“Ronnie Biggs was doing time, ’til he did a bunk”
This classic line is from the Sex Pistol’s 1978 song No One Is Innocent featuring backing vocals from Biggs himself whilst in enforced exile in Brazil. Back in 1963, Biggs was one of the most wanted men in England after taking part in the Great Train Robbery and was arrested at his house in Albert Road, Redhill just as he was about to pop out to watch Redhill’s FA Cup campaign get underway*.
Today saw the 1st Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, sponsored by Budweiser get underway, which in a way is also a great robbery. Our national cup competition is no longer the same since the FA sold their soul by deciding that it needed a sponsor. Smells of the work of management consultants to me.
But it sounds exciting to have a title sponsor right? Someone who will inject cash into the game at all levels, potentially in return for increasing sales of their own product. I’m sure that’s the message the FA hawked round when it was looking for a new sponsor for the oldest and most respected national cup competition in the world. But for those thousands of fans, players and officials of the clubs who start their road to Wembley in early August, they get little benefit from the patronage.
It all started off so well for them to win over the fans. The first game under Budweiser’s sponsorship in August 2011 saw Ascot’s tie beamed live via Facebook and cheap burgers and beer for all spectators. But then came the Wembley project.
It doesn’t take much to guess why Wembley FC were the beneficiaries of the US brewers dollars – their ground sits in the shadow of Wembley Stadium’s arch after all. Eyebrows were raised when it was announced Terry Venables would join the coaching staff in early 2012 and then came the unbelievable announcement in July that ex-internationals including Claudio Canneggia, David Seaman, Greame Le Saux and Ray Parlour would be joining the club just for the FA Cup campaign. Just for the FA Cup. Oh how the players who toiled 9 to 5 in their day jobs must have been chuffed that they would be dropped just for publicity come the cup competition.
Of course the FA were fully behind the Wembley project, devoting virtually every story on their website over to the club – at one point on their official site all four news stories related to Wembley FC. Sod the fact a couple of hundred other teams were also playing in the opening rounds of the cup, it was all about Wembley.
ESPN weighed in vowing to show live football from the first Extra Preliminary Round, which of course meant just Wembley FC’s games. But after their humiliating exit at home to Uxbridge they (including the FA) have gone silent about future coverage. To them the FA Cup is dead, awaiting resurrection when Man Utd draw Chelsea in January.
But some of us still retain the magic of the cup. To clubs like Redhill and their visitors to the wonderful Kiln Brow, the mighty Rooks, today’s First Qualifying round would be worth £3,000 to the winning side. A decent cup run (and by decent we mean winning 3 or 4 games) can be worth up to 50% of a club’s annual playing budget.
So Redhill was our destination for the day. As soon as the draw was made (Redhill/Whyteleafe/Corinthian Casuals v Lewes) we pencilled this in as a Lewes Lunatic Fringe day out. A new venue, less than an hour away from our respective HQ’s and the forecast of a day “hotter than Greece”. Redhill is of course not only famed for being the home of Ronnie Biggs before he did a bunk, but also of the most famous girl ever on TV.
Back in the day there was only 3 TV channels. Yes I know kids, hard to believe with over 225 available on Virgin Media (I mean, who really watches Red Hot Northern Girls on channel 443 anyway!). I still remember the day when Channel 4 launched. We rushed home from school just in time for the first ever sound of the Countdown clock ticking into life and then watching the Munsters for the first time. But before that November day, we only had BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. 24 hour programming was a thing of the future.
It was in the early 80’s and the Fuller family had just got their first video recorder. A top loading Sony Betamax that was as big as a house, used to take 10 minutes to start-up and sound like a Jumbo Jet taking off, with a remote control on a wire.
As the youngest child in the family I soon discovered that my brothers had a secret stash of “adult entertainment”. This was the era of Fiesta, and Readers Wives as well as arty video productions such as Electric Blue. Compared to what we see today in magazines like Nuts it was very tame stuff, but to a hormonal fifteen year old it was a brand new world.
Some nights I used to “borrow” one of their videos whilst they were out, sneak downstairs and fire up the VCR for a glimpse of some “action”. Of course all that happened was the noise of the video starting up woke my parents. On hearing one of them coming downstairs, armed with a heavy book thinking we had burglars, I turned off the video, hid the box and feigned sleep on the sofa whilst the test card was on the TV.
And there we have the answer to my tale – the test card. That mythical “holding page” featuring a little girl playing noughts and crosses with a toy clown called Bubbles. Despite willing her to make the next move every time it was on, she never completed the game (BBC missed a trick here by not changing the status of the game every night).
That girl was actually a neighbour of Biggs in Redhill, sort of. Whilst the history books never tell us if young Miss Hasbee ever bumped into Ronnie in the queue at the Co-op, the fact that they were in the same place at the same time is enough to put Redhill on the map. But she holds a more impressive record than the Great Train Robber’s record years in exile. She has the most seen face on TV anywhere in the world. Her appearances for up to 10 hours every night for decades have totalled over 70,000 hours, and although Bruce Forsyth may run her close, she still holds the record. She was paid £100 for the gig back in 1968 and still revives the shot every night in her living room window with Bubbles the clown for passers-by.
