The tide has turned

Michelle: What do you prefer? Astroturf or grass?
Rodney: I don’t know, I’ve never smoked AstroTurf

It’s been almost ten years since I started The Ball is Round.  Back in 2006 I was at my Football Tourist peak, dashing off to somewhere new almost every other week.  European football was opening up for us all with the Internet giving us the answers to the important questions about local public transport and ticket buying procedures, whilst budget airlines seemed to be falling over themselves to open up more exotic routes.  It was certainly the golden age to be a fan of football rather than just being a football fan.

Today the mystery and glamour of the Eternal Derby (take your pick between Rome, Belgrade and Sarajevo) has been well and truly debunked thanks to Social Media.  We’ve all stood on the Sud Tribune at the Westfalonstadion in Dortmund, right?  Or been hit by a toilet brush as the Spakenburg derby.  European football no longer holds any surprises.

So in some ways the purpose of The Ball is Round has diminished, or rather our objectives have been achieved.  I hope that we’ve helped a few people discover there is more to life that Sky Sports and the sanitised Premier League.  We’ve all grown a little bit older and when I meet the few bloggers who were still around a decade ago, we no longer talk about daily website hits or #FFs.  Those who are still left write because they love to write not for any commercial gain.

My day to day work has become all-consuming.  My writing has had to take on a more serious tone about intellectual property infringements (with the occasional slant towards football such as this white paper published this year) rather than the slant I have taken before on the beautiful game.  Virtually all of my “golden generation” peers have quit or have severely reduced their output, beaten into submission by the need to cover every Premier League team/player/story from a “new angle”.  The likes of Danny Last, Damon Threadgold, Kenny Legg (3 of the 5 who along with David Hartrick and I put together the 500 Reasons to Love Football website) and Andy Hudson have all given up their writing.  I blame Leicester City – after their achievement last season there is nothing left to write about football.

My role at Lewes FC has also meant I have had to smooth the edges to some of the things I have written about in the past.  Putting anything controversial into a blog could land me with a “bringing the game into disripute” charge by the FA.

So whilst the words may become further spaced out, I haven’t yet fully given up the ghost.  Yesterday, for instance, saw Lewes travel to local rivals Eastbourne Borough, for a Pre-Season Friendly.  One of the perks of being Chairman is you do get access to almost part of the game.  So instead of a predictably mundane match report from our 2-0 defeat on Boro’s new 3G pitch (hence the classic quote at the start from “Go West My Son”, one of the first episodes of Only Fools and Horses), here’s a few “behind the scenes” pictures instead.  If you are really interested in reading my match report then go wild here.

Sealed with a kiss

When we met Brentwood Town for our first ever league meeting back in September, manager Dean Holdsworth led his side to a 5-1 win, probably the lowest point Lewes hit this season to and one that contributed to manager Steve Brown decided to quit a few days later.

Six months later and we would be travelling to Essex still in a desperate position, but with hope in our hearts.  Neither Steve Brown nor Dean Holdsworth would be in the respective dugouts.  Brown has yet to return to management, whilst Holdsworth has swapped his Sugar Hut sponsored bench coat for a leather chair and a spot behind a big wooden desk at The Macron Stadium.

Holdsworth was a business consultant for the Sport Shield Consultancy who finally took control of Bolton Wanderers earlier this month, when he was appointed Chief Executive.  Based on their desperate league position, facing relegation to Football League One and without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon last week.  Relegation to the Ryman League South may not have been so bad considering the huge task in front of Holdsworth.

FullSizeRender (10)Brentwood Town face a dilemma of their own as to whether they can make the necessary investments in the ground to bring it up to the required standard to remain at this level.  Work needs to be completed by the 31st March, which would include a significant increase in the number of seats at the Brentwood Centre.  Failure to reach the standard could mean relegation back to the Ryman League North.  So currently sitting in the relegation zone, do they invest with the hope they can win their games in hand and reach safety or take the penalty and build again next season both on and off the pitch.

Lewes were without talismanic striker Jonte Smith who was away on international duty with Bermuda in the Caribbean Cup.  We would have to win this one with our youngsters to the top of their game, on a pitch that would make our passing style more difficult than normal.  But when your backs are against the wall you need to come out fighting.

