Tales from a Non-League Chairman – Part 7 – If…


“If you can keep your cool when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming results on you,
If you can trust yourself when all fans moan at you,
But don’t slag them off for their moaning too;
If you can wait for an away win and not be tired by waiting,
Or talking your chances up but dealing in lies,
Or being hated, yet don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too smart, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream of an FA Cup run and not make that dream your master;
If you can imagine a 3rd Round home tie and not make gate receipts your aim;
If you can meet with floodlight failure and waterlogged disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by local journalists to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the players you rely on, on the floor broken,
Whilst the poor officials obviously don’t know the rules:

If you can make one gamble with half your weekly budget
And risk it on one big name ex-Premier League midfield boss
And see him break down on his debut, and have to think again
Or smile outwardly after their mistake causes another loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To stay behind the goal in the rain long after the others have gone,
And hold on when there is no warmth left in you
Because nobody else will shout at your winger to warn him: “Man on!”

If you can stand on the Jungle and keep your pint safe,
Or talk with Kingy—remembering the common touch,
If neither fanzines nor the Philcox chants can hurt you,
If all fans count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving half time break
With fifteen minutes worth of Non-League boardroom small talk,
Yours is the Dripping Pan and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be the chairman, my son”

With thanks to Kipling (Ruyard, not Mr) for the original words.

So T-minus 3 for the Rooks.  In fifteen days time we will know our fate. 270 minutes of football.  At this stage of the season every fan studies the results for hours, looking for any little chink of hope.  We couldn’t have asked for a better Bank Holiday with the win at Bognor Regis Town, but now we had to do it all again.  Whilst being a fan at the business end of the season can be a very nervous time, being a fan and a chairman is certainly something I wouldn’t recommend for the feint-hearted.

17110644981_6a09bf1e96_zOf course, we had done our homework, having our opponents Met Police watched, choosing their 5-0 home win against East Thurrock United last week as the basis for our preparations.  The scouting report wasn’t overly positive about their performance in that game, yet they still scored five times without reply.  I’d hate to think what it would read like if they played well!  Scouting reports are essential for preparation at this level.  Last year I tried to explain the art of scouting opponents but at this level literally anything can happen to a player or a team in a matter of hours, so often all of that hard work goes out the window.  I rang two managers I have contact details of in my phone (don’t ask why…) and got their opinion.  Both had played Met Police in recent weeks, both had recorded positive results against them and both told me two completely ways that they would set themselves up against them.

The math was simple as we looked optimistically into our pints in the Marney’s Village Inn.  Win here and it would take a freak set of results for us to be heading, quite literally, South next season.  A draw and we would be 75% safe but a defeat?  Well, that would potentially drag us down into the dark depths of the bottom of the table.  We don’t mention the R word at board meetings but it is there.  We can all feel it, hiding in the darkness, laughing at us when we talk about plans for next season.  To paraphrase Stephen King:-

“Monsters are real.  Ghosts are real.  Relegation is real.  They exist and they all live inside us.  And sometimes they win”

Metropolitan Police 2 Lewes 0 – Imber Court – Saturday 11th April 2015
16903909027_2be2d93db1_z“Just bloody score Wingate” was the most popular phrase uttered during the second half of the game. A group of grown men, all huddled together looking at their mobile phone screens.  I often tell me daughters off for anti-social behaviour such as this but this was different.  If we all looked hard enough at the same latest score page then surely Wingate would score and our precarious position might become a little easier.  Of course, the opposite happened.  VCD Athletic scored again to double their lead and with it climbed out of the bottom four for the first time since September.  The gap between us and the drop zone was now just 3 points.

By this point we had come to realise it wasn’t our day.  Try as we might, and we did mightily try in the second half, we simply couldn’t find the Met Police net.  Even the referee wasn’t playing ball, denying us a clear-cut penalty for hand ball on the hour mark.  So much for the reports we had received,  that suggested Hudson-Odoi looked disinterested and Reid was goal-shy.  In the space of three first half minutes they combined twice to give the home side what transpired to be an unassailable lead.

