Valentines Day. The most overhyped commercialised day in our calendar. The pressure we all feel to try and go one better each year to prove our love. As the years roll on, and our relationships mature, why do you need one day to try and prove your love. I do it everyday with CMF by picking up my socks off the floor, or occasionally boiling the kettle so that she can make me a cup of tea. Little things like that show that I still love her.
It wasn’t always so romantic. Once I flew her to Monaco just for lunch, swooping in and out of the principality by helicopter from Nice airport. I am sure she would have rather had a box of Milk Tray.
But what a modern girl really wants is a trip to football on Valentines Day right? The magic of the game under lights, the smell of liniment, burgers and horse shit and the roar of the crowd as they call the opposing keeper a c*nt for daring to delay a goal kick by a second. And what a choice you had this year too!
The Sloane Square and Belgravia set no doubt headed down the Kings Road, or over Putney Bridge for the West London derby between Fulham and Chelsea, ultimately enjoying the view of the Thames at night more than the game on offer. But the real action for those wanting to be romantic was in the Blue Square North and South. Take your pick from a visit to Chelmsford, Eastleigh, Worcester or even Hinckley. If that is not enough to prove your love then I do not know what is.
At full time it appeared to be a mixed bag of success. Chelmsford City’s crowd of 697 for their game with Boreham Wood was slightly down on average but actually up by 12% on their game the previous Monday, whilst Eastleigh’s Cupid themed event at home to St Albans City saw crowds down by 50% on a normal league game. In the Blue Square North Worcester City’s crowd was down by 30% on normal, but around the same for their previous Monday night game last month, and Hinckley United, well I haven’t got a clue as I cannot find the basics like a website to check from.
So what does that tell us? People from Hampshire are more romantic than those in Essex or Worcestershire and thus stayed at home or, dare I say it, went out for a meal rather than go to the game? Or is it simply that people cannot be arsed to go to midweek games? Puma came up with their advertising campaign two years ago when Valentines Day clashed with a Saturday.
Well we were due to put the theory to the test in some part as Lewes were due to travel to Hampton & Richmond Borough 24 hours later, known as Realisation of Disappointment Day. After the Rooks fantastic win at Maidenhead United on Saturday, the momentum was back in their path, especially as relegation rivals St Albans City and Boreham Wood had suffered St Valentines Day massacres at the hands of Eastleigh and Chelmsford City respectively. In fact the Rooks were now unbeaten in February, showing some nice touches as well as some steel in the team. Tim O’Shea, the Lewes manager had wheeled and dealed since taking over in October, trying to find the balance that would keep them in the division. With time running out it appeared he had turned a corner, but with Hampton & Richmond just one place above The Rooks it was sure to be a test.
We love going to The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough. It is one of our favourite Non League grounds, frequented by some of the best fans. They are also managed by West Ham legend Alan Devonshire who is always around for a quick word about the good old days post match. One of Lewes’s finest performances in previous years had been at the Beveree in April 2010 when they pulled the rabbit out of the hat and stayed up on the last day of the season with a 2-1 win (report here).
There was a keen interest in this one from the neutral support. In fact it appeared that there would be more guest appearances from the blogging community than from the Lewes fans themselves, with Leg Spin and Googly expert Lizzy Ammon, Scott Johnstone from the excellent The Footy Blog Net and even Damon from The Real FA Cup promised to make an appearance.
It’s Tuesday, it’s 5.35pm, it’s time for FOOTBALL! I had driven into work, paying £10 for the privilege to drive through the congestion zone for 30 yards so I would be travelling in style to TW12. Tense, nervous? You could say that….but that is the romance of football. Who needs one day of the year to show your feelings to the one you love when Non League football is happening all around. After all we all love football, right?
Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 Lewes 2 – The Beveree – Tuesday 15th February 2011
They say the best things in life are free, but I would argue otherwise. Because last night the best thing you could have done was spend £18.50 in TW12 last night. For that you would have got entry into the Beveree, a programme, hot dog and chips (with onions of course) and a beer. Oh and a goal that rivalled Wayne Rooney’s for brilliance, but was far far more important that just a winner in a derby match.
