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.

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Spanish eyes aren’t smiling today


During the summer months my licence to roam to watch football carries a few endorsements.  I have to factor in “family time” around any games I want to get to, and my wanderlust desire is relatively muted – after all who really wants to drive 5 hours to Bangor City on a Thursday night just to watch some football (that’s what I told myself after I lost a coin toss a few weeks ago).  Last weekend, with the sun shining brightly I suggested a trip to the Outlet Shopping Centre at Hatfield whilst I went to watch Stevenage v West Ham United, and next weekend there is the small matter of tickets to see the “is she/isn’t she up the duff” Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo whilst I go to watch Hearts v Annan Athletic.  This weekend it was all about a trip to Hastings.

Despite being the birthplace of Erasure’s Andy Bell, everybody’s favourite comedian Jo Brand and Neil Ruddock (now listed on Wikipedia simply as “bankrupt”) it did give the world the genius talents of Alan Turing, Spike Milligan and Suggs.  Oh, and Anna McNeill Whistler, better known as Whistler’s Mum for all you Mr Bean fans out there.  It also has a pier, arcades, fish and chip shops and some amusements that look more dangerous than they really are, especially as a parent AND that they appear to be the same ones, with the same operators from when I came here as a child back in the 1980’s. Oh, and a football team who coincidently happened to be playing Lewes on the very day I suggested a Fuller Family day out. Funny that.

Alas, the mother of all storms on Friday night had driven the littlest Fullers under their beds, still not emerging by breakfast time on Saturday and the BBC weather forecast clearly said rain from 12pm to 5pm.  Perfect football weather.  So the family fun day was off (boo), but I was still able to go (yah!).  It was still only a friendly, and we had lost our previous two, including one last week to Sussex County League side Hassocks.  We all know it is all about the performance not the result at this stage of the season…unless you win of course, when it is vice-versa.

cropped-14692633105_6708776470_k.jpgHastings United’s The Pilot Field is a cracking old ground.  Once upon a time it hosted Speedway and Greyhound racing (not at the same time of course as that would be silly) and you can still see remnants of the track today. You can also see the overgrown old grandstand on the upper pitch, once the home of Rock-a-Nore FC on the walk down Elphinstone Road.  Today, with its cavernous grandstand and tall covered terrace it is showing its age.  Three years ago Hastings United reached the Third Round of the FA Cup, losing to Middlesborough, although there appears to be little in the way of a legacy of that brilliant cup run (and the significant prize money) apart from a half and half scarf above the bar.

Whilst the two clubs are both in East Sussex, there is little in the way of animosity between them.  Both seem to enjoy the challenge of beating Eastbourne Borough, sitting almost equidistant between the two towns.  Of course I say this with the fact that Hastings have had the better of the most recent games against the Rooks despite our different league fortunes.

14692344702_d3d2264174_kOf course when we finally arrived in Hastings, after a tortuous 3 hour detour to avoid the bane of modern motoring, the over turned caravan, the sun was shining.  The BBC weather app was still telling me that right now I should be cooling off in a heavy shower, rather than standing on the veranda (such a colonial word), enjoying a cold pint of MasterBrew as the teams emerged.  Modern technology can tell us who scored the opening goal in the game between Tammeka v Paide in the Estonian Meistriliiga within seconds of the ball hitting the net (Nigerian-born Jasper Uwaegbulam as you asked) yet ask it to report what is going on above us in the sky and it is rarely right.

Hastings United 2 Lewes 1 – The Pilot Field – Saturday 19th July 2014
Most games will throw up one main talking point, with both sets of fans arguing the toss for hours.  Whilst this game was only a pre-season friendly, it was a game of football and thus was played under the rules that the FA set out.  So I do not buy the “it’s only a pre-season game” when controversial issues are discussed.  In normal circumstances, and by that I mean in any other game refereed according to the laws of the game, Hastings would have gone in at half-time down to ten, possibly nine men.  That’s taking nothing away from the result – Hastings’took advantage of two pieces of calamity defending to win the game – but without their first choice keeper for over an hour, the result may have been different.

The first incident happened when new signing Elliott Romain chased what appeared to be a lost ball over the top but got in front of the defender and knocked it past the on-rushing Hastings keeper, who simply brought the Lewes forward down.  Clear penalty, clear professional foul yet the referee didn’t even produce a card.  Jack Dixon stepped up, and put the ball in his favoured corner.  1-0.

A few minutes later and veteran Sean Ray appeared to strike Romain in the face with his arm.  The Lewes forward didn’t make a big deal of it, although the referee decided to take the Lewes player to one side to have a chat.  A few minutes later the referee sided up to Ray and said something…no guesses what it was.

