One bad apple

This was supposed to be a happy report.  The sun was shining, in fact so much so that it was the hottest October day on record. Lewes were trying to extend their 100% home record and above all it was the club’s 126th Birthday, and to celebrate they had planned a number of events at The Dripping Pan.  But it’s not really.  Because the actions of a small minority of away fans spoilt afternoon for the rest.  To put this in context – the club had to call the police in case things got out of hand, and the club were forced to lock the doors of the bar.  Why?  Well if you believe certain individuals from Wealdstone, “Because Lewes FC kept the bar open”…unbelievable and funny if it wasn’t true. Well about 730 didn’t have an issue, including virtually all of the away fans who were good chaps as I have always known them to be.

One of the reasons why I have virtually turned my back on Premier League/Championship (don’t rub it in please) football was to get away from the type of supporters that we saw towards the end of the Ryman Premier League game this afternoon.  I have no idea what caused the small number of Wealdstone fans to react as they did, but whatever it was did it deserve the reaction we saw?  Sure the referee may have been wrong to award Lewes the penalty, and I have no idea why he sent off the Wealdstone player, but we all have days like this and 99% of fans never react in a way that causes a problem.

It had all started so differently. The temperatures on the way down to the south coast touched 30 degrees on the car temperature gauge.  Sitting in a traffic jam along with thousands of other cars heading for the coast I listened to the feedback on referee Martin Atkinson’s performance in the Merseyside derby. Almost 40,000 fans were up in arms about his actions in the game….Still such hysteria wouldn’t have a home in Non League football, would it? Continue reading

Tell me why…I hate Monday’s

Monday night is not my favourite day for football.  Whilst I am an “addict” I would normally give Monday games a miss.  For some reason a number of Ryman League teams prefer playing their midweek games Le Lundi.  Aveley and Wealdstone have experimented, trying to avoid potential Champions League, Premier League and Football League games in the area.

But tonight, Matthew, I was heading to Kingstonian around the M25 and its spectacular sunset where the Rooks were hoping to extend their unbeaten league run since the opening day defeat to Lowestoft.  They have favoured am Montag for a number of seasons, and attendance figures suggests that the get more people through the doors in the week than on a Saturday.

Just five days ago this game was in doubt.  Someone had broken into the ground last week and put one of the sprinklers on.  Some hours later the water had caused a three foot hole in the pitch.  The groundsmen worked tirelessly to fix the problem, and the test was the win on Saturday versus Hendon which was passed with flying colours. Continue reading

Terrors on the Northern Line

Don’t panic.  The headline is not meant to scare anyone.  It just sums up an evening of football in SM4.  The Terrors in this instance refer to Tooting and Mitcham United, the Northern Line, well, that black tube line that runs down from Borough to Morden. Back from behind the sofa?  Good, then I can begin.

This was no ordinary midweek game for Lewes. Well actually it was.  Let’s start again.  This was no ordinary midweek game for the Lewes away fans. It would be the first time that the Danish fan club would be seeing The Rooks.  In theory the fan club, formed back in July 2009 numbers over 60.  In practice making everyone in my Copenhagen office watch a Powerpoint once a month of the highlights of Lewes’s games probably didn’t endear many of them, and I think that one or two of them may have been responsible for grassing me up for importing Marmite and thus putting in place the ban as retribution.

So six weeks after I returned to the UK here I was taking a small group of them on the tube to watch Lewes play. Apparently they had been a small core of fans who missed their monthly slices of life in the English non leagues and so they used some excuse to wangle some time in the London office.  They may say it was co-incidence as they said they were really here to get up close and personal to The Shard, which is already Britain’s finest erection.

And also making his debut was my Partner in Carlsberg infused Crime Ben, aka Excession1, who used to live just a stones throw from The Hub and had managed to repair his relationship to the lovely Christina since I had come home.  Despite being a Spurs fan, he did know a thing or two about football and purred with excitement about seeing Nanetti in the flesh.

So off we hopped after work to the Market Porter.  Where else in London serves a better pint of Harvey’s Best to get us in the mood (well, apart from the Royal Oak)?  It is against the law to “only have one” at the Porter and so we departed a little bit later than expected.  7pm to be precise.  And one thing you have to remember is that tube and bus timetables in London do not exist.  The stated 33 minute journey actually took over 50 minutes so we were not walking into the ground until ten minutes into the game.

Tooting & Mitcham United 2 Lewes 2 – Imperial Fields – Wednesday 14th September 2011
And what had gone on in those eight minutes we missed? In the words of Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Absolutely nothing”.  What was a pleasant surprise was the turn out from Lewes.  A very impressive number of fans, and quite a few neutrals who were slowly being converted to the ways of the Rook.  Game-a-day John had popped down, this being the only real option in the south, as too had Lizzy Ammon who loved our banter so much that by 9.45pm had signed up to be an owner of Lewes FC (as you, dear reader can too).  With her was a new face.  And what a lovely face to have watching our game – Sarah Flotel, aka SarahHotScores.  Her video pods are legendary and I was very encouraged to see her whip out the camera at various points, perhaps for a special Lewes episode.  Not that there was much to write home about in the first half.