Brentwood Town 0 Lewes 1 – The Brentwood Centre – Saturday 19th March 2016
Coming away from an away game with three points is great, but to win convincingly is always better.  In the grand scheme of things this win may mean nothing for either side, but try telling that to the players, management, the board and of course the fans who saw a great team performance and a fully deserved win.  The key moment was Henry Muggeridge’s 51st minute goal.  Instead of describing the pivotal moment, just follow the action for yourself below.  Until next week I bid you a great weekend.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…again

Enfield Town 2 Lewes 1 – The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium – Saturday 13th February 2016
OK – let’s start with the positives.  We all got a free pint to drink during the first half thanks to a great gesture by Enfield Town, a thank you for our support in their campaign for justice at the end of last season.  Not just your run of the mill fizzy-pop either.  A fine pint of Redemption’s Rock The Kazbek no less.  And boy did we need it in a first half where the pre-match instruction from our management team to “make sure Whitely doesn’t cut inside onto his right foot” lasted approximately 200 seconds when Whitely cut inside onto his right foot and scored.

FullSizeRender (6)The goal came as a bit of a shock to be honest, even though a) Enfield Town had won their last four home games, b) We have the second worst away record in the league, conceding on average 2.3 goals per game and c) We hadn’t gone behind in a game this year.  Could we have another beer voucher?

The scars of last season’s debacle have been forgotten by most at the club, although the initials FA certainly don’t mean the Football Association in these parts.  It’s fair to say that our governing body didn’t come out of the whole affair very well, and even at a meeting before Christmas with the chairman of the Ryman League, looked to deflect blame from their failings.  Fortunately, plans are afoot at our league level to change rule 6.9 which would now mean the Ryman League could handle the situation very differently if it occurred in the future.  How difficult was that?  Well as simple as changing the word “shall” to “may” in terms of how the league penalise clubs.  It took 30 seconds for the votes to be counted back in December’s League Meeting for that to progress.

Anyway, back to the action.  We always looked like we would concede another in the next thirty minutes but somehow we didn’t.  Then we started to remember how we had beaten Dulwich Hamlet, Canvey Island and Merstham.  We started passing the ball, stretching Enfield’s midfield and defence.  We had a great chance for Laing to run in on goal in the last-minute of the half.  However, the ball never reached him as the Enfield Town full-back decided to play basketball with the ball in front of the linesman, who tried to justify the fact he wasn’t looking by pointing to his chest.  The Enfield player walked off at half-time hardly able to contain his laughter.

FullSizeRender (5)We kept pressing in the second half, chipping away at the back four, looking for a way through.  Laing had a great shout for a penalty turned down when he was pushed to the floor.  No penalty, yet no card for “simulation”.  So what was it then ref? Jonte Smith’s far post header was turned around the post by an Enfield leg and with seconds left we could sense something was going to happen.

Laing again bamboozled the defence and his cross struck and outstretched arm.  Referee points to the spot.  Could it be?  Smith stepped up in the most languid of ways and rolled the ball into the corner of the net.  We’d take a point our jumping around on the terraces said.  We’d hardly had time to tweet using the hashtag “unbeatenin2016” before we’d conceded again.

FullSizeRender (4)Back in August we took the lead at home to Harrow Borough with a penalty in the 87th minute.  67 seconds later we conceded after switching off and had to settle for a draw.  Today our point lasted marginally less.  Enfield Town were given a free-kick on the left-hand side, pumped it into the box and someone (later identified as full-back Doyle) headed it in.

It’s hard to smile and share pleasantries post match in the boardroom when you lose like this.  Enfield Town’s hospitality was second to none and whilst the conversation, according to the unwritten boardroom protocol, completely avoided the a) result, b) the last gasp goal, and c) the fact we were still bottom, you couldn’t help thinking what could have been.

The positive was that other scores down at the foot of the table didn’t work against us.  We will pick ourselves up, regroup and refocus on three points next Saturday against Grays Athletic.  Perhaps it was the beer after all?  Yep..*makes note to turn down free beer*

LIfe in the gutter

Hope is a viable strategy for many football clubs – in fact for many it is the only strategy. It’s a motto, held together by duck tape, that underpins the grass-roots of our beautiful game. That’s not to stop the dreamers dreaming. As Oscar (Wilde not the Chelsea midfielder) famously said, “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars”. Today we were most certainly looking up at the stars.

Our day started at 8am discussing the future of the football club surrounded by history and tradition. Our home for the first part of the day was The Royal Oak, just a stone’s throw from Lewes Station,  where back on Wednesday 23rd September 1885 our football club was formed. In an article published in the Sussex Agricultural Express a few days later, it was reported under the headline “Formation of a Football Club” that a meeting the previous Wednesday at The Royal Oak Public House, chaired by Mr J Plummer Chapman had seen the created of Lewes Football Club and that “The Dripping Pan would be available for football matches during the winter months. Over 130 years later and we are still going, with the Pan now being one of the oldest 20 football grounds in the world used continuously by the same club.