14505964729_feeb73921c_hHastings equalised just before the break when a corner was dropped under pressure by Rikki Banks and the ball was finally bundled home by Sawyer.  Even-stevens although the Lewes bench were clearly unhappy with the lack of action about the two incidents.  In normal instances we would have all gone down the opposite end for the second half, but our viewing position was more than adequate in the sunshine and close to the bar.  What else could you want in Non-League football?

If they weren’t bad enough then the Hastings keeper decided to try his luck again, this time flattening Romain outside the box when he was clear on goal.  This time the referee pulled out a yellow card.  What’s the point in that?  If he gave nothing for either incident in first half, why caution the player in the second?  He was never going to send him off in the game so it simply because a gesture that had no meaning.

With fifteen minutes to go Hastings once again capitalised on indecision and inability to clear the ball in the area and substitute Bankole had a simple job of turning the ball in.  The result gave the home side some local pride, although it counts for very little once the season gets underway.  Overall, a very pleasant afternoon on the Sussex coast.  It may not have been hotter than the Mediterranean but we did feel the pain in Spain…..*

*The referee, David Spain, isn’t that well liked in Lewes due to a number of refereeing performances in seasons gone by…let’s just leave it there.

Sibling rivalries


…and relax….

Lewes v Hastings 2013A week has elapsed since Lewes lost to a referee and his liberal interpretation of the rules regarding injured players. Since then many words have been written on forums, websites and social media but nothing really matters. It is irrelevant if the referee from last week had admitted the error of his ways, and as penance wandered down Lewes High Street in an Eastbourne Borough shirt made of sack cloth. The result stands and Lewes are still deep in the sticky toffee mire.

Seven days on and I have no idea who the current favourites for relegation from the Ryman Premier League are. It could be two from eight in all honesty. A few weeks ago when some of our relegation rivals had up to eight (8!!!) games in hand, the future certainly didn’t look orange. But since then winter has refused to remove its icy grip on the league and now those teams potentially face a farcical game every three days just to finish the league by a ridiculously early end of April deadline. It’s hardly like this season is unique. The last three seasons have seen poor weather decimate the Ryman league fixture list. Once bitten, twice shy? No, three times bitten, fourth time plead ignorance it seems.

So clubs like Thurrock and Hastings United still have four games in hand on Lewes as I write this, but with fixtures for them still falling foul to the weather, the points in the bank are certainly favourable. Thurrock have suffered due to the pitch at Ship Lane with poor drainage and the pitch being used by two other sides. Hastings are paying the price of the heinous crime of having the best run a Ryman team has had in the FA Cup for decades. Boo, hiss, the cheek of the Arrows in being successful!

Unfortunately the league takes no account for cup success. On one hand they are happy to bask in the glory of Hasting’s cup run, representing the league in front of the national media, whilst on the other they are given no leeway in terms of fixture congestion caused by the cup run.

I still do not understand why the league has to finish so early? The last games have to be played on the 27th April. Nine days later on Bank Holiday Monday, the play off finals will determine which teams are promoted. The league will then restart some four months later. Some leagues, such as the Kent Premier have agreed to a week extension. Even those highly paid prima donnas in the Premier League get less of a break and still don’t moan. Many comparable leagues in Europe continue their season into May, and even in the case of Italy and Denmark, June. I know only too full well the club’s dilemma of the weekly wage bill but perhaps there could be some creative thinking in these parts. Many players are not on contract, rather on pay per week. Couldn’t they adopt a pay per game basis for final part of the season?

photo (6)Anyway, back to today and the local derby against Hastings United (boo, hiss). Our rivalry goes back all the way to 1066 where the locals still believe to this day that King Harold was shot in a friendly fire accident by a Lewesian. Simmering rivalry is a phrase I would use to describe tensions over the past thousand years, with blame being thrown across the River Ouse for such incidents as The Great Fire of London, The Wall Street Crash and Joe Dolce getting to number one back in 1981. Fortunately football came along and we’ve been Facebook friends ever since.

Nobody was more pleased, in a jealous “that could have been us” way, of their amazing run to the FA Cup 3rd round this year. Ladbrokes obviously gave them no hope for the game with odds of 20/1 for the win (and still only 500/1 for the cup at the time!). My only disappointment, and we see it everywhere in football, is that a lot of those “life-long loyal” Hastings fans who went to the Riverside seem to have forgotten where The Pilot Field is when the team really need their support as they fight against relegation. Despite a high of over 4,000 at home for the FA Cup game against Harrogate Town, just four days before only 458 came to the game versus Concord Rangers. On Tuesday night the crowd versus Met Police was down to 219. When the going gets tough, those loyal fans get going. It would be a real shame if the low point of such a momentous season is a drop into the Ryman League South. We of course wish our good neighbours all the best in their remaining 11 games AFTER today.

