Walking football


Growing up I pleaded with my Dad to buy every house we saw for sale on our walk from the car parked near Plaistow tube station to The Boleyn Ground.  Wouldn’t it be brilliant to live next to a football ground?  I used to believe that the players spent every waking hour at the ground and probably would be a neighbour when we moved it.   I couldn’t understand his reluctance to give up our nice house in the country with a big garden for a terrace house on Green Street with a sofa in the front yard.

As the years have passed my interest in living so close waned as I saw exactly what fans did in the front gardens of the houses near grounds.  Of course the players didn’t live anywhere near the ground or even the fans, shudder the thought of having to mix with them.  But the idea of being able to nip out of the door at 2:55pm and be back in time for the distinct sounds of Sports Report is somewhat appealing.

Whenever I travel to games overseas I always try to stay close to the stadium, not having to worry about public transport post match.  I also love the idea of waking up, opening the curtains and seeing a stadium there in front of me, as I did in Bilbao back in November when I was almost in touching distance of the beautiful San Mames stadium.

Whilst it wasn’t quite in touching distance, the away trip to Greenwich Borough was one I had been looking forward to because I didn’t have to rely on any public transport or any need to drive or be driven (in the end I did use public transport and I did get a lift home) as their home ground in Middle Park Avenue was just 1.6 miles away, and with the Park Tavern at the half-way point, the meeting point for the extended Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  The Park Tavern is my local, despite being a mile away (we are bereft of pubs bizarrely in this area of London) and it was confirmed that we were the largest away support they had ever seen, although our only competition was the three Belgium fans who had got off the train at Mottingham just down the road thinking it was Nottingham and were looking for the City Ground apparently.

In a week where finances in Non-League football have come under the spotlight again with the crazy situation taking another turn for the ridiculous at Billericay Town, we headed down to Greenwich Borough.  It’s very hard to find out the real numbers behind virtually every club at our level and whilst we are completely transparent in publishing our budget, we still get questions from other clubs saying “but that’s not your real budget though is it?” And our answer is always the same, “yep” although of course the number we publish is the gross number, not the net one.  Greenwich Borough’s entry into the Isthmian League and the investment in Gary Alexander’s squad has led to many speculating that they are the best funded squad in the league, with former Football League players such as Peter Sweeney, Bradley Pritchard, Charlie MacDonald and Glenn Wilson.  Expectations are therefore high down at The DGS Marine Stadium (named after the Chairman’s shipping business) and they will be seething at the fact they let top spot slip through their fingers in the Autumn, although they’ve never fallen out of the Play-off spaces since.

Fifteen minutes before kick-off with our formation and tactics sorted, captain Lloyd Cotton put his foot down a divot on the warm-up pitch.  His presence at the back cannot be underestimated.  In the 19 games he has played centre-back this season, we had won 13 and drawn 3.  Fortunately we had Stacey Freeman on the bench to come into the side at the eleventh hour, albeit carrying an injury himself.  With the sun shining, the Rooks took to the field hoping that they would put in a South Park rather than a Godalming Town performance and move level on points with our hosts.

Greenwich Borough 1 Lewes 0 – DGS Marine Stadium – Saturday 26th March 2017
In the end this game was decided by two poor decisions, one made by Lewes’s Jack Dixon and one made by the referee. Third versus fifth and there was very to choose between the two sides at the start but by 5pm there was six points and four places – the difference between having a shot at promotion come end of April and a summer licking our wounds.

Football should always be enjoyed in the sunshine with a beer but in the first twenty minutes there was very little action on the pitch.  Both sides were cancelling themselves in midfield and with the Rooks battling both with the uphill slope and the strong wind in their face, they were happy to restrict the hosts to shots from distance.  Then in the space of a minute we went from attacking a corner to picking the ball out of the net.

It essentially went like this.  Sow corner to far post, Freeman jumps and is penalised.  Holloway takes free-kick, the bounce beats Harrington but Dixon is there to clear danger.  He under-hits his back pass to Winterton and Charlie MacDonald gets in front of Stacey Freeman and drills it past the Lewes keeper.  It was OK though as we would have the conditions in our favour in the second half.

