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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Football is nothing


E5C6DC2D-F1C5-44C4-970B-D8A1426B8C24Being a football fan means having to take the rough with the smooth.  You often hear manager’s bemoan their luck when decisions don’t go their way, or when a break in a game goes against them.  “Over the course of the season, these things even themselves out” is a line straight out of the David Pleat Talking Bollocks guide – they don’t.  Football has a habit of building us up with hope then cruelly knocking us down.

After our last minute defeat to Tonbridge Angels on Tuesday, The Rooks fell to the bottom of the league.  It has now become irrelevant on how others are doing – it is all about us.  100% focus on preparation for each game, with a no-lose mentality.  As fans we have unconditional love for our team.  Some fans may show signs of weakness when times get tough – although if you listen to a Chelsea fan of a certain age they will swear blind that they stood back in the day on the crumbling Shed when the team battled against relegation to the third tier of English football.  Amazing how they were the best supported team back then, eh!

Each game brings a new challenge.  As a fan you look at the stats, trying to find some crumb of comfort from recent form or head to head results against our opponent.  For the visit of Kingstonian there wasn’t anything particularly warming about either.  It’s now been 240 days since we last won a home game, whether that is a league, cup or friendly.  Since our last win against Enfield Town we’ve seen a new government elected, One Direction split up and England win the Ashes – global events that have shaped our world, yet still The Rooks can’t find that win at home.

Everyone I bumped into at the ground when I arrived at 1.30pm told me “we’re going to win today”.  I had that same confidence.  The performances in the last two games against Hailsham Town and Tonbridge Angels had been encouraging to say the least.  A win today and all would be well with the world, enough to warm even the coldest heart on a freezing afternoon.

Lewes 1 Kingstonian 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 21st November 2015
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It all started so well.  Four minutes in and a smart move saw Henry Muggeridge slot the ball home.  The sense of relief both on the and off the pitch was palpable. Some teams in a similar position would have immediately retreated but Lewes kept the tempo up, trying to find a second.  Whilst the half ended more on a whimper than a bang, we went in ahead for the first time in sixteen games.  Darren Freeman’s half-time teamtalk revolved around not sitting back.  So what did we do?

We sat back and allowed Kingstonian to come into the game.  It could have been all over with twenty minutes to go when Richard Pacquette’s shot across the keeper bounced back off the bar.  Two-nil would have been game, set and match.

One of the soft underbellies of Lewes in recent years has been conceding late, crucial goals.  Tonbridge Angels (lost 1-0), Hampton & Richmond Borough (lost 2-1), Billericay Town (lost 3-2), Harrow Borough (drew 1-1) this season alone. So when Kingstonian threw on veteran striker Ricky Sappleton in place of a centre-back with five minutes to go, the sense of foreboding swept across the terrace.  It took him 90 seconds to score the equaliser and a further 3 minutes to grab the winner.  Words couldn’t descibe the feeling as we saw all 11 Kingstonian players, bench and fans celebrate the goal in the far corner.  To give the players credit they pressed for an equaliser.  Laing ran into the box but was scythed down.  Penalty!!!  Not if you are a referee who is 20 yards behind play it isn’t.  Free-kick a yard outside of the box.  Thanks for that.

Not all defeats are the same.  When you are truly beaten you need to hold your hands up and say “fair do’s”.  But when you lose in such a manner, time after time you are simply lost for words.  Whilst Bill Shankley said football was more important than life itself it isn’t.  It hurts when you lose, deeply when you in a situation like ours.  But what can you do?  You can’t change the past only the future.  So we go back to the drawing board and plan for 3 points next week at Staines Town.

Tales from a Non-League Chairman – part 1 – The home game


It’s fair to say that when I was asked to become Chairman of the team I support I was chuffed to bits. Images of cigar-smoking, brandy-swilling, blonde-holding flashed through my mind but alas being Chairman means I’m still programme co-editor, match day announcer, website editor and communications co-ordinator. But it’s still a bloody great honour and I agreed to do it because I deeply care and believe in what we stand for and do as a club. We’ve got a vision and we are going to deliver on it, and to be leading that is bloody exciting.

