Walking football


Growing up I pleaded with my Dad to buy every house we saw for sale on our walk from the car parked near Plaistow tube station to The Boleyn Ground.  Wouldn’t it be brilliant to live next to a football ground?  I used to believe that the players spent every waking hour at the ground and probably would be a neighbour when we moved it.   I couldn’t understand his reluctance to give up our nice house in the country with a big garden for a terrace house on Green Street with a sofa in the front yard.

As the years have passed my interest in living so close waned as I saw exactly what fans did in the front gardens of the houses near grounds.  Of course the players didn’t live anywhere near the ground or even the fans, shudder the thought of having to mix with them.  But the idea of being able to nip out of the door at 2:55pm and be back in time for the distinct sounds of Sports Report is somewhat appealing.

Whenever I travel to games overseas I always try to stay close to the stadium, not having to worry about public transport post match.  I also love the idea of waking up, opening the curtains and seeing a stadium there in front of me, as I did in Bilbao back in November when I was almost in touching distance of the beautiful San Mames stadium.

Whilst it wasn’t quite in touching distance, the away trip to Greenwich Borough was one I had been looking forward to because I didn’t have to rely on any public transport or any need to drive or be driven (in the end I did use public transport and I did get a lift home) as their home ground in Middle Park Avenue was just 1.6 miles away, and with the Park Tavern at the half-way point, the meeting point for the extended Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  The Park Tavern is my local, despite being a mile away (we are bereft of pubs bizarrely in this area of London) and it was confirmed that we were the largest away support they had ever seen, although our only competition was the three Belgium fans who had got off the train at Mottingham just down the road thinking it was Nottingham and were looking for the City Ground apparently.

In a week where finances in Non-League football have come under the spotlight again with the crazy situation taking another turn for the ridiculous at Billericay Town, we headed down to Greenwich Borough.  It’s very hard to find out the real numbers behind virtually every club at our level and whilst we are completely transparent in publishing our budget, we still get questions from other clubs saying “but that’s not your real budget though is it?” And our answer is always the same, “yep” although of course the number we publish is the gross number, not the net one.  Greenwich Borough’s entry into the Isthmian League and the investment in Gary Alexander’s squad has led to many speculating that they are the best funded squad in the league, with former Football League players such as Peter Sweeney, Bradley Pritchard, Charlie MacDonald and Glenn Wilson.  Expectations are therefore high down at The DGS Marine Stadium (named after the Chairman’s shipping business) and they will be seething at the fact they let top spot slip through their fingers in the Autumn, although they’ve never fallen out of the Play-off spaces since.

Fifteen minutes before kick-off with our formation and tactics sorted, captain Lloyd Cotton put his foot down a divot on the warm-up pitch.  His presence at the back cannot be underestimated.  In the 19 games he has played centre-back this season, we had won 13 and drawn 3.  Fortunately we had Stacey Freeman on the bench to come into the side at the eleventh hour, albeit carrying an injury himself.  With the sun shining, the Rooks took to the field hoping that they would put in a South Park rather than a Godalming Town performance and move level on points with our hosts.

Greenwich Borough 1 Lewes 0 – DGS Marine Stadium – Saturday 26th March 2017
In the end this game was decided by two poor decisions, one made by Lewes’s Jack Dixon and one made by the referee. Third versus fifth and there was very to choose between the two sides at the start but by 5pm there was six points and four places – the difference between having a shot at promotion come end of April and a summer licking our wounds.

Football should always be enjoyed in the sunshine with a beer but in the first twenty minutes there was very little action on the pitch.  Both sides were cancelling themselves in midfield and with the Rooks battling both with the uphill slope and the strong wind in their face, they were happy to restrict the hosts to shots from distance.  Then in the space of a minute we went from attacking a corner to picking the ball out of the net.

It essentially went like this.  Sow corner to far post, Freeman jumps and is penalised.  Holloway takes free-kick, the bounce beats Harrington but Dixon is there to clear danger.  He under-hits his back pass to Winterton and Charlie MacDonald gets in front of Stacey Freeman and drills it past the Lewes keeper.  It was OK though as we would have the conditions in our favour in the second half.

The second period was dominated in my eyes by two events.  Firstly the wind blew over my 1/2 full pint of Badger’s Bitter and then Stephen Okoh was blatantly taken out in the area and the referee turned a blind eye.  There was no doubt that the first incident was an accident but the second was as clear a penalty as you could ever ask for.  On many other occasions we would have been celebrating a spot kick but that’s football for you.  Okoh then hit the bar with ten to play but that was the closest we came to scoring.  At the other end Winterton was rarely troubled as Greenwich Borough professionally saw the game out to grab all three points.

