The beauty of Non League football


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Canvey Island 1 Lewes 1 – Saturday 28th February 2015 – Park Lane
Freezing cold, standing on an open terrace with nothing between you and Kent bar a small sea wall, with a cup of tea to starve off frost bite….Non League football….I bloody love it!

Back Home


“From back home I’ll be thinking about them 
When I am far away
From back home, I’ll be really behind them 
In every game they play
I’ll share every goal they are scoring
Out there
I will still hear them roaring 
And they’ll give all they’ve got to give 
For the folks away from home 

I’ll be watching and waiting
And cheering every move
Though I think we’re the greatest
That’s what they’ve got to prove
Once more they will meet with the best
Like before they’ll be put to the test
Oh they’ll give all they’ve got to give
For the folks away from home

I’ll see as they’re watching and praying
That they put their hearts in their playing
They’ll fight until the whistle goes
For the folks away from home”

Churchill-poster-282x400January hasn’t been the easiest month to be a Rooks fan.  A stonking away win at Grays Athletic (not that I can claim all the credit with my comprehensive scouting report mind) and the rousing home win in the Sussex Senior Cup quarter-finals versus Eastbourne Borough tempered with three defeats on the road where the team have hardly mustered a shot on target, let alone at goal. Despite the indifferent form that has yet to see the Rooks rise up the table, you have to go back to mid-September to find the last team to leave The Dripping Pan with all three points, and even them it was the league leaders Maidstone United.

For the first time in 2015 I was back in the country when Lewes were playing. My work travel schedule had so far meant I’d been in four different countries whilst Lewes had been playing recently. Following the action via Twitter is hard, especially in those nervous last few minutes. In the game versus Eastbourne Borough I was presenting at a conference in Sydney. My woops when Barry tweeted “FT: 2-1…” certainly woke up a few people at the back of the room, whilst when we conceded the opening goal on Monday at Kingstonian I’m not sure the Emirates lounge in Kula Lumpur totally appreciated my “For fuck sake” outburst. Technology gets better every day, so it can’t be long before Barry will streaming games through tiny cameras in his glasses across the world, saving me the pain of Twitter freeze.

But now I was Back Home (for those who don’t recognise the slightly amended version of the 1970 England World Cup Squad song), for a week at least, meaning all would be well with the world, Lewes would turn on the style and three points would be guaranteed. What could make the day better? How about some cheap beer left over from the previous night’s Beer Festival? Oh, go on then. Surely that would be the compelling event that would see East Thurrock bring their biggest away following ever?

IMG_3174A week ago I was sitting in a bar in Williamstown, just outside Melbourne (Victoria not Derbyshire), with a fellow Lewes Owner, sitting a Fat Yak in temperatures of 37 degrees. Heck, I even had my shorts on. Seven days later I was shivering on the pitch, reading out the teams. But who needs sunshine, well proportioned bar staff and killer spiders (I saw my first one later that afternoon) when you could have a pint of Harvey’s Scottish Ale, a Golden Goal ticket from Ethel and the roar of The Jungle? That was rhetorical question by the way.

In our award-winning* series of articles of Economic Theory explained by football, we looked the theory of value which surmised that the more football we watch, the less interest we have in each game. Having seen just three games in 30 days in 2015, my interest levels were at an all-time high. I’d take a scrappy 1-0 win today and it would be the best game ever.

Lewes 3 East Thurrock United 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st January 2015
First the positives.  We won, and up until the 94th minute, we won comfortably.  Two first half Sam Cole goals capped one of the best Lewes performances we had seen for many-a-month.  Despite the heavy, muddy pitch, you also have to doff your cap to our groundsmen Jack and Joe who had worked wonders to give us a game despite the conditions.

16413741852_73be8c88a5_hOn the negative side – East Thurrock.  Light yellow numbers on white shirts, in the dim Non League floodlights?  Really?  Nobody in the ground could see the number of the player who scored either of their goals, so when one of their officials decided to criticise us for a) announcing the wrong scorer and then b) not announcing their second scorer is a bit rich.  In the first half another of their officials had accused Lewes of cheating to take a two nil lead.  Firstly, Elliott Romain took a dive, apparently, when he was clean through on goal and had pushed the ball around the keeper.  The referee saw it as a penalty, although how he didn’t send off David Hughes was a mystery as Romain was in front of the defender before he was impeded (see Boysie’s picture and make your own mind up on both counts). Sam Cole stroked the penalty home then added a second when the ball fell at his feet three yards out after a free-kick from the right (awarded after Muggeridge dived according to same official – it was an eventful 5 minutes waiting for my food I can tell you).

