Our Road to Wembley is closed for another season


Last week I was criticised by a few people for not being happy enough after our fantastic win against Cray Wanderers, instead focusing on the erratic (and incorrect) decisions of the officials.  This week I’m full of pride for our performance despite a defeat and the end of our national cup campaigns.  The 2-1 score line doesn’t tell anything like the real story of the game, or more to the point, the build up to kick off.

Ten days ago we beat a very strong Walton Casuals side but at a significant cost.  James Hammond picked up a facial injury that required surgery that very same night, whilst two other central midfielders, Jack Dixon and Lloyd Harrington picked up their fifth bookings of the season.  All three would miss this FA Trophy game at Kingstonian.

fullsizerender-6At Three Bridges on Tuesday night after another impressive performance we lost another centre-midfielder, and temporary centre-back Lloyd Cotton through injury.  Then twenty-four hours ago we lost two of our most impressive young midfielders, Charlie Coppola and Ronnie Conlon due to illness.  Six midfielders down, it was going to be a struggle to find eleven fit players, yet alone four who could play in midfield.

Darren’s fear was that all of our recent work and progress would be undone if we lost heavily to a Ryman Premier League side who have the likes of Ryan Moss, Joe Turner, Youssef Bamba and of course Pelayo Pico Gomez even if things weren’t good for them at the moment.  In fact the match report post their defeat against Worthing on Monday read like this:-

“Ks aren’t that good at the moment. It’s difficult to tell how bad they are though. Even over the course of these four defeats they’ve played half decent football, but there’s a few too many, ‘are we too good to go down’ conversations for anyone’s liking”

Mindgames?  Perhaps but we had other things on our mind as we headed to Kingsmeadow on Sunday morning.  Things like can we find 11 fit players and how can we fit them into eleven different positions.  Each week we may joke that we will have our boots when we talk to Darren 24 hours before the game, “just in case”, but I felt that this week it was more of a rhetorical question than a joke.  Even as I sat watching Brechin City v Livingston yesterday I was on the look out for anyone I could sneak back in my hand luggage.

fullsizerender-7At 1.30pm Darren had chosen his team.  At 1.35pm he had changed his team and then again at 1.45pm as the coach arrived at Kingsmeadow.  I met Baz in the tunnel and even then the starting XI wasn’t finalised.  When it was there was one player making his debut, young Jack Whitmore in central midfield, whilst Gus Sow came in for his first start for Lewes, playing his first game after a hand operation on an injury sustained on his debut at Faversham Town.  We had a right-back playing at centre-back, a left-back playing at right-back, a left-midfielder at left-back, a centre-forward in left-midfield, two left-midfielders in the centre and on the right respectively.  We did have a goal keeper in goal and a centre-forward up front so it all wasn’t bad, whilst on the bench we needed a nanny due to their age to protect them from Darren and Ross’s adult language.  What could possibly go wrong?

Kingstonian 2 Lewes 1 – Kingsmeadow – Sunday 30th October 2016
Twenty minutes into this game and Stacey Freeman towered above the K’s defenders to send a powerful header goalward.  With the slightest of flicks, Jonté Smith turned the ball into the net to give The Rooks the lead.  The announcer gave the goal to Stacey but try taking that one off Jonté.  The goal was no less than Lewes deserved.  There was no regard for reputation or league status – we simply looked the better team, with better shape and better desire to win.  The players drafted in, or playing out of position didn’t look incumbered at all.

fullsizerender-5Was the performance a surprise?  Or was it the product of a squad playing with confidence backed by the support of the fans?  About 20/80 I’d say.  I certainly thought we  would struggle but we settled quickly, moved the ball well and looked positive.  We should have had a second when Brotherton headed over from close range and the Rooks certainly went in at the break in a better place than the hosts.

On Tuesday night at Three Bridges we conceded twice in just a few minutes after half-time but came back from 2-1 down to win 5-3.  Last Saturday we came from 2-1 down to win 5-2.  After 55 minutes in this game we needed to do it for a third time in a row.