17111288455_4a23383d61_zWe came in hope rather than expectation, enjoying the sunshine for the second away trip in six days, and once again provided a large proportion of the total attendance.  In this case it was 37 fans out of a total of 85.  It is hard to believe that it is still possible for Met Police to be playing in the Conference South in just a few months time, with this win doing their late play-off charge no harm at all.  Yet, no more than a few dozen fans come to watch them.  You can’t fault the facilities at Imber Court, although the strict rule that guests had to be wearing a jacket and tie to enter the board room (in theory you could wander in wearing shorts and flip-flops as long as you had a tie and jacket on) does seem quite formal for the confines of the Ryman Premier League.  Fortunately, a board member, seeing my predicament, or mores to the point, Club Sec Kev taking the piss because he could go in and I couldn’t, came out with a plate of sandwiches for me.

Other results were OK – we are one of nine teams that could still be relegated, although three of the four sides in the drop zone can no longer catch us.  Next Saturday, when the Rooks host Leatherhead looking for those vital three points, I will be in the Stadion Gorče Petrov watching Makedoniha GJP take on Vrapciste.  Whilst my head will be filled with the delights of Skopje and Macedonia, my heart will be 1,500 miles away at The Dripping Pan.

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Arrested development


Lewes v Met Police 2013 NLDIn the space of four years, Non League Day has become a fixture in our footballing calendar. Today, even Premier League fans are starting to realise that there is life outside of the sanitised environs of the greediest league in the world, and for the price of a Premier League burger, you can actually see a whole 90 minute match, standing where you want and even, whisper it quietly, in some ground, having a beer whilst the game is going on. For us Non-League fans there isn’t really anything special about the game this weekend. After all, every week is a Non-League Day. We don’t need to be converted, we saw the light some years ago. However, this year, against the backdrop of a record shopping spree by English clubs during the transfer window, it appears that even the big clubs are realising that they can help out their little neighbours by putting an advert in their programme or on their website for games this weekend. Even Sky Sports have got in on the act, spending some time down at The Pan this week understand what Non-League football is all about and why it offers such a cathartic alternative to the Premier League.

However, could the footballing authorities done more to help the Non-League game? Absolutely. Off the top of my head, how about these three ideas:-

1. With no Match Of The Day on the BBC on Saturday night, why don’t they take the cameras to three or four Non-League games this weekend? What a perfect showcase for the game. Every club has a story to tell, whether it is about famous fans, charming grounds or simply the Non-League fans themselves.

2. With three international “double-headers” per season, why don’t Premier League and Championship clubs play friendlies against local Non-League sides? After all, with squad sizes of 40 or more first team players, even the top sides would only lose half of their squad to international duty. So instead of them going on an extended binge, why not take a side down the road to play against their local Non-League side? The squad would get a decent run out and the Non-League club would get a massive revenue boost from an additional game which would likely bring in higher than average attendances. West Ham playing a friendly against Ilford, Clapton or Barking would keep the club afloat potentially for a couple of seasons.

3. What about Sky scrapping the charging model for its services for clubs that mean that the monthly subscription for Sky Sports is based on the rateable value of the ground. NOT the actual club house, but the ground, meaning that for a club like Lewes, Sky Sports would cost us over £850 PER MONTH. Just up the road, the Brewers Arms has a much lower rateable value, as it is significantly smaller than The Dripping Pan and so fans go there to watch their lunchtime game, spending money over the bar which could have gone towards the club coffers. Fanciful? Well, it seems BT Sport have the right idea, offering a flat rate of less than a quarter of the cost of Sky Sports. Continue reading

All in the line of duty


“All Police leave cancelled”…That was the message pinned up to the notice board at Imber Court two weeks ago.  The Notting Hill carnival was in town and worried about the risk of a repeat in the “civil disorder” all spare members of the police in London were put on standby.  This meant that Met Police’s games versus Wingate & Finchley and Leatherhead were moved.  Despite what people may think, there is no longer any requirement for the team to be made up of serving police officers but the administrative staff at Imber Court, the home of the Met Police Sports and Social club are.

Met Police are not the best supported team in the league, you may be surprised to know.  Last season they averaged 123 and in their opening game this season it was less than 100.  The majority of most attendances are away fans.  But does that impact the players?  Not one bit.  They play football at this level because they love the game. Continue reading