So it’s been a remarkably quiet week in Lewes. After the unbelievable scenes last Saturday against Kingstonian and *those* decisions that even had the K’s fans belly chuckling, our official line was one of disappointment that the official did not interpret them in accordance with the FIFA rules of the game. Inside of course we were fuming, but the big positive was the excellent second half effort and intent so come 3pm on Saturday when the Rooks lined up against Hastings, the fire would still be in the bellies.

A visit of Hastings this season also means a visit from Hugo Langton. If you ever feel your love of the game waning, talk to Hugo. The man loves the game, and wants to see it coached in the right way, played in the right way and managed in the right way. Hasting’s gain is the rest of football’s loss. But of course for two hours on Saturday afternoon we hoped he had got his tactics all wrong and that Hastings would leave the Pan with an arrow firmly in their behind.

Lewes 1 Hastings United 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 30th March 2013
Of course a professional like Hugo hadn’t got it wrong and two set pieces within a 90 second spell in the first half saw Hastings United take all three points in this relegation battle. Whilst Lewes tried to throw the kitchen sink at the visitors in the second period, there wasn’t enough invention to get past a solid Hastings defence who used the mantra “if in doubt of the plan, boot it out of the Pan”.

With the sunshine threatening to spoil the run of poor weather as we prepared to enter the fourth month of the year, Lewes started brightly and could have had a penalty as early as the 2nd minute when Brinkhurst was bundled over as he entered the box. The referee blew his whistle for a foul but looked to his linesman for guidance of where the offence took place. He looked back, shrugging his shoulders. Benefit of doubt to Hastings and a free-kick was awarded.

photo (5)Whilst the Rooks looked busy, they struggled to break down the Hastings back four, seemingly forgetting the attacking intent they had last week against Kingstonian. However, the opening goal took everyone, including me by surprise. I had forgotten that I had the microphone for the day and so when Hastings took the lead in the 11th minute I patiently waited for the announcement of the opening scorer. Of course, that announcement should have been made by me. Fortunately ClubSec Kev was on hand to tell me that Hastings Player/Manager Sean Ray was the scorer.

As if some of the Lewes players had missed the first goal, Hastings decided to rerun it two minutes later, this time leaving N’Diaye unmarked at the far post to double the lead. The Jungle wasn’t happy but got behind the team, knowing that in Pleatland, 2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football. Breach’s downward header that found the one bone-dry spot on the pitch and bounced over the bar was the best chance the Rooks had in the first half.

Half-time. Time for announcements and to sample some of the fantastic cakes, entered by the fans in the Great Lewes Bake Off (including the very unusual but delicious Parsnip and Maple Syrup winning entry) whilst the kids played “hit the chicken” penalty shoot out. The feel good factor around the pitch was still there. If only we had a slice of luck somewhere.

Just three minutes into the second half and the Hastings keeper landed awkwardly, hurting his knee. Of course the official stopped play (are you watching Mr. Spain?) and after some lengthy treatment the keeper decided to carry on, obviously immobile and in considerable pain. Yet not once did Lewes try to take advantage of the situation. The Hastings defenders took a no-nonsense approach to defending which was effective in helping increase our match ball costs.

After ten minutes Cruttwell couldn’t carry on and so he was replaced by substitute Sam Adams (no beer related jokes here please) who seemed to enjoy the banter with the crowd. Still he was hardly tested as Lewes tried to play the ball through the middle to Godfrey rather than using the width and pace of Brinkhurst and Harding.

photo (7)With just under 15 minutes to play Crabb broke into the area and went down under the challenge from Ray. From our angle it could have been given either way but with the referee some way behind play, his view would have been of man playing man rather than the ball. Beckford stepped up and all of a sudden Lewes were back in the game. But Hastings stuck to their game plan which was ruthlessly effective.

Eleven minutes of injury time followed but Lewes simply couldn’t break down the Hastings back four. The final whistle brought some wild celebrations from the Hastings team and some slumped shoulders from the Lewes players. 788 fans, the second biggest of the season at The Pan and the fifth in the division all season deserved more of an Easter treat on a chilly afternoon, and the red and black half went on their way nervously looking at results elsewhere. Monday’s game away to Bognor Regis Town cannot come soon enough.

Prudence, transparency, trust and 3 points


“There are rich teams and then there are poor teams. And then there is us”

That isn’t a quote from one of the current board of Lewes FC, although it could quite easily be one. It is from the excellent film, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. It is a true story of the Oakland A’s baseball team and their meteoric rise to success despite having zero cash.