The disappointment wasn’t in the manner we lost – there was very little between the two sides – but in the fact every other team challenging with us for the Play-offs won.  We’d gone from fourth to seventh in the space of six days.  But with games coming thick and fast against 9th, 6th, 5th and 4th in the table to come in the next three weeks, nobody was giving up.

I could have walked home, smug that I had not added anything to my carbon footprint but Baz offered me a lift.  Just like living next to a ground seems like a great idea, turning down a lift to walk home was the sensible option.

Speaking out of turn


More through necessity than anything else, I still have the pleasure of holding the microphone at The Dripping Pan for every home game I attend.  Whilst the job isn’t that hard, you are forced to pay a little more attention than most fans to what is going on on the field, and such luxuries as having a pee, eating anything that requires two hands or even tweeting add an extra layer of complexity to the job.  It is a thankless, mostly dull job really but one that is essential.  In the three years that I’ve been doing the job I have had to deal with two lost children, five lost wallets, numerous cars blocking access in the car park and one request to “ring home”.  Alas, I am still waiting for my first marriage proposal or the nadir of a PA announcers career, “Mr x just to let you know you are the father of a new baby boy/girl”.

Thanks to Boysie for getting my best side

Thanks to Boysie for getting my best side

When I agreed to take it on I wanted to do it my way. No sitting up in the stand, no cheesy announcements, no muffled voices. It had to be big and bold, whilst still standing on the terraces with a pint of Harveys. Of course this leads to problems, especially when I can’t get to the bar until we have kicked off and am scared to turn my back just for a second in case I miss a bit of action.  I should do my research on pronunciation of player names but rarely do (apparently I’m still pronouncing Gus Sow’s name wrong), breaking it down phonetically and hoping I’ve got it right.  You can get too cocky though and announce something without referring to the team sheet such as the announcement of Tooting’s fourth goal scorer yesterday, Adam Cunningham….for Adam read Alexander.

Standing on the terraces does have issues though – it’s not that easy to see what’s going on at the other end.  I’ve lost count the number of times an opponent has scored and we have no idea who got the final touch.  In games when the reliable Rookmeister isn’t Tweeting in the stands I have to make a brave decision, knowing that the name I pick will be added to Football Web Pages and go down in history.  Of course we can try to find out from the opposing keeper, but they rarely know or even bother to respond.

And then there are times when you simply forget that you are doing the job as was the case yesterday when we conceded the comical second goal.  We were all so confused as to what happened that it was a good five minutes later before I remembered that I hadn’t announced it, although the handling of an own-goal is always a difficult one to decide what to do.  Should I say “own goal by Lewes number 4 Lloyd Harrington”, adding fuel to the fire of an already fuming midfielder, or should I give it to the “supplier” of the final ball?  In this case the Tooting player could hardly claim any credit for it.  Perhaps simply not announcing it was the best option, although if it was the first goal, what should I have done then as the Golden Goal competition is resting on my announcement of the time.  During the second half I bumped into an old friend, Gary Hancock, down from Tooting and started chatting to him, only realising a few minutes later than both sides had brought on substitutes unannounced.

Now that’s one aspect where I have the power of life or death. Well, sort of.  Yesterday we sold out of Golden Goal tickets meaning that two lucky punters would win £25.  I’m a bit conflicted here as I always have two tickets although I never open them until the first goal has been scored and I’ve announced the winner – I’m sure there would be a stewards enquiry if I did ever win, despite spending a King’s ransom on it over the years.

img_2858Announcing the teams is a challenge in itself.  They don’t put pronunciation guides on team sheets these days – was Tooting’s left-back “Ade-bow-ale”, “Ad-ebo-wale” or “Ade-bowal-e”?  The temptation to adopt Alan Partridge-style exclamations has so far been suppressed but it is only a matter of time before one or two slip out.

The rules keep on coming – Don’t announce the man of the match or official attendance too early – my rule is during a stop in play once we get into the 89th minute. Three years ago versus Brighton & Hove Albion in the Sussex Senior Cup, Sam Crabb was chosen and I announced the award when we were 1-0 down but then two Tom Davis specials saw us win and would’ve had won him the award. Yesterday there was an audible groan when I announced Charlie Coppola as Man of the Match, with comments like “you sure?” and “what game are you watching?” but I don’t choose the winner, I just announce it.