The second period was dominated in my eyes by two events.  Firstly the wind blew over my 1/2 full pint of Badger’s Bitter and then Stephen Okoh was blatantly taken out in the area and the referee turned a blind eye.  There was no doubt that the first incident was an accident but the second was as clear a penalty as you could ever ask for.  On many other occasions we would have been celebrating a spot kick but that’s football for you.  Okoh then hit the bar with ten to play but that was the closest we came to scoring.  At the other end Winterton was rarely troubled as Greenwich Borough professionally saw the game out to grab all three points.

The disappointment wasn’t in the manner we lost – there was very little between the two sides – but in the fact every other team challenging with us for the Play-offs won.  We’d gone from fourth to seventh in the space of six days.  But with games coming thick and fast against 9th, 6th, 5th and 4th in the table to come in the next three weeks, nobody was giving up.

I could have walked home, smug that I had not added anything to my carbon footprint but Baz offered me a lift.  Just like living next to a ground seems like a great idea, turning down a lift to walk home was the sensible option.

Sealed with a kiss


When we met Brentwood Town for our first ever league meeting back in September, manager Dean Holdsworth led his side to a 5-1 win, probably the lowest point Lewes hit this season to and one that contributed to manager Steve Brown decided to quit a few days later.

Six months later and we would be travelling to Essex still in a desperate position, but with hope in our hearts.  Neither Steve Brown nor Dean Holdsworth would be in the respective dugouts.  Brown has yet to return to management, whilst Holdsworth has swapped his Sugar Hut sponsored bench coat for a leather chair and a spot behind a big wooden desk at The Macron Stadium.

Holdsworth was a business consultant for the Sport Shield Consultancy who finally took control of Bolton Wanderers earlier this month, when he was appointed Chief Executive.  Based on their desperate league position, facing relegation to Football League One and without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon last week.  Relegation to the Ryman League South may not have been so bad considering the huge task in front of Holdsworth.

FullSizeRender (10)Brentwood Town face a dilemma of their own as to whether they can make the necessary investments in the ground to bring it up to the required standard to remain at this level.  Work needs to be completed by the 31st March, which would include a significant increase in the number of seats at the Brentwood Centre.  Failure to reach the standard could mean relegation back to the Ryman League North.  So currently sitting in the relegation zone, do they invest with the hope they can win their games in hand and reach safety or take the penalty and build again next season both on and off the pitch.

Lewes were without talismanic striker Jonte Smith who was away on international duty with Bermuda in the Caribbean Cup.  We would have to win this one with our youngsters to the top of their game, on a pitch that would make our passing style more difficult than normal.  But when your backs are against the wall you need to come out fighting.

Brentwood Town 0 Lewes 1 – The Brentwood Centre – Saturday 19th March 2016
Coming away from an away game with three points is great, but to win convincingly is always better.  In the grand scheme of things this win may mean nothing for either side, but try telling that to the players, management, the board and of course the fans who saw a great team performance and a fully deserved win.  The key moment was Henry Muggeridge’s 51st minute goal.  Instead of describing the pivotal moment, just follow the action for yourself below.  Until next week I bid you a great weekend.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…again


Enfield Town 2 Lewes 1 – The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium – Saturday 13th February 2016
OK – let’s start with the positives.  We all got a free pint to drink during the first half thanks to a great gesture by Enfield Town, a thank you for our support in their campaign for justice at the end of last season.  Not just your run of the mill fizzy-pop either.  A fine pint of Redemption’s Rock The Kazbek no less.  And boy did we need it in a first half where the pre-match instruction from our management team to “make sure Whitely doesn’t cut inside onto his right foot” lasted approximately 200 seconds when Whitely cut inside onto his right foot and scored.

FullSizeRender (6)The goal came as a bit of a shock to be honest, even though a) Enfield Town had won their last four home games, b) We have the second worst away record in the league, conceding on average 2.3 goals per game and c) We hadn’t gone behind in a game this year.  Could we have another beer voucher?

The scars of last season’s debacle have been forgotten by most at the club, although the initials FA certainly don’t mean the Football Association in these parts.  It’s fair to say that our governing body didn’t come out of the whole affair very well, and even at a meeting before Christmas with the chairman of the Ryman League, looked to deflect blame from their failings.  Fortunately, plans are afoot at our league level to change rule 6.9 which would now mean the Ryman League could handle the situation very differently if it occurred in the future.  How difficult was that?  Well as simple as changing the word “shall” to “may” in terms of how the league penalise clubs.  It took 30 seconds for the votes to be counted back in December’s League Meeting for that to progress.