IMG_3169Let’s take a minute to talk about Non-League food.  Not only did we have the beauty of the Beer Festival brews (Aspire and Scottish Ale ticked every box) but also the food on offer.  We don’t just do chips you know. We do “Poutine”…and they were absolute awesome (and so was the bagel).  Add in a superb first half performance and it was up there with my wedding day.

Lewes started the second half liked they meant business, scoring a third when Griffiths headed home, then Fraser hit the post.  Our lucky Talisman Patrick Marber thought we may need four to be safe and he was nearly right as East Thurrock came back into the game.  Higgins (although we couldn’t see that at the time) scored twice, the last one in the 94th minute to give the final score a rather flattering look.

I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming.  Football, beer and food.  Three of the four ingredients to a great day.  I will keep tight-lipped on the fourth just in case the Current Mrs Fuller has other ideas.

 

 

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The best things about football in 2014


So here it is – our final award for 2014, despite the fact we are now six days into 2015.  But football is the gift that keeps giving so here is my last offering for this year.  My three favourite moments from my footballing year.

3rd Place – New York Cosmos
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Back in August on a regular trip to New York I got the opportunity to tick not one, but two things off my lifetime wish list.  An opportunity to see the famous New York Cosmos was obviously the main agenda item here (complete coincidence that they were playing in the very week I was over), having grown up reading about the mythical team from the 1970/80’s in the NASL with Pele, Beckenbauer and of course Barrow’s finest, Keith Eddy.  Now back in the second tier of US football, the good times could be coming back, especially after announcing the signing of Raul.  But this wasn’t a night to remember.  A dull 0-0 draw played in a school’s athletics stadium but it was still “the Cosmos”.  And the second thing?  Getting to ride on one of those yellow American School buses I’d seen so often in films.  Oh, and I took a pretty good picture.

2nd Place – Lewes v Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United
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2014 hasn’t been the best year for The Mighty Rooks but for five glorious days back in March we were the best team in the world.  Well, perhaps in the Ryman Premier League anyway, as the top two came to The Dripping Pan and were both dispatched goal less and point less.  Luck?  Nope – I’m putting it down to the fact we (OK, I) scouted them both on a number of occasions.  Being taught how to scout is like being tutored in how to drink a fine wine.  Once learnt, you will never watch a game of football in the same way, unable to make remarks incomprehensible to the people around you such as “look at how the number 9 leads with his left arm” or “the keeper won’t come if it’s 6 yards out”…And I bloody love it.  The warm, satisfaction you get after the team has put in place tactics based on your knowledge and won!  That’s why those two games are so special…we wont talk about Grays or Wealdstone away though.

1st Place – The World Cup 
14268867827_784aff2d77_kFor four years I moan about our elite players, their attitude and generally the beautiful game being corrupted by billions of pounds.  Then, every two years a major tournament comes along and everything is right with the world. I came very close to being in Brazil.  Very close in an all-expenses paid trip to Sao Paolo to write about it, sort of way, but passed up the opportunity and Rookery Mike went instead. We haven’t spoken since.  Due to my travelling schedule I spent nearly the whole of the tournament in various corners of the world.  Germany’s demolition of Portugal in their opening game of the tournament was shared with a couple of hundred German fans in a bar in Singapore at 1am then being featured on local TV.  Watching Australia and then England make their early exits from the World Cup at 5am in the morning in a Melbourne casino, with an endless supply of Coopers Ale or watching the Brazilian demolition in a bar in Eindhoven with a German Hen party.  The actual games weren’t bad too.

Our highlights of 2014 can be viewed here, all in one handy little spot.

So see you all next year – one year older, one year wiser, one year damages by poor performances by our respective sides on the pitch.

On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014


Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
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For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
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Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
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You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

On the sixth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Non League Day out


So we announced the best International (well, Yorkshire want to be independent) day out yesterday, so what about the grass-roots game?  What places offer the best day out for those who don’t give a stuff about the over paid pre-madonnas and who realise that more often than not, the ninety minutes of the game are often the low point of a day out.

3rd Place – Bromley
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Hayes Lane is home to two teams, the landlords Bromley and the Tenants, Cray Wanderers.  The ground, now the Fortress Stadium is going through some improvements, including a new bar/restaurant and retains a rural feel despite sitting 15 minutes from the centre of London.  But it’s the proximity to decent transport links and some great pubs that has it in our top 3.  The Partridge, Barrel & Horn and Bricklayers Arms all prove the sustenance for a day out in Bromley.

