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.

A Christian Cracker

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  That is unless you are an out of work football manager.  Just two weeks ago Tooting & Mitcham United parted company with ex-Sheffield United player Mark Beard as their manager.  The life of a non league manager is a perilous one that is for sure.  Whilst the tenure of a league manager is at its all time low of 1.5 years, the non leagues tend to be even harsher.  Few managers below the Blue Square Bet Premier enjoy contracts in length of more than a season.  There is no loyalty in football, simple as.

The Terrors came into the Christmas special with Lewes on a horrendous run.  One point from their last eight league games, and twenty-three goals conceded put them firmly at the bottom of the current form table.  Despite Mark Beard being a “good all round chap”, any club owner would be compelled to act in such circumstances, mores the pity, especially when a new board had just taken over the club with grand plans that included “League Two football in a 14,000 seater stadium within 10 years”.

The non leagues are littered with clubs who thought they could change the world.  Few clubs have ever made it – Yeovil Town’s rise was built on being the biggest club in a huge catchment area, coupled with a well run club.  Accrington’s rebirth on community spirit and even Crawley Town had plied their trade in the Conference Premier for a number of years before the money appeared.  Whilst I admire the ambition of any club (and being a director of Lewes I know what our ambition is), there is a sense that someone needs to just remind them of reality.

They currently get crowds hovering around the 300 mark, sitting at the apex of a triangle with Sutton United and Carshalton Athletic just a couple of miles away, whilst AFC Wimbledon are just five miles to the west.  With thousands of people sitting on the doorstep you have to wonder why they haven’t been through the gates of The Hub (as their ground complex is called).

With their new owners came a new manager.  Kenny Brown, son of the legendary West Ham defender and Norwich City manager Ken, was last seen in the non league game at Grays Athletic working alongside Julian Dicks.  Kenny once cost Manchester United the league title with a goal for West Ham against them in April 1992 which handed the momentum to Leeds United.

Brown joined the club just a few days ago and had already brought in a number of new faces, some of which who met for the first time on the coach down to Lewes.  With the Rooks recent form (apart from the blip last week against Concord Rangers) being white-hot, few would have backed anything apart from a home win.

With this being the last game before Christmas and to celebrate our nomination as the Best Football Blog at the NOPA’s (Well done to In Bed With Maradona for winning the award btw) we agreed to be Matchball sponsors for the day.  My special guest, Sarah “Hotscores” Flotel was to decide the man of the match.  Little did we know that the choice would be so easy.

Lewes 3 Tooting & Mitcham United 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 17th December 2011
At 3:12pm, five miles away at Falmer, Brighton & Hove Albion had been reduced to nine men.  “Blimey” was the collective comment on the Jungle terrace as Lewes battered Tooting & Mitcham United (hereby called TMUFC for brevity).  Less than an hour later the visitors would have gone one better than the Seagulls, playing out the final period of the game with just eight men.  Anyone looking from the outside in would assume this was a dirty game.  The truth was very different.

In one of those instances where the planets align, the game was being attended not only by the Sussex FA but also by a referee assessor putting undue pressure on the man in the middle Saul Kay.  That can be the only reason why the official was far too quick to take action in a game where there wasn’t a malicious tackle.

Lewes started as if they meant business, carrying on the attacking intent from Tuesday nights win at Carshalton Athletic.  Early in the game TMUFC keeper Darren Behcet was called into making a couple of saves from Malcolm and Harding.  In fact Behcet earnt top marks for his banter with the crowd all afternoon.  It is rare that keepers bother to interact with the crowd, but when they do it creates a bond, and the fans appreciate it.  Even when Christian Nanetti’s cross drifted over his head in the 45th minute to give Lewes the lead we couldn’t bring ourselves to mock him even though it had to be his fault.

By this stage TMUFC were already down to ten men.  Midfielder Charlie Dove went to challenge Nanetti in front of the benches and the linesman.  He didn’t leave the ground in the tackle, his studs were not showing and contact with Nanetti, who was already trying to hurdle the tackle, was minimal.  A yellow card would have been harsh, but Mr Kay pulled out a straight red.  Even the Lewes players put arms around Dove as he walked off the pitch.

The second half started with a bang as within a few seconds of the restart Malcolm hit the bar with a thunderous shot and Harding’s follow-up somehow being kept out by the TMUFC fullback on the line.  With Lewes camped firmly in the TMUFC half things went from bad to worse when Jordan Wilson received a second yellow for a very soft challenge.  With the possessionometer (that must be a Sky inspired word?) firmly in the red for Lewes, and the visitors now two men down  only a fool would have put a bet on TMUFC scoring the next goal, but that is exactly what happened when Charlie Stimson was unmarked (how?  We had two extra players!) at the far post and steered the ball home.

If it wasn’t for Rikki Banks in the Lewes goal TMUFC would have then taken the lead as he made two world-class saves in quick succession.  Were the wheels about to fall off the Lewes juggernaut?  Cometh the hour, cometh the little Italian wizard.  Finally Lewes realised that there was more room on the pitch and started feeding Nanetti.  With full back Terry Fennessy already on a yellow, and a trigger happy referee, he started to take on the full back at will, getting to the byline on a number of occasions without the final ball finding a home.

Then with twenty minutes to go Malcolm managed to get on the end of one of these runs and despite Behcet’s initial save, he followed it up to stab it home.  Number three came again from Nanetti’s byline insertions although he had decided to swap wings.  His low cross was smashed home by Alex Stavrinou to make it three with ten minutes still to play.

It was inevitable that Nanetti would taunt Fennessy once too often and the full back brought him down, earning his second yellow and TMUFC’s third red card.  Can they claim they were “cheated” as their fans thought?  There was no doubt every single incident was a foul and perhaps under another referee (not being assessed?) they would have finished with a couple more men on the field.

With a few minutes to go I had to make the call on Man of the Match.  Banks for his brilliant saves?  Max Hustwick for his outstanding defensive performance?  Matt Somner for his solid performance in the middle of the park?  Stavrinou for his box to box running?  There really could only be one choice…..The referee.  No sorry, Christian Nanetti scored one, made two, had a hand in three sendings off and still had the most bizarre haircut on the pitch.  The lad is a real talent and when he is on song like today there are few teams who would want to face him.

So Lewes go into the Christmas period with six wins in their last seven games, back in the playoff positions and having two home ties in the quarter finals of two cups there was reasons to be cheerful.  For the visitors?  One point from a possible twenty-seven, three suspensions pending and a new squad to bed in mean things look a bit Bob Scratchit.

More pictures from an interesting day can be found here.

The United front of Tooting and Mitcham

W H Smith

Wolfie Smith…The most lovable revolutionary in history, leader of the Tooting Popular Front.  Mitcham. Named after Robert Mitchum in honour of his fine performance in the 1944  film Mr Winkle goes to War.  Put them both together and what do you have? A united front, in fact a Tooting & Mitcham United.  It is amazing how the longer I write, the more tenuous my introductions can get.

Located in a golden triangle of Ryman Premier teams, you would think that business would be booming for Ryman Premier League Tooting & Mitcham United. Sutton United, just two miles to the south west seem to be nailed on for the title this year, and Carshalton Athletic two miles to the south east seem to be back on the way up after a season in the wilderness. So why isn’t the story from down the on Imperial Fields more positive? Continue reading