Whilst we applaud all these interesting facts about Surrey’s 6th biggest town, we were arriving with just one purpose – to see Lewes march into the 2nd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. Last year we had a very wet and painful experience at Chertsey Town, who like Redhill, were the underdogs from the county leagues.
Once bitten, twice shy is the motto in football so when the draw was made The Rooks saw the word danger written all over the game. Not only do Lewes fans always say “Remember Leiston” in memory of an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat a few years ago to a team 4 divisions below themselves, but Redhill had brushed aside Corinthian Casuals and Whyteleafe in the previous two rounds and were to be treated with respect.
Form often means very little in the cup and it was with that hope that the Lewes Lunatic Fringe and a guest appearance from Simon, half of The Real FA Cup, left The Garland pub and wandered down the A23 to Redhill FC’s very pleasant Kiln Brow ground. The local paper had suggested that this was the Lobster’s biggest game in a decade. Yep, you read that right. Redhill are known as the Lobsters. Based on the 27 degree Indian Summer we were experiencing it could only refer to the colour of the players (and fans) after the game I am sure. Lewes had started the season with a mixed bag, proving hard to beat on the road so far. Redhill were unbeaten in the Sussex County League so this was not going to be a pushover.
Redhill 1 Lewes 3 – Kiln Brow – Saturday 8th September 2012
“Of course it was all about the result, and not the performance at the end of the day” is the standard line dished out by the winning manager after every cup tie. But for a game at this lowly level in the competition it is so true. Lewes didn’t play at their best, but a strong twenty-minute period before the break ultimately saw them into the next round and returning down the A23 with £3,000 in their back pocket.
Both teams took to the field with key players missing. For the Rooks it was skipper Steve Robinson and midfield maestro Karl Beckford, both having picked up injuries at Canvey Island last week. For Redhill their key players were missing due to their mate’s wedding. Welcome to the world of Non-League Football.
Two improvements that the FA can have for free (thanks to the genius of @Dannylast for these). First up, when the teams come out, there should be a big cheque for the winning team on a plinth for them to see. Then, when the game is won, they should be able to hold the cheque aloft and parade it around the pitch. Secondly, the winning team should get an FA Cup which depending on the round will depend on the size of the trophy BUT each winning one fits into the next round one, like a Russian Doll. We floated this as an idea to Lewes skipper at the end of the game, Jack Walder and he loved the idea.
But back to this game. Redhill started the better of the two sides, exploiting the Lewes reshuffled back four with some long balls over the top. Pav, our Polish reserve keeper was called into early action, saving well in a one on one with Jimmy Davies. But the Redhill man would have his revenge a few minutes later in an identical situation, beating the Pole when clean through to put the Lobsters one-nil up.
It was time for some FA Cup Magic and what better way to motivate the Lewes side than the appearance of a tinfoil FA Cup trophy. No sponsorship from Budweiser on this work of art, designed and crafted by ClubSec Kev’s wife, Laura (her other work of art revealed this week was this unbelievable home-made league ladder).
The trophy was held aloft and as a beacon, guiding the ball home, the Rooks were level within seconds, as Nathan Crabb stooped to head the ball home. The magic of the FA Cup indeed. Want some more? Of course! Charlie Leach down the line, played inside to Dalhouse who then played a sublime backheel into the path of new signing Aaron Wickham who smashed the ball into the top corner of the net, almost getting a “Brooking” (Sir Trev’s famous goal for England away in Budapest in 1981 when his shot got stuck in the stanchion).
Half-time saw some first class hospitality in the club’s function room, whilst outside the half time meat raffle took place. A visit to the club shop revealed an Aladdin’s cave of football memorabilia, and thanks to Danny’s generosity, I am now the proud owner of the FA Non-League Handbook from 1981/82. Marvellous stuff.
The second half suffered due to the temperature. Both sets of players huffed and puffed, with chances at a premium. Some Lewes fans willed home players to take a tumble so that the Physio would have to come on. Shame on you mentioning no names Terry.
With just a minute to go Lewes wrapped up the tie and pocketed the £3,000 when Wickham broke through the back line, went one on one with the keeper, stopped, then lost control before somehow swinging a leg and wrong-footing the keeper.
Game over, and time to enjoy a final beer in the sunshine as well as some “well done” meat BBQ’d in the Non-League WAG’s garden. Top marks to our hosts – a very pleasant day out and we wish them all the best for the rest of the season.
Only 48 hours until our next opponents would be revealed. What’s the bet that as we are already played Lowestoft Town at home two weeks running (League and FA Trophy), their name will come out after Lewes’s.
*the final detail has never been officially denied – he was indeed arrested at his house in Redhill but refused to reveal whether it was Redhill FC or Horley FC he was going to watch…probably.