Lewes show their Sunday best

After last week’s defeat to Hendon in the FA Cup we had to watch through our fingers as the draw for the next round inevitably paired the Dragons with Eastbourne Borough.  The biggest game the Rooks could get – hammering home the disappointment even further of the exit in the shadow of Wembley Stadium and the loss of prize money.

But a week is a long time in football and at this stage the cup competitions come thick and fast.  As one door to Wembley slapped shut, another bursts open.  Who needs the FA Cup when you can have the Trophy instead.  Sure, the cup is a bit smaller but it still has a lid you can put on your head when you dance around the pitch at Wembley Stadium.

Lewes’s record in the competition hasn’t been great.  They’ve never been passed the 3rd round, and the last occasion they got that far it all ended in a bit of a bizarre game.

The date will forever be fixed in the memories of those who braved the cold to be at the Pan on Saturday 14th January 2004.  FA Trophy fever had reached Lewes, with the club progressing to the 3rd Round of the competition for the first time in ages.  Their reward for a 4-3 win away at Cinderford Town in round two was a home tie with Weymouth, managed at the time by Steve Claridge.  Nothing out of the ordinary about that you may think, but 90 minutes later most of the thousand plus crowd had to have their jaws physically closed and their eyes popped back into their sockets after a thirteen goal thriller.

I’ve seen close to 1,500 games in my life in some of the most bizarre locations.  I’ve seen David meet Goliath and Goliath thumping David but never have I seen 13 goals in a game. Occasionally you hear about complete thrashings, such as Arbroath’s 36 goal victory over Bon Accord back in 1885, or Australia’s World Cup qualifying win over American Samoa by 31 goals in 1986.  But this wasn’t a thrashing.  This was an end to end classic.

Coming into this game, Weymouth were riding high in the Dr Martens Premier and their form soon showed as they took the lead when Claridge himself scored after just four minutes.  The next fifteen minutes saw a further four goals – 0:1 became 1:1, 1:2, 2:2 and then 2:3 to Weymouth.  Unbelievably there was no further goals until the hour mark when Lewes equalised.  The next ten minutes saw four more goals with Weymouth taking a 6-4 lead.  Weymouth then scored to surely settle the tie at 7-4 but back came Lewes with another goal.  With just a few minutes to go, it could have gone either way but a final Terrors effort from Philips made the final score 8-5.

You can only ever pray to see a game with as many goals as that (As I opened up my Non League Paper today I of course noted with irony that the nearest Non League ground to TBIR Towers, Park View Road in Welling hosted a game yesterday which also finished 8-5).  But who knows what magic the cup rubs off and that was why a few hundred good men, women and children had gathered at the Pan ready for their Sunday Best.  With Brighton at home on Saturday, we approached the visitors Lowestoft Town and asked whether we could experiment with a Sunday game – the first time the Rooks (rather than the Rookettes or Junior Rookies) had played on the day of rest for many a season.  They said yes and so whilst the rest of East Sussex were sitting down to their meat and two veg, The Mighty Rooks would be wrestling the fishermen from North Suffolk for a prize pot of £2,550 and a place in the 2nd Qualifying Round.

Lewes 1 Lowestoft Town 0 – The Dripping Pan – Sunday 30th September 2012
This will go down in the folder “in the next round”.  Simple as that.  It wasn’t a classic, certainly not anywhere near the excitement that those fans saw back in 2004, but it was a well deserved, hard-fought win that took the Rooks into the next round and added £2,550 to the bank balance.

Manager Simon Wormull had almost his whole squad to choose from for the game, welcoming back Chris Breach from his dodgy neck and Jake Conroy from his Triathlon activities.  It wasn’t hard for Worms to get the team motivated for this one, reminding the team of the pain felt by everyone at the club after the defeat to Hendon last week in the FA Cup.

Talking of pain, we didn’t need reminding that this was an FA Carlsberg Trophy game.  Which of course means, as with all other FA competitions (ironically virtually all sponsored by brewers), beer couldn’t be drunk on the terraces.  Quite how this would be any different from our game next week (which was supposed to be against Lowestoft again) I do not know.  In fact, with the game being played on a different day, the 350-odd mile round trip for the opposition and the Ryder Cup on TV, expectations were for a 400 attendance.

The Trawler Boys are a good side.  In the past two seasons they had reached the play-off final, losing in 2010 to Tonbridge Angels and 2011 to AFC Hornchurch.  Could it be three-times lucky this season?  They certainly started this cup side as if they meant business, although fielding Robin Tweet (aka John Clive from Carry on Abroad) with his 70’s bubble perm up front was a distraction for the Lewes centre backs, Chris Breach and Steve Robinson (now having raked up 350 appearances for the Rooks between them).  But after weathering the early storm, Lewes came into the game.  It was Jack Walder who turned up the tempo in the centre of the park, harrying and hustling the Lowestoft team who probably hadn’t come across a team that worked so hard all season.

Lolly broke the cardinal rule of watching Lewes.  Never open your Golden Goal ticket until there’s been a goal.  Her eyes lit up as it said 37 minutes.  As the clock ticked onto 36:01 a ball was played over the top of the defence, Nathan Crabb pushed the ball past the Lowestoft keeper and was brought down.  She jumped for joy but her happiness was short-lived.  The referee had given a corner kick.  How? Why?  Crabb clearly had the last touch.  It was either a penalty (which even the keeper thought it was based on his sheepish reaction) or a goal kick.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time we would see some bizarre decisions by the official.

The clock ticked onto 45 minutes and we prepared to tuck into the fine spread in the boardroom.  But as we moved down the terrace Steve Brinkhurt hit a hopeful ball into the box, new signing Ben Godfrey got a head to it and the ball looped, almost in slow motion, over the Lowestoft keeper and into the corner of the net.  In a half that was relatively devoid of goal mouth action, it came as quite a shock there had been a goal.

Half time sustenance onboard we returned to the terrace sans beer.  The nightmare scenario for Lewes was a Lowestoft Town equaliser.  This is the issue that Non League teams face up and down the country every week.  A draw would mean a replay at Lowestoft on Tuesday night – 170 miles and a 5 hour journey up to the deepest, darkest corners of Suffolk.  Such a journey would mean a 1pm departure from East Sussex.  Most of the team (as most of the players at this level do) have day jobs.  They simply cannot pitch up at work tomorrow and expect their employers to give them a day off at such short notice.  However, the club has to fulfil the fixture or face FA sanctions.  Fair right?

But back to the game.  Lewes built on their first half domination and continued to hassle the Trawler Boys.  Crabb had another good shout for a penalty when he was bundled over in the box by Greg Crane.  Crane wasn’t having a particularly good afternoon, chasing the shadows of Godfrey and Crabb.  At least it was better than the one he had on the opening day of the 2011/12 season when he scored an own goal for Lewes and was then sent off on the half hour mark.

Despite some neat play around the edge of the box, Lewes didn’t really force the Lowestoft keeper into a save.  However, at the other end anything that came within catching distance of Kieron Thorp was snaffled with ease.  Even the five minutes somehow conjured out of thin air by the referee didn’t bring the same nervousness that we had seen last season from the Rooks, and a calm maturity of the young side rode out the added time to move into the next round of the club.

So not the most memorable game for the 407 fans (so close to my 400 estimation) but it was a) a win b) a place in the next round c) made us £2,550 richer and d) showed that this Lewes team has the ability to beat one of the best sides in the division.

As a West Ham fan for over 30 years I am used to exciting but ultimately losing football.  Whilst it gets you plaudits, it ultimately doesn’t win trophies.  So for today, it was all about the result and not the performance. Oh, and £2,550…

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