FullSizeRender (1)One hundred and thirty years later, our objective was to create a strategy for the next five years for the club. In some ways we had to thank our lucky stars we had made it this far, having come so close to letting unbridled (and some might say unfounded) ambition take the club away from us. Just like any organisation in the commercial world, we need to have a clear vision, a set of objectives and a framework for growth. We may be tiny when compared to Premier League clubs but our ambitions boil down to the same thing – progress. The difference is that we have to grow within our means and in a sustainable manner, with every programme we sell mattering whilst they can just sit back and watch some of that £1bn a year TV money roll in, not even caring today that they have priced out a generation of fans.

Creating a strategic plan that everyone buys into don’t just happen overnight. An initial strategy was created back in 2010 when the football club passed into community ownership under the leadership of the original Rooks125 group. Most of those initial objectives have been met during the last 5 1/2 years with Charlie and Ed the two remaining members on the board from the original six. The new plan would see us through to 2020 as well as providing a framework for growth past that date, where it is hoped we will have more willing individuals invested in the club.

I took on the initial task of drafting the first draft of the new plan. It’s quite daunting to start writing such a document, having to balance the core, day-to-day tasks with trying to find the inspiration, aspiration and perspiration for growth. You look for clues from other clubs but have to be mindful that you don’t want to simply copy something someone else does – one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m used to having to write strategies for others in my other life, being a paid outsider looking in on the business models created by others, making recommendations for improvements and hammering home the point that they, not me, have to own the actions. A strategy without owners prepared to make changes and buying into the vision is simply a word document with pretty pictures.

Some fans may question why we need a strategy – we are after all a football club – our only objective games should be to win games. If only that was the truth. Others simply lament for the free spending, couldn’t give a toss about what happens tomorrow, days gone by. The work that goes on behind the scenes will never be enough for them. But for the majority of our 1,200 owners they want to know that the club is in good hands, not just today but years into the future. That’s what today was all about. Assessing whether the ways we did things today were the right ways, and right things as well as looking for other ways to grow the club.  No idea was a bad one (even some of Ed’s ones).  The football club has many moving parts such as our community work, our ownership model, our commercial proposition, our 3G and our Academy as well as our footballing sides.  Each is somewhere intertwined with another, so creating a plan for one, would have a knock-on on another.

1_NeedhamMarket2015-282x400As a group we have differing visions of where we could and should be and what our motivations were for sitting around the table in the first place. We have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different strengths and different temperaments – as the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fellow board members in a democratically elected organisation. Or something like that anyway. But we all are gathered in the same place at silly o’clock on a match day to discuss the same thing. What can we do to make the future of this football club better.

Strategising over, and safe in the knowledge that we think we were heading in the right direction it was time for some football.  To turn again to Wilde, Lewes came into this game well and truly in the gutter but recent form had seen us not only looking but in the words of S Club 7, reaching for the stars. Unbeaten in 2016 versus a side who had just one win since mid-November and had slid down the table to sit just above the relegation zone. It made a welcome change that we weren’t looking to the stars for signs of poor weather for what seemed like the first time in weeks. A Rooks win and we’d not quite be breathing down Needham Market’s neck but we’d be sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend in preparation.

Lewes 0 Needham Market 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th February 2016
After our enthusiasm at looking into the future, the present was a little more like the weather.  Dreary.  A point and a clean sheet would have been a good result a few months ago.  Today it is a small step up a big mountain.  The frustration was we did enough to win the game, and should have been celebrating another win tonight, especially as the linesman’s flag to deny Jonte Smith’s late effort was proved to be wrong on the edited highlights (in fact it was the only second half highlight).

FullSizeRender (3)The conditions were tricky, but it was the same for both sides.  The visitors started the brighter, with centre-forward Michael Brothers proving a real handful for the Lewes defence, and it was his strength and determination that should have seen Needham go in one-nil up at the break but his cross shot failed to hit the target.  A second half change to an all-energy front four by Darren Freeman tantilised the biggest crowd of the day in the Ryman Leagues but never quite troubled the visitor’s keeper, with Smith’s disallowed goal proving to be the major talking point.

Other results at the foot of the table meant we actually gained points on teams above the relegation zone in the most part, and didn’t fall any further behind.  With a game against Dulwich Hamlet to come on Wednesday the unthinkable could still happen.  Even our strategic plan can’t call that one.