And finally you need to thank the away fans for attending, even if they’ve smashed up half the ground and invaded the pitch, and wish them luck for rest of season and a safe journey home.  Yesterday I made the “mistake” of suggesting we would see the Tooting & Mitcham United fans next season despite them sitting proudly on top of the table.  Or was it a mistake?

So let’s get to the game itself…

Lewes 1 Tooting & Mitcham United 5 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 18th February 2017
Let’s start with the positives.  Our matchday poster got national media attention.  We scored the best goal of the game and the crowd of 769 was the second biggest in the Ryman League South this season and the third biggest at step 3 and 4.  Reasons to be cheerful 1, 2 and 3? Alas the 5-1 scoreline where we actively contributed to four of the goals didn’t make for a happy post-match analysis.

c4uutyaweaa-fj8It could have been so different as we should have taken the lead inside the first two minutes, as Charlie Coppola found Jonté Smith in space in the penalty area, only for the striker to see his initial strike and then his effort on the rebound saved by Kyle Merson in the Tooting goal.  Then the roles were reversed and we almost saw a Coppola headed goal as he got his head to Smith’s excellent cross.

Alas, we couldn’t take our chances and fell behind in the 26 minutes when Chace O’Neill cut inside from the right and saw his long-range effort appear to take a deflection and loop over Winterton into the top corner.  Tooting’s lead was doubled in bizarre circumstances nine minutes later, as Winterton called for the ball as he looked to claim a cross from the right, with Lloyd Harrington ducking to get out of the goalkeeper’s way, only for the ball to hit him on the back and end up in the back of the net.

We needed to score the next goal and started the second half positively but when chances presented themselves we couldn’t quite find the final touch.  On the hour mark Stacey Freeman fouled Mike Dixon in the area and former Lewes player Jordan Wilson sent Winterton the wrong way from the spot to make it 3-0 and effectively end any hope of a come-back.

Tooting increased their lead further with ten minutes remaining, as substitute Adam/Alexander Cunningham capitalised on hesitant defending to run through and finish past Winterton.  The afternoon went from bad to worse four minutes later, as Lloyd Cotton was shown a straight red card for hauling down Dixon in the penalty area as the striker looked to get his shot away with only Winterton to beat.  Wilson was pushed aside with Dunn desperate to score his first goal since returning from Greenwich Borough and he chipped the ball down the middle to make it 5-0.

Despite a small exodus of fans when that goal went in, the biggest cheer of the day came when Stephen Okoh danced through the visitors defence and rolled the ball through Merson’s legs to give us some consolation.  It was certainly a kick in the teeth but other results mean that a win on Wednesday against Dorking Wanderers (only!) could still see us rise to fourth place, our highest league position this season.

Dorking hell


There’s defeats and then there are last-minute, defence lapse after you’ve been on top for 89 minutes 55 seconds sort of defeats.  Yesterday’s game at Dorking fell firmly into the latter category.  There’s only so much preparation you can do prior to games both in terms of analysing the way your opponents play, and adapting your line up and formation accordingly.  With almost every member of the first team squad available to train, Darren Freeman’s major problem on the morning of the game was who leave out.  We’d seen enough of Dorking, who have topped the Ryman League South longer than any other side this season, to know how they would play and where our opportunities would come from.

32466009431_27739d1ddb_kThe difference between teams at the top of the league and those firmly stuck in mid-table at this time of the season is bravery.  Do we go to places like Dorking and set up to grab a point? Or do we go with the full intention of winning the game, concentrating on our strengths and their weaknesses rather than the other way around.  Lewes of old would have certainly taken a Craig Levin approach to away trips (Scotland famously played a 4-6-0 formation under his leadership in the Czech Republic once) but today we have a squad of talented individuals whose sum parts are much greater than their individual contribution.

If the players believe in themselves then the fans will follow, just as they did yesterday when over 80 Lewes fans added some noise and verbal encouragement to the afternoon.  How much of a difference does that make to the team?  An unbelievable difference.   Players want to play for teams where the fans care. Opposing team goal keepers certainly cannot ignore the noise and the comments coming from the likes of Cynical Dave standing just a few feet behind them.  At our level they simply do not experience that from many sides, especially away support.  If every time as a keeper you know that 80 voices are encouraging you to make a mistake, only the strongest characters will be untroubled.

Picture by James Boyes

Picture by James Boyes

Yesterday we all did our bit.   Darren, Ross, Codge and Paul prepared the team.  The fourteen players who were involved in the game gave everything.  The fans never gave up hope.  But sometimes you fall just short, irrespective of the effort of everyone involved.  A 2-1 last second defeat in those circumstances is harder to stomach than getting smashed 5-0 to a team below you in the table.

