Making a point

12520209934_e738e1d69e_oIt’s Saturday and of course that means there isn’t a game for Lewes.  It actually could be any day of the week at the moment and the game wouldn’t be on.  The rules state that we actually had to wait until Friday to officially call the game off, although the persistent rain during the last week had left a lake the size of the a swimming pool across the pitch.

The latest postponement, the fifth in succession, means that the club have played just two games at the aptly named Dripping Pan since November.  Somehow, somewhere we have to fit in nine games that have now been postponed.  Lewes aren’t the worst hit team by any means – Grays Athletic have played four games less than us and are still in the Ryman League Cup.

The debate over 3G continues to rage with over 550 games now postponed in the Ryman League.  Whilst all of the clubs (bar Maidstone United and Harlow Town) are trying to think of ways to recover the revenues that they have lost, the Ryman League sit silently, waiting for someone to do something.  The one thing that is certain is that next season they will have to act differently.

12557923993_23bbba4781_oMost clubs and their fans expressed concern about the decision to increase the league size from 22 to 24 teams last year.  Winter’s have been harsh in the Non-Leagues in recent times, resulting in some huge fixture pile ups which devalue the whole point of playing a league over nine months.  The answer?  Well, we could opt out of the Ryman League Cup if we wanted – hardly a compromise in most club’s eyes.  Surely the most logical option would have been to start the season a week earlier (as the Football League did) or even extending the season into May (as the Football League do).  Common sense? Continue reading

Well and truly Stoned

Twenty five years is a lifetime in football.  Back in 1987/88 Liverpool were being crowned First Division Champions (this was pre-Sky of course), Luton Town were still plying their trade in the top division of English football and Swansea City were floundering in the 4th tier.  But a look at the GM Vauxhall Conference tells so many stories.  Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town and Barnet are the only current sides from that season now playing in the Football League, although a couple of others have tasted the sweet smell of promotion upwards.

Kettering Town, Enfield, Northwich Victoria, Runcorn, Telford United, Weymouth, Fisher Athletic, Boston United and Stafford Rangers – all teams who would give their first-born to be competing at that level again today.  All have been to the brink (and in the cases of a few of them, actually over the edge and re-incarnated themselves) and yet to recover.  And then there are the likes of Dagenham (before they found the Redbridge behind the sofa), Maidstone United who are on the rise once again and then finishing in 21st place in that season was Wealdstone.

This was to be the last season they played at the top table of Non League football, but the club could be on the verge of taking another step back to the top table of Non League football.  Last season a great run to the semi-final of the FA Trophy built on the foundations of a season that saw them narrowly miss out on promotion via the play offs.  This season they are gamely trying to hang on the coat tails of big spending Whitehawk and will fancy themselves to have another shot at the play offs again, and hopefully promotion to the Blue Square Bet South.

photo (3)Standing in their way on this chilly Monday night would be the Rooks, who would be making the long journey north from the South coast.  Recent games between the two hardly inspired the stay at home fans to come out in their droves for this Monday night clash.  Two 1-0 victories for Lewes at the Dripping Pan (both thanks to debatable penalties) and a 1-0 win for Wealdstone at The Vale last season had the betters among us reaching for another 1-0 scoreline.  The current form of the two teams couldn’t have been more different though.  Wealdstone had taken 15 out of a possible 18 points from their past six home games, whilst the Rooks had won just twice on the road in the same period.

Monday night football has been a feature at Wealdstone for the past few years.  Whilst their groundsman may not like having just 48 hours in some cases (such as this week) to prepare the pitch, the fans seem to approve of it.  Their offer of half price entry for season ticket holders at Premier/Football League clubs has also boosted attendances on a Monday with very few clashes with professional games. Continue reading

Happiness is a game at Hamlet

When London hosted the summer Olympics in 1948, the football tournament was spread around the capital with a few detours down to the south coast. At the time the amateur game had never been so popular, coming after the war when football-starved Londoners had been denied their regulars fix of the beautiful games, so the decision to use some of the classic old-school grounds was very popular with the public. Games were played at Lynn Road, Ilford, Green Pond Road in Walthamstow and Champion Hill in Dulwich.

dulwich 4The first two grounds no longer exist, their history buried beneath supermarkets and executive-style apartments. But football is still played every week at Champion Hill although the ground has gone through a number of changes over the past 65 years. Home of Dulwich Hamlet, and their tenants, Fisher Athletic, crowds are a modest few hundred rather than the thousands that flocked here in the old amateur days in the innocent age of football including that gloriously typical English summer’s day in August 1948 in driving rain when South Korea beat Mexico.

Dulwich Hamlet are one of the oldest clubs still knocking around the London Non Leagues. The club was formed in 1893, by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson when Dulwich was an affluent village-like suburb of London, hence their rural name. Their greatest ever player was Edgar Kail, who scored over 400 goals for the club as an amateur who went on to win three caps for England in 1929, and turned down moves to professional clubs to stay playing for Dulwich, loving life at this level. Despite winning the Isthmian League just after the war, it’s been a story of near-misses characterised by the last few years which has seen play off defeats to Leatherhead and Bognor Regis Town in the past two seasons for a spot in the Ryman Premier League. Continue reading

Inch by Inch

“In life or football, the margin for error is so small.
One half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it.
One half a second to slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game.
Every minute, every second.
On this team we fight for that inch.”

