The forgotten little brothers


Ferdinand, Wilkins, Rooney, Terry.  Legends in their own way I am sure you will agree.  But what if I was to tell you I was talking about Anton, Graham, John and Paul?  The siblings of Rio, Ray, Wayne and John?  Not quite in the legends bracket are they?  The same can be said for some clubs as well.  Whilst some towns and cities can boast two (or more) clubs playing at a professional level, other places in England have a definite big brother v little brother arrangement.

Norwich City v Norwich United
Last season was a good year for the two teams from Norwich.  Whilst City triumphantly returned to the land of milk and honey, beating Middlesbrough in the Play-off final at Wembley, United stormed to the Eastern Counties League Premier Division Title, finishing 26 points above 2nd place Godmanchester Rovers.  However, for a number of reasons the club declined promotion to the Ryman League.  United were originally formed as Poringland back in 1903, playing at the superbly named “The Gothic”.  They were renamed in 1987 and moved to their current home, Plantation Park back in 1990.  With United’s best run in the FA Cup coming last season when they made it to the Second Qualifying Round it may be some time before they meet in a competitive match.

Cambridge City v Cambridge United
Just a couple of seasons ago the two teams from Cambridge were separated by just one division as United were playing in the Conference Premier and City in the Conference South.  Today they are separated again by three divisions as United have returned to the Football League whilst City suffered enforced relegation in 2008 when their Milton Road ground failed a FA Inspection.  Worse was to come for City as they became embroiled in a legal battle over the ownership of the ground, which has now been demolished, forcing City to first groundshare with Newmarket Town, then Histon and now as of this season with St Ives Town. There will be playing in the Southern Premier League this season.

Oxford City v Oxford United
In recent times Lewes have actually played both City and United in competitive games, although few Rooks fans will want to remember our visits to the City of Spires as we lost in the Conference Premier back in 2009, then crashed out of the FA Trophy in November 2014 to Oxford City now playing in the Conference South as of this season after being shunted across from the North Division.  Last season City’s experiment of importing La Liga cast offs almost paid off as they finished just outside the playoffs, although the locals didn’t appear to warm to the experiment with crowds at Marsh Lane rarely broke the few hundred mark.  City were once managed by Bobby Moore, with Harry Redknapp as his assistant.

Lincoln City v Lincoln United
Whilst both Lincoln City and United play Non-League football, they are light years apart in terms of facilities.  Conference National City have the 10,000 capacity Sincil Bank with four almost new stands, perhaps a permenant sign of the excessive spending that caused their downfall out of the Football League, twice.  As each season passes, climbing out of the Conference becomes a harder and harder job, with last season’s 15th place finish a hard pill to swallow for many fans.  Travel West from Sincil Bank for a couple of miles and you will reach the leafy tranquillity of Ashby Avenue (or the more impressive Sunhat Villas & Resorts Stadium), home of The Amateurs, Lincoln United.  Currently played three levels below City in the Northern Premier League Division One South, their local derbies are against the likes of Goole AFC and Rainworth Miners Welfare in front of a hundred or so fans.

Ipswich Town v Ipswich Wanderers
In May 2013 Ipswich finally got their hands on a trophy in front of an excited crowd at Portman Road.  Ipswich Wanderers that it, not Town.  Wanderers won the Suffolk Senior Cup in that year on penalties in front of a crowd of 1,000.  Whilst The Tractor boys have been stuck in the Championship ploughed field for a decade, The Wanderers are on the up.  They were promoted back to the Eastern Counties League Premier Division in 2014 and finished last season in 9th place.  Their chairman is a familiar name to some – Terry Fenwick – the man who decided not to tackle Diego Maradona when he scored “that” goal in the 1986 World Cup Quarter-Final.  If only he did perhaps he could have now been chairman of Ipswich Town.

There are others of course.  Swindon Town may consider their local rivals to be Oxford United or Bristol City but Swindon Supermarine, the original works team from the Supermarine airplane company, will have a different opinion.  Southend United fans may think that their local rivals are Colchester United but what about Essex Senior League Southend Manor?  There was a story a few years ago about a disillusioned Newcastle United fan deciding to turn his back on St James’ Park and support Newcastle Town.  The only problem with this one is that the teams play 191 miles apart – Newcastle Town are based in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

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No sixth sense in the FA Trophy


15726618097_9f4d2dcc05_k (1)When the fixtures are released each summer we instinctively look for when we will be able to visit somewhere new.  A new ground, new pubs, new fans to banter with, new pubs, new cultural experiences and of course, new pubs. When you’ve been in the same division, like Lewes, for a number of years the excitement of visiting Margate on New Years Day or Leiston on the 6th January doesn’t really cut the mustard.  As much as we love wandering along the seafront with Tel wearing his “kiss me quick” hat, or watching Deaksy’s hair stand on end as we near The Vulcan opposite Sizewell B nuclear reactor, we want to try something new.