Two defensive mistakes led to two Ryan Moss goals in the 53rd and 57th minute.  I’m not going to dwell on the goals – players make mistakes but few will beat themselves up over it.  I know that in this case the player at fault will be beating himself up now, hours after the game.  Games change in a fraction of a second and when Moss won possession from the defender in the area and scored his second, we knew we faced an uphill battle.

But battle we did.  Brotherton and Culley came close, a linesman’s flag denied young substitute Robinson as he was through on goal.  But ultimately we couldn’t find a way through.  We were out but there was certainly no shame, just disappointment that we didn’t come away with anything.

The tired old line of “concentrating on the league” comes to mind, although we came into the game in some of the best league form we’ve shown in over five years (six wins, one draw from eight games).  The test comes when we line up against Ramsgate in a week’s time as to whether we put all of the frustrations into that performance.  By then we will welcome back some of the missing players absent today.

One final word on our hosts.  Whilst their fans publicly lamented our relegation at the end of last season as they would be missing “their favourite away game of the season”, visiting today also reminded us of how hospitable they are as a club to guests.  Let’s hope our separation is only temporary.

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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.

No sixth sense in the FA Trophy


15726618097_9f4d2dcc05_k (1)When the fixtures are released each summer we instinctively look for when we will be able to visit somewhere new.  A new ground, new pubs, new fans to banter with, new pubs, new cultural experiences and of course, new pubs. When you’ve been in the same division, like Lewes, for a number of years the excitement of visiting Margate on New Years Day or Leiston on the 6th January doesn’t really cut the mustard.  As much as we love wandering along the seafront with Tel wearing his “kiss me quick” hat, or watching Deaksy’s hair stand on end as we near The Vulcan opposite Sizewell B nuclear reactor, we want to try something new.

This season we have already visited the delights of Witham (twice), where the main attraction is the Olly Muirs walk of fame (being the town and football club’s most famous son), Tonbridge Angels and our old friends at Leatherhead.  We still have the delights of Crayford in the spring to come when we visit VCD Athletic for the first time as well as a very short hop over the downs to Peacehaven & Telscombe.

Of course the real excitement comes when the respective cup draws are made.  Our run in the FA Cup lasted all but as we crashed out away at Witham Town. The Ryman League Cup saw a home defeat to Peacehaven & Telscombe.  A home victory in the Sussex Senior Cup versus Brighton & Hove Albion has seen us drawn away at Horsham YMCA, a ground we’ve visited on many occasions.  But in the FA Trophy is where our current interest lays. Not that there are thousands of pounds at stake for each round we reach – oh no, it’s not all about the money at all.

After a 3-2 win at Heybridge Swifts on Tuesday night, Lewes would be travelling to Oxford City of the Conference North.  Finally, a proper away day.  No disrespect to Witham or Heybridge, but the local hostelries can’t really hold a candle to the dreaming spires of the land of Morse, Bannister and Lawrenson.  The Lewes Lunatic fringe would be out in full force for this one, with Linda having the job of making extra rounds of cheese and pickle for the long train journey.

Whilst we were all excited about the big day out, it was water off a duck’s back to our Vice-President, Terry Parris. “Did I tell you about the time Bobby Moore offered to put my disclosed finger back in place at Oxford City, Stu?” Now that’s a way to start a conversation.  For those who don’t know Terry then you obviously don’t know anything about Non-League football.  Terry has held virtually every position in the Lewes team and subsequently in the club itself,  He’s played more games than anyone else in the club’s 129 year history (over 650 times), managed the club, been the groundsman, commercial manager, secretary and even run the line.  He has the east terrace at the ground named after him and until last month was the club’s chairman.  He is full of stories that would put some of the banal, bland best-seller “expose’s” of today’s players to shame.

