Imagine a football manager agreeing to manage a club for free? What about one who willingly puts his hand in his own pocket to pay an overdue bill for the club? And then one who goes to his own board and suggests there could be a better man to take the club forward and is involved in the interview process? Pie in the sky right? Wrong!
Late on Monday night the news was announced that Steve “Ibbo” Ibbitson was stepping down as manager of Lewes FC and would be replaced by ex-Croydon Athletic manager Tim O’Shea. In an interview with Guardian football writer, and long time Lewes fan Paul Hayward, Ibbo explained the reasons behind this and why it was the right time (For the full version click here)
“Too many people have sweated blood to keep Lewes FC going and surviving at this level for us to surrender our status easily. The Club needs new impetus to give us the best chance of staying in the BSS. In my opinion, this gives us a better chance of achieving that, at a cost which the Club believes it can afford.
My last word as manager has to be to acknowledge the part my coaching team of Jason Hopkinson, Simon Gough and Dave Winterton have played in the survival of Lewes FC. In particular, for the last five years or so, Jason and I have stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting many battles, both on and off the field, on behalf of the club.
Often, that has been with a team full of kids, who we’ve seen develop from 15-year-old schoolboys into young adult footballers. That brings a special sort of camaraderie and is something you never forget.”
Despite the torrid start to the season that has seen the Rooks win just one league game and more often than not more players unavailable through injury than are fit, there was never any doubt that the new board would wield the axe. Ibbo had agreed that this would be his last season in charge and that he wanted to be part of the process to find his replacement. With funds in place to purchase some new players he felt now was the time to hand the reigns over to someone new.
Dignity – no other word for it. Read any of the message boards and you will see the Rooks fans all saying “We believe in Ibbo”. He took over a virtually relegated team in March 2009 after a disastrous first every campaign in the Blue Square Premier.
Last season, with significant financial pressure on the club that resulted in two winding up orders being presented he masterminded some end of season loan signings that saw the club win three of its last four games to stay up. Having a beer with him after the last day win at Hampton & Richmond in April he expressed no surprise that the club had manage to stay up, explaining that he had faith in the players and he knew they would not let him down. The people of Lewes responded by making him Lewes’s “Man of the year”.
This season with a change in ownership Ibbo became much more open, readily agreeing to be interviewed by the directors on video for all to see and hear (the archive can be found here) and including some very funny moments such as describing David Wheeler’s parasite and his reluctance to put him on the bench.
We all have a choice on how we react to the circumstances around us. Watch any match from the Premier League/Football League and you will see the same reactions from the manager. “I did not see that incident”, “The goal was offside”, “It was handball”…managers are always the first to point the blame at someone else but never at themselves. In the past two seasons I have never seen Ibbo blame anyone for the performance of the team. We have seen some shocking referees in that time, some of whom have cost Lewes valuable points but not once has he spoken out. Again, there is dignity in that.
The good news is that “Mr Lewes FC” is staying on. He will become Club Chairman, which I am sure will mean he can still wear his long shorts in all weathers around the club.
The King is dead, long live the king as they say. Well, not quite. Ibbo had agreed to stay for one more game – a very convenient for me local match away at Bromley, re-arranged as Lewes had been in the FA Cup at the weekend. So the travelling Rooks fans could give him a send off. It was all set up so nicely for me as well. A bus trip to the ground, a couple of beers and even the appearance of (in)Active Matt. And then the Slovakian sausage struck.
At some point during the weekend’s festivities in Hungary and Slovakia as part of Ocktoberfest 2010 I contracted food poisoning. Not just a mild case but a full blown, pack a spare pair of trousers for the flight home case. Forty eight hours later and 8 pounds lighter the contents of my stomach still seemed to be finding a way out. I was officially on probation from CMF – if I wasn’t well enough for work, then football was out of the window too. I resorted to taking tablets – something that never happens in my book just to try and get better.
