the run.

Today’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of mid-table Leatherhead marked the tenth consecutive defeat for Lewes in all competitions. The game, as the scoreline suggests, was pretty decent – five of the seven goals coming in the opening quarter of the game no less.  But I’m no longer able to walk away at full time as a neutral or even a fair-weather fan and have simply enjoyed the thrilling game.  I have to analyse where we as a club went wrong both in terms of preparation but also execution.  Whether we lost 4-3 or 7-0, we came away from the game with the same number of points – zero and our league position worsens.

FullSizeRender (8)You look for crumbs of comfort in this situation.  We’ve lost seven of those ten games by just one goal.  Seven different bounces of the ball, seven shots that the keeper could fumble, seven crosses we head to safety.  Seven different decisions could have given us seven points we don’t have today.  There’s no satisfaction in scouting a team, documenting their yellow belly but then falling foul to the sole threat they offer.  You can draw positional play diagrams to your hearts content, play videos of set-pieces all night or write detailed notes on tactics but if the players don’t take it on board then there is little you can do.  Leatherhead’s star man Karagiannis scored two superb, almost identical goals yesterday.  He’s a left-footed player who plays on the right. He hugs the touchline then runs inside the full back and shoots from distance. He’s done that twice in games I’ve seen.  Yesterday he did it twice in a few minutes and scored on both occasions.

Someone recently wrote on the club’s forum “Being a director isn’t about being popular.  It is about doing the right thing.” Yes, we are all fans but that doesn’t make us immune from not being accountable.  You need a thick skin at times – every decision is open to scrutiny.  Football fans at all levels see the game through different eyes and are satisfied by different things.  Growing up as a West Ham game I was always told it was better to play the “West Ham way” and lose 4-3 than to play direct and win 1-0.  I saw exciting players such as Alan Devonshire, Ray Stewart, Alan Dickens, Frank McAvennie and Paolo Di Canio. But some of the most memorable games were those where Julian Dicks, Martin Allen and David Cross were at their best.  They weren’t “flair” players – they played with their hearts and had a “win at all cost” mentality.  However, when you are deep in the relegation myre you will take a win at all costs.  We can all comfort ourselves that we lost whilst still playing some good football, but we still lost.

FullSizeRender (7)Earlier this year we took a tough decision to change our management team.  We were on a bad run and whilst we could have potentially scraped through without making a change, there was enough of a risk that we could be relegated for us to take the tough decision.  The majority of the fans backed the decision and we brought in someone who had managed at a higher level but limited knowledge of football in Sussex.  We battled and won games at all costs.  We retained our place in the division without any outside intervention yet some still questioned the style of play.  Our sole objective was to stay up yet some expected that “West Ham way”.

Lewes may be very different from other Non League Clubs in that we think about the future as much as the present.  The past is gone – we cannot change it BUT we can learn from it.  Coming within a whisker of not having a club at all is a sobering situation.  That near death experience will never be forgotten by those who went through it.  Thinking about the future means ensuring that we need to live within our means, not mortgaging today for something that will almost certainly not happen in the future.  Football is littered with the casualties of this blinkered view.  Leeds United, Coventry City, Blackpool, Portsmouth, Torquay United, Hereford United – the list goes on of clubs who have ignored the lessons of the past.  Some, such as Portsmouth and to an extent Coventry City now think in a very different way.

I would like to think that in five or ten years time we have a very different board at Lewes than we have today.  Change is good – a fresh perspective, new ideas not encumbered by the past. But none of the existing board will renegade on their responsibilities today.  Nobody tells you what the “right thing to do” actually is.  What is right to me may be wrong to one, two, ten, two hundred others.  Our frame of reference is and will continue to be until we are 100% self-sustaining “what impact will this decision have on the club tomorrow?”  The club has been criticised from some quarters that we concentrate too much on the off the field activities – the posters, the beach huts, the 80’s band as a shirt sponsor.  Without these things we would almost certainly be playing at a much lower level than we are today.  We are very good at creating media interest and consequently more revenue that can be invested on the pitch because we have that expertise within the club.

Fans come to football for a number of reasons.  Escapism, to meet up with friends, to be entertained, to play our their dreams.  You can fall out of love with football if you start seeing the game as a millstone around your neck, knowing that someone decisions made by 11 men on the pitch are your collective responsibility.

Yesterday could have ended up 5-5 or more.  Lewes created more chances in one game than they had done in the previous five or six.  Less than sixty seconds after we drew the score back to 2-2 the Leatherhead keeper made a save that he knew nothing about, keeping the ball out with his cheek.  At 4-2 our centre-back found himself with the ball at his feet with only the goal keeper to beat and poked the ball wide. Alex Laing hit the post.  That in itself brought some of that love back.  It made me realise the team did care, that the ten defeats to them meant something too.  For some fans it still wasn’t enough.  They wanted a win, a win at all or any cost.  I can understand that too.  But going back to something I said earlier, we didn’t lose because the club promotes its beach huts, its posters or its catering.  Likewise when we win (and we will do very soon) it has nothing directly to do with those things either.

When teams win every week, everything is right.  The team and the club can do no wrong.  But then when things do start to falter they are blown out of all proportion.  Chelsea’s start to the season has been average in comparison to other Premier League sides.  But they aren’t considered to be “another” Premier League side.  The media prefix their name with “reigning Premier League Champions” all the time.  The past is past.  There is no sense of entitlement in football.  West Ham’s win over Chelsea yesterday was down to the referee, goal line technology and Mourinhio’s half time spat.  Bilic’s tactics or the performance of players such as Payat become irrelevant.  Chelsea lost the game rather than West Ham winning it apparently.  According to the loyal fans, Chelsea’s predicament is down to the manager not getting the players he wanted to sign in the summer.  The fact that other teams have invested their smaller resources in a better way is irrelevant.

