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.

Down by the riverside

What could be better on a cold, crisp, sunny day than a walk by the river?  A chance to blow the cobwebs away, kicking stones on the path and watching the ducks show off their diving skills?  Perhaps a stop at a hostelry or two for a pint of Old Wallop? You can’t beat it.  How long would you want to walk for though?  A mile, perhaps three if you were in the mood?  Sounds good, right?

photo 1So here I was, feet aching, tired and hungry, watching another swan objecting to the route I was taking alongside the Thames.  Nasty things swans.  They can break your arm.  Really?  Has there every been any evidence that suggests a swan, and not say a goose or even a goat is equally as likely to break your arm?  Visits to the bar have been few and far between.  This is not fun.  Bloody Danny Last and his ideas to liven up a perfectly good plan for an afternoon of drinking and watching Lewes.

At 10.38am five of us left Richmond station, with our destination 10.32 miles away at The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough where the mighty Rooks would be playing.  On a map, the actual distance between the two venues is just 5 miles, passing some very pleasant areas of South West London, and a few very nice Ale Houses too.  But Danny suggested we went the scenic route, following the Thames through Ham, down to Kingston (past the Tiffin Girls School – rumored to be the basis for the St Trinians stories), across the water and then around the edge of Teddington and Hampton Court. TEN POINT THREE TWO MILES. 16,608 metres.  54,844 feet.  653856 inches.  You get the picture. Continue reading

A knee jerk reaction

Footballers don’t have the best reputation out there. I say that whilst watching Luis Suarez clearly handle the ball in the process of scoring against Mansfield Town, prompting even the commentator on ESPN to remark “Once a cheat…” . Whilst a star at one club will be idolised by his own fans (in most instances – even some Liverpool fans are embarrassed by his antics now, ditto Balotelli at Man City), anyone outside of that bubble will need no invitation to abuse or ridicule a player should any misfortune befall him. The irony of this is that most of the abusers, if they saw one of these players, would fall over themselves to get an autograph or a photo with him (assuming they are wearing the “right” brand, of course). And of course you have the whole international parody where a player from your biggest rival can be a star one day wearing his national colours, but the biggest villain the next when he returns to club duties.

Few players are genuinely loathed universally. I’m not sure there is an El Hadj Diouf or Robbie Savage fan club anywhere, unless of course they created it himself. I do not think there is anything he could do which will put him in a good light so late in his career. The toxic twins are still loved down at The Bridge but for how much longer? Both have shown over the years their repugnant side, preferring to live their lives on the front rather than the back pages.

rioOver New Year Rio Ferdinand tweeted to his 3.7 million followers that we should feel sorry for him spending the night alone in a hotel room in preparation for a game, whilst the rest of the world was out partying. Was that a sensible move? Of course not. Someone who earns five times the average annual salary IN A WEEK is in no position to ask for pity in such a circumstance. Misguided Rio and only fuels the fire of people who believe there is an us and them culture between players and fans.

Few players genuinely want to be around fans. Once the first big pay cheque arrives, the camouflaged Bentley is ordered and the mansion shaped like a Nike logo is built in Essex, they want a new set of friends, normally blonde, with significant amounts of silicon already built in. Fans are an annoyance. I’ve seen in first hand from my travels with England, where fans who have spent thousands getting to the likes of Tel Aviv, Baku and Skopje have been contained in remote car parks at airports just so they cannot “bother” the players as they leave.

But surely the Non Leagues are different? Surely these are all good guys, right? Well on the whole most of the people I have met in my capacity as a fan and a club official are good people. They play football for the love of the amateur game and not because they believe football owes them anything. Fair assessment? Most players and managers will socialise in the bar after the game, even happily putting their hand in their pockets to buy complete strangers a drink (thumbs up to Thurrock management team for that gesture last Saturday). If they are not playing they will readily come to games and stand with the travelling support. Autographs and photos? No problems, irrespective of what brand you are wearing Continue reading

Nice Beaver…oh get stuffed

“Nice Beaver”….
“Thanks – I just had it stuffed.”

Whenever I hear the name Hampton & Richmond I recall that classic line from Naked Gun.  As I found out recently, few of my work colleagues have ever heard of Lt Frank Drebin, let alone Leslie Nielson (some had never heard of, or seen Back to the Future – what do they teach people in school these days???).  Even fewer of them have heard of Hampton & Richmond Borough which again sent me into a mad rage as I remind them the importance of our Non League teams.  Alas we have too many Chelsea/Arsenal bandwagon jumpers in the office.  Too many people, who like most of society, has never been within 3 miles of a Premier League ground, have no idea what Non League football is all about.  So, in a week where we celebrate Non-League Day for the third year I dragged a couple along to the aforementioned H&RB FC for the visit of the mighty Rooks.

The Beveree (the home of a Beaver apparently – although I am not sure what happened to the “a”) is one of the classic Non League grounds.  Surrounded by trees in one of the more affluent areas of commuter belt London, with a hodge-podge of stands and some of the nicest fans to boot.  The club’s president is Alan Simpson, the legendary comedy writer who brought us Steptoe and Son (come on – even my 9-year-old has perfected her “you dirty old man” line).  Last time I was here, watching Lewes win back in February 2011, Alan was sitting alone in his self-named stand, looking happy with the world.  And why not. Continue reading