Bank Holiday Monday. The last traditional blowout before Summer came to an end, the kids went back to school and the shops could start putting out its Christmas displays. We can all remember those “Jolly Boys Outings” to Barry Island, Southend-on-Sea and Skegness, when the sun shone all day, and Steve Wright was still trendy enough to be hosting the Radio One roadshow.

Back in the day these were days we looked forward to for months. But today it is all a different world. For the price of a return train ticket to the coast these days, you can fly to the Mediterranean. Festivals have replaced the roadshows and Steve Wright is still on the radio. But the tradition of a Bank Holiday Monday football match hasn’t disappeared just yet, although for Lewes FC this season, it almost did.

Today would see my league debut for Lewes FC. Hang on, that MAY confuse a few people. It would mark my attendance of my first Lewes league game of the season. Enforced, but highly enjoyable trips to Aachen, Marrakech and finally Lincoln had meant I had missed our first three games of the season that had seen tears, tantrums and total football. Well, almost.

After a mixed pre-season bag, The Rooks season had got off on the wrong foot in the “hotter than Greece’ environs of south-east Sussex when Enfield Town won the battle of the Community Clubs last week. Lewes then headed north into the jungle of west Sutton and produced a sterling performance against “moneybags” Carshalton Athletic, coming away with a 3-3 draw. Saturday saw our re-aquaintence with Thurrock and their piped fan noise to try to make up for one man and his dog (@nonleaguedogs) watching them.  Alas the Rooks came away very very wet indeed with nothing but a receipt for the Dartford crossing in their back pocket.  So one point from a possible nine isn’t the best start in the world. Continue reading

One bad apple

This was supposed to be a happy report.  The sun was shining, in fact so much so that it was the hottest October day on record. Lewes were trying to extend their 100% home record and above all it was the club’s 126th Birthday, and to celebrate they had planned a number of events at The Dripping Pan.  But it’s not really.  Because the actions of a small minority of away fans spoilt afternoon for the rest.  To put this in context – the club had to call the police in case things got out of hand, and the club were forced to lock the doors of the bar.  Why?  Well if you believe certain individuals from Wealdstone, “Because Lewes FC kept the bar open”…unbelievable and funny if it wasn’t true. Well about 730 didn’t have an issue, including virtually all of the away fans who were good chaps as I have always known them to be.

One of the reasons why I have virtually turned my back on Premier League/Championship (don’t rub it in please) football was to get away from the type of supporters that we saw towards the end of the Ryman Premier League game this afternoon.  I have no idea what caused the small number of Wealdstone fans to react as they did, but whatever it was did it deserve the reaction we saw?  Sure the referee may have been wrong to award Lewes the penalty, and I have no idea why he sent off the Wealdstone player, but we all have days like this and 99% of fans never react in a way that causes a problem.

It had all started so differently. The temperatures on the way down to the south coast touched 30 degrees on the car temperature gauge.  Sitting in a traffic jam along with thousands of other cars heading for the coast I listened to the feedback on referee Martin Atkinson’s performance in the Merseyside derby. Almost 40,000 fans were up in arms about his actions in the game….Still such hysteria wouldn’t have a home in Non League football, would it? Continue reading

The TBIR Blueprint for the future of Non League football – part 1

Non league football is the lifeblood of the game today, yet gets little attention from the media (apart from radio shows like the excellent BBC Non League Show or the Non League Paper).  It is not in the best of shape to put it mildly.  In the past year numerous clubs have gone to the wall, with not even a batting of an eye from the Premier League or the Football League.  So what can we do about it?  Well, we’ve got our heads together and come up with our 10 point agenda for change, our manifesto if you like.  Today we launch part one covering the first three points.

1. Create standard co-operation partnership agreements between Premier League/Football League clubs and Non League teams.
Now this may seem like madness, but there is significant sense in this move as the Hyde/Manchester City model has shown. Last summer, after coming perilously close to being wound up in the High Court, Blue Square Bet South’s Hyde United signed a three year “partnership” agreement with Manchester City. City would refurbish Hyde United’s Ewen Fields ground and play their Elite Squad (aka reserve) games there and in return Hyde would lose the United and change their kit from red and white to white and blue (with a distinctly Man City-like diagonal stripe).

Nine months on and a visit to the ground does indeed show how smart it is, resplendent with perimeter boards for Etihad and Umbro. However on the field the team have continued to struggle and again this year face a tough fight against relegation. The excellent Ian King over at Twohundredpercent wrote about these odd bedfellows last year. Continue reading

The school of hard knocks

First week of the summer holidays and the weather is crap.  Of course it is.  Just as we prepare to that the TBIR roadshow down to Wales we get dull grey skies and rain.  So we delayed heading off until later in the day, and as we were heading west it would be rude not to take in a game on the way.  The old TBIR crystal ball came out (far more accurate than that Paul the Octopus fellow) and the name Wealdstone floated up through the mist.

It is hard to imagine that just thirty years ago Wealdstone were probably the most feared team in the non-leagues (and in the lower reaches of the Football League as well).  In those days the Football League was a closed shop, with the 92 clubs all trying to keep the status quo and young upstarts like Wealdstone out of their top table.  Despite winning every trophy going in the non-leagues including the Gola League (the forerunner of today’s Blue Square Premier), Wealdstone were kept out. Continue reading