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.

The Ayr that I breathe

Standing in the pouring rain on a terrace that has seen better days watching Scottish third tier football doesn’t sound like a particular fun way to spend an early Saturday evening but unless you’ve experienced the raw beauty of Somerset Park in Ayr then your life cannot be considered complete.  Add in a greasy Scotch Pie and a mug of instant coffee and perhaps I’m beginning to wear you down.  Up there with my wedding day.

My plan for this weekend had originally involved three games, two Scottish Premier League ones and then a trip to round the weekend off at Somerset Park with their kick off being handily moved to later in the day to accommodate the TV cameras.  That was until the latest Storm (Storm Roger or something like that) hit Glasgow and my plans had to be rapidly re-arranged.  My saving grace was that I had decided to hire a car on arrival at Glasgow airport, meaning not only could I see how many Magic Doors I could find (five in two days since you asked) but was able to put Plan B into full effect.

FullSizeRender (3)That meant a trip down to Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on Friday rather than Saturday, to watch rugby. Never has there been a more apt name for a stadium, bar Stamford Bridge hosting the world Rubber Bridge championships.  Two trips to Scotland’s Most Improved Town (does that mean it was really really bad before, or that the improvement has been so good?) would be a bit excessive even if the opportunity for double Killie Pie was on offer.  Friday night’s rugby was a decent affair though, watched by almost double the number who would watch Kilmarnock take on Dundee on Saturday afternoon.  Should you be that way inclined, feel free to have a read of my report on that excellent website The Ball is Oval.

An early start on Saturday meant that I could complete a circuit of the surrounding area of Glasgow before heading down to Paisley for the first game of the day.  In the course of four hours I managed to visit Airdrieonians, Alloa Athletic, Albion Rovers, Clyde, Stirling Albion, Dumbarton and Morton’s grounds with a brief scenic detour to Loch Lomond Shores somewhere in between.  What was quite interesting was three of these grounds (Airdrie, Alloa Athletic and Clyde) had various Saturday morning kids coaching sessions going on, utilising the 3G facilities to full use.  Whilst the national side may be in the doldrums at the moment, the focus on youth development and the availability of facilities is something that can only benefit the development of the game and players in due course.  I watched a pitch inspection at Albion Rovers fail to convince the referee the pitch was playable and was given a guided tour of Cappielow Park, one of the best old-school grounds I have ever visited (see my pictorial highlights here).


The rain hadn’t let up all day until I parked just a stones throw from St Mirren Park in Paisley.  Sunshine welcomed me to Renfrewshire’s biggest town, Paisley, birthplace of Gerard Butler, residence in his youth of David Tennant and famed for the Paisley Snail, a historic case in British Legal history, setting the precedent of modern Tort Law.  But today it was all about football.  St Mirren can lay claim to something that no other club can in British football.  They own two football stadiums.  Their old Love Street ground, vacated seven years ago is still standing after repeated planning requests for the redevelopment have been turned dow, whilst the club have moved around three-quarters of a mile westwards down Murray Street to the smart, if relatively character-less St Mirren Park.

St Mirren 1 Dumbarton 0 – St Mirren Park – Saturday 20th February 2016 3pm
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On 37 minutes something strange happened that caused players, managers and the fans to stop and wonder what was going on.  The sun came out.  It was probably the highlight of a tepid first half that the visitors could probably say they dominated with midfielder Grant Gallagher the stand-out man.  St Mirren did have the ball in the net in the first half with a corner that appeared to catch the jet stream and beat the Dumbarton keeper all ends up.  The referee obviously felt it was a tad unfair and blew for an imaginary foul.

The game sprang into life early in the second half.  Well, the one moment that could be used as part of a highlights package happened just after the hour mark when Shankland played a decent one-two that put him in the clear and he made no mistake.  The visitors tried to rally but the effective St Mirren defence held firm and take all three points to keep alive their chances of a Play-off spot at the end of the season.  Actually, in all honesty I missed the last twenty-five minutes of the match as I headed back to the car in readiness for the main event of the day happening some 33 miles due south-west.

Ayr United 2 Forfar Athletic 1 – Somerset Park – Saturday 20th February 2016 5:15pm
I made it to Somerset Park with five minutes to spare, finding a parking spot slap-bang outside the turnstiles.  From the outside the ground looked brilliant – such a contrast to St Mirren Park and some of the other grounds I had visited during the day.  The TV cameras were in town for this clash so everyone was on their best behaviour, suited, booted and well turned out.  It’s something that Ayr is used to, still smug from winning the coveted 2014 Royal Society for Public Health’s 2nd place in United Kingdom’s “healthiest High Street”, narrowly missing out on the title to Shrewsbury.

IMG_7650Scotch Pie in hand I headed to the open terrace.  I heard a rumour that Biffy Clyro’s lead singer, and resident of Ayr, Simon Neil was in the ground but to be honest, whilst liking their music, I wouldn’t recognise him from Adam.  This was proper football being played in a proper old ground.  The footballing world may have moved on but what’s the hurry down here in Scottish League One?  The club had one of the best stocked club shops known to man, a great covered terrace perfect for making a din and that Scotch Pie which outscored the Killie Pie in my complicated scoring system for football ground food.

