The beauty of Non League football


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Canvey Island 1 Lewes 1 – Saturday 28th February 2015 – Park Lane
Freezing cold, standing on an open terrace with nothing between you and Kent bar a small sea wall, with a cup of tea to starve off frost bite….Non League football….I bloody love it!

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Artificial Intelligence


It’s the second weekend of February. I’ve just returned from a business trip in Copenhagen where the snow lays fresh on the ground and the temperatures barely broke freezing point. Whilst people’s perception of Denmark is that at this time of the year it is a frozen wasteland, the snow has arrived nearly two months later than normal – hardly ideal when their football league is coming towards the end of their winter break.  A few inches of snow doesn’t stop sport in these parts. A few years ago I experienced the lowest temperature I had ever experienced at a football match in Randers, in the north of Denmark when the FC Copenhagen were the visitors in a game played among piles of snow and temperatures as low as minus 15. It was November. Today it is February and we are still yet to see any of the white stuff.  We know though that when it arrives it will be the worst winter ever .

Because we need more issues with the weather right? I can’t remember a day when it hasn’t rained this year.  On Friday I was supposed to be heading for the bright lights of Newport County but their game against Fleetwood  Town fell victim to the rain.  To add insult to injury (as well as the reported £180,000 the club has lost since late December) the Football League had written to the club to “express concern” at the fact their last four (now five) games had fallen victim to the weather.  Really?  As if the club needed any reminding! They even approached AFC Wimbledon, opponents for their next home game on Tuesday night to see if the game can be played in Kingsmeadow, but I am sure there is a rule somewhere the footballing authorities have saying they can’t.

12389182495_f6f185ee43_bBut what about further down the leagues?  Some County League clubs haven’t seen any action since mid-December.  In the Ryman League once again over 80% of the games this Saturday were cancelled.  Of course the league authorities are all over the situation, giving help and support to the clubs who are suffering.  Yeah, right.  Not a word apart from a reminder that when a game is cancelled, we need to re-arrange it as soon as possible.    Our postponement count so far has now reached eight games. Eight games that we now have to fit in somehow, somewhere. And that is before any of the potential white stuff arrives causing more chaos. Our game today away at Enfield Town was called off DESPITE the pitch being playable when the pitch inspection was carried out.  The referee decided, without any consultation with Lewes, that conditions would get worse and it would be an issue for us to travel at 9.15am.  Thanks for that. If he would have bothered to ask he would have found out we were willing to travel. Continue reading

I’m alright Jack(s)


“I just can’t look, it’s killing me.”

Picture the scene. The time? 10:30pm CET The place? A train trundling through the lowlands of Holland, somewhere between Best and Utrecht. The reason? Work. The problem? Lewes are playing at home to Hampton & Richmond Borough. There are only a few minutes left, the score is 1-1 and I’ve just lost my 3G signal. The Rookmeister has left his nest and I am flapping helplessly in the wind, or as my very good friend Ben sitting opposite would say, “Sitting in the corner with your dick out”. I immediately tell him to correct himself – the Dutch are a liberal bunch but there are rules on these trains.

The problem is that Lewes don’t have a very good record at hanging onto a point late in home games. Time after time we’ve all said a collective “bollocks” as a corner isn’t cleared and the ball is turned into the net. Another point dropped. In fact if we would have ended our games at the 85 minute mark in the past two seasons, we would probably be in the Football League now. Of course we would have.

“Jealousy. Turning saints to the sea, turning through sick lullablies, turning choking on your alibi.”

I’m jealous. Immensely jealous. I know I have another 3 or 4 hours of travelling and then work before I can call this ridiculous day over. Whilst I have had a fantastic dinner in one of Eindhoven’s best restaurant’s bought for me and now I’m heading to a hotel room where the toilet is in the middle of the room in a Tardis and with free “movies” I;d rather have been at the Pan, watching the first home game of a season of huge promise. I wanted to be standing on the Jungle, pint of Harvey’s in hand marvelling at the footballing revolution taking place on the hallowed turf. I wanted to see the paying public marvelling at our new creation, the Lewes matchday programme.

“But it’s just the price I pay. Destiny is calling me. Opening up my eagle-eyes. I’m Mr. Brightside.”

9529342797_b619ec8435_bDolly Parton once said you can’t have the rainbow without the rain, so my pennance is missing the game. From what I read on Twitter we were on top, but were up against some dogged Beavers and an official who liked being a man of mystery in terms of his decisions. Watching games unfold like this is horrible. Worst. Day. Ever.

But that was then, and this is now. Saturday. Match day. And I was back in Lewes. Did it miss me? Of course not. 516 hearty souls saw the game on Tuesday night, just 5 supporters short of the best crowd of this round of games. Make no mistake, if this post isn’t full of enough clichés already, build it and they will come. The crowd was up by nearly 200 on the comparable first midweek fixture on last season. The campaign was one away win at Hornchurch old and already the locals were queueing around the block to see the Rooks.