So 10 days into the role and we find ourselves without a management team, looking down at the relegation zone and facing our biggest cup game in 10 years. So Stuart, what are you going to do now? The words of Lance-Corporal Jack Jones came into my head. Don’t panic. Fortunately, having the likes of Bazza Collins and Club Sec Kev around meant we quickly had a plan. Even Kev’s wife Laura giving birthday to baby Henry didn’t knock him off his stride. Within 7 minutes of the announcement of Garry Wilson, Danny Bloor and Dean Lightwood leaving the club I received my first phone call. A journalist (no names) asked if “mutual consent” was agreed by both parties. 4 minutes later I received the first job application by email. And so the madness began.

IMG_3423Despite Lewes “just” being a step 7 Non-League club we received over 20 applications. Some well-known people, and not just in terms of the Sussex footballing scene, applied including four candidates who had Premier League experience. Never judge a book by its cover is as true in this situation as anywhere else. Good footballers rarely make good managers. We also had applications from people with absolutely no background in Non-League football or management in general, who put over compelling arguments why they should be considered. Perhaps in different circumstances where we weren’t fighting for our Ryman Premier League survival we may have talked further to these people but we needed a wise head who could guide us out of the tricky situation. Our caretaker team of Martin Hinshelwood and Steve Eke did us proud in the interim period, taking four points from a possible six and more importantly, guided us to our first cup final in ten years.

In a very short space of time I’ve come to realise that being chairman isn’t just about swanning into the ground at 2.55pm having parked the Jag in my reserved space and shaking hands with a few fans. Firstly, I’m in the ground around 2pm on a match day taking care of all those duties that I did before being chairman that, like at most Non-League clubs, most fans think the pixies do. There’s no Jag either, nor is there a reserved parking spot unless you call the one marked “Reserved for Hair & Beauty clients” in Sussex Downs College car park, which for some strange reason nobody ever parks in but me. Being a Chairman means that people expect you to do things that other people won’t do.

In just a month I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard from my colleagues the phrase “As Chairman, you should do that Stu”. Not that I’m complaining – after all if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d do the same. Being manager less for a few weeks also means I have to field the calls from journalists. Some will write what you say, others will try and second guess the meaning of what you have said and print that instead. Just one “added” word can cause offence, embarrassment or anger to anyone and everyone. Fortunately, in my real word job I’ve had a bit of training in dealing with journalists so am pretty good at keeping things “on record”. During the period where the managerial search went on there was very little speculation in the press bar a few names that the journalist in question had observed watching our games.

I found it amusing to see headlines in the local press using my adopted new name “Chairman Fuller”. In the space of a few days my Christian name had been lost, replaced by a title more akin to a Communist Party leader. I also received random texts from people telling me where I was and what I was doing. “I see you were on the early train down to Lewes today. Interviewing a new manager?” and “I saw you shaking Kingy’s hand at Lancing – please don’t tell me he is coming back a third time?”

We’ve all heard the stories about secret trysts in service stations to do deals (legitimate ones not featuring shoeboxes full of cash I hasten to add!) away from prying eyes but I never thought that’s what really happened. That was until I’d agreed to meet one prospective candidate for the manager’s role and he asked if we could meet in a pub, some miles away from Lewes in a very rural location. Even as I pulled into the car park I doubled checked the mirror to make sure I hadn’t been followed. The Current Mrs Fuller even questioned me as to whether I was meeting another woman (or women as she said – I like her style at suggesting I still had the energy).

IMG_3432But the story has a happy ending. We got our man and today we welcome ex-Charlton Athletic legend Steve Brown into the dug out for the game versus Kingstonian. Could he start with a win? Our record in previous seasons against the K’s isn’t good, having taken just 2 points in the seven games we’ve played against them in the last four seasons. There has also been a red card in every game we’ve played against them in recent times. Expect a dull 0-0 draw then!

Lewes 1 Kingstonian 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 7th March 2015
Nil-nil it nearly was but it certainly wasn’t dull. Lewes can mark this one down to the Footballing Gods, smiling down at them as Kingstonian were well and truly robbed. The Rooks finished the game with nine men whilst Kingstonian could only rue a hat-full of missed second half chances including a missed Gomez penalty.

