The beauty of Non League football


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Canvey Island 1 Lewes 1 – Saturday 28th February 2015 – Park Lane
Freezing cold, standing on an open terrace with nothing between you and Kent bar a small sea wall, with a cup of tea to starve off frost bite….Non League football….I bloody love it!

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No Dr Feelgood factor for Lewes


“”You have to have the rain before you can have the rainbow”

In just 24 hours I would be walking along Santa Monica Pier in SoCal as us surfers know it, the sunshine on my face and the sand between my toes.  You can’t beat a bit of winter sunshine to recharge the batteries after Christmas.  And as if I needed any more incentive to go I had the promise of a date with the not too shabby Natalia Velez to look forward to.

But first I had a date with one of Essex’s finest – Canvey Island who were visiting the Dripping Pan for an early doors game against The Rooks.  Early doors because of Brighton’s cup game versus Newcastle United just down the road at 5.15pm.  Thanks to the Ryman League seeing sense, and the Essex side happy to leave Lakeside an hour earlier than normal, Lewes stood a chance of a decent crowd.  We littered the Toon websites, forums and Twitter feeds with invites and promises of pints of Dog, Jimmy Nail look-a-likes and Lewes wearing a special one-off black and white striped shirt just for the day.  Not strictly true but  would they really notice after tucking into a few pints of Harveys?

Our cause had been helped no end by the efforts of the Guardian’s sports team who plugged the game via their Fiver email, eulogising that :-

“At this quaint little ground, you’ll be allowed to stand up, smoke your gills out, watch entertaining Brazil-circa-1970 style football, eat delicious modestly priced organic burgers and lorry back refreshing pints of the local brew Harveys all at the same time”

Thanks to some opportunist sales techniques that would have shamed a time-share salesperson in the Canary Islands I had managed to convince The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning as an owner a few weeks ago.  Yes, he had been worse for wear; Yes, he was distracted by Sarah Hot Scores and yes I may have told him that by being an owner he was entitled to certain perks that weren’t strictly true, but Pressganging is not illegal (I think) in the 21st century.  One man’s Richard Branson is another man’s Asil Nadir. Barry was making his first visit to the Pan and we were determined to make his visit a special one.  After all, since he thrust the £30 in my top pocket back in December, “our” team had won three, drawn four and lost four as well as seeing the manager depart.  Investments can go up and well as down as I reminded him when he asked for a refund.

Canvey Island, the Gulls, the pride of Park Lane.  Lewes had already beaten the Islanders earlier in the season and what they could do with a moral boosting win today.  Performances had been good, but a lack of goals was becoming a real worry.  Five goals in the last six wasn’t a fair return for the effort, but add on the fact that three had come from penalties and you see the issue.  Last Saturday the team lost 5-1 at Margate.  Lewes shots 8, Margate shots 8.  On Wednesday night the woodwork and a bobble in the six yards area stopped two certain goals.  Today there was to be no excuse.  It was win or bust….well not exactly that traumatic but we are hyping this up for the Guardian remember?

This was my third trip to Lewes in just four days after the Sussex Senior Cup match on Wednesday and then the Fans Forum on Thursday where we had batted away all questions fired at us from the fans.  Now was the time for us to live up to our promise of Barcelona-esque football.

Lewes 1 Canvey Island 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 28th January 2012
“You will win nothing with kids” One of the most famous understatements uttered by a pundit.  Alan Hansen may have had to eat his words back when Sir Alex Ferguson blooded the likes of Scholes, Beckham and Giggs at Villa Park in August 1995, but since then how right he has been.  Lewes today were forced to field a very young team as injuries ravaged Simon Wormull’s squad.  The manager himself was even forced to play himself for the final thirty minutes, turning back the years with some of his visionary passing.

I can only imagine the mood in the Wormull house when the sick notes arrived this morning.  Kamara – hip injury.  Robinson – hamstring.  Hamilton – foot.  Hustwick – neck strain.  These four are the Lewes back four. Any club would struggle to cope with such a situation.  A major reshuffle saw Charlie Leech and Josh Phillips in the starting line up as well as new signing Jack Walder in the centre of midfield.

One good bit of news was that the Rooks had ditched the white shorts – going down the full Rosseneri look of red and black – Canvey opting for Crystal Palace away circa 1989.  It was the yellows who started the stronger of the two and thankfully keeper Rikki Banks was in good form.  With Lewes’s recent goals coming from the boot of Paul Booth it didn’t take a brave man (me) to predict he would be the first goalscorer, although Eddie Fremantle refused to take my tenner, reminding me that as a Director I was not able to place a bet on my team.  Sure enough, a minute later Paul Booth rose and headed home a Nanetti cross to put the Rooks one nil up.

The second half saw Canvey well on top and it was no surprise when Jason Hallett scored in the 51st minute.  We weren’t used to conceding a goal before the 90th minute so the crowd were stunned into silence.  Everyone was confused.  What to do?  Well, how about the player/manager bringing himself on…Wormull stripped off and within a minute had played a trademark cross field pass to Nanetti. Every touch was greeted with a cheer.  Could he win us the game and roll back the years?

Alas no.  Canvey got stronger as the game wore on and with twenty minutes to go Bradley Woods-Garness smacked a loose ball home to give the Essexmen the three points.  The thirty or so Canvey fans went home happy, having enjoyed their day out in the sunshine whilst the Rooks fans had to scratch their heads wondering what the team had to do to get that break and three points.