2nd Place – Matlock
14824252268_da93451cac_zMatlock has already scooped the Best New Ground award but the town itself is a great pre-cursor to the game itself.  Opposite the ground is Hall Leys Park, which throbs with family entertainment in the summer, whilst just down the road, The Heights of Abraham provide some spectacular views of the stunning scenery.  Fancy a beer?  Who doesn’t! So head to the MoCa bar, the CAMRA Pub of the Year or the Buxton Brewery. It’s just a shame we don’t play in the Northern Premier League.

1st Place – Lewes
14579184744_2eed47d812_hOK, so I may be slightly biased on this one but the whole reason why I became involved in the club (and decided to stand for a second 3 year term as a Director) was because it is the best day out in Non-League football.  Not just my thoughts either.  Every other week we play at home, we get away fans coming just because they can come to Lewes.  It’s not all about the football club, albeit a top vista, Harvey’s beer on the terrace, superb match day food, a great PA announcer and an award-winning match day programme are compelling reasons, it is about the local pubs, the picturesque town centre, the fact that within 10 minutes you can be drinking in Brighton – the whole package.

Tomorrow, it’s time to reveal the best game we have seen in 2014

Rooks Actually


10308569_1562939613952439_3537806835309713134_nChristmas football.  It seems that everyone loves Christmas football.  Apparently, football on Boxing Day is a tradition – so much so that Lewes’s decision to move our derby game with Bognor Regis Town to 24 hours later nearly caused an online riot.  We made the announcement back in August when Christmas was still a speck on the horizon, after discussions with our opponents.  Some saw the decision as simply pandering to the fact Brighton & Hove Albion were also at home – which came into our thought process but wasn’t the deciding factor, others bemoaning our lack of respect to the traditional festive game.  With Boxing Day falling on a Friday AND the popular movement to return games to their Saturday 3pm position, that is what we did.  With no Premier League/ Football League or even Conference football to be played on the 27th, we would have little competition – in fact there would be a very good chance we could draw the biggest crowd in England. Bognor fans, who had no public transport options on Boxing Day were happy, heck, even a few of our fans were too.  Interestingly enough, only four games were played in the Ryman Premier League yesterday, with the remaining eight games kicking off today.  Fair decent attendances for those local derbies too.  Those seven other clubs hosting games today also saw sense in moving it to Saturday.

In the run up to the game, a small number of Lewes “fans” seemed to be willing the weather to turn, wanting the game to be called off, simply out of spite it seemed, the “told you so” mentality.  The fact that dozens of people had put in an extra shift to get everything ready for one of the biggest games of the season seemed irrelevant. Fans are free to express their opinions on any decision a club makes but you have to question those who seems so hell-bent on being so disingenuous at every opportunity. When the team are losing it is “sack the managers”, when the fixtures are changed it is “disrespectful” and when all of those are going OK, dissent turns to the catering or the half-time crowd at the bar.  These are of course the same “fans” who as soon as the fortunes of the team turn, disappear from public view.

Despite the game being moved to the 27th, it was still our Christmas game. Despite our nearest “rivals” now being Peacehaven and Telscombe, The Ryman League retained our traditional local derby. Lewes’s biggest crowds in recent memory have come over the Christmas period – over 1,000 versus Horsham in 2011/12 and crowds double that for games against Eastbourne Borough in our Conference days. Last season we were denied a bumper New Years Day crowd when our game versus Maidstone United fell foul to the weather, annoying as the weather the week previous on Christmas Day and Boxing Day had been so good.

A number of supporters of other clubs, who played yesterday, ventured down to the Pan to take in the game too – Barnet, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Harrods fans that I knew of.  Faces who come down once or twice a year such as England’s foremost female cricket writer Lizzy Ammon,  as well as a couple of Dripping Pan virgins including the lovely Lucie Allen.

Xmas DayThere was a time when Christmas Day games were the norm in England. Mr Fuller Snr talks fondly of getting on his bike and cycling to Upton Park to watch West Ham on Christmas Day, and up until 1957 there was a full Football League programme on December 25th. Interest waned in subsequent years with the last ever Christmas Day game played in 1965 between Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers, although a decent crowd of over 20,000 suggested that there was still significant interest in Yuletide football.

