Prudence, transparency, trust and 3 points

“There are rich teams and then there are poor teams. And then there is us”

That isn’t a quote from one of the current board of Lewes FC, although it could quite easily be one. It is from the excellent film, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. It is a true story of the Oakland A’s baseball team and their meteoric rise to success despite having zero cash.

Having joined the board of Lewes six months ago I can certainly relate to Billy Beane, the character played by Brad Pitt and his quote above. The club have been through the mill in the past few years but have emerged from the other side with a Community Benefit Society, with over 800 members today, each of whom contributes to the ongoing survival of a club at the heart of the community.

Since I joined we have had a dream to become the most transparent club in Non league football. Others have called us mad, naive and made us feel we were breaking the magicians code of football when we stated our intend. One member of the board summed it up as follows:-

“The inner financial workings of a football club tend to be a bit of a black box. Any documentation, if it exists, is kept “in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard”

But we stuck to our guns and not only produced a document to show the current workings, but went back a total of seven seasons so fans and commentators alike could see what exactly it was like to go through the boom and bust periods. Some of the figures make staggering reading.

  • Operating revenues are at the lowest they have ever been.
  • Sponsorship is down to a third of what it was four years ago
  • Cup prize revenue this season was down by nearly 80% on three seasons ago (caused by 1st round exits in both FA competitions to lower division clubs away from home)
  • The club has run at an annual deficit in each season for the past seven to the tune of at least £68,000
The trend in these figures is not unique to Lewes. Hundreds of non league clubs would report a similar story IF they were honest enough with themselves to admit it. Lewes are not funded by one sugar daddy. There is no reliance on one benefactor and his precarious business interests. When the club transitioned to a community club last year it was made clear that within three years the external funding from the board would cease. We are now coming to the end of the second of those years and with membership now over 800 part of the journey to the emerald city has been made.
However, we can only give ourselves a pat on the back when the journey is complete. When the club is able to function without these donations (and it should be noted that that is what they are – not any strange types of loans with complex repayment terms) AND compete at a natural level on the pitch. Many fans have asked what that level is? The answer is we do not know yet. This season, working on a reduced budget the club has performed well. However, there is an argument that we could have done more – and that isn’t down to wages. Points dropped in injury time to Kingstonian (2 points), Horsham (2 points), Lowestoft (2 points) and Billericay Town (1 point) have cost us an almost guaranteed play off spot. It should also be highlighted that a large percentage of the playing budget was also consumed by one player, Gary Holloway, who through an injury sustained before the season started, did not play one game for the club yet was paid top whack during that time whilst under contract.  No club at Lewes’s level can sustain a drain on their playing budget of a long term injured player – contracts work both ways.

But this is only part one of our plan to open the kinomo. In the next few weeks we intend to publish an interactive calculator so that anyone can see what our playing budget will be next season by changing some of the variables such as how far we get in the cups, new sponsorship money and new club sponsors. We like the idea that our fans know what our manager has to spend and that way they can set their level of expectations accordingly.

Last season Easter Monday was a very dark day for the club. The club was sitting in the relegation zone of the Blue Square Bet South. Only two games remained but with the first of those against fellow relegation fighters Bishop Stortford there was hope, especially as the team had dragged themselves back into contention with a fine run of form. Unfortunately the team simply could not continue their winning ways and a home defeat consigned them to relegation to the Ryman League.

A year on Hastings United arrived at the Dripping Pan, themselves in a relegation fight. Two dropped points on Saturday for the Rooks had dented our promotion play off push but then with virtually all other results went the Rooks way.  Alas, the same cannot be said for Hastings who were still hovering just above the drop zone.  With three of the four spots already taken their fight seemed to be with Leatherhead and Harrow Borough for the last remaining spot.

Being Easter Monday and a week into a hosepipe ban it was obvious the weather would be foul, and so it was. I had met Danny and Cynical Dave a few hours earlier for a bit of breakfast, which in football code means an early kick off at Crowborough Athletic where they beat East Grinstead with ease.