Back in the early 1980’s, a new chairman took over at Oxford City.  Jealous of the success of United on the other side of town, who were just starting their march up the divisions that would ultimately see them winning the League Cup at Wembley, the then chairman managed to persuade former England captain and one of the legends of the English game, Bobby Moore to manage the club.  City had just been relegated to the Isthmian Second Division and played Lewes for the first ever time in 1980/81.  Moore recruited a former team-mate from West Ham to be assistant, a young chirpy chap called Harry Redknapp.  In the game in February 1981 against Lewes, Terry managed to injury his finger and ever the gentlemen, Moore offered to put it back into place.  Terry declined and headed to hospital, although Moore still took the time after the 3-0 defeat to find out how he was later in the evening.

15911801292_1e0dfbe78a_zToday City haven’t really met the expectations set 35 years ago.  Playing in the second tier of Non-League football is the highest level they’ve played at. Whilst they came within touching distance of neighbours United a few seasons ago during their brief foray into the Non-Leagues, they are still miles away in and off the pitch today.  Whilst both clubs have moved to new stadiums, the money pumped into United by former owner Kassam has seen them take up residence in a 12,500 seater stadium in whilst City have moved to a very rural location close by the A40 – by rural we mean there are no pubs within a 15 minute walk.

Promotion to this level has been bitter-sweet for City. Every club wants to progress but being bumped into Conference North must be hard to stomach.  Whilst they have localish games at Worcester City (45miles) and Gloucester City (47 miles) away trips to Barrow (250 miles), Harrogate (190 miles) and Fylde (180 miles) put a huge burden on the club.  Incidentally, Maidenhead United and Wealdstone (40 and 42 miles away respectively) are their nearest Conference rivals, both playing in the Conference South.  With average attendances rarely breaking the 400 mark, there is a big price tag on progress and the club should be applauded for doing everything they have not only to hold their own in the league but to start to push for the play-off spot.

The odds certainly appeared to be stacked against Lewes.  However, a seven game unbeaten run had given everyone at the club confidence despite a mounting injury crisis that would have seen both Baz Collins and Big Deaksy in the squad for the game if they hadn’t both been cup-tied after playing for Lewes on FIFA14 (damn rules, as Club Sec Kev told them). Avoiding defeat here would mean we would have remained unbeaten for a whole calendar month – the last time that had happened was in June when we didn’t play anyone.

We would travel to parts we’d never traveled to before with hope in our hearts, a bellyful of ale and pockets full of Scotch eggs. There is nothing better than a proper football awayday.  There was talk of a coach, rosettes, a special squad-sung version of Sussex By The Sea to mark the occasion but that would be presumptuous (and we’ve heard Nathan Crabb sing!).

Saturday morning, London Paddington station.  As we wait for the 11:15 Great Western service to Great Malvern via Honeybourne, Charlbury and Pershore, we see other groups of fans.  We are all a band of brothers, off to do our bit for our own clubs.  It doesn’t matter what race, sex, creed or colour we are, we are all football fans, prepared to travel to the four corners of this country to support our team, even if they are a step seven club like Lewes. Alas our attempts to engage with Crystal Palace fans on their way to Swansea didn’t work – “who are you?”, “small town in Brighton” and “you’re going to get your head kicked in” suggested that perhaps we weren’t as welcome as we thought we would be.  Even the Met Police fan heading to their game at Maidenhead blanked us.

Deaksy had done his research and eight minutes after getting off the train, we were in pub number 1 – The Four Candles (not to be confused with the Fork Handles obviously).  37 minutes later we were in the Grapes and then 26 minutes after that, Far From The Maddening Crowd.  Military precision from Deaks.

Marsh Lane is some distance from the city centre – a £10 cab ride distance to be precise.  It seemed that few of the locals had been gripped by FA Trophy fever, and as the two sides took the pitch a quick scan of the ground saw less than 100 fans ready for the game.