Anyway, back to the action.  We always looked like we would concede another in the next thirty minutes but somehow we didn’t.  Then we started to remember how we had beaten Dulwich Hamlet, Canvey Island and Merstham.  We started passing the ball, stretching Enfield’s midfield and defence.  We had a great chance for Laing to run in on goal in the last-minute of the half.  However, the ball never reached him as the Enfield Town full-back decided to play basketball with the ball in front of the linesman, who tried to justify the fact he wasn’t looking by pointing to his chest.  The Enfield player walked off at half-time hardly able to contain his laughter.

FullSizeRender (5)We kept pressing in the second half, chipping away at the back four, looking for a way through.  Laing had a great shout for a penalty turned down when he was pushed to the floor.  No penalty, yet no card for “simulation”.  So what was it then ref? Jonte Smith’s far post header was turned around the post by an Enfield leg and with seconds left we could sense something was going to happen.

Laing again bamboozled the defence and his cross struck and outstretched arm.  Referee points to the spot.  Could it be?  Smith stepped up in the most languid of ways and rolled the ball into the corner of the net.  We’d take a point our jumping around on the terraces said.  We’d hardly had time to tweet using the hashtag “unbeatenin2016” before we’d conceded again.

FullSizeRender (4)Back in August we took the lead at home to Harrow Borough with a penalty in the 87th minute.  67 seconds later we conceded after switching off and had to settle for a draw.  Today our point lasted marginally less.  Enfield Town were given a free-kick on the left-hand side, pumped it into the box and someone (later identified as full-back Doyle) headed it in.

It’s hard to smile and share pleasantries post match in the boardroom when you lose like this.  Enfield Town’s hospitality was second to none and whilst the conversation, according to the unwritten boardroom protocol, completely avoided the a) result, b) the last gasp goal, and c) the fact we were still bottom, you couldn’t help thinking what could have been.

The positive was that other scores down at the foot of the table didn’t work against us.  We will pick ourselves up, regroup and refocus on three points next Saturday against Grays Athletic.  Perhaps it was the beer after all?  Yep..*makes note to turn down free beer*

LIfe in the gutter


Hope is a viable strategy for many football clubs – in fact for many it is the only strategy. It’s a motto, held together by duck tape, that underpins the grass-roots of our beautiful game. That’s not to stop the dreamers dreaming. As Oscar (Wilde not the Chelsea midfielder) famously said, “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars”. Today we were most certainly looking up at the stars.

Our day started at 8am discussing the future of the football club surrounded by history and tradition. Our home for the first part of the day was The Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw from Lewes Station,  where back on Wednesday 23rd September 1885 our football club was formed. In an article published in the Sussex Agricultural Express a few days later, it was reported under the headline “Formation of a Football Club” that a meeting the previous Wednesday at The Royal Oak Public House, chaired by Mr J Plummer Chapman had seen the created of Lewes Football Club and that “The Dripping Pan would be available for football matches during the winter months. Over 130 years later and we are still going, with the Pan now being one of the oldest 20 football grounds in the world used continuously by the same club.

FullSizeRender (1)One hundred and thirty years later, our objective was to create a strategy for the next five years for the club. In some ways we had to thank our lucky stars we had made it this far, having come so close to letting unbridled (and some might say unfounded) ambition take the club away from us. Just like any organisation in the commercial world, we need to have a clear vision, a set of objectives and a framework for growth. We may be tiny when compared to Premier League clubs but our ambitions boil down to the same thing – progress. The difference is that we have to grow within our means and in a sustainable manner, with every programme we sell mattering whilst they can just sit back and watch some of that £1bn a year TV money roll in, not even caring today that they have priced out a generation of fans.

Creating a strategic plan that everyone buys into don’t just happen overnight. An initial strategy was created back in 2010 when the football club passed into community ownership under the leadership of the original Rooks125 group. Most of those initial objectives have been met during the last 5 1/2 years with Charlie and Ed the two remaining members on the board from the original six. The new plan would see us through to 2020 as well as providing a framework for growth past that date, where it is hoped we will have more willing individuals invested in the club.

I took on the initial task of drafting the first draft of the new plan. It’s quite daunting to start writing such a document, having to balance the core, day-to-day tasks with trying to find the inspiration, aspiration and perspiration for growth. You look for clues from other clubs but have to be mindful that you don’t want to simply copy something someone else does – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m used to having to write strategies for others in my other life, being a paid outsider looking in on the business models created by others, making recommendations for improvements and hammering home the point that they, not me, have to own the actions. A strategy without owners prepared to make changes and buying into the vision is simply a word document with pretty pictures.

