What happens when you get a bit lippy and suggest to one of your colleagues that their job on a match day was “easy”? It seemed I was just about to find out the hard way as our beloved club secretary Barry was heading off on a business trip 24 hours prior to our final game of 2016. To make matters worse, we also had no kit man for the game. First rule behind the scenes in Non-League football is “Be prepared to do it yourself” which is why I was wandering into the Dripping Pan four hours before kick off against Three Bridges with a bag full of assorted sock tape.
Lay the kit out, pump up a few balls, write out the team sheet and shake hands with the referee right? What’s so difficult about that? Alas, it if was that simple I would have been enjoying a beer or two an hour before the game rather than worriedly looking for instructions about how to use Football Web Pages live system and trying to find the season ticket list for Gate 3.
The first issue on arrival was the fog. The previous evening has seen the game at The Amex postponed due to it and it appeared that overnight the problem hadn’t got much better in these parts. There was not a lot I could do about that bar man the phones and let people know that I could see both goals from the office and we “should” be OK for 1pm.
Before Barry headed off to try to increase our 12th Man Fund in Las Vegas, he left some instructions for me in terms of the Club Secretary duties for a match day. Even by Barry’s very organised standards, I wasn’t expecting a four page document for each role (plus attachments), all colour-coded and in chronological order. According to his list, by 1:45pm I should have been collecting biscuits from the Referees room. Or was it giving them biscuits and taking their expense claims? Of course, Barry had forgotten we had moved the kick off forward to 1pm so I was either 2 hours early or 2 hours late. I’m not sure which. The biggest worry was the fact if I didn’t do something to someone on the Internet at 1pm/3pm then Kellie Discipline, the League Secretary, would be straight on the phone giving me a dressing or a fine. Or perhaps both. Oh, and the fact it said “5:30pm – relax and have a beer” – that was three hours away.
So here I am thirty minutes before kick off trying to sort out a kit issue (one of those strange cut-off under socks has gone missing), whilst re-printing forty team sheets that had a big spelling mistake on (Thee Bridges may have been popular in Shakespeare’s time but not today apparently) on a printer that will only allow me to print one at a time due to a cartridge “issue”. Oh and sorting out the play list which has all of a sudden started playing Isabella’s Disney Princess mix from 2008. The phone rings and someone from the local paper wants to come along and watch the game and would like a pass for the 3pm game which he then goes into a panic over when I say it is a 1pm kick off as he has just arrived as “Monkey Biz” with his daughter and “there was no way he could get her out of the ball pool in 15 minutes’. First world problems.
A normal pre-match for me involves a pint, chatting with some of my fellow fans, an in-depth discussion with Darren on our opponents and where the strengths/weaknesses are before preparing myself for any tricky names to read out on the team sheet. Today I’m having to find the charger adapter for the substitutes board (The League donated one to each club but when we opened the package it had a European plug on), that should have been on charge an hour ago whilst ensuring that the referees assessor was put on the guest list.
I’d already had the dilemma of how to lay out the kit. The home dressing room only has 24 pegs up – we have a squad of 20 arriving, but should the 1-11 get two pegs (one to hang the kit and one for their stuff) or does everyone get one each? I’m mildly concerned that we have two slightly different sets of socks and my OCD kicks in by unravelling every pair to ensure that at least each pair matches. Then there is the TV – it should be showing BT Sports but it has QVC on. The signal comes from the bar, which is currently locked.
Best of all, our superb Groundsmen have arrived to use a fancy new machine on the pitch but they are unaware it is a 1pm start and so are trying to ride this contraption up and down the grass, avoiding the players now warming up.
Sounds like fun? Too right it is. I love being part of the magic that is match day. Huge amounts of work goes into making sure that everyone gets to try to enjoy ninety minutes of football. Whilst we can’t influence the result directly, the preparation that is necessary before every game should be aimed at giving Darren’s side the best opportunity possible to win the match.
I started this year sitting in the stands scouting at Peacehaven & Telscombe and would end it clearing up the detritus from the home team bench. That’s the beauty of the game at this level – you make a difference, as too does every other volunteer that gives up their personal time to help the club.
So how has 2016 treated us? With all the doom and gloom around in the past few weeks you’d be mistaken to think that our relegation at the end of last season automatically made 2016 a bad year for us. Actually, we probably made more progress this year on and off the pitch that any year in the past five including winning the Sussex Intermediate Cup. 2015 saw us avoid relegation technically on the last day of the season (although events elsewhere meant we couldn’t be relegated even if we had lost to Bury Town on the final day), get hammered in the Sussex Senior Cup Final and then start the 2015/16 season poorly. The first half of the 2015/16 was no better as we started poorly and got worse. It wasn’t until last December that things began to improve on the pitch. Since January performances have been stronger and there is more of a settled feel in the squad as the stats below illustrate.