The great thing about Imperial Fields is the view you get from behind the goals.  Quite steep terracing and old fashion crush barriers meant that the Lewes fans presented a wall of black and red for the team to kick towards.  Even with King back on the touchline after his ban, Nanetti and Ciardini working the wings well nothing really went to plan in the first period and for the first time this season The Rooks went in at half time without scoring a goal.

Results elsewhere on Tuesday night had meant that a win would take Lewes to within one point of the top of the table.  However, the talk in the bar at half time was of more pressing matters.  James Boyes and his fascination of going to a game by tram.  As a Manchester United “die-hard” you would have thought that he had been on countless trams to get to Old Trafford but apparently not.  So whilst he waxed lyrical about the nostalgic trip he had to get to the game, we disappeared to get some food.  Now here is a strange thing.  A football club deciding to stop selling food at the end of half time.  Not after 50 minutes or an hour, but as soon as the whistle went.  We had to persuade him to put on a few more burgers and even then when four more people arrived he couldn’t be arsed to cook them.

With a burger in hand it was the sign for the game to come into life.  Tooting, who had looked as blunt upfront as a the knives BA give you to eat your inflight meal these days all of a sudden realised that they were allowed to attack at home and from a dangerous cross that was cleared initially by Stuart Robinson but the rebound fell to Hall to drive the ball home.  In the time it took us to walk around the edge of the pitch to the far end it was two nil as Hall again smashed the ball home on the volley from distance.

Were the wheels coming off the Lewes machine?  After all Tooting had shipped six at the weekend, yet here they were comfortably holding a lead against one of the promotion favourites.  What we needed was a spark, and as if by magic it arrived.  The old Ciardini/Malcolm partnership struck again, as the centre forward did all the hard work in beating defenders in the box and playing a great ball across the six yard line for Ciardini to smash it home.

Just two minutes later it was all square as this time Ciardini didn’t need any help as his shot from twenty five yards took a slight deflection (although Nic claims the sound was his boot kicking the defenders – one for the dubious goals commission I think).

Lewes were on top and with just seconds left should have wrapped the game up when Nanetti’s cross was met by Malcolm inside the six yard box but his effort someone managed to go over the bar.  Sickening, but Malcolm has been on top form in the past few games so we cannot hold that miss that could cost us automatic promotion and a return to the Blue Square Bet South against him (Only joking MM!).

Full time and with Sarah kindly offering me a lift home it was all in all a mixed evening.  The Danes really didn’t know what to think, comparing it to a second level game back home, but not impressed by the lack of a sausage or two.  Our growing band of neutral Rooks still hadn’t seen us win but had at least see us score, and we had gained one more owner.  Bring on Chertsey and the magic of the FA Cup.

Hot Fuzz

It is amazing how quickly the optimism of pre-season evaporates.  After three seasons of toil and struggle, resulting in relegation from the Blue Square Bet South last season, we headed up to Suffolk on Saturday expecting a change in fortunes.  And then we came home again with that same sinking feeling of defeat, failing to get out of first gear against a team who will undoubtably be challenging for promotion come what May (or April).

But 100 hours is a long time in football, and so the optimism had crept back this week with the anticipation of the first home game of the season.  For me it also meant much more.  This was my first game as an owner of a football club.  My football club.

Community ownership in football clubs is the new evolution, and it is starting from the ground upwards.  FC United of Manchester, AFC Telford United, Runcorn Linnets and Halifax are all other examples of clubs in the Non Leagues getting it right.  AFC Wimbledon have now moved into the Football League, joining Exeter City and then there is the success at Swansea City, who are part Community owned.  Is it any wonder that confidence of a good season on the pitch at Lewes follows the success of the change in ownership model off the pitch.  And it is not too late for anyone else to join.  Less than 80pence per week and you too could be walking through the gates proudly sporting your owners badge.

Three years ago, Lewes’s first home game of the season was a “local derby” versus Crawley Town in the Blue Square Conference.  Time can be a cruel mistress.  This week Crawley Town were away to Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup, a brief distraction from the Football League Division 2 where they sat top of the table.  Lewes on the other hand have moved the other way and now had a home tie with the Met Police to look forward to.  Who wants to play at grounds like Selhurst Park anyway.

I was also excited as I would be joined by CMF for this game.  As we were still sans children we decided to relive a bit of our youth with a meal out and then a football match.  A night out with Deaks and Dave took us back to those barmy nights in Kos when we first met.