Dorking Wanderers 2 Lewes 1 – Westhumble Sports Ground – Saturday 28th January 2017
We started positively, full of running and stretching the play.  Dorking play a similar game to us, which would have led to this being a fantastic match for the neutral, less so for an away fan as the game went into the 90th minute.  Our formation saw us use our full-backs as overlapping wingers, trying to get behind their full-backs and pull the ball back for our midfielders running.

Twenty five on the clock.  Full-back Matty George cuts inside his man, takes a touch past a second, gets a lucky rebound from a third and is through one-on-one.  The ball just runs away from him and he goes down under the challenge from the Dorking keeper.  From the referee’s angle behind play it looks a certain penalty, from ours behind the goal it is 50/50.  But the referee can only give what he sees and he points to the spot.  Protests are pointless, but the Dorking players feel the need to do so anyway.  Huk in the Dorking goal is booked. Dixon waits patiently then slots the ball in the corner. 1-0 Lewes.

32451270201_865dbbc58c_k-1Our lead lasts four minutes.  Dorking at their best, swapping passes at pace, catching the Lewes back four out of position and the prolific McShane smashes home.  The heads don’t go down.  Brinkhurst to Okoh, to Brinkhust, to Okoh.  The ball is fizzled across the six yard line and Jonté Smith taps home.  Bermuda’s scoring sensation jumps into the arms of Cynical Dave.  Alas the flag is up.  We protest, as the unwritten rule book says we should, but the goal is ruled out.

Man of the match Huk in the Dorking goal seems spurred on by the taunting from the Lewes fans, pulling off outstanding saves from Dixon and Okoh.  Half-time and players, management and fans alike go to re-hydrate, knowing that we won that half.

The start of the second half is more of the same.  Hammond shaves a post, Smith heads just wide whilst at the other end Sole hits the bar.  The game could go either way, as both sides are now committed to attack.  Full-back Matty George comes off.  Lewes try to bring on Dan Perry but he’s having a fight with his shirt.  “Go on, go on” shouts Darren as the ball is played to Stephen Okoh.  Dan, who still hasn’t got the shirt on, assumes his gaffer is talking to him, so he runs on, still with his shirt only partially on, keen to join the attack.  Alas, Darren’s comments were directed to the Lewes winger, Okoh, and not Dan who is promptly booked for illegally entering the field of play.

32588806205_13bf2c7079_kFive minutes are put up on the fourth officials board.  Dorking hit the ball from left to right.  Brinky has switched from right to left back to cover for the departed Matty George.  He controls the ball on his left, tries to push it onto his favoured right to clear but the impressive Briggs takes it off his toe and smashes it home within half a second.  Dorking celebrate wildly, the Lewes side sinks to their knees.

Five additional minutes don’t bring and further chances to a Rooks side who have been sucker-punched.  The full-time whistle blows and the response from the Lewes fans is as warm and heart-felt as any victory this season.  Every player gave everything and whilst we didn’t take any points home, no fan can bemoan the way we played, the effort, the passion.

As a fan all you can ask is seeing your team give a damn, playing to the best of their ability.  Sometimes it will be your day, other times you will suffer that 90th minute defeat, wandering off into that night feeling mortally wounded but knowing that you, like the players and management, will be back, full of optimism in a week’s time.

Notes from the Main Stand


We’ve got a relatively settled routine as to how we prepare for home games.  At around 2.15pm (for a 3pm kick off) we will get the first sight of the opposition’s starting XI and from that moment we will start to compare their line up to their previous game, or one that we have got a scouting report on.  In the next ten minutes alterations will be made to our formation, tactics and set-pieces, to try to exploit any weaknesses.  Of course, our approach isn’t unique and our opponents will be more than likely doing exactly the same downstairs in their changing room.  Whilst no one will ever confess to games being won off the pitch, the importance of preparation cannot be under estimated even at our level.

fullsizerenderYesterday the preparations and execution were slightly different.  Having played our visitors just four days previously meant we knew a fair bit about them.  It’s fair to say that we spent some of the time on Tuesday watching how they played rather than our own performance in preparation for today.  Few teams set themselves up the same when they travel away.  Alas, with a threadbare squad at the moment, we don’t have much choice.  Injuries to Matthew George and Ronnie Conlon further depleted our squad yesterday but we have a talented group of youngsters such as Dean Stewart-Hunter who came into the side.  The notable change in our visitors line up was the return of keeper Jack Delo, who had been injured in the warm up.  Even knowing what the injury was enabled us to have a plan to try to exploit that weakness.

fullsizerender-1Our visitors “secret weapon” on Tuesday was their huge long-throws which when they first started taking them, surprised us.  So the key to this game was don’t concede throw-ins in the final third.  If in doubt, concede a corner or simply clear it in-field.  If we did concede one, then bear in mind they would be likely to throw the first couple short to surprise us.