In the previous year we played 50 Ryman League games, gaining just 37 points and conceding a mammoth 93 goals in the process. We won just 10 times, whilst tasted defeat on 33 occasions. It is fair to say that was relegation form. Prior to today’s game we’d played 43 Ryman League games in 2016 and gained 65 points, winning 17 and drawing 14. We had scored 69 goals and conceded 70. If we think back to that period between the start of March and the end of the season where we drew eight out of our ten games, losing just once, what might have happened if we would have not conceded late equalisers (Grays Athletic and VCD Athletic at home anyone?). Extrapolate the 43 games into 46 and we have a 70 point season, enough in recent years to be in the top third of the table.
Unbeaten at home since early October, we hoped to finish the year off with a win against a Three Bridges side who have just two wins on the road (although they have been in their last trips away). But football can be as unpredictable as the playlist I had put on before the match. Just because the last two songs have been by the Killers, there’s no guarantee song three will not be something by The Cheeky Girls, or that Apollo 440, lined up as the walk-out song for the two teams actually turns out to be the Jive Bunny.
Lewes 4 Three Bridges 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st December 2016
Well, we’d got to the point where the referee had kicked off so we must have got most things right. I checked Football Web Pages and saw that our starting XI was remarkably similar to last week’s, which wasn’t right so had to quickly amend that, not the easiest thing to do on a mobile. Seven minutes gone and The Rooks were in front as Jonté Smith turned in the ball from close range. Five minutes later I remembered that not only did I have to announce the goal but also add it onto Football Web Pages.
It wasn’t the best of halves to be honest although we were playing some nice football and never looked under threat. Jamie Brotherton added a second in the 35th minute after a neat exchange of passes with Jonté and we should have had a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Conlon was bundled over.
The Lewes side emerged for the second half but there was no sign of our opponents or the officials. The referee, showing that he is human, had not put enough change in the parking meter and so had to dash out to top it up, meaning nobody called the Three Bridges side out. The additional time sat in the warm hardly did them any favours as Ronnie Conlon curled a beauty into the top corner within 46 seconds of the restart to make it 3-0. Game over. The fans in Philcox started singing “You’ve got more bridges than fans”, winning the chant of the year competition.
Or not quite. We still have this ability to try to let victory slip out of our fingers. It’s nothing new, especially here at The Pan. Last season we gave up four points in two games by conceding injury time equalisers and all of a sudden in this game it went from 3-0 to 3-2. There was an audible hum of discontent around the ground. If we are to have any thoughts of breaking into the play-offs then we need to be winning games against teams at the wrong end of the table.
One magic substitution later and it was all smiles again as Charlie Coppola spanked home a loose ball in the area to make it 4-2. In the two games between these sides this season there have been 14 goals. Undoubtedly there could have been half a dozen more had it not been for the fine form of former Rook Kieron Thorp in the Three Bridges goal who kept the scoreline respectable in the final ten minutes.
At the final whistle I can enjoy that long overdue pint. Alas it is not for relaxation – I just need to wait for the players to get changed so I can start sorting the kit and cleaning the dressing room so that come 1pm on Monday when they walk back in for the game against Horsham. I’m not sure that 20 individuals could purposely make more mess if they tried.
With a game on Monday there would be no time for our usual kit washing or dressing room cleaning routine. Duncan (Ops Manager) and I grabbed the brooms, buckets and mops and got to work whilst Jane (Director) picked up the kit to deliver to Carol (Director) to wash and dry all of the kit – the happiest of happy new year eve’s I’m sure with 21 shirts, 22 pairs of shorts (not quite sure why there were more shorts than shirts!), 22 pairs of socks, 11 pairs of cut-off socks, 24 warm up t-shirts, 18 warm up jacket and a random pair of Pringle pants for company as Big Ben struck twelve.
I’d read earlier in the day that the reason why it was a 1pm kick off was so that the directors had time to get ready before going up to London. I wish that was the case. The two hours we gave everyone back to enjoy the last night of the year was taken up for me by cleaning and then sitting in a traffic jam on the M25. Did I mind? Not one bit.
The afternoon summed up all that was good with the club. I’m sure a few will grumble about the queue for food (a solution is in the pipe, or should I say pie, line) whereas I heard of a few others who missed the game because they didn’t know it was a 1pm kick off despite us promoting it through every available channel. But a team effort on and off the pitch saw us end 2016 with three points and a smile on everyone’s faces.
Same again tomorrow everyone?