Without wanting to disrespect any good or bad team but leagues where all the promotion and relegation places are decided before the final day of the season are crap. There is nothing better than having all permutations being played out in the fans head as games progress across the land. Now Saturday 24th April was important for both teams in my life. West Ham, after their embarrassing capitulation at Anfield and Wigan’s remarkable win at home to Arsenal were due to meet in a huge game at Upton Park where a win would almost guarantee the Hammer’s safety. But that wasn’t where TBIR were heading.
Our destination was TW12 – Hampton for the last day in the Blue Square South. Sure, Newport County had been promoted five weeks ago, and two play off places and two relegation places had been decided, but that left six teams who were either fighting for a play off place and the final relegation spot. Our focus would be on the relegation place, with Lewes having taken seven points from their last twelve in the “safe spot” but needing to ensure they bettered Worcester City’s result at home to Eastleigh.
On the hottest day of the year we headed down to the Beveree, one of our top three non-league grounds in England (Lewes’s Dripping Plan and St Albans City’s Clarence Road grounds are the other two) and met up with the EFW team. We were here almost a year ago for the Beavers game against AFC Wimbledon and always have a soft spot for them. The jinx and japes, highs and lows can be found over at EFW for this one was we had our stopwatch, calculator and highlighter pens at the ready as the final games kicked off.
3.01pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 0 – Rod Gradwell almost gets Lewes off to a flying start with a low shot that Hampton’s keeper almost spilled.
3.03pm – Worcester City 0 Eastleigh 1 –A huge roar goes up in the Alan Simpson Stand as rumours of an early Eastleigh penalty are confirmed and Worcester City are behind, meaning Lewes’s result would be irrelevant and they would stay up.
3.04pm – Woking 1 Weymouth 0 – Not really a surprise coming against the league’s worst team but very important in the Play off scheme of things – a win for Woking and fingers crossed that champions Newport win away at Braintree would be The Cards in the play offs. News also filters through that Wigan have scored at Upton Park.
3.07pm – Braintree Town 0 Newport County 1 – Huge cheers (probably) down the M3 in Woking and in Bath as Collins puts the champions ahead.
3.08pm – Worcester City 1 Eastleigh 1 – Groans from the Lewes fans as Worcester equalise from a penalty. Still as we stand it would be Lewes staying up. Lewes themselves go close as the impressive Gradwell poked a close range effort just wide.
3.12pm – Woking 2 Weymouth 0 and Braintree Town 0 Newport County 2 – Looking good for Woking and Bath as Braintree look likely to fall out of the play off spots at the last minute.
3.20pm – Havant & Waterlooville 0 Chelmsford City 1 – The prolific Warren McBean puts play off assured Chelmsford City in the lead and severely dent the Hawks play off aspirations.
3.25pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 0 – Not much going on at the Beveree apart from another pint of spitfire going down. Real end of season feel – it’s almost as if Lewes know irrespective of the result they will be staying up – as if that would happen.
3.34pm – Havant & Waterlooville 0 Chelmsford City 2 – Not a good afternoon so far for Havant as Pearce’s own goal all but kills their play off hopes. A jubilant Deaks tells me Ilan has equalised at Upton Park.
3.43pm – Havant & Waterlooville 1 Chelmsford City 2 and Worcester City 2 Eastleigh 1 – Vital goals all round as Havant bring themselves back into contention and Worcester take the lead. As we stand, Worcester would stay up and Lewes would be relegated. Lewes respond with a drinks break at the Beveree – perfect excuse for us to go to the bar and see Kovac head West Ham in the lead at Upton Park.
Half Time – Good news at Upton Park, not so here so we head off to the boardroom for a cup of tea served by the lovely Mrs Devonshire. As we stand it will be Woking and Bath in the play offs and Lewes going down. Time to deliver your finest ever half time speech Ibbo!
4.01pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 1 – GOAL! – And Lewes’s arguably two most effective outfield players combine to give the visitors the lead. Gradwell makes some great progress into the area and tees up Joe Keehan who slots in his 19th goal of the season. We are Staying UP!
4.04pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 2 -GOAL! – Double joy for the hundred or so Lewes fans as Gradwell capitalises on a loose backpass, touches the ball past the Hampton keeper and taps it into an empty night. Groans can be heard from Worcester for here. My joy is tempered slightly as Wigan equalise at Upton Park.
4.09pm – Havant & Waterlooville 3 Chelmsford City 2 – What a start to the second half for the hawks. All they need now is for another goal and hope St Albans can score at Bath City.
4.11pm – Braintree Town 1 Newport County 2 – Braintree give themselves hope as Quinton scores from the spot. Alan Partridge comedian side-kick Patrick Marber (Bald Brummies!) is spotted in the away crowd with his Lewes shirt on.
4.22pm – Hampton & Richmond 1 Lewes 2 – Squeeky bum time here as Tarpey squeezes a shot in and Rikki Banks’s first real job of the afternoon is getting the ball out of the net. A very nervous 22 minutes left.
4.31pm – Worcester City 3 Eastleigh 1 – Worcester put the game to bed at St Georges Lane and their attention now turns to events in TW12.
4.33pm – Havant & Waterlooville 4 Chelmsford City 2 and Woking 3 Weymouth 0 – Game over for Woking essentially as they will finish in the play offs. Havant’s efforts at coming back from 2-0 down will all be in vein if Bath get at least a point. Scott Parker powers West Ham into the lead for the first time in the day at Upton Park, and with Hull losing West Ham will be all but safe with two games to go.
4.40pm – Worcester City 4 Eastleigh 1 – Proceedings have almost halted now at Hampton as both teams seem to be playing for an Austria v Germany away win. Worcester could score 20 put it seems to be irrelevant.
4.45pm – Havant & Waterlooville 5 Chelmsford City 2 and Woking 4 Weymouth 0 – It’s all over for Havant as Bath City’s draw is confirmed. Braintree also miss out in the harshest way having been in the play offs for almost the whole season. Elsewhere a bizarre game at Ship Lane, Thurrock sees Bromley win 6-3.
4.47pm – FINAL SCORE – Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 Lewes 2 – It’s all over. The emotions of the season all pour out on the pitch as Lewes are staying up. Ibbo jumps into the crowd (well if he could get his leg over) and the fans celebrate an achievement that a month ago was very very unlikely. Hard luck on Worcester who pulled it out of the bag on the last day, but everyone we spoke to after the game said the same thing that it was unlikely they would be relegated anyway (in fact there are still rumours that Weston-Super-Mare in 2nd from bottom may stay up too). West Ham win and so I am a very happy bunny.
After dropping off Lolly back at CMF taxi’s it was time for some boardroom hob-nobbing. The ref, who said himself what an enjoyable afternoon he had had for some reason felt Cynical looked official and gave him the match report to file. Penalty for not filing was deemed to be a ban from the Europa League for three seasons!
So as a final point you may ask why a die hard West Ham fan had chosen a game played in front of 539 in south west London instead of 35,000 at Upton Park. Well thirty minutes after the game I would still be trudging back to my car in east London, hoping it wasn’t my turn for the weekly car break in, whilst here I was having a beer with the two managers, sharing stories about their season and seeing the way they went about their business. We are staying up, I said we are staying up!
More pictures from the day can be seen from our Flikr stream here.
A full video review of this rollercoaster of a season can be found by clicking Lewes 2009/10.