The second complicating issue for this game was that Darren would be serving a one-game touchline ban relating to his dismissal back in October against Cray Wanderers.  He’d entered the field of play after a Cray player had assaulted Lloyd Cotton and subsequently been red-carded.

We could of course appeal against the charge but would need to submit evidence to the contrary of the match officials.  Lose the appeal and the fine (£100), and the ban (1 game) could be significantly worse.  So Darren took his punishment and headed to the stands.   But how could we ensure he would be manager seen and not heard?  Simple – I would sit next to him and make sure he served his ban.

According to the official FA guidelines on an official serving a touchline ban, the ruling is:-

“A participant serving a touchline ban should take up a position in the directors box if one is in existence. Where there is no directors box (or a position is not available) they are required to take a position in a stand or position which is detached from and some distance away from the dugouts”

fullsizerender-3With only a few rows of seating in our Main Stand, Darren would be within shouting distance of Ross and Codge.  However:-

“The participant can make communication with members of the coaching team within the dugout but only via the use of a telephone or a ‘runner’.”

So the “runner” would be me, passing notes down to the dugout.  Not quite the normal afternoon of watching the game for me then.

Lewes 3 Herne Bay 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 14th January 2017
The first instruction is written down and is given to me.  As I head down the steps to tell Ross that James Hammond should take the free-kick, I can hear Darren shout “Get ‘Ammo to take it..”  Hammond does indeed take the free-kick and he curls it perfectly into the top corner to give us a 1-0 lead.  It’s going to be a long afternoon.

img_2835-700x400Thirty seconds later Stephen Okoh races clear of the Herne Bay defence and lobs the ball over the keeper…as the ball is in the air I feel a grab on my arm.  Could it be two?  No, the ball shaved the post and goes wide.  Notes are furiously written by Darren as he sees things I can’t see.

“Win the ball faster” he shouts at nobody, but Codge hears him, translating his message into a quiet word in the ear of Lloyd Harrington as he comes over to take a throw-in.  On the twenty minute mark, the Vice-Chairman of the Isthmian League sits directly behind Darren.  I write on a note that he is sitting behind him, but Daz is too engrossed in the game, concerned that Jack Dixon is sitting on the ball too long.

He races off at the half-time whistle, trying to get into the dressing room before the players, ready to give his full and frank opinion on why we aren’t more than one goal ahead.

Less than two minutes into the second half Dixon fouls his marker, picks up a yellow card which will see him banned for two more games (having just come back from a two game suspension) and the referee points to the spot.  On Tuesday night Adria pulled off a superb save from Pulman’s spot kick.  Today it is Walder who steps up and slots it into the corner.  Somehow we are level.

“We’re flat and that’s making the crowd flat”  I text Deaksy and tell him to start singing.

The written messages soon dry up, replaced by my phone being used as a walkie-talkie with Ross on the touchline.  James Hammond restores our lead with a tap-in after the impressive Kaja roasts his man down the right and tees him up.  Then the crowd start making some noise and we start dominating play.

fullsizerender-2Lloyd Harrington picks up a yellow, meaning he will also miss the two vital games against Dorking Wanderers.  “Looks like I’m going to have to play in those games”.  I assume he’s joking although when Charlie Coppola neatly flicks the ball round his marker, Darren tells me the England Schoolboys international learnt that trick from him in training and I can see the seriousness in his eyes.

We huff and puff and finally blow the Herne Bay resistence down with a third in injury time, Egli Kaja (the first ever Albanian to play for Lewes for those who love a random fact) beats his man and is then hauled down.  A mele breaks out as four or five Rooks players want to take the spot-kick.  Jack Dixon wins the discussion and slots home.  Job well done all round.  I could now have a beer and relax, around two hours later than I normally could.

Three wins on the bounce, scoring nine times and conceding just twice means that we rise to 5th in the table, the highest we have been since the opening day win at Chipstead.

The final restriction that we had to ensure Darren complied with was a little bit stranger:-

“The participant who is subject to a touchline ban may not make contact with match officials, match delegates or assessors prior, during or after the match.”