The game itself was a decent affair.  The conditions made it an entertaining affair, especially when the rain really started to fall just as Ayr took the lead thanks to Ryan “Stevo” Stevenson’s header from a corner.  Half-time and another Scotch Pie?  Why not!

IMG_7627With a crowd of around 750 making the noise of 3,000 (apparently they have a mild dislike of Killmarnock in these parts), Ayr roared out for the second half but it was the visitors who drew level just after the hour mark when Ryan ran onto a smart through ball, dancing on the wet surface like a ballerina as he rounded the Ayr keeper and slotted home.  However, it was the Stevo show as the Ayr midfielder scored the winner ten minutes later with an overhead kick, again from another corner that was worthy of winning any game.

Ayr gets a massive thumbs up from the Football Tourist panel.  Give it a go…go on.

Conditional decisions

Up and down the country teams who haven’t had the best of starts to the season will be encouraged by the fact they come into the first game of the new year unbeaten in 2016. Yep, we’ve all said it, more out of hope that our team’s fortunes will miraculously change simply because the calendar has rather than through any other event. Of course, for those fans who follow a team in the top four leagues the prospect of the transfer window now being open brings the hope that you may sign someone who will turn your season around, or get an opportunity to offload someone who has been the root cause of your problems.

Down here in the seventh tier of English football we don’t have the same type of transfer window. Ours is more of a fly screen which can be opened at will. Few players at our level are on anything more than a nod and a wink contract, with the mystical 7 Day Approach process often the only thing standing between that key player shooting you up the table or seeing you fall through the relegation trap door. I don’t really deal with that side of footballing affairs. Give me a notebook, a pen and a little video camera and send me off to watch a game and I will give you a full tactical analysis of a team, their strengths and weaknesses, set-piece routines and quality of pies on a nicely presented PDF within 24 hours. But ask me which form needs to be signed by our new Spanish winger (no word of a lie by the way) and where to send it then I’m lost. Thank goodness for Club Sec Kev and his magic cardigans is all I will say.

Suffice to say that if someone puts in a “Seven Dayer” you have a week to convince the player to stay with you. My idea would be to play on the ‘caring, sharing’ perception of our fantastic community club. A bunch of flowers delivered to Mrs Centre Forward, some sweets for Holding Midfield junior or a case of Becks for Goalkeeper’s flat mate. It’s all very well the club’s chairman trying to lay on the charm but when it comes from their nearest and dearest it tends to resonate more.

Alas, it normally comes down to cash. You will have managers who are simply better negotiators and persuaders than others but nothing peaks the interest of a footballer than money, especially at this level of the game. By money I also mean opportunity costs – the reduced time (and cost) of getting to training, the fact we never fail to pay players on time, that we have a very cool shirt manufacturer and sponsor.

But back to today. It’s the start of a New Year and a win could put us top of the first 2016 table. Well, when you’ve had such a desperate 2015 you will cling to any hope.

FullSizeRender (25)The first victory of the day was over the elements. Heavy rain overnight may have dampened the pitch but not the spirit of everyone at the club. Alas, in true Lewes style the elements rallied and scored a late equaliser. At 1pm when the referee arrived, the pitch was playable. At 1.45pm after over half an hour of heavy rain it wasn’t. By the time I arrived at 2pm and congratulated myself at being able to park outside the ground for the first time this season fans were heading in the opposite direction.

At 9am the pitch was playable. At 11am it was almost good enough for a garden party. At 1pm when the officials arrived it could have hosted world championship bowls. Then it started to rain….and rain…and rain. At 1.45pm the referee decided that the conditions were bad enough to warrant an inspection, and consequently, postponed it. “You should have communicated the game was in doubt” said one fan. But the game was never in doubt until the referee said it was. Five minutes later it was called off. You can’t make decisions on contingent liabilities. The heavy rain was forecast from 9am. It didn’t materialise until 1pm. Of course, we could have communicated that the 3pm kick off was subject to final approval of the officials but then that’s the same for any game. The pitch could be too hard, the snow could obliterate the lines on the pitch, the wind could cause structural damage, the ice could make spectating areas dangerous. Only the referee can determine how the weather conditions impact on the game. I totally get the frustration of anyone who travelled to the game but we could only work with absolute facts and not what ifs.

FullSizeRender (25)So instead of watching The Rooks I headed down the road, along with a fair few other Rooks fans plus a smattering of Whitehawk fans also without a game, to watch over the young ex-Rooks (Peacehaven & Telscombe) play older ex-Rooks (Hastings United). Not quite the afternoon I had in mind but having travelled so far, I couldn’t go home empty-handed.

Peacehaven & Telscombe 0 Hastings United 4 – The Sports Park – Saturday 2nd January 2016
Just before Christmas, Peacehaven announced that they were going to cut their playing budget. The announcement went on to explain that the decision, whilst a very difficult one to make knowing the potential ramifications for the team, was in the best interests of the club. Most of the senior, and potentially bigger weekly earners had departed, leaving manager Simon Colbran with a very young squad. However, despite their age and experience, and Colbran’s absence due to illness, Peacehaven put up a strong fight against a Hastings side who would still consider a play-off spot as a realistic ambition this year.

