Deadline Day (lack of) drama


Monday 1st September 2014. Transfer deadline day. Whilst Sky Sports have sent reporters to the four corners of the English footballing universe for a sighting of a player/manager/agent/tea lady arriving in a car with blacked out windows, I am sitting outside a deserted Dripping Pan at Lewes FC. With the squad currently decimated by injuries and suspensions I am sure that any minute someone of interest will turn up.

photo 3 (2)Actually, only part of the above is true. Yes, I was at the Pan, but it was for our regular board meeting. However, who could resist the madness of transfer deadline day? The two days in the season when the transfer window closes have become the most important dates in the footballing calendar. Once upon a time, when the internet didn’t exist, the Christmas sales were widely covered on TV, with reporters positioned in the doors of Harrods to witness the madness. Given the opportunity to grab a bargain, normally calm individuals are turned into monsters. Scientists tell us this change in behaviour is related to the science of non-linear dynamic systems, aka Chaos Theory.

This theory can be applied perfectly to the madness that occurs on that final day of the transfer window, when panic and desperation replace common sense. Normally prudent football clubs act like kids in a sweet shop, grabbing any players they can as the time ticks down just so they can say to their fans that they have taken part. The expectations of fans today is that the club has to strengthen at all costs, in many cases just to keep up with Jones United. What other reason can there be for the ever increasing sums of money spent by 20 Premier League clubs?

This summer all records were broken. As clubs counted the cost of their acquisitions and players’ agents booked their holidays on their own private islands, many observers simply scratched their heads. The cost? Over £900 million.

When you look at some of the transfers, it is difficult to see how many clubs will ever get a return on their investments. As a knee-jerk reaction to the season from hell, and the indifferent start to the season, the biggest spenders were Manchester United, who paid over £153 million on players such as Di Maria (just £59 million), Danny Blind and Falcao. Whilst Manchester United have been the most successful English club of the past two decades, their record in paying big money for players has been appalling. Nani (£17 million), Anderson (£20 million), Fellaini (£27 million) and Veron (£28 million) have been the headline makers for the wrong reason, but also don’t forget Bebe, signed for over £7 million, who played twice for United. Whether the £37 million they paid for Juan Mata last season will ever be justified is another story. Incredibly expensive mistakes.

Liverpool decided to just buy the whole Southampton team this summer, spending over £115 million in total, although they did get a significant sum from Barcelona for Luis Suarez. West Ham’s outlay of £35 million included £12 million for Enner Valencia, a massively overpriced player and testament to the effect of a couple of goals in the World Cup. Mark my words, he will be loaned out to a team in Spain within a year, citing homesickness as a reason why he hadn’t scored any goals.

Clubs simply do not learn their lessons. West Ham have an appalling record of making panic buys in the transfer windows. Faced with massive valuations on English players (Andy Carroll at £15 million, for instance) they are forced to spread their net far and wide. Out of the 20 Premier League clubs, only two made English players their biggest signings (Adam Lallana from Southampton to Liverpool and Jack Rodwell from Manchester City to Sunderland). Ten of these big signings had played in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with players such as Sanchez (Arsenal – £35 million) and Di Maria (Manchester United – £59 million) increasing their values with a couple of decent 90-minute run outs.

Interestingly, the club that spent the least amount of money this summer was Stoke City, who paid £3m for Spanish midfielder Bojan Krkic in their only real investment. In the past few years they had actually been one of the biggest spenders, not only in England, but across Europe, laying out over £63 million during the past five years. That pales into insignificance compared to Premier League new boys Queens Park Rangers, who took their spending in the same period to over £106 million with their signing of Sandro from Spurs for £10 million. ‘Appy ‘Arry also brought in Nico Kranjcar for the third time in his career. The Croatian must have something on ‘Arry – that is the only explanation for such an average player being given expensive chance after chance.

So back to a wet and windy Dripping Pan. Just like all other non-league clubs, the transfer window is irrelevant. Thanks to the quirks of the transfer system in the lower leagues we can bring in players at any time, right up until the final few weeks of the season. There wouldn’t be any late arrivals tonight, nor would there be any dramatic midnight press conferences. Would anyone new be joining the Rooks? Quite possibly, but for now Messrs. Wilson and Bloor were playing their cards very close to their chest.

 

In praise of Non League Day


photo 3 (2)Non League Day.  The best day in the Non League calendar…bar the first round of the FA Cup…or the end of season play-off/relegation six pointer.  And the game after Christmas.  Heck.  Every day is the best day of the season in Non League football.  Non League fans do not need a special day to celebrate all that is great about the beautiful game in its purest form.