Which technically meant when the officials came into the bar for their pasta post-match, Darren couldn’t even go and shake their hand and say “well done” although he resisted passing me any further notes.  Normal service will be resumed in two weeks time thankfully.

Master of none


What happens when you get a bit lippy and suggest to one of your colleagues that their job on a match day was “easy”? It seemed I was just about to find out the hard way as our beloved club secretary Barry was heading off on a business trip 24 hours prior to our final game of 2016.  To make matters worse, we also had no kit man for the game.  First rule behind the scenes in Non-League football is “Be prepared to do it yourself” which is why I was wandering into the Dripping Pan four hours before kick off against Three Bridges with a bag full of assorted sock tape.

Lay the kit out, pump up a few balls, write out the team sheet and shake hands with the referee right?  What’s so difficult about that?  Alas, it if was that simple I would have been enjoying a beer or two an hour before the game rather than worriedly looking for instructions about how to use Football Web Pages live system and trying to find the season ticket list for Gate 3.

img_2255The first issue on arrival was the fog.  The previous evening has seen the game at The Amex postponed due to it and it appeared that overnight the problem hadn’t got much better in these parts. There was not a lot I could do about that bar man the phones and let people know that I could see both goals from the office and we “should” be OK for 1pm.

Before Barry headed off to try to increase our 12th Man Fund in Las Vegas, he left some instructions for me in terms of the Club Secretary duties for a match day.  Even by Barry’s very organised standards, I wasn’t expecting a four page document for each role (plus attachments), all colour-coded and in chronological order.  According to his list, by 1:45pm I should have been collecting biscuits from the Referees room.  Or was it giving them biscuits and taking their expense claims?  Of course, Barry had forgotten we had moved the kick off forward to 1pm so I was either 2 hours early or 2 hours late.  I’m not sure which.  The biggest worry was the fact if I didn’t do something to someone on the Internet at 1pm/3pm then Kellie Discipline, the League Secretary, would be straight on the phone giving me a dressing or a fine.  Or perhaps both.  Oh, and the fact it said “5:30pm – relax and have a beer” – that was three hours away.

img_2136So here I am thirty minutes before kick off trying to sort out a kit issue (one of those strange cut-off under socks has gone missing), whilst re-printing forty team sheets that had a big spelling mistake on (Thee Bridges may have been popular in Shakespeare’s time but not today apparently) on a printer that will only allow me to print one at a time due to a cartridge “issue”.  Oh and sorting out the play list which has all of a sudden started playing Isabella’s Disney Princess mix from 2008.  The phone rings and someone from the local paper wants to come along and watch the game and would like a pass for the 3pm game which he then goes into a panic over when I say it is a 1pm kick off as he has just arrived as “Monkey Biz” with his daughter and “there was no way he could get her out of the ball pool in 15 minutes’.  First world problems.

A normal pre-match for me involves a pint, chatting with some of my fellow fans, an in-depth discussion with Darren on our opponents and where the strengths/weaknesses are before preparing myself for any tricky names to read out on the team sheet.  Today I’m having to find the charger adapter for the substitutes board (The League donated one to each club but when we opened the package it had a European plug on), that should have been on charge an hour ago whilst ensuring that the referees assessor was put on the guest list.

I’d already had the dilemma of how to lay out the kit.  The home dressing room only has 24 pegs up – we have a squad of 20 arriving, but should the 1-11 get two pegs (one to hang the kit and one for their stuff) or does everyone get one each?  I’m mildly concerned that we have two slightly different sets of socks and my OCD kicks in by unravelling every pair to ensure that at least each pair matches.  Then there is the TV – it should be showing BT Sports but it has QVC on.  The signal comes from the bar, which is currently locked.

img_2256Best of all, our superb Groundsmen have arrived to use a fancy new machine on the pitch but they are unaware it is a 1pm start and so are trying to ride this contraption up and down the grass, avoiding the players now warming up.

Sounds like fun?  Too right it is.  I love being part of the magic that is match day.  Huge amounts of work goes into making sure that everyone gets to try to enjoy ninety minutes of football.  Whilst we can’t influence the result directly, the preparation that is necessary before every game should be aimed at giving Darren’s side the best opportunity possible to win the match.

I started this year sitting in the stands scouting at Peacehaven & Telscombe and would end it clearing up the detritus from the home team bench. That’s the beauty of the game at this level – you make a difference, as too does every other volunteer that gives up their personal time to help the club.