Some fans may question why we need a strategy – we are after all a football club – our only objective games should be to win games. If only that was the truth. Others simply lament for the free spending, couldn’t give a toss about what happens tomorrow, days gone by. The work that goes on behind the scenes will never be enough for them. But for the majority of our 1,200 owners they want to know that the club is in good hands, not just today but years into the future. That’s what today was all about. Assessing whether the ways we did things today were the right ways, and right things as well as looking for other ways to grow the club.  No idea was a bad one (even some of Ed’s ones).  The football club has many moving parts such as our community work, our ownership model, our commercial proposition, our 3G and our Academy as well as our footballing sides.  Each is somewhere intertwined with another, so creating a plan for one, would have a knock-on on another.

1_NeedhamMarket2015-282x400As a group we have differing visions of where we could and should be and what our motivations were for sitting around the table in the first place. We have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and different temperaments – as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fellow board members in a democratically elected organisation. Or something like that anyway. But we all are gathered in the same place at silly o’clock on a match day to discuss the same thing. What can we do to make the future of this football club better.

Strategising over, and safe in the knowledge that we think we were heading in the right direction it was time for some football.  To turn again to Wilde, Lewes came into this game well and truly in the gutter but recent form had seen us not only looking but in the words of S Club 7, reaching for the stars. Unbeaten in 2016 versus a side who had just one win since mid-November and had slid down the table to sit just above the relegation zone. It made a welcome change that we weren’t looking to the stars for signs of poor weather for what seemed like the first time in weeks. A Rooks win and we’d not quite be breathing down Needham Market’s neck but we’d be sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend in preparation.

Lewes 0 Needham Market 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th February 2016
After our enthusiasm at looking into the future, the present was a little more like the weather.  Dreary.  A point and a clean sheet would have been a good result a few months ago.  Today it is a small step up a big mountain.  The frustration was we did enough to win the game, and should have been celebrating another win tonight, especially as the linesman’s flag to deny Jonte Smith’s late effort was proved to be wrong on the edited highlights (in fact it was the only second half highlight).

FullSizeRender (3)The conditions were tricky, but it was the same for both sides.  The visitors started the brighter, with centre-forward Michael Brothers proving a real handful for the Lewes defence, and it was his strength and determination that should have seen Needham go in one-nil up at the break but his cross shot failed to hit the target.  A second half change to an all-energy front four by Darren Freeman tantilised the biggest crowd of the day in the Ryman Leagues but never quite troubled the visitor’s keeper, with Smith’s disallowed goal proving to be the major talking point.

Other results at the foot of the table meant we actually gained points on teams above the relegation zone in the most part, and didn’t fall any further behind.  With a game against Dulwich Hamlet to come on Wednesday the unthinkable could still happen.  Even our strategic plan can’t call that one.

Conditional decisions


Up and down the country teams who haven’t had the best of starts to the season will be encouraged by the fact they come into the first game of the new year unbeaten in 2016. Yep, we’ve all said it, more out of hope that our team’s fortunes will miraculously change simply because the calendar has rather than through any other event. Of course, for those fans who follow a team in the top four leagues the prospect of the transfer window now being open brings the hope that you may sign someone who will turn your season around, or get an opportunity to offload someone who has been the root cause of your problems.

Down here in the seventh tier of English football we don’t have the same type of transfer window. Ours is more of a fly screen which can be opened at will. Few players at our level are on anything more than a nod and a wink contract, with the mystical 7 Day Approach process often the only thing standing between that key player shooting you up the table or seeing you fall through the relegation trap door. I don’t really deal with that side of footballing affairs. Give me a notebook, a pen and a little video camera and send me off to watch a game and I will give you a full tactical analysis of a team, their strengths and weaknesses, set-piece routines and quality of pies on a nicely presented PDF within 24 hours. But ask me which form needs to be signed by our new Spanish winger (no word of a lie by the way) and where to send it then I’m lost. Thank goodness for Club Sec Kev and his magic cardigans is all I will say.