So back to football in East Sussex and our losing streak.  Defeats hurt, especially when you are hopelessly second best.  For the first time in quite a while I saw hope yesterday.  Hope that the players are caring as much as I do, hope that we can create chances and more importantly take them, hope that come what May (or April) that we will be looking down the table rather than up it.  Football should come with a health rather than a wealth warning at our level

67 seconds of joy


Football can be a cruel game sometimes.  Often you try to do the right thing, even though you know the end result may not work in your favour.  There are few football fans who don’t love to see players that have grown up with a club pull on the shirt and play their heart out.  Badge kissing in these circumstances is allowable.  But few players these days are one-club icons.  In the Non-Leagues where money is less (I stress “less” rather than “not”) of an issue, you will often get some club loyalty.  On Wednesday night when Met Police were visitors to the Dripping Pan, their manager Jim Cooper was celebrating his 12th year in charge of the club.  Whilst he may have masterminded his team’s victory over Lewes, how much of his preparation focused on the inexperience and youth of our team?

FullSizeRender (1)Faced with a reduced budget, managers have two choices – cut their cloth accordingly, or move on.  Lewes boss Steve Brown is certainly in the former camp – in fact he positively encouraged us to invest in the youngsters, and the future development of them.  “Some weeks they will get battered out there, but on the other side some weeks they will have the crowd purring”.  Whilst you can’t read much into pre-season games, there was certainly evidence of the latter in those games.  There was also evidence of the former in the first game of the season at Leatherhead.

We want to be a progressive club, so we have embraced Social Media as too have many other clubs at our level.  That includes having our games recorded and shared across the excellent Football Exclusives platform.  For those fans unable to get to a game, the ability to access highlights is fantastic.  It’s also very useful for opposing teams in terms of scouting, especially as they can pause and rewind the action to take notes.  Was there any surprise that Met Police played lots of high balls into the area in the first half on Wednesday night when they know we have a 17-year old making his full debut? No, but even at this level of the game you will try everything to get a slight competitive advantage.

So whilst you may feel that pride of seeing the players you have developed come through to make their first team debut, you also know that opponents will try to exploit that inexperience.  But on the other hand, every minute these young players is a minute’s more experience.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing these notes if we had got off to a flyer in our opening two games and were sitting top of the league.  Alas, we were propping up the 23 other teams (albeit on alphabetical order).  Our visitors Harrow Borough were up there with the teams of the season in the Ryman Premier League last year out.  Whilst they finished in the bottom eight, they were effectively dead and buried with a dozen games to go.  Then they found some guts, passion and a will to win.  Those final twelve games resulted in 25 points and safety assured with their win at the Dripping Pan in early April.

Just 24 hours after the visit of Harrow Borough to The Dripping Pan I would be heading north to take in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round game between AFC Emley and Parkgate.  There was no footballing reason for this one – no player to have a look at or team to scout.  It was a bit of a jolly.  But what did make me smile was the message on the Emley website that defined their mission:-

“We are a small club with very little money but what we can do, we try to do well and do “the right way”. On the playing side our vision is to develop the best local talent who want to succeed for the club and community we serve. The emphasis is on development of players who want to succeed for OUR club. This vision is underpinned, on and off the pitch, by the values of communication, respect, responsibility and solidarity.”

Who can not agree with that at our level, yet how many clubs and their owners are prepared to compromise those principles at the slightest whiff of some money? But back to today and the search for our opening points of the season.

Lewes 1 Harrow Borough 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 15th August 2015
For 67 glorious seconds we had a taste of victory.  That’s how long we held the lead for after opening the scoring in the 87th minute.  It was a tad harsh on the Rooks who built on their second half on Wednesday with an assured if unspectacular performance today.  Whilst the visitors will point to a goal disallowed midway through the second half, they rarely put young Stroomberg’s goal under threat.

Despite dominating first half possession it took Lewes until the final minute of the half to create a chance when the tireless Jimmy Muitt broke free of his marker on the half-way line, accelerated away, rounded the keeper but took the ball too wide.  He got his shot in which was cleared off the line, picked up the rebound which was cleared off the line again.

FullSizeRender (3)Lewes came close to taking the lead on the hour mark when Lovett’s snap shot was smartly saved by the Boro’ keeper, then the visitors thought they’d taken the lead when Page headed home at the far post from a well-worked free-kick but was deemed to have been offside.  The main talking point came in the 79th minute when Peacock’s clumsy challenge on Muitt saw the young Lewes striker leave the field on a stretcher.  Peacock, booked in the first half somehow escaped a second yellow despite taking out the Lewes forward in the air.

Muitt’s replacement Nathan Crabb won a penalty when his quick feet tied the Harrow defenders in knots and he was tripped.  No complaints and no mercy shown by Leon Redwood’s spot-kick.  The relief that spread across the ground lasted just over 60 seconds before Lewes were undone at the far post again and Taylor headed home unmarked.  The drama wasn’t over as in the final minute keeper Stroomberg pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem.  Fortunately, the ball stayed up the other end long enough for the referee to blow the final whistle.

The point lifted the Rooks out of the bottom four, although the table really means nothing at this stage.  The crowd – a disappointing 372.  We can look for mitigating circumstances such as the Summer Holidays, a small travelling support or the travel chaos around the ground due to the bridge repairs and college car parks closed.  Football fans are impatient.  They want success right here, right now.  As a fan I understand that, as someone invested in developing something special here at Lewes I’d hate to see fans missing out when this squad start to click and injuries withstanding, that could be just around the corner.