We may be in the gutter but we are looking up at the stars


 It’s not been the best starts to a season down here at The Dripping Pan. A cracking pre-season, with our young squad passing the ball on the ground and scoring goals lured us all into a false sense of optimism that disappeared after 45 bruising minutes in our first league game at Leatherhead. Seventeen league games on and we are still in the bottom four, on our second manager of the season and were dumped out of both the FA Cup and the League Cup in the first rounds. You have to endure a lot of rain to see a small rainbow supporting Lewes.

But in the past few weeks we seen little slithers of light among the dark clouds hovering over East Sussex. Losing by one goal in seven last week, then gaining a point and a clean sheet on the road on Tuesday was encouraging from a performance if not a pure points point of view. New faces have been brought in who seem to want to play for the manager rather than for money and that spirit is starting to shine through. Whilst we don’t yet have to climb Everest to retain our place in the division, Kilimanjaro is still a challenge, but knowing that my 60 year old neighbour managed it with the right preparation gives me hope.

This week we held our first ‘meet the manager’ session along with our AGM. It’s fair to say that the club has taken a bit of a battering on social media and the fans forum this season on a number of topics. These of course escalate when we lose, with the world and their wife having their say – which is quite right. The fans forum should be a place to air concerns, criticism and comments. But disappointingly, when given the opportunity to direct questions specifically at the manager and more importantly the Board and executive management of the club, only a dozen or so turn up. For those who did attend I’m sure they got a greater insight into the time, effort and resources that go into making the club work towards financial stability. Nobody shy’s away from the fact that football on the pitch has been, in the words of my learned colleague Mr Ramsden, “relentlessly mediocre and conspicuously awful” in recent years and that’s what brings people through the gates. But likewise without the activities that take place off the pitch the club would be no more.

imageWe may be unusual from a Non-League budgeting point of view that we never include any potential cup revenues when we draw up the financial plan for the year. Every club starts the season with dreams of what could be with a bit of luck in the draw and a couple of decent performances. Our feeble exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Phoenix Sports back in September in from of less than 150 saw us earn about £5 from the cup this year whilst Staines Town, the last Ryman League representative left in the competition can look forward to travelling to East London next Saturday and taking on Leyton Orient, having already pocketed £25,000 in prize money and will get a 50% share of a very decent gate next week. So today’s tie against Hampton & Richmond Borough becomes significantly more meaningful with a bit of cash on offer. Should we win it will essentially provide an extra week’s wages for the squad.

Sounds easy right? Especially when we have already taken four points off The Beavers this season, or in other words, 57% of our total points. Back in mid-September we went to The Beeveree and came away with an impressive 4-0 win that gave us all hope that the tide had turned. Lewes then went on a ten game losing streak, only arrested, with no pun intended, at Met Police on Tuesday whilst our visitors today have ascended the table to arrive at The Pan in second place in the table.

The FA Trophy is an incredibly tough competition to progress in for clubs at our level. The financial gap between us and even teams in the league above is huge. Last season we know that Maidstone United were spending in the region of £9k per week, Margate potentially more or in other words up to five times the amount we spend on our playing budget. I would guess that both have increased that amount for this season yet Margate sit just above the relegation zone. Factor in that almost fifty percent of the Conference National have relatively recently played in the Football League and you can see how tough it is to progress.

imageThe other issue any club that has a good run in the competition faces is fixture congestion. Back in 2012 Wealdstone reached the semi-finals of the competition, the last time a team from the Ryman League reached that stage. Their reward was to have to play 3 or 4 games a week at the back end of the season because of the rules stipulated by the league. That ridiculous concentration of games ultimately saw them lose any hope of automatic promotion.

I think we all echo the words of manager Darren Freeman in “I’d rather be playing someone else” today, but perhaps this is just the test we need to see how far we have progressed I a short period of time before we return to base camp and preparation for our league table ascent. Cover your ears Ed but it’s not about the money, it’s about the performance.