Oxford City 6 Lewes 1 – Marsh Lane – Saturday 29th November 2014
15911798662_b10d63841c_kOK – let’s start with the positives.  The City Banger, a roll with three local sausages in for just £2.50 was outstanding.  We ate about a dozen between us.  The Lewes support was close on a third of the whole attendance and we scored a goal.  They were my three positives.  That’s not to say the rest of the afternoon was bad – we were clinically undone by a team who play in a way that is alien to our lowly Non-League position.  What was interesting was hearing some of the comments of the locals who didn’t particularly like the number of overseas players being brought into the club under Head Coach Enrique Guillen.  The starting XI contained five Spanish players, brought in by Guillen.  Talking to some of the fans it seemed that not everyone was happy with the direction the club were going in.  Could some external forces be pulling the strings here?

Oxford City have a style of play that either reduces teams to gibbering wrecks, or is like defending the Alamo.  A 1-8 home defeat to Fylde earlier this season was proceeded by a 7-2 away win the following week at Boston United.  5-0 away win at Bradford Park Avenue, then a 4-0 defeat to Guiseley seven days later.  Today they were on the back foot from the first minute and Lewes had two golden chances to take the lead in the first five minutes.  Ten minutes later and Oxford City were 3-0 up.  Fast, counter attacking play, moving the ball from wing to wing that undid our 3-5-2 formation.

15290184084_9c7d6db89d_bBut then Lewes came back into it, forcing the Oxford defence onto the back foot.  Nicky Wheeler’s excellent effort reduced the arrears and a few minutes later his lob looked to have made it 3-2.  Lewes certainly ended the half on top.  But less than five minutes after the restart we were 4-1 down – again another fast counter attack and the ball was in the back of the net.

That goal was the final nail in the coffin. We pushed forward more in hope than anything else and did force the keeper to make a couple of smart saves. However, two further goals by Isaac and Benjamin gave the final score an unfair look.  Oxford has certainly been the better side but not by a five goal margin.  But that’s football. It had been a decent day out and we can have no complaints at the result.  Now it is all about Wednesday night and the visit to the Pan of bottom of the table Bury Town.

Bad, Thriller? Beat It MJ – this was Off The Wall


“The demons squeal in sheer delight
It’s you they spy, so plump, so right
For although the groove is hard to beat
It’s still you stand with frozen feet
You try to run, you try to scream
But no more sun you’ll ever see
For evil reached from the crypt
To crush you in it’s icy grip.”

Sixty years ago, the second domestic game played at Wembley Stadium each season featured the likes of Willington, Pegasus, Crook Town and Walthamstow Avenue. Today, these teams can be found in the backwaters of the lower divisions of the English Non Leagues (in Walthamstow’s case they actually went through various mergers and can now be said to be part of Dagenham & Redbridge FC) but in the 1950’s they were responsible for filling our national stadium with crowds of 100,000.

Let me take you back to 1953 when Sir Winston Churchill was smoking his cigars and giving his ‘V’ signs on the steps of 10 Downing Street. Just eight years after the end of the war, football was going through a boom period. The British public simply couldn’t get enough of the beautiful game. Fortunately it was still considered to be the people’s game and so admission was affordable for all, and not just those who liked a prawn sandwich or two (in those days hospitality would have been a pint of Mild and a Woodbine, possibly with a banana thrown in). With just two competitions for professional clubs to play in (The League Cup was still seven years away, whilst European competition would not feature until 1955), Non League, or amateur football had a huge following. Back then, the second biggest cup game in England was the FA Amateur Cup Final. Continue reading

Four seasons in one day…


For my regular readers from California, Brentwood is not just a posh suburb in West Los Angeles, once the home of the world’s most desirable women, Marilyn Monroe. It is also a small commuter town just on the outside edge of the M25. Do not be confused that the wide palm-lined, posh houses and exclusive country clubs are interchangeable between California and Essex. Orange juice is almost on tap in LA; in Essex Orange juice is the default colour of the girls fake tan.