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Concept of Marginal Gains

Just down the road, 2 1/2 hours before Lewes kick off in their game against Farnborough, The Football League Championship’s two clubs go head to head.  Brighton & Hove Albion are the last remaining unbeaten team in the top 10 divisions of English football, a remarkable turnaround from last season where they avoided relegation in the last few weeks of a season characterised by dull, scoreless football.  Back in the Summer, Chris Hughton brought his first team squad down the A27 and could count themselves lucky to go back with a 0-0 draw.  Confidence was high from the Lewes camp, whilst the draw against a team five divisions lower hardly increased the membership of the Hughton Appreciation Society.

Six months on and the situation could hardly be more different.  Hughton is being hailed a messiah by the North Stand faithful whilst Lewes are still looking for their first home win and are looking up the skirts of every other team in the Ryman Premier League.  We could spend hours debating why, but it is more important to touch on what the future holds in my opinion.

In the last few days I’ve read a couple of interesting pieces about the finances of The Seagulls.  The superb Swiss Ramble analysed the numbers in detail on his website last week, There can be no denying the investment by owner Tony Bloom in the club, both on and off the pitch, and for the sake of their loyal fans I hope they do reach the promised land of the Premier League, not only because they deserve a crack at it, but to also give Bloom some financial return on his huge investment.  Footballing history has given us plenty of examples as to where the single investor model turns sour at some point, and whilst Brighton fans may say “It’ll never happen to us with our Tony around”, I’m sure that is what Bolton Wanderers fans said when Big Phil was splashing the cash for Big Sam at the Reebok.

FullSizeRender (16)But what about Lewes?  We don’t have the ownership model that means we are indebted to one person.  However, we are bottom of the league.  In such situations managers tend to grab at any straw going.  How often will you see them bring in a raft of new players to try to solve an issue, normally expelling a fair few out the back door.  It is very rare that the financial situation in such cases ends up with the club making a profit on the dealings or paying less wages.  We all deep down know that, unfortunately, Chelsea will not get relegated this year.  Whoever comes in in the short-term will be given some patience and will make small changes that turn defeats into draws, and draws into wins.  Before you know it they will be knocking on the door of the top seven.  Why?  Because in most instances, teams do not become bad teams overnight or even over a pre-season.  If you can keep the same core of players then with small adjustments they will become better gradually.

This is the theory of marginal gains.  The concept is that if you improve in every variable underpinning or influencing your performance by just 100% then cumulatively you get a significant performance improvement.  The Performance Director of British Cycling, Dave Brailsford is often quoted as the biggest proponent of the theory, but it was actually Sir Clive Woodward to first openly admitted to using the concept in the preparation for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, that England would ultimately win.  “Winning the World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but by doing 100 things 1% better” he said post tournament.

So what does that actually mean for a grass-roots club like Lewes?  It means working with the management team to make sure when the team step onto the pitch they are 100% prepared.  Kit may seem a small issue, but for one player having a pair of shorts that aren’t too tight could be that 1%.  Energy drinks – another 1%.  Ensuring the showers are hot – 1% and so on.  That’s obviously not going to be the reason why Chelsea improve but their 1% gains may come from preparation patterns, pre-match meals, warm up routines as well as personnel changes.

Lewes manager Darren Freeman has been used to winning both as a player and a manager.  He has a formula as to the type of player that he wants to see pull on the red and black shirt each week.  Coming into the club where it was already in the bottom four and three months into the season, his marginal gains are a lot tougher to deliver. But that doesn’t stop him trying.  There’s not going to be one single event that can turn the current situation into a rosier one – unless half a dozen teams all play ineligible players for 5 or 6 games in which they win and get 15 point deductions.  So the club has to look at improving marginally, and more importantly, within budget, in a multitude of areas.  Obviously, players will come and go such as this week where a new winger and a new centre-forward have come in, replacing an existing proven scorer.  Unusually, the net effect of the transfer dealings is financially positive.  Two for the price of one – a marginal gain in terms of squad numbers.

Fans obviously play a part as well.  Any Brighton & Hove Albion supporters heading back to Lewes that could be enticed in, irrespective of the price they pay should lead to a marginal financial gain.  The cost of admitting one extra fan is essentially zero.  There is a stewarding cost, but you can only set that prior to the game based on what you think the crowd would be.  If an additional 1,000 fans turned up today it would cost the club nothing extra but we would gain from whatever they pay through the turnstile and then food/drink/merchandise and so on.  That revenue would then boost the budget which would then be re-invested in different aspects of the club and thus delivering that marginal gain.