In 1983, Brentford announced that they would be hosting Wimbledon on Christmas Day with an 11am kick off, “to revive the old tradition of husbands going to football on Christmas Day while the wives cook the turkey,” according to a Bees spokesman. But the wives thought differently and the fans’ protests in the run up to Christmas saw the match brought forward to Christmas Eve, when a 6,689 crowd, the second highest League crowd at Griffin Park that season, witnessed a 4-3 Wimbledon victory.

The Christmas Day games weren’t always without their problems. Due to a lack of local derbies, Portsmouth ended up having to travel to Blackpool back in 1954. In 1940, with the war in full swing, teams often struggled to put sides out, and players were allowed to play for more than one team, which saw Len Shackleton play for Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City on Christmas Day. That same day was a Christmas to forget for Brighton & Hove Albion, who turned up for their game versus Norwich City with only five players! Anyone who had a pair of boots was invited to play and unsurprisingly the Seagulls suffered an 18-0 defeat.

FullSizeRenderObviously, bad weather affects the Christmas fixtures. Two year’s ago our Boxing Day game against Bognor Regis shouldn’t have finished due to the torrential rain, and we have suffered with postponements due to snow, such as the game versus Ebbsfleet United back in our Conference South days. But that pales in significance to the First Division game in 1937 between Chelsea and Charlton Athletic, when heavy fog caused the game to be abandoned.

Nothing strange about that until Charlton Athletic realised their goalkeeper, the legendary Sammy Bartram, was missing. The keeper was still on the field, completely unaware that the game had been abandoned, and just assumed that Charlton were putting pressure on the Chelsea goal. Now you know why Rikki Banks wears a bright yellow outfit.

So for my 51st game of the season so far, and the last time I will visit the Dripping Pan in 2014, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present you with the story of The Rooks versus The Rocks.

Lewes 1 Bognor Regis Town 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 27th December 2014
In the 85th minute I had the pleasure of reading out the official attendance as 1,007, making it the best attended match in England.  To put that gate in context, our last two games we have played on Boxing Day were against Bognor in 2012 where the crowd was 883, and against Dover Athletic in 2010 when it was 505.  On both occasions the weather was similar to this year and Lewes were floating around the bottom of the table.  So much for ruining Christmas tradition. Whilst some many still think we could have got more people, we will never know.  The crowd was almost double our budgeted average attendance and thanks to the result, most went home with that warm smug glow of victory.

It wasn’t a classic but when you are fighting for every point it rarely is.  Unbelievably, despite sitting just above the relegation places, The Rooks haven’t lost a league game since the 19th October – four wins and four draws.  With the next two games against Margate and Dulwich Hamlet, it was important to get a positive result today, and that’s exactly what happened.  The goal that warmed up the Philcox Stand came in the 58th minute.  The very impressive Nicky Wheeler crossed, and Luke Blewden’s powerful header did the rest.  The last ten minutes were a bit of a backs to the wall job, made harder by losing Matt Crabb to two soft yellow cards, but Rikki Banks’ goal stayed in tact.

IMG_2443Last season in the corresponding game at Christmas, the pivotal moment was the Bognor Regis goal keeper getting Lewes’s Jack Dixon sent off in the first half.  After deliberately tripping the Lewes player as he ran back from a corner, unsighted by the referee, Dixon reacted and the keeper fell to the ground as if he had been taken out by a sniper.  Great sportsmanship.  The relevance of the incident seemed lost on the Bognor fans in the second half of this game when they were loudly accusing Lewes keeper Rikki Banks of feigning injury after a clash with Ollie Prior.

B55cQQOCQAAZRJzFull time and most fans went home happy including our contingent from the good ol’ US of A, Mr Luge Pravda, who couldn’t resist the chance to try to get the biggest every Lewes FC selfie.  The Bognor faithful, who had come in numbers, made an excellent contribution across the bar and sang/shouted their hearts out may feel aggrieved at the final score.  We’ve all been there before, we know how it hurts and we look forward to our fourth meeting of the season at Easter when we hope both of us are looking up the table with confidence rather downwards with concern.

 

 

December 2014 – Cold, bright and clear


15826233910_5e3bb2333b_kAfter the euphoria of the last-gasp win in the Sussex Senior Cup it was time to return to Ryman Premier League action with a trip to the purveyors of fine free-flowing football, Billericay Town. Those of us who made the trip to Horsham on Tuesday night were rewarded with a smorgasbord of the elements as well as some late drama to pitch The Rooks into the last eight in the race to reach The Amex.  So what better way to follow that than to spend a cold, damp afternoon in mid December than in deepest, darkest Essex craning our necks in the air as the ball by-passes the midfield?

