Sell out!

For most Non League sides the difference between success and failure in a season can be found in their pre-season calendar.  One or two big name friendlies can add anything up to 20% to the income stream for a season.  Planning starts in some cases a year in advance and is often added as a sweetener for any transfer deals that are done involving the Non League club and a professional outfit.  Big clubs will get dozens of approaches every year from clubs big and small, although the world has moved on from the fact the biggest game they would play would be against a Coronation Street XI.

Today it is all about the pre-season overseas tour.  Everyone is at it these days.  No longer is it the preserve of the Premier League sides – League One and Two clubs these days often head overseas to get their “team building” in as well as a few games in the sunshine.  This week sees the departures of Charlton Athletic and Brighton & Hove Albion to Spain for pre-season tours against the likes of Real Betis, Sporting Lisbon and er, Portsmouth.  However, before the Seagulls depart for some sun, sand and soccer they had an appointment down the A27 with the Rooks.

For Lewes this was the biggest game in a number of seasons.  It had been in planning for over 6 months and just 48 hours before the game the Rooks were able to announce that the game was a 2,200 sell out (later revised to 2,426).  In terms of potential receipts, this would see around £15,000 flow into the club (excluding any bar takings, food and club shop sales) although some of that had already been earmarked.  With a club like Lewes having a playing budget around the £75,000 mark for the season, this game could make the difference between a new player or two.

After their exploits in the rain in the shiny new Gallagher Stadium in Maidstone, the Seagulls swooped into the good old Dripping Pan.  Lewes don’t have fancy new dressing rooms, a car park big enough for a coach or a 3G pitch, but they have heart, passion and an army of helpers who were determined to make this event a success.  And they did what they do best – they all mucked in and improvised.  Car parking spaces were reserved in the pay and display with Under18’s players standing in the spaces for the Brighton players BMWs and Mercs, treatment tables were set up outside the dressing room and boardroom converted into a bar (The Boardakabin became the Barakabin). Continue reading

Twenty four years of hurt

One of my ancestors, Thomas Fuller, was the first person recorded as saying “It is always darkest before the dawn” in his legendary book A Pisgah-sight of Palestine and the confines thereof”, published in 1650, the 50 Shades of Grey of its time. Fuller was known to speak sense when he wasn’t in a drunken stupor with his brother, the Great Grandfather of John Bird Fuller who would go on to form the Griffin Brewery (and hence why Brentford play at a ground called Griffin Park).  Us Fullers have a pedigree you know.

Anyway, the relevance of my trip down History Lane was to put in focus the trials and tribulations of those less fortunate than us.  In footballing terms it is the clubs who through no fault of their own find themselves wandering nomads, as Paul Young once probably meant to say “Wherever I lay my net, that’s my home”.  Clubs such as Fisher FC, Cray Wanderers and Hendon still dream of a return home to their own ground, whilst for the likes of FC United of Manchester and Grays Athletic are on a path already to realise their dream.

But one club who have fallen more than most is Maidstone United.  Twenty two years ago they were in the old Fourth Division end of season play offs, having had a dream debut season in the Football League.  They came within a few minutes of a Play Off final spot, and who knows what might have been.  However, the club had over-extended themselves in trying to become Kent’s Premier club.  They sold their old ground in their home town back in 1988 to MFI and moved in with Southern League Dartford, some twenty-five miles away.  Alas, despite league football on offer, the crowds simply didn’t materialise.

They had a plan to move back home once Football League football was established.  The club bought some land for nearly £400,000 in the town centre but planning permission was declined, leaving them with land they couldn’t use and a very expensive weekly grass cutting bill. Continue reading

Good old Sussex by the Sea

Danny Last may have put away the computer keyboard from European Football Weekends but that doesn’t mean he has also filed the old Polaroid in the bin too.  Yesterday he was part of the Sussex Army who descended on Anfield for the FA Cup 5th Round tie.  We all know the score but his outstanding pictures tell a different story.

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More pictures from the day can be found here.

500 Reasons to love football

If you have been living in North Korea recently then you will have missed the launch of 500 Reasons to Love Football back in December.  The original brainchild of the genius of David Hartrick to celebrate those moments in the game that make you laugh out loud.  He soon convinced the likes of Kenny Legg from Adventures in Tin Pot, Danny Last from European Football Weekends, Damon Threadgold from The Real FA Cup and yours truly to jump on board.  The result?  Well, a very well known football journalist said that the website was “putting the beauty back into the game we all used to love”.

We have grown the website in the cyber world, without any need for meetings to discuss plans – which is quite handy as we live in all different corners of England.  But a meet up was long overdue, so we pencilled in a post Christmas bash.  FA Cup 3rd round day to be precise. And with the chance of an upset on the cards, there was really only one potential venue – The American Express Community Stadium for Brighton & Hove Albion versus Wrexham. Of course it was. Continue reading

Turning Pro

Last week I attended my first ever game as a “professional” photographer at Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur at The American Express Community Stadium.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and then promptly lost the memory card!  Thanks to a good Samaritan who found it at McDonalds at Gatwick I now have it back, so here are the best of the bunch albeit a week late!

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