To be fair to both sides, the extraordinary sight of the sunshine probably distracted them from trying to play football in the first half, with neither side really creating any chances in the first period. The half was livened up in a three minute spell just before the break that saw two red cards. First up was Kingstonian’s Alex Addai who simply lost the plot, planting his head into the face of Tom Davis for a tackle made by Matt Crabb. Addai then displayed all of the characteristics of a 5 year old being told he couldn’t go to Thorpe Park. Jumping up and down, trying (and failing at first) to remove his shirt and then sitting on the naughty step.

He was joined there a few minutes later when Sam Cole appeared to leave his foot in when challenging for the ball and he saw a straight red.  10-a-side it was to be after the break.

Lewes started the half well, with the K’s now infamous keeper Rob Tolfrey being called into action to keep out a James Fraser shot from 40 yards and then a point-blank range Elphick header.  Seconds later Lewes keeper Rikki Banks charged out from his line and took out Pico Gomez. Clear penalty.  Gomez stepped up and smashed the kick against the post.  Perhaps this was to be our day.

With five minutes to go Lewes launched a free-kick into the box.  Tolfrey came for it, dropped it and Rowe slotted home.  Cue manic scenes as the players joined in with fans celebrating including one chap who had obviously given his wife a break and brought their baby to the game.  He was almost offering his child to the players to celebrate with.  In my experience that may get you a telling off a home, especially if you also douse the child in beer.

From the rather long lens of James Boyes

From the rather long lens of James Boyes

There was still time for the referee to make a complete fool of himself by only booking the K’s centre-half for scything down Sam Crabb, a tackle far worse than Sam Cole’s first half red.  Brotherly concern and love took over as Matt Crabb pointed this out to the ref and was given a red card.

So three points, a winning start for our new management team and a pretty decent roast pork loin ciabatta with apple lavender slaw and smoked chilli for a pre-match snack.  We will have better days, we will have worse days.  But for today, the lot of the chairman is a happy one.

The principles of cause and effect


“Ladies love me, girls adore me.  I mean even the ones who never saw me
Like the way that I rhyme at a show.  The reason why, man, I don’t know.
So let’s go, ’cause…..”

This was going to be the best day ever.  Well, certainly since I last got the opportunity to go to two  new grounds in one day that is for sure.  Such avenues of pleasure are rarely open these days in England and normally we have to head on over to visit Uncle Kenny in Düsseldorf to take in such treats.  But here I was soaking up the rays at our third game of the day, Yep.  Three had become two due to that old fellow call Casuality.  Not one, nor two but three.  As Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock once said, “It Takes Two…plus one”

Let’s remind to 11am.  Our first venue?  Why Tolworth of course.  I mean, where else would anyone want to me on a Saturday morning.  Tolworth, the land of dreams.  Known as Talerode (toll road) in the Doomsday Book, it was here that David Bowie back in 1973 smudged his face makeup and ended up looking like ” a spider from Mars”, giving birth to his whole Ziggy Stardust phase.  Its most famous resident though is Alan Wheatley, the first ever person killed by a Dalek on TV.  Alan is available for birthday’s. weddings and corporate events where he re-enacts his demise to popular songs of the time.

9327436675_9320f39f71_bHowever, I had no time for cultural recreation.  I had a deadline to meet.  11am, to be precise when the annual Geoff Harvey Memorial Trophy was due to kick off, featuring the number one sporting team in Tolworth, Corinthian-Casuals, taking on local rivals Kingstonian.  Where do you start with the Pink and Chocolates?  Well, how about back in 1939 when a merger between Corinthian FC and Casuals FC.  The former started life in 1882, with a mission to be able to challenge the supremacy of the Scotland National Team.  I’m sure that today they would probably achieve their aim.

Corinthian rightly deserve their place in the history of football, being mentioned with honours in David Hartrick’s excellent book 50 Teams That Mattered.  Few teams from the amateur period can match their influence.  Real Madrid, so taken with their ethics (and tasty scones they took on tour to Spain), adopted the white shirts they still wear today.  A team in Brazil went one further, adopting their name and still proudly using that name today.  They even beat Manchester United once 11-3, but didn’t brag about it in the Sunday tabloids.  Instead they all went home on the Omnibus and had a nice cup of tea. Continue reading

Sticky Toffee has never tasted so bad


It had been quite a good few weeks for the Rooks. Results on the pitch had been poor – in fact we were bottom of the current form table – six defeats from the last six games had brought Mr Relegation sniffing around our front door and our chance of a home win against Margate (and a chance to see match ball sponsor Luge Pravda lead the teams out in his PE kit) were dashed by the freak snow that hit East Sussex, cancelling the game for the second time in 2013.