A lot has gone on behind the scenes recently to contribute to this. We’ve covered our new management team in previous weeks, their different approach, the squad of local players and the standards they want to set. At the board level, we now have clear roles. And not just one either. Good old Clive now wears the Treasurer/Commercial Manager/Coach Driver and Head of Catering Director’s hats all at the same time like an umpire on a cold day. Charlie is in charge of blue/red/purple sky thinking and poster design. Ed is in charge of crap music and regimented meeting agendas, whilst I have taken charge of the website and programme, along with the real brains in this area, Bazza Collins. Every other week we report back on progress of our actions as we move into a new phase of the club’s existence – solvency. Continue reading

I get around…


….from town to town, I’m a real cool head, I’m makin’ real good bread”

A trip to Canvey Island on a wet, wild and windy April afternoon probably doesn’t feature in any Top 100 Days Out in England programmes, but for Lewes fans it was going to be THE place to be. Through a combination of favourable results and some excellent performances, the Rooks came into the second to last game of the season still in the play off spots. Granted Wealdstone and Cray Wanderers had games in hand, and the momentum was with The Stones, especially after their 6-0 away at keeper-less Tooting & Mitcham United in the week, but every manager knows it is better to have points in the bag than games in hand (that is unless you are the team with games in hand).

So this was our last away trip of a long season that had started for some of us back in early July with a friendly away at St Neots Town. Fortunately, our hosts Concord Rangers had just ruled themselves out of the fight for the play offs and so they would simply open the front door and allow us to have the run of the house, right? That is what normally happens isn’t it? Perhaps they would also put a striker in goal for us like Tooting? What are the odds of that? Continue reading

Who wants to win the cup anyway?


Saturday’s horrific home defeat to Cheltenham was a mortal blow for Dagenham & Redbridge as well as their fans.  However, like falling off a bike it is best to get straight back on it, and so our very own Brian Parish focused on the distraction of an Essex Senior Cup game against a team three levels below the Daggers.  Surely nothing could go wrong?  Could it?

Whilst Saturday will take some time to get over, thankfully, we have another game to play almost straight away. That though is not to lessen the challenge we face tonight. While Canvey Island may be a few divisions below us, we know precisely how difficult it can be to get a result here, having visited on more than one occasion in the conference, and prior to that, in the Isthmian League.

Although it is just the Essex Senior Cup, this is a chance for some who have experienced the non-league days, to re-visit those memorable days gone by. A chance to go to places that we have yet to visit, or even just the chance to “change ends” at half time is generally a good enough reason to turn up for these games. Plus in a season that is going from bad to worse, we’ll take anything that is going our way. And as it’s been ten years since we actually won the county cup, if we can get to the final, we’ll certainly take it.

For the first few years of the twenty-first century, Canvey Island and Grays Athletic were leading the way from Essex, and both looked set fair for a long stay in the top flight of non-league football. Grays even went as far as to reach the conference play offs, but ultimately, both clubs fell from the conference. Grays were relegated a couple of years ago, sold off their ground, and are currently ground sharing with East Thurrock United. Continue reading

No Dr Feelgood factor for Lewes


“”You have to have the rain before you can have the rainbow”

In just 24 hours I would be walking along Santa Monica Pier in SoCal as us surfers know it, the sunshine on my face and the sand between my toes.  You can’t beat a bit of winter sunshine to recharge the batteries after Christmas.  And as if I needed any more incentive to go I had the promise of a date with the not too shabby Natalia Velez to look forward to.

But first I had a date with one of Essex’s finest – Canvey Island who were visiting the Dripping Pan for an early doors game against The Rooks.  Early doors because of Brighton’s cup game versus Newcastle United just down the road at 5.15pm.  Thanks to the Ryman League seeing sense, and the Essex side happy to leave Lakeside an hour earlier than normal, Lewes stood a chance of a decent crowd.  We littered the Toon websites, forums and Twitter feeds with invites and promises of pints of Dog, Jimmy Nail look-a-likes and Lewes wearing a special one-off black and white striped shirt just for the day.  Not strictly true but  would they really notice after tucking into a few pints of Harveys?

Our cause had been helped no end by the efforts of the Guardian’s sports team who plugged the game via their Fiver email, eulogising that :-

“At this quaint little ground, you’ll be allowed to stand up, smoke your gills out, watch entertaining Brazil-circa-1970 style football, eat delicious modestly priced organic burgers and lorry back refreshing pints of the local brew Harveys all at the same time”

Thanks to some opportunist sales techniques that would have shamed a time-share salesperson in the Canary Islands I had managed to convince The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning as an owner a few weeks ago.  Yes, he had been worse for wear; Yes, he was distracted by Sarah Hot Scores and yes I may have told him that by being an owner he was entitled to certain perks that weren’t strictly true, but Pressganging is not illegal (I think) in the 21st century.  One man’s Richard Branson is another man’s Asil Nadir. Barry was making his first visit to the Pan and we were determined to make his visit a special one.  After all, since he thrust the £30 in my top pocket back in December, “our” team had won three, drawn four and lost four as well as seeing the manager depart.  Investments can go up and well as down as I reminded him when he asked for a refund.