Suffice to say that if someone puts in a “Seven Dayer” you have a week to convince the player to stay with you. My idea would be to play on the ‘caring, sharing’ perception of our fantastic community club. A bunch of flowers delivered to Mrs Centre Forward, some sweets for Holding Midfield junior or a case of Becks for Goalkeeper’s flat mate. It’s all very well the club’s chairman trying to lay on the charm but when it comes from their nearest and dearest it tends to resonate more.

Alas, it normally comes down to cash. You will have managers who are simply better negotiators and persuaders than others but nothing peaks the interest of a footballer than money, especially at this level of the game. By money I also mean opportunity costs – the reduced time (and cost) of getting to training, the fact we never fail to pay players on time, that we have a very cool shirt manufacturer and sponsor.

But back to today. It’s the start of a New Year and a win could put us top of the first 2016 table. Well, when you’ve had such a desperate 2015 you will cling to any hope.

FullSizeRender (25)The first victory of the day was over the elements. Heavy rain overnight may have dampened the pitch but not the spirit of everyone at the club. Alas, in true Lewes style the elements rallied and scored a late equaliser. At 1pm when the referee arrived, the pitch was playable. At 1.45pm after over half an hour of heavy rain it wasn’t. By the time I arrived at 2pm and congratulated myself at being able to park outside the ground for the first time this season fans were heading in the opposite direction.

At 9am the pitch was playable. At 11am it was almost good enough for a garden party. At 1pm when the officials arrived it could have hosted world championship bowls. Then it started to rain….and rain…and rain. At 1.45pm the referee decided that the conditions were bad enough to warrant an inspection, and consequently, postponed it. “You should have communicated the game was in doubt” said one fan. But the game was never in doubt until the referee said it was. Five minutes later it was called off. You can’t make decisions on contingent liabilities. The heavy rain was forecast from 9am. It didn’t materialise until 1pm. Of course, we could have communicated that the 3pm kick off was subject to final approval of the officials but then that’s the same for any game. The pitch could be too hard, the snow could obliterate the lines on the pitch, the wind could cause structural damage, the ice could make spectating areas dangerous. Only the referee can determine how the weather conditions impact on the game. I totally get the frustration of anyone who travelled to the game but we could only work with absolute facts and not what ifs.

FullSizeRender (25)So instead of watching The Rooks I headed down the road, along with a fair few other Rooks fans plus a smattering of Whitehawk fans also without a game, to watch over the young ex-Rooks (Peacehaven & Telscombe) play older ex-Rooks (Hastings United). Not quite the afternoon I had in mind but having travelled so far, I couldn’t go home empty-handed.

Peacehaven & Telscombe 0 Hastings United 4 – The Sports Park – Saturday 2nd January 2016
Just before Christmas, Peacehaven announced that they were going to cut their playing budget. The announcement went on to explain that the decision, whilst a very difficult one to make knowing the potential ramifications for the team, was in the best interests of the club. Most of the senior, and potentially bigger weekly earners had departed, leaving manager Simon Colbran with a very young squad. However, despite their age and experience, and Colbran’s absence due to illness, Peacehaven put up a strong fight against a Hastings side who would still consider a play-off spot as a realistic ambition this year.

FullSizeRender (26)With the postponement of both Lewes’s and Whitehawk’s games, Peacehaven saw a significant increase in spectators – we simply cannot deal with a Saturday afternoon without our football – which hopefully translates into some additional cash into the budget for them.  The 250-odd fans will have seen a decent, open game, played in testing conditions.  Peacehaven certainly had their chances to equalise Billy Medlock’s early goal for Hastings in the first half, hitting the bar and missing a couple of great opportunities.  Players slipped and slid around the muddy pitch, with the referee letting the game flow as much as possible.  Hastings scored a second when former Rook Sam Cole finished off an excellent move that ripped apart the home defence to give them a comfortable lead at half-time.

The second half saw Hastings dominate, with conditions worsening.  The Peacehaven keeper struggled to stay on his feet on many occasions but he could do little with the two late goals.  First, a Sam Adams free-kick seemed to stick in the air due to the wind, and despite trying to re-judge where the ball would finally come back to earth, it slipped from his grasp and Richardson-Brown tapped home.  The scoring was complete when Cumming-Bart shot from the edge of the area after some neat build up play.

Whilst Hastings walked away with three points, Peacehaven can also pride themselves on being winners.  Not only did they manage to get the game on (or perhaps have a referee who wanted to officiate a game despite the conditions) but they also competed for long periods with a team short on experience and age.