So how has 2016 treated us?  With all the doom and gloom around in the past few weeks you’d be mistaken to think that our relegation at the end of last season automatically made 2016 a bad year for us.  Actually, we probably made more progress this year on and off the pitch that any year in the past five including winning the Sussex Intermediate Cup.  2015 saw us avoid relegation technically on the last day of the season (although events elsewhere meant we couldn’t be relegated even if we had lost to Bury Town on the final day), get hammered in the Sussex Senior Cup Final and then start the 2015/16 season poorly.  The first half of the 2015/16 was no better as we started poorly and got worse.  It wasn’t until last December that things began to improve on the pitch.  Since January performances have been stronger and there is more of a settled feel in the squad as the stats below illustrate.

In the previous year we played 50 Ryman League games, gaining just 37 points and conceding a mammoth 93 goals in the process.  We won just 10 times, whilst tasted defeat on 33 occasions.  It is fair to say that was relegation form.  Prior to today’s game we’d played 43 Ryman League games in 2016 and gained 65 points, winning 17 and drawing 14.  We had scored 69 goals and conceded 70.  If we think back to that period between the start of March and the end of the season where we drew eight out of our ten games, losing just once, what might have happened if we would have not conceded late equalisers (Grays Athletic and VCD Athletic at home anyone?).  Extrapolate the 43 games into 46 and we have a 70 point season, enough in recent years to be in the top third of the table.

img_2257Unbeaten at home since early October, we hoped to finish the year off with a win against a Three Bridges side who have just two wins on the road (although they have been in their last trips away).  But football can be as unpredictable as the playlist I had put on before the match.  Just because the last two songs have been by the Killers, there’s no guarantee song three will not be something by The Cheeky Girls, or that Apollo 440, lined up as the walk-out song for the two teams actually turns out to be the Jive Bunny.

Lewes 4 Three Bridges 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 31st December 2016
Well, we’d got to the point where the referee had kicked off so we must have got most things right.  I checked Football Web Pages and saw that our starting XI was remarkably similar to last week’s, which wasn’t right so had to quickly amend that, not the easiest thing to do on a mobile.  Seven minutes gone and The Rooks were in front as Jonté Smith turned in the ball from close range.  Five minutes later I remembered that not only did I have to announce the goal but also add it onto Football Web Pages.

It wasn’t the best of halves to be honest although we were playing some nice football and never looked under threat.  Jamie Brotherton added a second in the 35th minute after a neat exchange of passes with Jonté and we should have had a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Conlon was bundled over.

The Lewes side emerged for the second half but there was no sign of our opponents or the officials.  The referee, showing that he is human, had not put enough change in the parking meter and so had to dash out to top it up, meaning nobody called the Three Bridges side out.  The additional time sat in the warm hardly did them any favours as Ronnie Conlon curled a beauty into the top corner within 46 seconds of the restart to make it 3-0.  Game over.  The fans in Philcox started singing “You’ve got more bridges than fans”, winning the chant of the year competition.

Or not quite.  We still have this ability to try to let victory slip out of our fingers.  It’s nothing new, especially here at The Pan.  Last season we gave up four points in two games by conceding injury time equalisers and all of a sudden in this game it went from 3-0 to 3-2.  There was an audible hum of discontent around the ground.  If we are to have any thoughts of breaking into the play-offs then we need to be winning games against teams at the wrong end of the table.

One magic substitution later and it was all smiles again as Charlie Coppola spanked home a loose ball in the area to make it 4-2.  In the two games between these sides this season there have been 14 goals.  Undoubtedly there could have been half a dozen more had it not been for the fine form of former Rook Kieron Thorp in the Three Bridges goal who kept the scoreline respectable in the final ten minutes.

At the final whistle I can enjoy that long overdue pint.  Alas it is not for relaxation – I just need to wait for the players to get changed so I can start sorting the kit and cleaning the dressing room so that come 1pm on Monday when they walk back in for the game against Horsham.  I’m not sure that 20 individuals could purposely make more mess if they tried.

With a game on Monday there would be no time for our usual kit washing or dressing room cleaning routine.  Duncan (Ops Manager) and I grabbed the brooms, buckets and mops and got to work whilst Jane (Director) picked up the kit to deliver to Carol (Director) to wash and dry all of the kit – the happiest of happy new year eve’s I’m sure with 21 shirts, 22 pairs of shorts (not quite sure why there were more shorts than shirts!), 22 pairs of socks, 11 pairs of cut-off socks, 24 warm up t-shirts, 18 warm up jacket and a random pair of Pringle pants for company as Big Ben struck twelve.

img_2262I’d read earlier in the day that the reason why it was a 1pm kick off was so that the directors had time to get ready before going up to London.  I wish that was the case.  The two hours we gave everyone back to enjoy the last night of the year was taken up for me by cleaning and then sitting in a traffic jam on the M25.  Did I mind?  Not one bit.