Non League Day is about encouraging fans who drive past their local Non League grounds without batting an eyelid every Saturday as they head off to their very expensive bit of plastic.  It is about them trying something new, like a bottle of Schoodlepip (latest beer being sold in the Dripping Pan) and maybe finding something that you like (unlike the Schoodlepip).  Every Non League club needs more fans, more money coming through the turnstiles and more volunteers to help keep the ship afloat.

Last week it was announced that the Premier League had spent over €1 billion in the Summer transfer window. ONE BILLION EURO.  That is simply obscene. Whilst clubs at the top level may think they aren’t a business, they are.  At some point they will need to get a return on investment.  TV deals, head-scratching commercial deals with random partners and selling the naming rights of every part of their stadiums bring in huge sums of money – so much these days that the fans have become almost irrelevant.  And when something doesn’t have a value anymore, you can charge as little or as much for it as you like.  And that is why ticket prices continue to rise, because many clubs actually no longer value the fans who buy the seats in the Fly Azabaijan Airways Family Stand.

photo 2 (2)Non League Day gives clubs an opportunity to boost the revenues for clubs that are in many cases living hand to mouth.  The big decision to make is whether to discount your admission prices or not.  Obviously clubs want to get as many through the gate as possible, but who is the target market?  Premier League and Championship fans?  Those who think nothing of paying up to £100 for a ticket.  So will £11 really make a dent in their wallets?  What does “value” mean to them?  Our approach was one to highlight what Non League football was all about – inclusion, community, decent food and beer.  Remember, this was trying to give people a reason to come back time and time again, so perhaps loss leading isn’t the best strategy here.  Of course, some clubs used the opportunity to promote other causes – Dulwich Hamlet’s offer of “pay what you want” would see all of the gate receipts, less their costs, going to charity.  That is a great gesture and ticks the community box completely.  Others, such as Bungay Town decided to offer a punnet of mushrooms to anyone coming to their game.  Was it a success?  Find out for yourself here (just a bit of Funghi).

We were fortunate that we were playing Wingate & Finchley, where one of their directors is Mike Bayly, co-founder and one of the driving forces behind Non League Day.  Plans were soon drawn up for our respective disability teams to play a curtain raiser and with the sun shining, the team on their longest winning streak of the season (one game, three days granted) and Sky Sports in town it promised to be a top afternoon.

Lewes 3 Wingate & Finchley 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th September 2014

The simple law of economics in football is if your team is winning, people will come and watch you, irrespective of the price.  Football fans want to see a winning team (unless they play like an Allardyce team of course). That is why it costs more to watch teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United than it does to watch Stoke City, West Brom or Burnley.  A second consecutive win for the Rooks, this time more convincing and less nail-biting than Wednesday night ultimately made Non League Day for Lewes, although they did need a slice of luck to get all three points.

photo 1 (2)Up until eight days ago it was fair to say that Lady Luck had given Lewes a wide berth this season.  Couple that with some dreadful refereeing and we went into the game last Saturday against Hampton & Richmond Borough with just two points and on a run of four consecutive defeats and with three red cards.  Whilst the game at The Beveree ended in defeat, we played for long periods against ten men and really should have taken a point.  Then on Wednesday Grays lost two players to red cards, both perhaps a big harsh having seen the replays but finally got our first win.  Yesterday it was a snap decision from the referee late in the first half that changed the game.  A ball was whipped across the six yard box and Nathan Crabb, steaming in at the far post, was impeded.  Penalty?  Yes.  Red Card offence?  Harsh as Crabb wasn’t guaranteed to get to the ball. But we weren’t complaining as Miss Luck was flirting with us.  Dixon stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way.

Half-time saw us try and give away one of our much talked about Beach Huts for a game with a penalty kick competition.  Good laid plans and all that but as the teams re-emerged and we still had three people in the competition, having scored all of their spot kicks I had to use a bit of on-the-spot and out-of-the-box thinking to resolve the contest.  Paper, scissors, stone is an official FIFA approved method to determine a competition, right?

Lewes started the second half impressively, with Nicky Wheeler demonstrating all the tricks in his winger’s spell book.  It wasn’t long before the Rooks doubled the lead when Wheeler’s cross was headed home by Nathan Crabb at the near post.  Two became three in the last few minutes when another Wheeler cross was headed home by substitute Luke Blewden giving the score a slightly unfair reading but did the Wingate fans mind?  Absolutely not.  They greeted the final whistle with a conga around the pitch, under their Sid’s Army banner and wearing masks of Sid James.  Of course, Sid James.

The mood around the ground had transformed in just three days.  That’s the beauty of football.  Non League Day had been a winner for us and let’s hope that up and down the country some of those “on loan” fans see the beauty of the grass roots game and don’t leave it too long before they come back again.

 

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.