Lewes 0 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 -The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st October 2015

Cup football in the middle of a run of league games can be a help or a hindrance for a team. In some ways this game was a free role of the dice for the rapidly reforming Rooks side – ninety minutes to gel as a team rather than focusing on the result. With injuries and player ineligibility the Rooks certainly started as the underdogs but left the field after ninety minutes feeling that a draw was a bit harsh on themselves.

Not only were key players missing from the Rooks line-up but the ridiculous FA rules meant that no-one could have a beer on the terraces. Yep, this is the same tournament that for seasons was sponsored by Carlsberg. Still, chips with curry sauce were back on the menu at the Chuck Wagon – in my mind we were already in the next round.

imageDespite the absences Lewes put in their best performance of the season, bar the last time they played Hampton & Richmond. Players knew their roles, played to their strengths, won 50/50 balls, timed the last ditch tackles and adopted a ‘attack is the best form of defence’ mindset. The only thing that was missing was the winning goal, although not for the want of trying.

Two consecutive scoreless draws do not make a season, but when you’ve had the run of form we’ve had recently gone through its a massive step in the right direction. We go again on Tuesday with our eye still on that big cheque.

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That sinking feeling


14898284290_f8e8dcf3a9_zThere are some teams that whenever you play them, there is always something to talk about.  Games between Lewes and Hampton & Richmond Borough can never be classed as dull and today was no different.  Just six games into the season and the game between The Beavers and The Rooks was already being classed as a “six-pointer”.  Both sides found themselves in the bottom four coming into this game.  That certainly wasn’t in the plan for both sides at the start of the season.  But then again, if life was predictable, we wouldn’t need bookmakers.

We’ve seen sending offs galore between the two sides, last minute winners, relegation-saving goals and strikes that would have won goal of the season if it was in the Premier League.  Today, we would have swapped all of that drama for a dull 1-0 away win.  Irrespective of the result, it would be one of the better away trips of the season.

Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Lewes 1 – The Beveree – Saturday 30th August 2014
In the past few weeks we’ve been left ruing some bizarre refereeing decisions that have had a direct impact on our poor start to the season.  Today, once again there was some poor officiating although none of the decisions could be said to have ultimately impacted the result.  The Rooks only came to life when Hampton & Richmond’s full-back Ben Osman was sent off for a second yellow with twenty minutes to go.

14898233309_615b6cc306_zBoth sides looked nervous in the opening period with few chances on goal that worried either keeper.  In fact the highlight of the first half was finding out they had garlic mayonnaise to put on the chips – such refinement is sadly lacking at Non-League grounds these days.  But all of that changed within seconds of the restart when Lewes’s winger, Nick Wheeler was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the area.  Most of the crowd didn’t see the offence although the linesman was pretty quick in raising his flag.  Of course it was Charlie Moone who stepped up and slotted the spot kick into the corner.  Moone seems to have scored in every game he has every played against Lewes. In fact on the train on the way down I discussed the odds we could get on him as first goalscorer, that is if I was allowed to bet on football still.

One became two soon after when left-back Wells was allowed to head home unmarked.  The day was going from bad to worse.  But then, a ray of hope as Ollie Rowe pulled one back and then Osman was sent packing.  Could we fashion another dramatic result at the Beveree?

Ten minutes later, Nathan Crabb got to the byline and pulled the ball back to Terry Dodd.  Five yards out and Dodd managed not only to fail to hit the target but managed to clear the pretty high stand behind the goal.  I repeat, from five yards. Hampton were now hanging on, although using as many time-wasting tactics as possible.  Last season, the FA, under instruction from FIFA, instructed referees to only stop the game for an injury if it was clearly serious or a head injury.  Yet today the referee kept stopping play every time a Hampton player rolled around on the floor.  If we can be bothered to understand the rules then surely they can too.