Lewes 1 Met Police 0 – The Dripping Pan – Wednesday 24th August 2011
Let’s dispel a myth before all of the fun starts.  You no longer have to be a serving policeman to play for the Met Police team, so there is no fear of retribution in the form of a search warrant for a mistimed tackle or over eager shoulder charge.

The other apparent downside of being the “official team” of the police is away support is a bit thin on the ground.  In fact we officially classed the away following as one, although that may have been a bit harsh, as Danny Last pointed out, some may have been “undercover”.

Pre-match excitement came from somebody who said they saw Kenneth Brannagh in the ground.  What deluded fool thought such a thing?  I ask you! (For the record, he does look bloody like Ken).  Once that little issue was sorted it was on to the BIG pre-match news.  Homemade Chicken and Ham pies were on the menu.  I’m sorry but Pukka pies may be, well, “pukka”, but these beauties were tip top.  Worth the admission price alone, said one of the stewards, who of course didn’t have to pay to get in anyway.

It was good to see so many members sporting their badges including The Guardian’s own Paul Hayward and Come Dine With Me’s Dave Lamb on the terraces, and of course the Harveys Best was as good as ever.  All we needed now was a performance on the pitch.

Steve King was still serving his touchline ban so took his seat a good 10 feet away from the dug outs in the main stand.  But he had obviously been unhappy with the performance on Saturday so he started with a more conventional 4-4-2 with the dangerous Ciardini on the left and Paul Booth up front.

The first half ebbed and flowed with no real clear cut chances, apart from an optimistic lob from Small in the opening minutes that just bounced over the bar, and a heart in the mouth moment when Williams ventured out of his area and blocked a Met Police forward.  The referee hadn’t made many friends already in the ground and a few thought that a red card may be forthcoming but fortunately it wasn’t so harsh. Just on the stroke of half time the opening goal came when Booth’s boot met perfectly with the ball on the edge of the box and his volley sneaked into the net.

The second half was not a classic, with both teams threatening to create something but ultimately failing.  Lewes had a great shout for a penalty when Ciardini was tripped, although the referee must have been unsighted based on Mr Boyes’s photo to the right.  Met Police also had a good shout for a spot kick, although it was only fair the referee missed that one as well.

With five minutes of injury time held up, our thoughts went back to games such as Dartford last year when we threw away 3 points, but this team seems to have a bit more belief and concentration.  Full time whistle, three points, thank you very much.  My football club had won!

Roll on Saturday and the visit of Essex’s finest, Billericay Town.

On the tenth day of Christmas….the best ground

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, brilliant grounds not one, nor two but three.

This category is for our favourites grounds in 2010 – ones we have been to a few times.  Our criteria for this was, well basically, how we felt on the day. Ease of getting there, the food, the fans, the atmosphere – in short the whole package.  Notable runners in this category are The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough, The Swedbank stadium of Malmo FF and Carshalton’s War Memorial Ground. But there can only be three winners in our awards, and they are:-

Princes Park – Dartford FC – Many clubs will look at envy at Dartford’s “new ground”, now actually 7 years old. They could have gone down an Identikit stadium to save money (step 1 purchase from Ikea, step 2 unpack, step 3 find some nuts missing, step 4 take it back) but instead thanks to the vision of the club and the assistance of the local council they have a ground so unique that clubs from all over Europe still visit to see for themselves.

A roof covered in grass which captures the rain water for recycling, a fantastic bar, a public transport system that whisks you from main station to the stadium in minutes, literally a minute from the M25, stands that can be expanded with ease as and when necessary and a 12 foot wooden man holding up the roof. Add in 1,000 Dartford fans and you have a cracking day out.

Wembley Stadium – For all its faults it is still the greatest stadium to watch a game in at the moment.  Every seat faces the centre circle (apparently) and there isn’t a bad view in the house. Sure people may moan about the lack of atmosphere when England play there, the expensive food and the nightmare getting home, but last year we saw a game from the press area (nice biscuits but we got locked in – read about it here) and an Executive box thanks to Adam Lloyd which was luxurious to say the least. For those two reasons it is one of our top 3 grounds – sorry we freely admit we sold out to our principles on this one!

The Dripping Pan – Lewes FC – OK we admit that we are a bit biased on this one but at the end of the day, Brian, these are our awards and if we can’t give them to whole we want then what can we do? I have publically gone on record, and been quoted in at least one national publication, as saying:-

“With the South Downs as a backdrop like a white stage curtain, a pint of local Harveys Ale in my hand and the roar of the Rook Inn Terrace behind me, there is no better place to watch football.”

All true. We like to say at Lewes there are no strangers, only football fans who have not yet fallen in love with the most fashionable club in England (well, I think I said it once after a few too many Harveys). Sure the football may not be the best at times but do we have fun watching it. And so should you. Attendances are up by 70% since the club became a Community Club last Summer,a dn fan involvement can be epitomised by the work in progress Rook Inn. You’d be a fool to miss out.