Fortress Dripping Pan….sort of

In the latest in their excellent series of myth-busting articles, the BBC published a study in February about whether a “cold night in Stoke” is an influencing factor on results.  Whilst the decision to pick Stoke City and The Britannia Stadium may simply be based on the fact that it is freezing on an August Bank Holiday rather than any other factor, the results were quite interesting.

Former England international Danny Murphy says opposing players have seen going to play Stoke City as a tough away game, but not necessarily because of the weather.  “It was because they were playing a certain style under Tony Pulis and it was as hard a place to go as any,” said Murphy.  “The pitch was really small, it was a tight ground with a lively atmosphere, and they would fire balls into your box from everywhere.”

The BBC analysed the results of every midweek Premier League match during winter months over the past 10 seasons to find out which grounds are the most likely to leave visitors going home unhappy – and surprisingly found that Stoke City isn’t even in the “worst” five grounds to visit in terms of away team performance, especially since Mark Hughes has been appointed where the home win ratio has fallen from 50% under former boss Tony Pulis to just 20%.  In fact, the research suggests the best time to visit the Britannia is during the winter months.

The research got me thinking about our own home form during the winter midweek nights.  The recent wins against Merstham and Dulwich Hamlet were both played in freezing conditions with both away teams seemingly not up for the fight.  But what does the trend look like over the past few seasons?  Well, the stats are very interesting indeed.

imageIn the period from 1st November to 15th March since 2012, we have played 15 midweek home games in the league and cup, excluding the “Christmas games” (i.e those played on Boxing Day or New Years Day with 3pm kick offs).  Out of those Lewes have won an amazing 11 times (or a 73% win rate) – I say amazing because when you look at our overall home record in that period our win rate is around half of that.  Included in that list are wins against Brighton & Hove Albion and Eastbourne Borough in the Sussex Senior Cup, Maidstone United and Lowestoft Town.  We’ve only lost three times (Enfield Town this season), Canvey Island and AFC Hornchurch, with one draw against Heybridge Swifts in the Ryman League Cup.

So why have we got such a good record under the lights?  One reason that could help us is our location.  Teams will have to leave early afternoon to get down to Lewes, potentially having to navigate through the rush hour traffic, in a similar vein to the fact our away record in that midweek period where we often have to set off at 3pm is poor.  Of course the wit of Cynical Dave on the terraces and the distraction of the Circa food also cause our opponents to lose their concentration.

So next season we’ve asked the Ryman League to schedule all of our home fixtures in midweek – that way we could be promoted by Easter….well, we can but dream!

Tales from a Non-League Chairman – Tale 11- Pre-season opponents

Ever wondered the rationale behind who your team play in a pre-season friendly?  Well, putting the money aside from the likes of the International Champions Cup, Audi Cup or the Emirates Cup, you may be surprised to hear there is some method in the madness of arranging these pre-season games.  I only found this out when I started suggesting potential opponents to our manager and was surprised by some of the feedback.  So, based on the last month or so, here is the undefinitive guide to pre-season friendlies.

Non-League clubs arrange pre-season games based on three criteria:-

Lewes v Brighton 20151. To make as much money as possible – These will be games on a Saturday, ideally, at home against either a team from a much higher division or a local rival in another division (not necessarily higher).  These games are the cream on the top of the Non-League milk bottles, the ones that keep you going through the winter when cash is tight and home games fall foul to the conditions.  For most Non-League clubs the chance that an Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United or a West Ham (one of the big teams in other words) would ever consider playing a friendly against you, and if they did even contemplating bringing a first team squad get rarer every season.  Gone are the days when most of the team that plays in these games would have first team experience.  Go and watch an Arsenal XI these days and you will see players who will never even get a sniff of the bench for League Cup 3rd round games.  Anyone who has a first team future or a resale value will be with the squad on their pre-season tour of Dubai/Hong Kong/Beverly Hills.  You can try to seduce them by playing on their conscious for something like a testimonial for someone who has been at the club for 75 years or that you want to commemorate switching on your new floodlights then they may just do something.  Otherwise it is all about getting in quick – most of these big games are arranged 6-12 months before they ever take place.  It’s not just the fans that flock to these games, but sponsors and commercial opportunities.  Time it right and you may also get some major media interest such as the first game in charge for a new manager (the opposition rather than yours).

For Lewes we have two games that generate the interest to bring in the crowds – Brighton & Hove Albion and Eastbourne Borough.  No real surprises about the former – sitting right on our doorstep and many fans having an allegiance to both clubs, this will be the third year in a row we have hosted The Seagulls.  Last season was Sami Hyypia’s first game in charge so there was the curiosity value as well which helped towards a 2,300 sell-out and the attendance of Sky Sports News.  Eastbourne Borough is a rivalry that grew out of the relative successes of both sides as they rose up the leagues a decade ago, culminating in both teams reaching the Conference Premier in 2009.  Games these days aren’t as passionate as they were on Boxing Day back then but they still pull in a four-figure crowd.  Both will be visiting the Pan this season as part of our pre-season programme.