15061901466_c05b6e76f6_zWith a few minutes to go Elliott Romain was wrestled to the floor by Hampton full-back Wells.  Then, right in front of the “assistant” referee, they had a tussle that quickly escalated to a 18 man brawl.  The officials completely lost control of the situation and it took a couple of players from each side (one being the Lewes keeper) to restore order.  Wells was yellow carded as too was Romain, yet the original offence was worthy of a booking alone.  In which case, what exactly did Romain do?  A picture tells a thousand words so make what you will of this…

Alas, for all the bluster it wasn’t enough.  A fifth consecutive defeat for Lewes was our reward for the long journey.  You make your own luck in football, so they say but someone needs to tell us the recipe!

Nice Beaver…oh get stuffed


“Nice Beaver”….
“Thanks – I just had it stuffed.”

Whenever I hear the name Hampton & Richmond I recall that classic line from Naked Gun.  As I found out recently, few of my work colleagues have ever heard of Lt Frank Drebin, let alone Leslie Nielson (some had never heard of, or seen Back to the Future – what do they teach people in school these days???).  Even fewer of them have heard of Hampton & Richmond Borough which again sent me into a mad rage as I remind them the importance of our Non League teams.  Alas we have too many Chelsea/Arsenal bandwagon jumpers in the office.  Too many people, who like most of society, has never been within 3 miles of a Premier League ground, have no idea what Non League football is all about.  So, in a week where we celebrate Non-League Day for the third year I dragged a couple along to the aforementioned H&RB FC for the visit of the mighty Rooks.

The Beveree (the home of a Beaver apparently – although I am not sure what happened to the “a”) is one of the classic Non League grounds.  Surrounded by trees in one of the more affluent areas of commuter belt London, with a hodge-podge of stands and some of the nicest fans to boot.  The club’s president is Alan Simpson, the legendary comedy writer who brought us Steptoe and Son (come on – even my 9-year-old has perfected her “you dirty old man” line).  Last time I was here, watching Lewes win back in February 2011, Alan was sitting alone in his self-named stand, looking happy with the world.  And why not. Continue reading

“Ah look at all the lonely people”


Valentines Day.  The most overhyped commercialised day in our calendar.  The pressure we all feel to try and go one better each year to prove our love.  As the years roll on, and our relationships mature, why do you need one day to try and prove your love.  I do it everyday with CMF by picking up my socks off the floor, or occasionally boiling the kettle so that she can make me a cup of tea.  Little things like that show that I still love her.

It wasn’t always so romantic. Once I flew her to Monaco just for lunch, swooping in and out of the principality by helicopter from Nice airport.  I am sure she would have rather had a box of Milk Tray.

But what a modern girl really wants is a trip to football on Valentines Day right?  The magic of the game under lights, the smell of liniment, burgers and horse shit and the roar of the crowd as they call the opposing keeper a c*nt for daring to delay a goal kick by a second.  And what a choice you had this year too!

The Sloane Square and Belgravia set no doubt headed down the Kings Road, or over Putney Bridge for the West London derby between Fulham and Chelsea, ultimately enjoying the view of the Thames at night more than the game on offer.  But the real action for those wanting to be romantic was in the Blue Square North and South.  Take your pick from a visit to Chelmsford, Eastleigh, Worcester or even Hinckley.  If that is not enough to prove your love then I do not know what is. Continue reading

Is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?


There is a saying within the GTC Media offices (those fine folks who help with our little website, and Danny Last’s European Football Weekends site) that a good day out is often ruined by 90 minutes of football. To us a game is not about what goes on, on the pitch but what also goes on off it – and we are not talking about some 1970’s hooligan action. Far too many fans, brought up with the sanitised Premier League product are more interested in avoiding the queue at the station to even bother to stay to the end of a game. I never understand that. You wouldn’t ever leave the cinema, theatre or even a restaurant early, so why would you like a football match?

Football to us involves sampling a few beers with the locals, wandering around the ground chatting to the fans and more often than not having a drink after the game with the players and managers. That is what watching non league football is all about. You are more than just a number on the gate. But are all non league experiences the same? Of course not. Anyone who has sampled a game at the Gateshead International Stadium will be hard pressed to put a romantic spin on the magic of a day out there, but there are literally dozens of teams and venues that make a memorable away day. We have tried to choose five that we would recommend to anyone. Continue reading