Come on, we’ve all done it. Assumed that nothing will happen if we sneak out a few minutes early to beat the traffic or get to the train station. Later we will sit at home or have got a round in before the crush at the bar, feeling very smug with ourselves. “Did I miss anything?” you’d ask, knowing full well that nothing had happened bar one side lumping the ball into the corners, protecting their lead.
I used to think like that until 21st June 2000 at around 8pm CET. The venue? The Jan Breydel Stadion, Bruges. The occasion? The last round of games in Group C in the European Championships. Group leaders Yugoslavia knew that unless Norway won in their game versus Slovenia, they could afford to lose to Spain, who had to win and hope that Norway didn’t. But a Slovenia win could still take them through. In a nutshell, anyone could go through and the two sets of fans in Bruges would have to keep a close eye on events in Arnhem.
When the 4th official held up the board saying there would be four additional minutes, Spain were dead and buried. Losing 3-2 to Yugoslavia, and with Norway’s game finishing goal less meaning that they were in the runners-up spot they threw everyone forward. But I didn’t know that – with a ferry back to Ramsgate to catch from Ostende, our little group had left to try to beat the traffic. Five minutes later we were back at the car. With a favourable wind, we were able to tune into BBC Radio Five Live who were reporting live from Arnhem. The Norwegians were on their knees on the pitch, unable to believe what had just happened. Not only had we missed Gaizka Mendieta score from the spot but 90 seconds after that, Alfonso Perez scored another, meaning Spain won 4-3 and the group, eliminating Norway in the process.
Once bitten and all that. Fast forward fifteen years and Lewes are hosting the Kings of the County, Brighton & Hove Albion. It is Sussex Senior Cup time, a competition that Lewes last won over ten years ago. The dilemma you have in the County Cups is that you want a decent run, meaning that you want easier ties but on the other side you want games like this where the crowds will be four or five times as high than any other game. You wouldn’t expect league sides like Brighton to field their first team, but every player that pulls on a blue and white striped shirt is a professional footballer who trains every day (in Brighton’s case at one of the most impressive and modern training facilities in this country). Three consecutive wins meant that the hope was there of a famous victory.
Lewes 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 1 – The Dripping Pan – Wednesday 12th November 2014
Somewhere in East Sussex there will be one or two people this morning in the same boat. With the 9:50pm from Lewes to London Victoria waiting for no man, a few fans sneaked out of the Dripping Pan just as Sam Piper held up the 4 minute board. Lewes trailed Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0, having thrown everything at the Seagulls and having nothing to show for it apart from a cross-bar still rattling and two players being treated by paramedics. Then the referee gives the Rooks a free-kick on the edge of the box. Tom Davis stands over the ball and is told by the referee this will be the last kick of the game. Win or bust. Extra time or inglorious defeat. Three steps, clean contact and the ball is in the back of the net.
Due to an issue with the PA system I’m having to watch the game from the office, which doesn’t quite afford views of the goal line at the Philcox Stand end. So I see Davis strike the ball, the wall jump, the ball go under them and then…..the cheer. I high-five Club Sec Kev, do a little dance around the room and then remember I am supposed to do the announcement. I’m using the emergency speaker system, meaning an airport style “bing bong” every time I have to say something. It’s pointless really, the crowd are still bouncing up and down and wont hear a word anyway (Great picture capturing the moment from the genius that is James Boyes)
Five minutes later and extra-time was underway. I’d given up on trying to announce anything and headed onto the Jungle to watch with the masses….OK, with Deaks, Cynical, Dave Lamb, Terry and Barry – the hardcore LLF. Idle chatter of penalties had already permeated the air when all of a sudden we saw a glint in the eye of Davis some 30 yards out. He looked up, aimed directly at Deaks and hit the ball as true as his free-kick from a few minutes previous. The Brighton keeper didn’t move but the net did. BBC Sussex described the goal as the best they have ever seen at the Pan. Babies born all over the County will forever be called Tom and the piece of turf that he hit the ball from will sell on eBay for thousands. You could say it was a beauty.
Unsurprisingly, Lewes played for time in the last fifteen minutes although Brighton, having withdrawn their biggest attacking threat, Fenelon, rarely troubled the makeshift Lewes back four. Finally, the referee blew for full-time. Veteran striker fell to his knees in exhaustion, before throwing off his shirt and fist pumping the air. Griffiths has played for 20 clubs in his 15 year career, yet he celebrated as if it was his first ever win as a player.
A famous victory? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. But for sheer drama it was up there with that day in Bruges, the FA Cup Finals of 1979 and 2005 and the 1970 Watney Cup semi-final. So whilst we can raise a glass to the beauty of the game, we should also think of those poor souls who probably still think it finished 1-0 to the Seagulls.