At least you know what to expect when you play The Blues.  Their manager, Craig Edwards has modeled his side on those of Beck, Basset and Taylor, leading them to the Ryman Premier League title two years ago before they fell from the Conference South just a year later.  Whilst The Blues are one of a large pack of “middling” teams in the third tier of English football, they do hold the honour of being the first club to win the FA Vase three times (ticks box of doing research on Wikipedia). Matches between the two sides have hardly been dull in recent years, and if I was a betting man (which of course thanks to The FA I’m not allowed to be) I’d have a sneaky £10 on a red card. Last season it was our captain fantastic, Jack Walder, who saw red. Walder was back from his long-term injury although he would be soon be missing again after picking up a red in his comeback game, playing for a Ringmer last week.

15391229254_3a4fe1075e_kThis was to be my last outing to watch the Rooks before Christmas, so there was bound to be plenty of festive cheer as we descended on New Lodge, Billericay’s ecletic ground on the edge of the Essex countryside. Despite the Rooks lowly position, you have to go back to the 19th October for the last defeat in the league.  In fact, that bizarre game at Oxford City two weeks ago aside, it had been a pretty impressive run with wins in the FA Trophy and Sussex Senior Cup to go with the unbeaten league run.

Deaks had done his homework and found a decent pub in the town centre with a few new ales to sample, including possibly the best toilets this side of the West End.  Two (2!) types of hand lotion in the toilets.  As Dave said, you expected a little chap to pop out from behind the door with a squirt of Kouros.  Not what you’d expect from the location.

A swift pit stop on the walk to the ground at Greggs ended in disappointment as they had run out of sausage rolls.  That’s like a bank running out of cash, a pub running out of beer or Michael McIntyre managing to actually say something funny. It’s just not British is it?

The winter sun was causing us a problem as we walked down to the ground, meaning the toss could be a match decider.  Of course, we lost that and Rikki Banks was soon regretting leaving his baseball cap in his car glove compartment.

Billericay Town 2 Lewes 2 – New Lodge – Saturday 13th December 2014
Six minutes into injury time the ball is launched into the Lewes area, surely for one final time.  The initial four added minutes that the referee had said he was adding on have come and gone. The ball falls to Lewes’s stalwart Chris Breach, he slips, allowing a Billericay player a sight of goal.  Lovegrove dives in, taking one for the team and it’s a penalty.  One final hope of all three points stands 6ft 4inches tall.  Rikki Banks dives the right way but Richard Halle’s spot kick has too much pace and the wild celebrations from the home side just shows the relief of grabbing a point.

Of course we could complain.  But on at least four occasions this season the Rooks had benefited from extra injury time to grab valuable points or progress in the cup competitions.  As they say, these decisions even themselves out over a season.  It hurt – don’t get me wrong, but that’s football.

15987708636_9d934316be_kDespite dominating the opening exchange, including hitting the woodwork before we’d even picked up our chips from the refreshment kiosk, Billericay faded in the first half as Lewes simply out-passed them. There was no surprise when The Blues took the lead, although it wasn’t the long ball that led to the goal, rather than a powerful run from Sappleton through the middle of the Lewes defence before slotting home with ease.

Despite the state of the pitch, the Rooks looked to play the ball behind the Billericay back line with new signing Fraser, Davis and returning skipper Walder dominating the middle of the park.  Confidence grew, chances came and finally so did the equaliser.  Davis to Fraser to Cole, running onto the ball in the area and the ball was in the back of the net.

Tails up we went for another.  Davis showed his dancing feet when the ball appeared to get stuck in the mud, shifting his weight from left to right, wrong-footing the defence and calmly slotting the ball into the net.  Lewes were rampant. Blewden beat the offside trap but the final obstacle, the pitch, beat him.

15825991210_fbe3729e06_kThe second half was a tighter affair with both sides struggling with the conditions. Billericay were reduced to ten men when Sappleton went in late on Fraser, the subsequent handbags essentially costing Lewes their victory with the time being added by one of the better referees we’ve seen at this level this season.

The final drama certainly gave us our money’s worth and no Lewes fans can really complain at the last gasp decision. We’d done our homework, stuck our game plan and came away with a moral victory if not with all three points.

Postscript: the title of today’s report relates a line from the song All Together Now, describing the events in The Somme from 100 years ago. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them