FullSizeRender (26)With the postponement of both Lewes’s and Whitehawk’s games, Peacehaven saw a significant increase in spectators – we simply cannot deal with a Saturday afternoon without our football – which hopefully translates into some additional cash into the budget for them.  The 250-odd fans will have seen a decent, open game, played in testing conditions.  Peacehaven certainly had their chances to equalise Billy Medlock’s early goal for Hastings in the first half, hitting the bar and missing a couple of great opportunities.  Players slipped and slid around the muddy pitch, with the referee letting the game flow as much as possible.  Hastings scored a second when former Rook Sam Cole finished off an excellent move that ripped apart the home defence to give them a comfortable lead at half-time.

The second half saw Hastings dominate, with conditions worsening.  The Peacehaven keeper struggled to stay on his feet on many occasions but he could do little with the two late goals.  First, a Sam Adams free-kick seemed to stick in the air due to the wind, and despite trying to re-judge where the ball would finally come back to earth, it slipped from his grasp and Richardson-Brown tapped home.  The scoring was complete when Cumming-Bart shot from the edge of the area after some neat build up play.

Whilst Hastings walked away with three points, Peacehaven can also pride themselves on being winners.  Not only did they manage to get the game on (or perhaps have a referee who wanted to officiate a game despite the conditions) but they also competed for long periods with a team short on experience and age.

Pitch perfect

harrow_2013-282x400It may have escaped the attentions of thousands of football fans in England who get their kicks watching the Premier and Football League in recent weeks, but us little old Non-League clubs haven’t had a good Christmas or New Year.  The persistent rain in the past 4 weeks has seen Lewes lose four league games to the weather, including the two money-spinning Christmas home games against AFC Hornchurch and Maidstone United.  The latter game on New Year’s Day would have seen the first, and almost certainly, only four figure crowd at The Pan this season.  We can say with some confidence that the postponement of that game alone will have cost the club thousands of pounds which we have no way of getting back.

But today is a story of unsung heroes.  Throughout the last few weeks our Pitch Team, brothers Jack and Joe, along with our General Manager and Club Sec Kev and put in hours at all times of day and night to get pitches ready.  Super human effort on New Year’s Eve trying to clear the pitch of water when everyone else was tucking into their JaegerBombs went unthanked by the weather as just as they had got the grass in shape, another deluge overnight made it unplayable. Continue reading

Too wet to close the bloody roof

Wednesday 20th February 2009. That’s a date I will never forget. Toothache can strike at any time, but when it starts suddenly whilst on a high-speed train cutting through the barren lands of Castilla La Mancha in Spain you really are stuffed. No access to a dentist there, no pharmacies selling painkillers and none of those old fashion door handles where you can loop a shoelace around to yank the offending tooth out with.

I was heading to Andalusia, Seville to be more precise, to watch England take on European Champions and World Cup favourites, Spain. It was also the last time I would travel to watch England abroad I had decided. I had grown weary of the endless suspicion, the security checks, the hassle of travelling abroad following a team involves. I’d also got fed up of the way our own FA had been running the game at all levels for years so just decided to give it up. The toothache, whilst I can never blame John Terry personally for my current condition, was the last straw. Away trips couldn’t get any worse, could they?

There had been good times. Representing (and managing) my country in Macedonia as the England Fans Veterans XI lost 5-1 to a team LIVE on Balkan TV who would later that same season qualify for the then UEFA Cup. Of course Germany 2006 was probably the pinnacle for most fans. It couldn’t get any better than that. And it didn’t. Zagreb in October 2006 was a nightmare – poorly organised, terribly treated and an awful performance. Paying the best part of £500 to go on a day trip to Tel Aviv to watch one of the dullest games of football ever didn’t help my mood either. For every Minsk there was a Barcelona, Berlin a Moscow. Slowly the other fans I used to travel with also started giving it up. Rob the Red, Paul Knight and even Dagenham Dan. When he gives something football related up you know it’s time to re-assess the future.

I saw the game last year in Copenhagen but that doesn’t really count as a) I was in the press section and b) I was living a 15 minute walk away from Parken at the time. Oh no, come renewal time in July I kept the cheque book in the drawer.

But then a little voice in that same drawer started talking to me. “Mmmmm…new stadium in Warsaw. Shiny and new. Stockholm…the new Friends Arena. Just a goal kick away from the office – you have to go there to do some training. And Airmiles. You have thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands…waiting to use on venues like, well Warsaw and Stockholm to start.” And then the email arrived…”It’s still not too late to be cheering on Roy’s Boys in the new National Stadium in Warsaw.” I swear that the email had hidden HTML subliminal advertising because before I knew I had paid my £70 renewal fee, booked my flights and dug out my Zloty’s. Time to broach the subject with CMF – extra special petrol station flowers for this one I felt. Continue reading