8545562460_4c69d1e0da_bBut a football club is not just for Christmas, it’s forever and so our job as Directors is to build a sustainable club on and off the pitch. We are all 100% behind Simon Wormull (oh God, that sounds like a dreaded vote of confidence! Sorry Simon!) and believe that the team will comfortably avoid the bottom two. So it was positive to see our fantastic match posters get some of the press they have deserved. Both Proworx and East Web have a done a sterling job in recent years as designers, under the guidance of the likes of club Directors Charlie Dobres, Ben Ward and Patrick Marber (see the set here) and this week the national press came calling. BBC local news, Freund11 in Germany, MSN, Yahoo!, The Independent, The Sunday Times, heck even the Daily Mail got in on the act (although their interpretation of the facts still leaves a lot to be desired). Fine praise indeed, and it felt like the world and his wife were now following our results.

So after we put away our Kiss-Me-Quick hats from the Margate postponement, I looked forward to a short trip on the bus to Cray Wanderers for a relegation six pointer. After a morning of stripping (window ledges rather than with the employees of FYEO alas) CMF approved my efforts in the “Husband” department and sent me off to the bus stop, packed lunch and Thermos (you should always write that with a capital T as it is a brand and not an item – just like Hoover, Portakabin and Airtight), slipping my bus fare in my pocket and telling me to be home by 6pm. Alas, just as I set foot out of the door, Mr. Monsoon paid South East London a visit and another game fell by the wayside.

BFeZywoCMAAh-lXSo roll on 80 hours and we were back at the Pan. If Cray Wanderers was a six pointer, then the visit of bottom of the table Carshalton Athletic was a twenty-four pointer. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Carshalton had come to visit us. Just a few weeks ago they arrived in town, had a player sent off after less than 100 seconds, found themselves two goals down and then lost their manager all in the first half. As the teams headed for the dressing room the power to the Pan failed and despite us all holding up our mobile phones, the referee deemed it wasn’t enough so the game was abandoned. Continue reading

Duffed up


It is rare that I go to a game and do not whip out my camera or my phone to record the action but yesterday as the referee blew the final whistle at The Dripping Pan I realised that I hadn’t taken one picture.  Not that there wasn’t any action on the pitch, but I had a guest with me.  Football Jo.

For those of you who are new to The Ball is Round you will have never come across Football Jo.  A few years ago she used to accompany me around the world to watch football.  But then she decided she really did need a boyfriend.  In the past she had a “love my football and love me” motto.  She has her own house, own car, own extensive porn collection and own teeth.  But some men couldn’t hack her commitment to the beautiful game.  So she compromised and stopped coming to strange overseas locations to watch bizarre games.  But it didn’t last and she rang me two weeks ago asking when she could come down to Lewes.  She was single again and thus she wanted to get back into football.  And what better place than The Dripping Pan.

Today’s visitors were Kingstonain, complete with Martin Tyler as their assistant manager.  Yep, THAT Martin Tyler.  One can only speculate if he commentated on the game from the bench in the same style he does for Sky Sports. Continue reading

Tell me why…I hate Monday’s


Monday night is not my favourite day for football.  Whilst I am an “addict” I would normally give Monday games a miss.  For some reason a number of Ryman League teams prefer playing their midweek games Le Lundi.  Aveley and Wealdstone have experimented, trying to avoid potential Champions League, Premier League and Football League games in the area.

But tonight, Matthew, I was heading to Kingstonian around the M25 and its spectacular sunset where the Rooks were hoping to extend their unbeaten league run since the opening day defeat to Lowestoft.  They have favoured am Montag for a number of seasons, and attendance figures suggests that the get more people through the doors in the week than on a Saturday.

Just five days ago this game was in doubt.  Someone had broken into the ground last week and put one of the sprinklers on.  Some hours later the water had caused a three foot hole in the pitch.  The groundsmen worked tirelessly to fix the problem, and the test was the win on Saturday versus Hendon which was passed with flying colours. Continue reading