With the rain out of the way it was time to prepare for the Rainbow.  Natalia Velez was sure to ask about the result.  Don’t worry – I will take this one for the team.  Until I return I bid you a fond farewell.

Northern roadtrip – Day 5 – El Grande Islande Paradiso Classico


I am a very goal driven person.  I religiously write down what I want to achieve in my little black book that I carry around, making sure that my objectives are SMART (an acronym familiar to those who have gone through formal management and leadership training) and that I regularly review them.  They are split into personal, work and of course football.  You see I see football as part work part personal so it is only fair I have a category especially for it.

My broad football aims this season were based around Non League football.  Sure, I still had a “commitment” to the 92 Club in terms of new grounds at Morecambe and Chesterfield but they would be for later in the season.  Winter in Morecambe is not the most hospitable places as I remember from two years ago when we saw Luton Town there.  But I wanted to “tick off” the Blue Square Premier, South and then venture down into the heart of Non League football in the South – The Ryman League.

Cliff gives us to the tour

Slowly but surely I had visited grounds on my travels this season and commenced the “plan of attack” on a lovely hot day in July at Canvey Island.  Having never been on the “Island” before, Danny and I couldn’t resist a little peak into their neighbours, Concord Rangers ground.  We drove down a road that Terry and June would have been proud to have called “Chez nous” before a set of floodlights popped up like one of those houses that wants to receive every TV channel in the world with a huge aerial.  We had a wander around, peering over the wall before a chap armed with a circular saw asked if he could “help us”.  This man was Cliff Larkin, and he genuinely wanted to help up.  Cliff is the Chairman’s brother-in-law as well as being hugely proud of what this little club had achieved and recanted the tail to us like Peter Ustinov would have done on Jackanory. Continue reading

On the fifth day of Christmas – the best new ground


On the Fifth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a trio of new grounds to see

Hands up who isn’t excited by visiting a new ground? Not a brand new ground necessarily but one that you have never been to before. It’s that sense of excitement that it will be in some way different from all the rest you have seen in your life. Some grounds simply ouse excitement due to their location, some because of their design and some because of the atmosphere. In the past twelve months we have visited over 50 new grounds, some of which are forgettably familiar (sorry FC Midtjylland and Farnborough Town), some of which are as basic as basic can be (Whitehawk, Bethnal Green United and Llanelli) and some are full of character (Whitstable Town, SV Spakenbrug and Neath’s The Gnoll). But we have picked three of our “newbies” that just tick more boxes than most. God rest me merry gentlemen for the three Best New Grounds on 2010.

Ethnikos Asteras FC– Fancy watching a game carved into a hillside? Many point to Braga’s fantastic stadium in Portugal where one end is simply a sheer rock face, but it wasn’t the original rock-blasted ground. Second division Ethnikos Asteras’s Kessariani Municipal Stadium, located on the eastern outskirts of Athens sits high above the city but instead of having four stands, it has just three, with the rock face adding to the acoustics of the stadium. And that is not the only reason to visit the Kessariani. The club has a very welcoming supporters bar full of fans who are happy to share a beer with you and talk football. The stands are set above the playing surface meaning that everyone gets a good view of the action.  For more details on our visit click here.

Canvey Island – I am sure that in the middle of winter when the wind whips in from the adjacent Thames Estuary a place on the high terrace is probably not on many people’s lists of places to watch football, but our visit in July for the friendly versus FC Twente on a scorching hot day was almost idyllic. The sky was filled with fluffy clouds against a backdrop of serious blue, the view of ships going up and down the river was spellbinding and the club bar was as welcoming as could be. Add in some excellent football on the pitch from Dutch Eredivisie champions FC Twente you get the impression it was a cracking day out. Throw in a visit to the world famous Lobster Smack pub, a 20 minute walk along the sea wall and you can stick your San Siro and Camp Nou – give me Canvey any day.  For more details on our trip there in August click here.

Spartak Trnava – Football in Eastern Europe can be a bit mental. The fans are passionate, although in most cases volumes are a bit on the low side. However, a visit to Trnava, the seventh biggest city in Slovakia will see you right. Spartak’s ground is classic old school. A huge terrace behind the goal is dominated by the fanatical Spartak fans who do not give up their vocal and pyrotechnic support of their team throughout the 90 minutes. Two seated stands on either side of the pitch provide cover and the far end is another terrace. This is what football used to be like thirty years ago, with the floodlights leaning in to get a view of what is going on. Absolutely top notch.  For more details of our trip to Trnava click here.

Down by the Jetty


Some 30 miles from the centre of London in an easterly direction you will find Vange Creek which separates mainland Essex to the alluvial island known as Canvey Island. Formed from silt in the Holocene period on a bed of old red sandstone the island actually sits below the mean sea level meaning that it is highly vulnerable to flooding (look who got an A in O-Level Geography). Canvey Island today sits almost like its own little community, facing the Isle of Sheppy across the water, and just downstream from the Oil refineries of Isle of Grain. Hardly the best panorama in the world, but who cares. Any place that has a 17th century pub featured in Great Expectations called the Lobster Smack is good in my books,  which we of course decided to visit in the course of our research and found a jolly decent place, although the website did give it a Waetherspoons feel (“We sell wine!”) which it certainly isn’t. Continue reading