This season we have already visited the delights of Witham (twice), where the main attraction is the Olly Muirs walk of fame (being the town and football club’s most famous son), Tonbridge Angels and our old friends at Leatherhead.  We still have the delights of Crayford in the spring to come when we visit VCD Athletic for the first time as well as a very short hop over the downs to Peacehaven & Telscombe.

Of course the real excitement comes when the respective cup draws are made.  Our run in the FA Cup lasted all but as we crashed out away at Witham Town. The Ryman League Cup saw a home defeat to Peacehaven & Telscombe.  A home victory in the Sussex Senior Cup versus Brighton & Hove Albion has seen us drawn away at Horsham YMCA, a ground we’ve visited on many occasions.  But in the FA Trophy is where our current interest lays. Not that there are thousands of pounds at stake for each round we reach – oh no, it’s not all about the money at all.

After a 3-2 win at Heybridge Swifts on Tuesday night, Lewes would be travelling to Oxford City of the Conference North.  Finally, a proper away day.  No disrespect to Witham or Heybridge, but the local hostelries can’t really hold a candle to the dreaming spires of the land of Morse, Bannister and Lawrenson.  The Lewes Lunatic fringe would be out in full force for this one, with Linda having the job of making extra rounds of cheese and pickle for the long train journey.

Whilst we were all excited about the big day out, it was water off a duck’s back to our Vice-President, Terry Parris. “Did I tell you about the time Bobby Moore offered to put my disclosed finger back in place at Oxford City, Stu?” Now that’s a way to start a conversation.  For those who don’t know Terry then you obviously don’t know anything about Non-League football.  Terry has held virtually every position in the Lewes team and subsequently in the club itself,  He’s played more games than anyone else in the club’s 129 year history (over 650 times), managed the club, been the groundsman, commercial manager, secretary and even run the line.  He has the east terrace at the ground named after him and until last month was the club’s chairman.  He is full of stories that would put some of the banal, bland best-seller “expose’s” of today’s players to shame.

Back in the early 1980’s, a new chairman took over at Oxford City.  Jealous of the success of United on the other side of town, who were just starting their march up the divisions that would ultimately see them winning the League Cup at Wembley, the then chairman managed to persuade former England captain and one of the legends of the English game, Bobby Moore to manage the club.  City had just been relegated to the Isthmian Second Division and played Lewes for the first ever time in 1980/81.  Moore recruited a former team-mate from West Ham to be assistant, a young chirpy chap called Harry Redknapp.  In the game in February 1981 against Lewes, Terry managed to injury his finger and ever the gentlemen, Moore offered to put it back into place.  Terry declined and headed to hospital, although Moore still took the time after the 3-0 defeat to find out how he was later in the evening.

15911801292_1e0dfbe78a_zToday City haven’t really met the expectations set 35 years ago.  Playing in the second tier of Non-League football is the highest level they’ve played at. Whilst they came within touching distance of neighbours United a few seasons ago during their brief foray into the Non-Leagues, they are still miles away in and off the pitch today.  Whilst both clubs have moved to new stadiums, the money pumped into United by former owner Kassam has seen them take up residence in a 12,500 seater stadium in whilst City have moved to a very rural location close by the A40 – by rural we mean there are no pubs within a 15 minute walk.

Promotion to this level has been bitter-sweet for City. Every club wants to progress but being bumped into Conference North must be hard to stomach.  Whilst they have localish games at Worcester City (45miles) and Gloucester City (47 miles) away trips to Barrow (250 miles), Harrogate (190 miles) and Fylde (180 miles) put a huge burden on the club.  Incidentally, Maidenhead United and Wealdstone (40 and 42 miles away respectively) are their nearest Conference rivals, both playing in the Conference South.  With average attendances rarely breaking the 400 mark, there is a big price tag on progress and the club should be applauded for doing everything they have not only to hold their own in the league but to start to push for the play-off spot.

The odds certainly appeared to be stacked against Lewes.  However, a seven game unbeaten run had given everyone at the club confidence despite a mounting injury crisis that would have seen both Baz Collins and Big Deaksy in the squad for the game if they hadn’t both been cup-tied after playing for Lewes on FIFA14 (damn rules, as Club Sec Kev told them). Avoiding defeat here would mean we would have remained unbeaten for a whole calendar month – the last time that had happened was in June when we didn’t play anyone.