After a reminder of why I don’t drive into London in the rush hour anymore (11 miles in 75 minutes and too many close shaves with suicidal cyclists) I reached the leafy suburb of Hampton. Is there anywhere more English (apart from Worcester) than Hampton? You could almost imagine Colin Firth walking down Church Road practising his lines for the Kings Speech and bumping into Dame Vera Lynn buying 20 Capstones at the newsagents. However, on a cold and wet February night it didn’t fill me with the spirit of St George.
But the Lewes faithful were here in force. Count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 – a full house of the Lewes 6, The Rooks 125, owners of the club were in attendance. This was going to be some night if they had all hoped on the bus and travelled up from Sussex by the Sea. And even Chairman Ibbo had a smile on his face in the bar before the game.
After welcoming Lizzy (minus her hat this time) and Scott over the border (meaning Scotland in this case and not someone from the borough of Hounslow) it was time to take our place in front of the Alan Simpson Stand. To add authenticity to the occasion Alan himself wandered past just before kick off and wished us a good evening. A true gent, and for those who do not know who Alan Simpson is, well shame on you (but you can check out his impressive history in television here).
No sooner had Alan taken his season in his own stand than Lewes were one up. Quite how is a mystery to most of us as we were having a bit of a chat about what you would want named after yourself (A betting shop for Dave, although Cynical Betting may not take off). Neither did ace photographer James Boyes who was eyeing up a WAG no doubt in the main stand. Apparently what happened was that a clearance was scuffed and it appeared to hit/was hit by Lyle Taylor, on loan from AFC Bournemouth and fly into the net. The picture below sort of tells a story, but in all honesty few amongst the Lewes faithful expected such a start.
You cannot comprehend the difference a few weeks has had to Lewes. When we last saw them at home to Staines in late January they appeared light in midfield, lacking someone to get the ball wide and no one really up front. Fast forward three weeks and the team have drawn two and one won before tonight, and importantly all against relegation rivals. Credit must go to ToSH and Neil Smith for bringing in the right players. Obviously, some like the impressive Lyle Taylor are only on loan, but they have given the team some confidence and it was obvious from the first half that a few players were upping their game.
David Wheeler for instance. Sorry, OUR David Wheeler (as we sponsor him) was in the thick of things, putting himself about like we have rarely seen him do before and being on the receiving end of a few “choice” tackles which of course somehow he ended up getting a yellow card for. Don’t get me started on the officials. I thought I got my rant about ineptitude out of my system after Sutton United’s game on Saturday but here again was a team of men in black watching a different game to us all.
Half time and a chance to grab our breath. It wasn’t a great game, with the pitch certainly causing some issues for both teams but hey, we were 1-0 up! And that lead lasted all of 3 minutes into the second half. Just as I left the warm comfy womb (aka the bar to us grown men) I saw the ball hit the back of the Lewes net when Barrie Matthews strike beat Winterton from the edge of the box. In fact Winterton’s task of picking the ball out of the net was one of the first things he had had to do all night.
We had a fight on our hands and the game bubbled under for the rest of the half, one tackle away from a mass brawl at times. However, it was Lewes who seemed to have the energy and after Hampton had again illegally stopped a Lewes assault on goal. After a yellow card was issued the ball was played deep into the Hampton box by Rory Hill. Gary Noel tried an overhead kick that hit a defender and the ball flew out of the area until Grant Hall jumped and executed the perfect overhead kick. The ball flew into the corner and to say the place went wild was an understatement. Players, substitutes and the manager ran onto the pitch to jump on Hall. The referee simply didn’t know what to do. But we did. We cheered, clapped, screamed and basically let out 6 months worth of emotion.
The last few minutes were of course spent camped in the Lewes penalty area but the team held on, and when the final whistle sounded it wasn’t met with relief as it was 10 months ago when we stood in the very same spot, but in triumph. This was another step in the direction of survival. Eight points from four games against relegation rivals, three of which had been played away from the Pan marked the best run for the club of the season.
Doom clouds hang over the Hampton fans in Hammonds Bar afterwards as their winless streak in the league stretched back to October. But it was the Rooks who were flying high. Where there is hope there is belief.
For more pictures of the epic night click here to view our Flickr feed.