Bromley had started off like a proverbial rocket. Seven consecutive league wins saw them top the table into late September before three wins and finally a surprise 4-1 reverse at Basingstoke Town last week had seen them drop a place or two. Last season Lewes had simply not turned up for this game. On a hot August Bank Holiday they had lost 3-0 to the home side in a performance that would have had Ibbo hopping mad.
Bromley 1 Lewes 1 – Hayes Lane – Tuesday 26th October 2010
Ah Hayes Lane, let me count the ways I love you. I recently chose Bromley’s ground as one of my 5 best non league grounds and on a chilly Autumnal night my opinion did not waiver. Stand on the open terrace that runs along the side of the pitch and look to your left and you will see a bench lined stand, to your right a terrace with a unique styled roof. Want a beer, head up to the modern bar where you can even watch the game from the windows. If only all grounds were like this..it was a shame not more fans felt the same way. Lewes’s travelling contingent of 12 included 3 of the Rooks125 who like real fan/owners stood on the terrace.
A quick chat with the new manager, and his assistant Neil Smith yielded the fact we were almost next door neighbours in BR1 – a fact that could be quite handy when either of us has had a few too many Harvey’s after a game! The teams emerged with Lewes sporting at least two new faces and a formation that was unlike anything we had seen this season – in one word – attacking.
Not only did the Rooks start on the front foot but there was also some bite in there. They were 100% committed into every tackle, chasing every loose ball and making sure every Bromley player knew this would not be a walkover they expected. With the new manager in the stands, and a debt to pay to the departing one, I cannot think what their motivation was!
The game had a few interesting incidents which were viewed differently by both sides. The first in the 30th minute resulted in the opening goal for Bromley. No one was doubting the mistake by the so impressive Winterton in the Lewes goal that saw Bromley’s Tony Finn lobbing the ball into an empty net from nearly 40 yards, but the Lewes protestations were about the initial through ball that saw a Bromley player clearly in an offside position. But all officials really understand active/passive offside right? I rest my case.
A few minutes later a scuffle over a loose ball ten yards into the Bromley half saw all twenty outfield players involved in some girly pushing and shoving, with Ibbo chomping at the bit to jump into the action in his final game. The result yellow cards all round.
Half time over and Lewes introduced some new blood. New striker Paul Olima had the ball in the net half way through the period but was again wrongly judged to be offside. It was a belter of a half – both teams wanting to score and defending became an irrelevance. Ibbo and Jason could simply stand back and almost say “look what we have done – it’s all clicked into place”.
And then at last some reward. A complete mess in the goalmouth saw the ball apparently cross the line (according to the lino) but from who it is unclear. The Bromley keeper came out, ended up punching the ball against the bar, Rivers headed the ball into the empty goal but a defenders foot seemed to hook it back. Who scored? Who cares – 1-1 and to see one of the owners of the club jumping around screaming at the top of his voice must have been motivating for the players.
Both teams had chances near the end and Rivers was millimetres away from sealing a famous win when he needed a Peter Crouch leg to get on the end of a fantastic Murphy cross. Bromley then had a free kick on the edge of the box in injury time. The Lewes Lunatic Fringe held their breath and the ball flew off a Lewes shoulder over the bar. And with that the whistle blew. Throughout the second half a teenager had been taunting the Lewes fans about our ineptness. He celebrated like mad that “we had only drawn with Bromley” until his mate pointed out that Lewes were from NEAR Brighton and NOT Brighton, and so a home draw against the bottom team who had lost every home game so far was actually nothing to brag about.
So that was the end of the Ibbo era. He wandered back to the dugout to collect the kit bags (just like Wenger and ‘Appy ‘Arry do every week) and it was touching to see them share a private moment of chat before they headed back to the waiting throng of press. The players went off to meet the new management team, whilst Ibbo was presented with an old chum who used to play with him from his Scunthorpe days. As has become the habit this season Ibbo (and Jason) conducted their post match interview, in what was quite an emotional moment for all involved. Ibbo we salute you and wish all managers had a shade of the dignity you have shown everyone around you.