Ever since Lewes had been drawn against Brentwood Town in the FA Trophy (sponsored by Carlsberg lest we forget), I’d been looking forward to this trip more than my annual visit to Los Angeles. Well, nearly. Playboy Mansion (have I ever told you I’ve been there?) or Kelvedon Secret Nuclear Bunker? Difficult toss up I’m sure you will agree. One is full of hidden secrets down below, and the other is a secret nuclear bunker…boom boom. But I still get a wee bit excited about visiting a new ground, and The Brentwood Sports Arena ticked that box.

I’d only been to the town once before – a job interview in the Forte Posthouse just off junction 28 of the M25 but had never sampled the delights of the home of The Only Way Is Essex. With cup fever gripping Lewes, we came in expectation rather than hope. Brentwood Town had been mainstays in the Ryman League North for a number of seasons, one level below Lewes. Whilst the Rooks league form had been patchy to say the least, this was the cup and the smell of Wembley was in our nostrils. Not that horse-shit, greasy burger smell but the whiff of a day out in the sunshine and a chance to wear our rosettes and hold young George’s tinfoil cup up with pride. Continue reading

Lewes show their Sunday best


After last week’s defeat to Hendon in the FA Cup we had to watch through our fingers as the draw for the next round inevitably paired the Dragons with Eastbourne Borough.  The biggest game the Rooks could get – hammering home the disappointment even further of the exit in the shadow of Wembley Stadium and the loss of prize money.

But a week is a long time in football and at this stage the cup competitions come thick and fast.  As one door to Wembley slapped shut, another bursts open.  Who needs the FA Cup when you can have the Trophy instead.  Sure, the cup is a bit smaller but it still has a lid you can put on your head when you dance around the pitch at Wembley Stadium.

Lewes’s record in the competition hasn’t been great.  They’ve never been passed the 3rd round, and the last occasion they got that far it all ended in a bit of a bizarre game.

The date will forever be fixed in the memories of those who braved the cold to be at the Pan on Saturday 14th January 2004.  FA Trophy fever had reached Lewes, with the club progressing to the 3rd Round of the competition for the first time in ages.  Their reward for a 4-3 win away at Cinderford Town in round two was a home tie with Weymouth, managed at the time by Steve Claridge.  Nothing out of the ordinary about that you may think, but 90 minutes later most of the thousand plus crowd had to have their jaws physically closed and their eyes popped back into their sockets after a thirteen goal thriller. Continue reading

All time Har Low


When I turned ten I was allowed to stay up until 9.30pm on School days. Not that there was much to amuse you during those early days of the Eighties. We only had three (THREE!) TV Channels to choose from, the Sinclair ZX80 with its 1KB of processing power and its £99.95 (£319 in today’s money) price tag was the gadget to dream of whilst we played Atari Pong, and Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall was the song on everyone’s radio…still. Thank God my brothers were unimaginative in hiding their copies of Razzle and Whitehouse under their mattress otherwise those long winter nights would have just dragged by.

Football on TV was restricted to Match of the Day on Saturday and The Big Match on Sunday tea time. Occasionally, we were also treated to extended highlights on Sportsnight, presented by Harry Carpenter, during the week if there was an England game on or some FA Cup replays. Back then the football authorities were sensible. None of this “we need 10 days to sort out replay days” malarkey. It was as simple as “if we draw on Saturday, we replay on Tuesday”…and if that one is a draw then we will toss a coin to determine where the 2nd replay will be two days later (or on some instances the 3rd and 4th replays).

In the 1979/80 season a little team from Essex surprised the footballing world by making it through to FA Cup First round. Harlow Town were celebrating their centenary and this was the furthest they had ever got in the cup. They were playing in the Isthmian Premier League at the time and hoped to draw a big league club such as Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday or Portsmouth who all languished in Division Three and Four at the time. Instead they drew local rivals Leytonstone & Ilford FC – hardly the reward they were looking for. But after beating them they got a plum draw against Southend United who were dispatched 1-0 in a replay in front of 5,000 fans at Harlow’s Sports Centre (trivia fact: The Sports Centre was in fact the first sports centre to open in the UK back in 1960). With all ears pressed to the radio for the Third Round draw in early December, the club were drawn away at Leicester City. Continue reading