Having joined the board of Lewes six months ago I can certainly relate to Billy Beane, the character played by Brad Pitt and his quote above. The club have been through the mill in the past few years but have emerged from the other side with a Community Benefit Society, with over 800 members today, each of whom contributes to the ongoing survival of a club at the heart of the community.

Since I joined we have had a dream to become the most transparent club in Non league football. Others have called us mad, naive and made us feel we were breaking the magicians code of football when we stated our intend. One member of the board summed it up as follows:-

“The inner financial workings of a football club tend to be a bit of a black box. Any documentation, if it exists, is kept “in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard” Continue reading

Rooks avoid crash landing at Pilot Field


You would have thought reading all the fuss around the tube strike and the Chelsea/Arsenal games that this was something new.  For those of us who like our football a bit more “rural”, the issue of lack of public transport on Boxing Day has always been a spectre.

The fixture computer had been a bit cruel this season for Lewes, seeing us playing away on Non League Day, Bonfire Night (THE night of the year in Lewes) and New Years Eve (The last night of the year spent in the company of the Met Police isn’t that appealing I am sure you will agree).  But Boxing Day has seen us drawn to play along the coast at Hastings United, “The Arrows”.  Whilst not in the same league as the rivalry with Eastbourne Borough, it was still the game at this level between two teams from East Sussex.

You would expect this to be a bumper crowd.  Lewes, with an ever growing away support, playing just twenty miles to the east in Hastings, or “God’s overflow waiting room”.  Hastings, where Harold lost his eye and subsequently the English throne forever.  Hastings, birthplace of such distinguished world figures as Andy Bell (of Erasure fame), Harry H Corbett (of Steptoe and Son fame), My namesake Simon Fuller (of S Club 7, Spice Girls fame) and Graham McPherson (of Suggs fame).  Hastings, home of The Pilot Field.

Who wouldn’t want to miss this one?  High flying Lewes, unbeaten away from The Pan for over a month, against a Hastings side that has struggle to find consistency this season.  A mouth-watering derby, and a chance to blow away the Christmas Day cobwebs.  Just a short hop on a Southern train.  Except it wasn’t.  Southern decided that they didn’t want to run any trains on Boxing Day, and buses between the two towns are almost non-existent, so literally hundreds of fans would not be able to get to the game.  Did we expect anything different?  Not really – after all it is ONLY Non League football. Continue reading

Rooks avoid crash landing at Pilot Field


You would have thought reading all the fuss around the tube strike and the Chelsea/Arsenal games that this was something new. For those of us who like our football a bit more “rural”, the issue of lack of public transport on Boxing Day has always been a spectre.

The fixture computer had been a bit cruel this season for Lewes, seeing us playing away on Non League Day, Bonfire Night (THE night of the year in Lewes) and New Years Eve (The last night of the year spent in the company of the Met Police isn’t that appealing I am sure you will agree). But Boxing Day has seen us drawn to play along the coast at Hastings United, “The Arrows”. Whilst not in the same league as the rivalry with Eastbourne Borough, it was still the game at this level between two teams from East Sussex.

You would expect this to be a bumper crowd. Lewes, with an ever growing away support, playing just twenty miles to the east in Hastings, or “God’s overflow waiting room”. Hastings, where Harold lost his eye and subsequently the English throne forever. Hastings, birthplace of such distinguished world figures as Andy Bell (of Erasure fame), Harry H Corbett (of Steptoe and Son fame), My namesake Simon Fuller (of S Club 7, Spice Girls fame) and Graham McPherson (of Suggs fame). Hastings, home of The Pilot Field.

Who wouldn’t want to miss this one? High flying Lewes, unbeaten away from The Pan for over a month, against a Hastings side that has struggle to find consistency this season. A mouth-watering derby, and a chance to blow away the Christmas Day cobwebs. Just a short hop on a Southern train. Except it wasn’t. Southern decided that they didn’t want to run any trains on Boxing Day, and buses between the two towns are almost non-existent, so literally hundreds of fans would not be able to get to the game. Did we expect anything different? Not really – after all it is ONLY Non League football.

Continue reading

A pilot’s licence


Through a combination of the Ryman Premier’s fixture scheduling and the famous FA Cup balls, the legend that is James Boyes was facing a football-less Saturday a few weeks ago.  He dealt with it like a true football-loving man that he is.

There was no football on….no game I could go to. But it was Non-League Day.

My team, Lewes, were due to play away against Hendon in the Ryman Prem who ground share with Wembley at Vale Farm. However Wembley were drawn against Ardley United in the FA Cup and despite looking at a Friday fixture or a Saturday double-header, the league game was moved to Sunday.

So, the choice was mine. I could take the afternoon off, spend it with the family, do some gardening or go shopping. But instead I opted for a trip east to Hastings United. Continue reading