After a brief stop at the Coopers Arms in rural Crowborough for a pint of Coffee Pilsner it was on to the Dripping Pan, which could not have been a more apt name on a chilly, windy and soggy day. Even the debut of the Apple Pie couldn’t raise our spirits as the teams walked out.  Could a win made it all better?  Only ninety minutes would decide.

Lewes 2 Hastings United 1 – The Dripping Pan – Monday 9th April 2012
Well at the end of the day it was 3 points, and a step closer to the playoffs.  The appalling weather didn’t help matters nor did the presence of Lizzy “Jonah” Ammon who had presided over more Lewes defeats than Avram Grant did at West Ham.  But as we discussed last week, it is all about the result and not the performance.  Two first half goals have the Rooks enough of a cushion that even when Hastings scored the inevitable late goal AND the 4th official put up four minutes (why is it always four minutes?) Lewes had enough in the tank to ride out the storm and take all three points.

Simon Wormull made a couple of changes from the side that failed to beat Aveley with Paul Booth dropping to the bench and Max Howell getting a start, whilst at the back Max Hustwick replaced the absent Chris Breach.  Hastings fielded a number of ex-Rooks although it appeared that someone forgot to tell their fans that there was a game on as they appeared to have come in a Smart car.

Whilst the weather made it difficult, Hastings seemed to use it as an excuse to make the tackles a few seconds too late.  The referee needed to grab a drink after just ten minutes as he seemed to be hoarse with all of the whistling.  But after issuing a yellow card in the eleventh minute against a Hasting’s player the resultant free kick led directly to the opening goal.  Matt Somners long free kick caught everyone out and despite Nathan Crabb and Ian Draycott desperately lunging at the ball it appeared to go straight in the net.  With a quorum of the board standing on the Jungle acting as the dubious goals committee we determined this as the fair decision (and nothing to do with the fact that Crabby is on a goal bonus).  Danny Last, with Golden Goal time 11 minutes was also denied a certain £25 by the referees delay in booking the Hasting’s player and demanded we talk to the Referees Assessor at half time.

Despite a rare save from Matt Ingram at the other end, it was all about the Lewes attacking threat and the referees whistle (although both justified and necessary).  The second goal was inevitable and it was great to see young Max Howell get on the score sheet when he calmly slotted home after finding himself clean through on goal after great work from Gregory and Crabb.

Two – nil at half time was a fair reflection on the game and made the breaded crab meat parcels with a spicy chilly dip most welcoming at half time.  Lolly had done a fantastic job selling pies in the second half, and loaded up for a push on the new apple “desert” pie.  Nothing like a bit of ethical child labour.

Alas the pie was the only hot thing in the second half.  Neither team really could beat the conditions, and despite a Hastings goal with fifteen minutes to play we didn’t see the same nervousness of old in the Lewes camp.  Even with Jonah Ammon (and even bigger Jonah in more ways than one, Eddie The Shoe) on the terrace their injury time vibes didn’t rub off on the team and three points were in the bag.  Results elsewhere weren’t exactly perfect, although Bury Town’s home loss to Lowestoft did drag them into the six-way fight for two play off spots.

The maths are really quite simple.  Lewes now need to beat Cray Wanderers next week, hope that they lose their game in hand and that the ridiculous fixture pile up catches up on Wealdstone. Oh, and that we also win our other two games.  Simple really.

Football is supposed to be a simple game that gives pleasure to players, manager, fans and owners.  So often the finance side of the game complicates matters but actually the truth is easier to tell than a lie.  Football doesn’t owe ANYONE a living but fans, players, managers and owners have to respect that.  We are all just guardians of the beautiful game for tomorrows fans, players, managers and owners.

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2 thoughts on “Prudence, transparency, trust and 3 points

  1. There wasn’t loads of Hastings fans but there were quite a few who kept their heads down in your main stand so easily missed! but there were a brave few of us who stood on that open concrete terrace in the driving wind and rain in the second half and made more noise than the home fans but only problem was that the wind was blowing the wrong way at 100 miles per hour so no one else could hear it! Lol.. Oh well, good luck to Lewis, nice club and good to have Harvey’s at football matches!

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