PastedGraphic-2-page-001It’s fair to say that the biggest marginal gain from today’s game though would be three points.  In fact, anything less than three points would be a significant blow to the club.  Farnborough’s off the field problems are well documented, falling from being just one game away from the Conference Premier four years ago to facing expulsion from the league.  We’ve been there and know how the fans pain feels, knowing that their fate is often out of their hands.  But for today it would be all about the Lewes win.  Still without a home win this season, Lewes could at least look to Farnborough’s away record of drawn one, lost ten as a positive omen.

The marginal gains philosophy and approach is  hardly rocket science. It’s a simple idea, but with many simple ideas, takes some energy, commitment and discipline to see the positive results.  Alas those three words are often lost on fans who want immediate results.  As a club we have to balance both.

Lewes 1 Farnborough 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th December 2015
It has only taken 269 days but finally we have a home win to celebrate.  25th March was the last time we really got to dance a silly jog of delight on the Philcox at the full-time whistle but yesterday we got that winning feeling again.  In terms of marginal gains the result was huge. We got 3 points, 3 more than the six teams above us.  In the grand scheme of things it makes little difference to the table or the threat of relegation, but we came out of the day the winner at the bottom end.

FullSizeRender (15)Farnborough were poor.  They lined up with a 5-3-2, failed to get one shot on goal, picked up five bookings and the only threat they posed was when Estonian striker Vastsuk threw himself to the ground in the penalty area and picked up a caution – interesting that we normally only see antics like that from players with league experience, and Vastsuk is no different, on loan from Reading.  Good to see the professional game teaching players the importance of ethics.

Lewes were good.  They started strongly and could have had a couple of goals (and at least one penalty) before Phil Appiah’s 25 yard blockbuster on the stroke of half-time put The Rooks in the lead.  By then the curse of the new striker had struck as George Landais limped off on his debut.  His replacement Trevor McCreadie was denied a penalty in the second half by yet another poor performance by the officials, being tripped in exactly the same spot as last week in the area.  OK, it wasn’t a vintage performance, probably not as convincing as last week’s draw against Leiston BUT you could see the 1%’s.  Winger Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe beat his man more frequently, the two centre-backs blocked more shots on the edge of the area, James Fraser looked a little more match fit.  Marginal gains.

So we danced all night to the best feeling ever.  Three points can make or break your weekend.  Hopefully the couple of dozen Brighton fans who decided to stick around after their painful first defeat of the season will have enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s, a slice of Christmas Pie and a goal worthy to win any game.

Economic Theory explained by Football – The Doom Cycle

In the last year I have written a number of articles trying to explain some common Economic Theories using football as a reference point.  Up until now they have all been hypothetical but today there is a real link between the theory and the reality that Lewes are currently experiencing.

The “Doom Cycle” is a phrase often used to refer to the current boom-bust-bailout structure of the financial sector that leads to economic crises.  The pain of the last few years is still too real for many people to have forgotten.  The Doom Cycle has been defined by The New York Times as: “a virtueless circle in which banks take ever-greater risks to boost returns”

In footballing terms, it means trying every possible variable to try and break a cycle of bad results.  Just like Lewes’s current run which has seen us exit all four cups and take just one point from the last fourteen Ryman Premier League games.  I think you could say that was a bad run of form.  Yet within that sequence there have been many positives.  Alas, football is a cruel game and failure to take chances when presented, or convert possession into something meaningful.  The virtueless circle where you try anything different, whether than is a formation, personnel, preparation or set pieces to find a win.  It is fair to say that you get to a point somewhere along the line where you will take any win, irrespective of how it comes.

“You can’t buy any luck when you are at the bottom” said someone to me at a League meeting last week.  Every club has sympathy with teams at the bottom (well, at least to your face), saying platitudes such as “your luck will turn” or “It will turn out alright”.  To those 23 other teams in our league they will hope we stay down at the bottom – after all it is one less position for them to worry out.  Last week at East Thurrock we felt the full effect of fate – three players ending up in hospital, one of which with a long-term injury just days after signing a contract plus a sending off that embarrassed the basic rule of refereeing about being impartial and not influenced by the actions of the teams.