Canvey Island, the Gulls, the pride of Park Lane.  Lewes had already beaten the Islanders earlier in the season and what they could do with a moral boosting win today.  Performances had been good, but a lack of goals was becoming a real worry.  Five goals in the last six wasn’t a fair return for the effort, but add on the fact that three had come from penalties and you see the issue.  Last Saturday the team lost 5-1 at Margate.  Lewes shots 8, Margate shots 8.  On Wednesday night the woodwork and a bobble in the six yards area stopped two certain goals.  Today there was to be no excuse.  It was win or bust….well not exactly that traumatic but we are hyping this up for the Guardian remember?

This was my third trip to Lewes in just four days after the Sussex Senior Cup match on Wednesday and then the Fans Forum on Thursday where we had batted away all questions fired at us from the fans.  Now was the time for us to live up to our promise of Barcelona-esque football.

Lewes 1 Canvey Island 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 28th January 2012
“You will win nothing with kids” One of the most famous understatements uttered by a pundit.  Alan Hansen may have had to eat his words back when Sir Alex Ferguson blooded the likes of Scholes, Beckham and Giggs at Villa Park in August 1995, but since then how right he has been.  Lewes today were forced to field a very young team as injuries ravaged Simon Wormull’s squad.  The manager himself was even forced to play himself for the final thirty minutes, turning back the years with some of his visionary passing.

I can only imagine the mood in the Wormull house when the sick notes arrived this morning.  Kamara – hip injury.  Robinson – hamstring.  Hamilton – foot.  Hustwick – neck strain.  These four are the Lewes back four. Any club would struggle to cope with such a situation.  A major reshuffle saw Charlie Leech and Josh Phillips in the starting line up as well as new signing Jack Walder in the centre of midfield.

One good bit of news was that the Rooks had ditched the white shorts – going down the full Rosseneri look of red and black – Canvey opting for Crystal Palace away circa 1989.  It was the yellows who started the stronger of the two and thankfully keeper Rikki Banks was in good form.  With Lewes’s recent goals coming from the boot of Paul Booth it didn’t take a brave man (me) to predict he would be the first goalscorer, although Eddie Fremantle refused to take my tenner, reminding me that as a Director I was not able to place a bet on my team.  Sure enough, a minute later Paul Booth rose and headed home a Nanetti cross to put the Rooks one nil up.

The second half saw Canvey well on top and it was no surprise when Jason Hallett scored in the 51st minute.  We weren’t used to conceding a goal before the 90th minute so the crowd were stunned into silence.  Everyone was confused.  What to do?  Well, how about the player/manager bringing himself on…Wormull stripped off and within a minute had played a trademark cross field pass to Nanetti. Every touch was greeted with a cheer.  Could he win us the game and roll back the years?

Alas no.  Canvey got stronger as the game wore on and with twenty minutes to go Bradley Woods-Garness smacked a loose ball home to give the Essexmen the three points.  The thirty or so Canvey fans went home happy, having enjoyed their day out in the sunshine whilst the Rooks fans had to scratch their heads wondering what the team had to do to get that break and three points.

With the rain out of the way it was time to prepare for the Rainbow.  Natalia Velez was sure to ask about the result.  Don’t worry – I will take this one for the team.  Until I return I bid you a fond farewell.

A double dose of Wembley


We’ve all read about the John Terry incident at QPR, and the moment when he was alleged to have made a racist remark to Anton Ferdinand. It’s kind of ironic that, given the row that has developed regarding Terry and Ferdinand (and the captaincy sub-plot about whether Terry should retain the armband – again), that we are playing the European and World Champions, who have a bit of previous when it comes to these kinds of matters in England encounters. The game in the Bernabeu in November 2004 was soon overshadowed by the chanting of certain sections of the crowd (as well as Luis Aragones and his description of Thierry Henry to Jose Reyes), and the resulting furore that was created that particular winter night led the England team to wear “kick racism out of football” logo’s on the front of their shirts for the next game, which was a friendly against the Dutch at Villa Park a few months later.

Whether this qualifies as a political statement, I’m not sure, but in the week leading up to the game, the FA asked FIFA on more than one occasion that the team be allowed to wear a poppy on their shirts, much as most clubs nowadays seem to do around Remembrance Day. FIFA decided that this constituted a political statement and that it would not be allowed. What is actually written in the FIFA equipment regulations (on page 78 if you’re interested) is this;

For all matches, all forms of advertising for sponsors, Manufacturers (exceeding the extent of Manufacturer’s Identification permitted under Chapter VI above) or any third parties, of political, religious or personal statements and/or other announcements, are strictly prohibited on all Playing Equipment items used on, or brought into (permanently or temporarily), the Controlled Stadium Area.

So, basically, it depends on if you defined the poppy as a political statement or not. There was much written about this decision, and most of it has been negative on FIFA. But national team shirts (at the moment) carry no advertising, other than the kit manufacturers logo which is (I suppose) to FIFA’s credit that there are some football shirts that at least remain advert free. The FIFA rules state that no political message is to be carried on a national team jersey, and while many may not like it, it’s been there all the time and this was the first time that I could recall that the idea of putting a poppy on the England shirt had been bought up. Continue reading