Having a professional club just five miles down the road often appears to be a bad thing for a Non-League club. You have to make the best of the situation and respect the pecking order in terms of league position. Sometimes, when home league fixtures clash, we have to compromise on either suffering lower gates or moving our game much to the annoyance of our fans. But the cold, hard economic truth is that if we don’t, we lose out. Our bigger, stronger neighbours don’t even register a raised heartbeat if we move to an earlier or later game to accommodate the few dozen fans who otherwise may not come to us. But that few dozen matter. Financially, that’s another £500 in the bank. Whilst that is less than a couple of hours pay for some Championship players these days, that is a quarter of our budget for the whole of our squad.
We are fortunate to have Brighton & Hove Albion almost on our doorstep. Relations between them and us (in that order as it’s not a symbiotic relationship) are good, and for the second year in a row, they agreed to send a first team squad down the A27 in a luxury coach for our first home game of the season. Interest for the game locally is obviously very high. So high that we have to make the game all ticket and cap the attendance at 2,300. Whilst the Pan probably could hold more, fans want to be able to buy food, get to the bar and have a decent view. At that number all of that is possible.
Obviously we have to make a number of logistical changes for the game. As tickets are only sold online and have to be printed out, we need an army of volunteers armed with scanners, rather than turnstile operators taking cash. We need additional toilets, food kiosks and car parking for the TV crews (yep, plural this year) who will be attending. Because we are playing a Championship side then the draconian FA rules on when and where alcohol can be served have to be adhered to. Yep, we know it was just a friendly, and yes we know that they will probably never know if someone sneaks a pint out of the clubhouse, but rules are rules. *takes health and safety hat back off*
Off the pitch the club is in rude health at the moment. The 3G is the talk of the town and has had a very positive impact on the first team’s training, with smiling facing, fitter, stronger players and a queue of players who are interested in signing for us. Alas for the reduced budget.
The result is more irrelevant for us than for the Seagulls. They will be expected to win. The fans are growing more and more impatient with Chris Hughton after his negative tactics at the end of last season (which did keep them in the division mind). Last season it ended 5-0 to Brighton and no Lewes fans would go home feeling ashamed by that. But manager Steve Brown was having none of that, telling anyone who would listen that we would give them a fight.
So with the sun shining, the drummers drumming, the pitch looks superb and the fans are in full voice as the two captains led the teams out. Neither season will be made or broken today, but to 2,300 fans of East Sussex football it promised to kick off a long, hard season. Before the football could start the whole ground observed a minute’s silence in memory of Don Lock, a life-long Brighton fan who had been killed a few days earlier.
Lewes 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 18th July 2015
Some may think that the awarding of the Man of the Match to the young Lewes keeper Dan Hutchings told a different story to the one the score line did. However, they would be wrong. Whilst Hutchings was called upon to make a couple of good saves, he was one of five or six Lewes players who could have won the award, chosen by the Match Sponsors. He would have been my choice, both for the excellent second half double save that denied Colunga a nailed-on goal (and would have won me the Golden Goal!) but also for the way he has slotted into the side in the last week. It probably helped having a vastly experienced back four in front of him, made up of two A Trialists (OK – Steve Sutherland from Met Police and Jordan Wilson from Grays Athletic if you really want to know), Rooks legend Chris Breach and new signing March-Brown.
For the first few minutes Lewes probably gave the visitors too much respect, allowing them to retain possession of the ball. But when they realised that Brighton’s best chance of a goal came from 17 year old James Tilley, confidence grew and they started playing the ball around. It was always going to be a tough ask to win this one but Lewes had a very good shout for a penalty in the first period when Nathan Crabb was wrestled to the floor by the Seagulls keeper and Calderon as a corner was on its way over.
The second half saw 20 changes made in total, which for me on the PA was a nightmare. At one point I announced Brighton’s third choice keeper Sanchez had donned the number 26 shirt and was playing on the right wing, whilst Josh Courtney came on for the Rooks, looking very similar to Steve Brinkhurst (because it was Steve Brinkhurst). Whilst Brighton fans will point to the very young eleven that finished the game, so can Lewes with Hutchings, Welch, Marshall, Conlon, Laing and Brown all still young enough to turn out for our Under21’s/Development squad.
Whilst Brighton should have wrapped it up at the death when Ward pulled his shot wide, a draw was a fair result for both teams, although obviously one set of fans went off down Mountfield Road much happier than the other set. Putting my Chairman’s hat back on, we couldn’t have been happier. Excellent crowd, good bar and food takings, award-winning programmes all sold out, great TV coverage and I even got to nutmeg Gully, the Brighton mascot. Not quite up there with the wedding day but close. Roll on 8th August and the start of the new season.