The afternoon summed up all that was good with the club.  I’m sure a few will grumble about the queue for food (a solution is in the pipe, or should I say pie, line) whereas I heard of a few others who missed the game because they didn’t know it was a 1pm kick off despite us promoting it through every available channel.  But a team effort on and off the pitch saw us end 2016 with three points and a smile on everyone’s faces.

Same again tomorrow everyone?

Decisions in nobody’s interest


Last Saturday Lewes looked to record their sixth consecutive league win.  These are heady times for us Rooks fans, with many of us never experiencing the crushing inevitability of snatching defeats from the jaws of victory, but coming into the game against Molesey we were top of the current form table over the last ten games, having won eight and drawn two.  Such form was unheard of but was down to a new spirit within the dressing room and players hitting form.  During that spell we have also scored goals for fun, twenty-three of them in the last ten games prior to Saturday.  Scoring goals, playing entertaining football, winning games – we were living the dream.

fullsizerender_2Saturday’s opponents, Molesey, had lost seven out of their eight away league games, scoring just twice in the defeats.  If I was a betting man then I may have put a pound on a home win.  Confidence has that effect on me – heck I’ve even been known to turn the heating on before the end of November at home.

But what you can never factor in is the weather.

The forecast for Saturday was for a storm to hit the South Coast in the evening, so bad that a yellow weather warning had been issued.  I’d flown in from Florida, landing at Gatwick at 11am with bright blue sunshine.  The pitch looked perfect and we looked forward to seeing some free-flowing football especially with the return of striker Jonté Smith to the Dripping Pan.

Lewes 2 Molesey 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th November 2016
Ten minutes in and whilst the rain had started to fall, it was no worse than what we would have expected at this time of year.  Charlie Coppola got the right side (for us) of the full-back and was hauled down.  Penalty.  Jamie Brotherton slotted home 1-0.  The only disappointment was having the golden goal at 9 minutes.

The rain started to get harder but still it wasn’t causing us many issues.  We were able to play the ball around on the floor and always looked like scoring again, the surprise being we had to wait until the 40th minute when Jonté Smith picked the ball up 40 yards out, twisted his marker inside out before slotting in to the far corner of the net.  2-0 at half-time.

img_1915As the teams came out for the second half there was concern in the stands and personally I felt that if the rain did not let up we would soon run into a situation where puddles would start appearing on the pitch and the game would be in doubt.  I’d hate to see the game abandoned, especially as we were on top and currently sitting in 5th place in the league, our highest position all season.

On the hour mark the puddles were very evident and the ball started to stick.  There was no way that the game would finish, with the rain continuing to fall.  Five minutes later Molesey scored, a great solo effort from Ashley Lodge.  The Rooks performance seemed to mirror the state of the playing surface – deteriorating quickly.

Seventy minutes gone and the Molesey bench started making serious noise to the officials that the game was becoming farcical.  I couldn’t agree more.  It was only a matter of time before the pitch got saturated to a point of unplayability.  Five minutes later Molesey equalised when Tom Windsor tapped into an empty net.

After the goal celebrations the referee consulted with his linesmen and called the captains together.  “Here we go” we thought, game off.  But he actually asked whether they wanted to continue to play to the end (discovered post match).  Both captains felt they could win the game, but surely that’s not a decision they should be asked to make.  Neither side would be the loser if it was abandoned – Molesey may have felt aggrieved they would have lost a point but would have probably fancied their chances against us again.

img_1917The rain continued to fall, the puddles started to join together to form a lake. Running with the ball became impossible (as the above picture from the awe-inspiring James Boyes shows), passing the ball became a lottery and trying to make any timely tackles was a recipe for disaster.  Whilst it was amusing to watch, the core elements of the game – skill, passing, movement – become secondary to trying to predict how the ball would move.  We had chances to win it, so did our opponents.

fullsizerenderWith 90 minutes played the referee inexplicably blew for time.  The second half had featured five substitutions, two goals, a caution and a few stoppages for the elements.  To add nothing on seemed quite bizarre but more so was the decision to continue to play it when there was the opportunity for the officials to call it a day.  It may seem a bit like sour grapes, especially as our loss was greater than the Molesey gain but few who watched that game could say the weather didn’t materially affect the match.  We often cry for common sense in the game and in this case I don’t think that principle was applied.

You win some, you lose some and some are simply determined by the elements.

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.