9330354256_82d3fe528b_b (1)2. To show your benevolent side – As point 1 but this time you are deemed the bigger side and you head off into the county leagues to play someone.  Most clubs at our level will look to play three or four of these in the pre-season, testing out various new formations.  Expect to see your second or third choice goal keeper used in these games (or in most Non-League team’s cases the Under21’s and Under18’s keeper).  The away fans like the opportunity to visit grounds/pubs we wouldn’t normally go to and quite often there is local interest from players where this may be their local club, or even fans.

IMG_36153. To test your squad/tactics – Sometimes you will see a pre-season game that will look strange on paper.  Why would we be playing a team who simply lump the ball long to an ogre of a centre-forward.  How can that possibly help?  What better way to test whether your new centre-back pairing can handle the aerial threat of certain teams in your division (no names but they come from Essex), or whether your new 2-3-5 formation will work by playing someone who you should score double figures against.  This is often known as the cannon-fodder strategy, similar to the way a boxer will use a sparring partner.  What fans have to remember here is that you may well lose the battle so that you can win the war.  In other words, you may end up getting beaten (or vice-versa beating a team you wouldn’t normally expect to) but you will have found out if one specific element of your preparation has worked or not.  It is also at these games that you can expect an appearance from that chap A Triallist.  That’s always good fun to see who in the crowd can recognise him.  The issue comes when you have two of them in the squad for a game – do you call the second one B Triallist or AA Triallist or A Test?

Once in a while there are also the very strange games that seem to serve no purpose at all.  A few years ago Lewes hosted Essex United FC, which was essentially a few members of the cast of TOWIE and some production crew.  Ralph Little probably played too – he seems to play for a different team every day, billed as “star of The Royal Family”.  Mark Wright (the “actor” rather than the Ex-Southampton and Liverpool centre-back) played in the game and the hope was to draw a crowd of screaming teenagers to fawn over him.  It didn’t work, and Lewes could only manage a 1-1 draw against a team of thespian in front of a few hundred people.  Hardly the sell out crowd that our manager at the time had promised.

There may also be the hastily-arranged “Behind Closed Doors” game that fans sometimes never hear about.  These tend to be arranged to try out a few new players who you don’t necessarily want to announce you have signed just yet, or you could have players coming back from long-term injury and you don’t yet want to offer them a deal “just in case”.

Of course, you have to remember that age-old rule of “never play a pre-season game against a team from your own division”.  I still do not understand this wives tale.  Why wouldn’t you play someone who you could potentially play in a few weeks?  This of course goes out of the window if you are playing in a pre-season tournament on the other side of the world (i.e for lots of cash) such as Man Utd playing Liverpool in the final of the ICC last season, or those bizarre games between Chelsea and Man City last year at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Shine on you crazy floodlights

Whilst looking for inspiration for the legendary matchday poster (see the gallery here), Lewes FC Marketing Director Charlie Dobres happened upon the amazing fact that on January 19th 1968, Lewes Town Hall hosted a remarkable Pink Floyd Gig. And not only that, the gig was promoted by the football club itself or at least by one very special supporter.  The club planned to celebrate the 45th anniversary of this concert in conjunction with the game today against Margate, but the wintery weather put pay to the celebration.

Floyd-Signed-Poster-4-Members-not-David-292x400In the mid sixties, Lewes football club was hitting one of its growth spurts. Up until then, Lewes had only a solitary Sussex RUR Cup win to their name – the trophy contested by County League teams. However, further RUR Cup wins in 1962 and 1963 lead to a breakthrough season in 1965. That year the Rooks not only won the County League title for the first time (and promotion to the Athenian League), but also won both the RUR and Sussex Senior Cups – the treble.

Further success came in winning the Athenian League 2 title in 1968, and then promotion to the Premier Division just two years later. Lewes FC was on the up but success meant doing some serious renovation to the old ground.

It was clear that for the club to progress much further, the Dripping Pan was going to need floodlights for the first time ever. But how? With gates that rarely went over one hundred, the funds were simply not there and Tom Carr, the then Chairman (and local farmer) was not going to supply the funds.

Step in committee member and committed supporter Norman Ashdown.  Read the rest of the amazing story here.

The Wanderers

After the excitement of the FA Cup at Redhill yesterday, I needed a day to recover.  Well, actually I needed a day to mow the lawns, tidy up the TBIR Museum, do some proper work and generally be the perfect husband and father I aspire to be.  But with all my chores ticked off by 1pm, the wonderful Current Mrs Fuller suggested I should have some me time.

In fact before she had even got to the end of her sentence I was off, heading a few miles south-west to the metropolis known as Beckenham, right in the heart of Crystal Palace land.  For here, for one afternoon only, Lewes Ladies aka The Rookettes, would be taking on the Millwall Lionesses in a FAW Premier League game.  And if that was not enough, there was the prospect of the second half of the FA Cup tie at Greenwich Borough to think of.  Lazy Sunday afternoon my arse.

So first up was the visit of the Lewes Ladies to South-East London.  Much has been written about the unbelievable achievements of this side, who will this season be competing with the likes of West Ham, Tottenham and Millwall.  Clubs who operate at the highest level of football in this country, and in the top twenty richest football clubs in the world.  Of course, they will argue there is no direct link between the exploits of West Ham Ladies and Sam Allardyce’s side, but they carry the same name, the same colour kit and the same fans.  So from that perspective, the fact that Lewes would be taking the field against a side who operate five leagues above the Rooks was amazing in itself. Continue reading