CaptureAs results continue to be poor, crowd numbers fall.  Football fans are either unconditionally loyal (circa 20% of the fan base) or are results driven (70%) with 10% sitting somewhere in between.  When times are good, the crowds come and watch and spend money in the ground.  When scores go against you, those results-driven fans decide to spend their time and money elsewhere on a Saturday afternoon.  That is totally understandable.  Alas, when budgets are set at the start of the season you do not factor in being bottom of the league – you set realistic targets for average gate revenue and yield per spectator.  You can’t factor in those 2 or 3 big games that provide some extra insurance being postponed or being moved.  Today we were supposed to be welcoming Dulwich Hamlet and their army of beer-thirsty fans.  Instead they are in FA Trophy action.  With no disrespect to Leiston, but their dozen or so fans will not make up for the hundred or so from Dulwich.

So as results decline, so do the crowds and match day revenue.  To keep a balanced budget that means having to cut spending in other areas, which potentially impacts the performance of the team even further.  And so on – the club enters a Doom Cycle or a virtueless circle of short-term decline.  I think we have dispelled the myth now that the answer to any problem is to “increase the budget”.  Most fans understand that we are not in a position to do that.  We have our cloth, cut to size and we have to wear it.

Some fans have questioned the commitment and focus of the club, even suggesting that there is foul play at work on the board in how we manage the club’s finances.  It’s tough to have the answer the same questions time and time again, especially those around the budget.  There is no secret fund, piggy bag or plastic bag full of cash.  Sure, we could take money from elsewhere – not paying our electricity bill or income tax, but we’ve been there, done that.  Still some think that the responsibility of the individual board members is to constantly put their hand in their pocket.

The game would also see the launch of our new 12th Man scheme – a different approach to adding to the first team budget.  Launched at 12:12pm on the 12th of the 12th (clever, eh?) the concept has been used with some success elsewhere but even this initiative was scorned upon by some fans on Social Media – suggesting that the move was an admission of failure and neglect from the board for not putting in money the club didn’t have into the budget. Sometimes I truly wonder whether the stress is really worth it.

Of course, all of the pressure would be worth it if we could grab that first win at home this season.  It would be nice for once to head home with a smile on my face.

Lewes 1 Leiston 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 12th December 2015
This was one occasion when a draw felt like a win to the 370 Lewes fans in the ground (plus 25 Dulwich Hamlet ones – more on that later).  Seven minutes into injury time and Lewes launched a final ball into the box, looking for a goal that their pressure deserved.  The ball must have hit every player, bar Lewes keeper Winterton in the box before James Fraser got a final touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The outpouring of emotion was clear to see.  There was no time to restart the game, alas as I genuinely thought we could go onto win the game.

For 93 minutes of this encounter The Rooks had dominated play.  Unfortunately, the same old issue haunted the team in the opening few minutes – a failure to clear the ball, a missed tackle and an opponent left unmarked.  The result? 1-0 down after 4 minutes 43 seconds.

image1The strong wind certainly played into Lewes’s favour in the first half but no matter how many times the ball went into the box, there was never a head or a foot on the end.  Last week a fellow Ryman League chairman made a valid point.  “The reason why week after week we have poor officials is that anyone with any potential is fast-tracked up the leagues, so we are left with those who will never get any better” Those words echoed around the terrace when the officials failed to see a clear push on Pacquette in the first half when he looked to get on the end of a Redwood cross, and more clear-cut, failing to see that McCreadie was fouled in the box in the second half, despite the marks in the turf, giving a free-kick a yard outside.

The Rooks pressed in the second period, but once again the goal was leading a charmed life.  At the other end Winterton was an almost spectator.  This had been the story of the season – playing well for long periods but failing to convert possession into goals.  That’s not down to us being a community club, the beach huts or our match posters.  That’s down to not being able to find an out and out goalscorer.  In fact, that is something the club have been missing for years – someone who could score us 20 goals a season and probably win us 15/20 additional points.

I’m sure we all felt we had run out of time, but it was actually our opponents who gave us the goal.  Despite Leiston having a goal kick, one of their players decided to make a comment to the referee.  Cue long lecture and a yellow card, allowing us the additional time to score.  Thanks for that!

The whole crowd appreciated the point – even the 20-odd fans from Dulwich Hamlet who had come down for a stag do, arranged before their club’s progression in the FA Trophy and consequently the cancellation of our game with them.

Perhaps that goal was the tipping point for our season? The one moment where our luck changes.  We know that we are still in Intensive Care but for the first time in weeks we had a faint heartbeat.  Has the Doom Cycle been broken? Well, we will see in 7 days when fellow critically ill patient Farnborough arrive in East Sussex.

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.