We would travel to parts we’d never traveled to before with hope in our hearts, a bellyful of ale and pockets full of Scotch eggs. There is nothing better than a proper football awayday.  There was talk of a coach, rosettes, a special squad-sung version of Sussex By The Sea to mark the occasion but that would be presumptuous (and we’ve heard Nathan Crabb sing!).

Saturday morning, London Paddington station.  As we wait for the 11:15 Great Western service to Great Malvern via Honeybourne, Charlbury and Pershore, we see other groups of fans.  We are all a band of brothers, off to do our bit for our own clubs.  It doesn’t matter what race, sex, creed or colour we are, we are all football fans, prepared to travel to the four corners of this country to support our team, even if they are a step seven club like Lewes. Alas our attempts to engage with Crystal Palace fans on their way to Swansea didn’t work – “who are you?”, “small town in Brighton” and “you’re going to get your head kicked in” suggested that perhaps we weren’t as welcome as we thought we would be.  Even the Met Police fan heading to their game at Maidenhead blanked us.

Deaksy had done his research and eight minutes after getting off the train, we were in pub number 1 – The Four Candles (not to be confused with the Fork Handles obviously).  37 minutes later we were in the Grapes and then 26 minutes after that, Far From The Maddening Crowd.  Military precision from Deaks.

Marsh Lane is some distance from the city centre – a £10 cab ride distance to be precise.  It seemed that few of the locals had been gripped by FA Trophy fever, and as the two sides took the pitch a quick scan of the ground saw less than 100 fans ready for the game.

Oxford City 6 Lewes 1 – Marsh Lane – Saturday 29th November 2014
15911798662_b10d63841c_kOK – let’s start with the positives.  The City Banger, a roll with three local sausages in for just £2.50 was outstanding.  We ate about a dozen between us.  The Lewes support was close on a third of the whole attendance and we scored a goal.  They were my three positives.  That’s not to say the rest of the afternoon was bad – we were clinically undone by a team who play in a way that is alien to our lowly Non-League position.  What was interesting was hearing some of the comments of the locals who didn’t particularly like the number of overseas players being brought into the club under Head Coach Enrique Guillen.  The starting XI contained five Spanish players, brought in by Guillen.  Talking to some of the fans it seemed that not everyone was happy with the direction the club were going in.  Could some external forces be pulling the strings here?

Oxford City have a style of play that either reduces teams to gibbering wrecks, or is like defending the Alamo.  A 1-8 home defeat to Fylde earlier this season was proceeded by a 7-2 away win the following week at Boston United.  5-0 away win at Bradford Park Avenue, then a 4-0 defeat to Guiseley seven days later.  Today they were on the back foot from the first minute and Lewes had two golden chances to take the lead in the first five minutes.  Ten minutes later and Oxford City were 3-0 up.  Fast, counter attacking play, moving the ball from wing to wing that undid our 3-5-2 formation.

15290184084_9c7d6db89d_bBut then Lewes came back into it, forcing the Oxford defence onto the back foot.  Nicky Wheeler’s excellent effort reduced the arrears and a few minutes later his lob looked to have made it 3-2.  Lewes certainly ended the half on top.  But less than five minutes after the restart we were 4-1 down – again another fast counter attack and the ball was in the back of the net.

That goal was the final nail in the coffin. We pushed forward more in hope than anything else and did force the keeper to make a couple of smart saves. However, two further goals by Isaac and Benjamin gave the final score an unfair look.  Oxford has certainly been the better side but not by a five goal margin.  But that’s football. It had been a decent day out and we can have no complaints at the result.  Now it is all about Wednesday night and the visit to the Pan of bottom of the table Bury Town.

Oxford City fans Hoping for Return to the Big Time


Many non-league football fans dream of a situation like this: a Wall Street millionaire plucking their club from obscurity and securing their financial future for years to come.

2wcfrk6It seems pretty unlikely but that is exactly what has happened to Conference North outfit, Oxford City, who are now owned by Flordia businessman, Thomas Anthony Guerriero.

Given that even the most ardent football fan would struggle to name the second team in Oxford (no offence City fans) the acquisition of the club may have got a few City supporters excited but also a bit nervous.

Football fans in the city might get a sense of déjà vu reading about Guerriero’s arrival. ‘Wealthy businessman promises moon on a stick to football club’ has played out in the town once before. Continue reading