Non League Club

Ade-ous Essex

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 10, 2013

Hands up who got any sleep last night? New season eve is the up there with the night before EFW Oktoberfest to me in terms of excitement.  I simply cannot sleep, thinking about whether this will be THE season when we actually win more games than we lose, go on a decent cup run, or win Golden Goal more than once in a season.   For us Non League fans this is also an opportunity to see most of our players for the first time and actually see them for who they really are, rather than just A. Trialist.  It is, of course, the only day of the season where we start joint top (and joint bottom), and are still in all of the cups.  It all goes downhill from here.

9477993203_53fdd185f9_bThis is my fifth season as a Lewes fan.  In that time we have been relegated twice, avoided relegation on the last day of the season twice and missed out on the play-offs on goal difference once.  It hasn’t been the best of times to be a Rooks fan on the pitch, even though off the pitch it has been a marriage made in heaven.  This season we are very quietly optimistic.  A new management team, a virtually completely new squad and even a new programme editorial team (well, Barry Collins and me).  Of course, at 4:47pm today all that optimism may have dried up after our game at AFC Hornchurch.

We tend to remember opening games more than most others in the season.  I remember one of my first ever West Ham opening season games back in 1978 when they raced to a 4-0 lead against Notts County within 30 minutes.  Of course I assumed they would go on to score 12, but they only managed one more.  Remember Micky Quinn’s hatrick at Highbury back in 1993?  Beckham’s goal versus Wimbledon in 1996? Hansen’s comments about “winning nothing with kids”? Greg Cane’s nightmare 20 minutes for Lowestoft v Lewes in 2011 when he scored an own goal from the half way line and was then sent off for arguing with the referee? Great memories.

So what could we expect from this season’s curtain raiser? I’ve never seen Lewes win at AFC Hornchurch so the omens were not good.  Granted I had only seem them play there once but stats don’t lie.  The Urchins are one of my tips to be in the top five at the end of the season.  Despite relegation at the end of last season I get the feeling that it was a mere blip in their long-term plan.  Want to know who else I think will be up there?  Go on then, just for you I will share my insight:-

Maidstone United – the giants of the division in my eyes who will play in front of 2,000 other week in, other week out.  Alas, unless the FA change their rules, they wont be able to take their place in the Conference South due to their 4G pitch.  Ridiculous, but that story is for another day.

Lowestoft Town – My tip for automatic promotion in past two seasons, both times missing out in the play-offs.  Third time lucky for the Trawler Boys and their great fans.

Bognor Regis Town – Disappointed last season but I get a sneaky feeling they will surprise a few this season.

With the league expanded there are some new trips to look forward to.  Many wont relish a trip to Thamesmead Town, but it is less than 15 minutes away for me so that is a great addition to the league and Dulwich Hamlet will be a brilliant away day with their fans.

9479010479_e89b50b1a3_bBut back to today.  With no Premier League games happening (apart from the ludicrous “Super Match” friendly between Man City and Arsenal in Helsinki – of course, Helsinki), the fans would be flocking to Non League games, right? Lewes’s record last season in Essex wasn’t good.  Five games and just one win (ironically to play off winners Concord Rangers).  Despite it being a new season, the facts were weighing on the Lewes Lunatic Fringe’s collective minds as we made the long walk from Upminster Bridge station to the Windmill pub, all 1 minute 34 seconds of it, before Terry uttered the words, “right whose round is it?” Welcome to the new season.

AFC Hornchurch 0 Lewes 1 – Hornchurch Stadium – Saturday 10th August 2013
Ninth place!!!! A 100% record and all we get is ninth place.  Welcome to the ridiculous world of opening day league tables.  Let;s not take anything away from the Rooks today.  An opening day win, away to one of the teams that you’d expect to be at the top of the table is a good day out in anyone’s book, but the manner of victory was very pleasant too.  Two years ago we came here and lost to a very physical Hornchurch side who were on their way to promotion.  The irony today came with time ticking away and some of the home fans complaining about the Lewes “rough” tactics.  This is a very different Lewes side, built with Scottish steel and Sussex craft.

9479008095_b00573471e_bThe only goal of the game was good enough to grace the hallowed turf of any Premier League ground.  The Hornchurch left bank dithered, Jack Walder made a perfectly timed tackle then sent in a perfect cross for Ade Olorunda to head home.  That will do for starters.

So what was different from four months ago?  Well, apart from nine of the outfield players, team spirit, organisation, a desire to fight for every ball and the sunshine, not a lot really.  Football was back and about bloody time!

Rikki Banks, sporting the most “visible” of goal keeper’s kits put his Sodoku down for a few seconds early in the second half to make a save but apart from that he was rarely troubled as the new centre-back pairing of Lovett and Pearson efficiently handled everything thrown at them.  The two Jack’s, both sporting almost identical hairstyles in the centre of midfield snapped, snarled, closed down and kept the beat of the team up.  And the thirty or so Lewes fans emptied the fridges in the bar of Speckled Hen.

Despite what seemed like an hour-long second half, we held out.  Being a Lewes fan means we have got used to false dawns, last minute disappointment and away days that never have a happy ending, so excuse me if I seem to over exaggerate a simple three points on the road.  But Bloody Hell, we won! Away! In Essex!

The opening day is one filled with false hope, one that passes quickly into the memory banks with the next game less than 72 hours away.  All we could have asked from today was a few beers, some good banter and trousering three points.  Mission accomplished.  Until next week Essex when we meet again!

Twenty one days of pain and frustration

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 19, 2012

Twenty one days ago the sun was shining. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as Lewes kicked off against Canvey Island. Twenty four hours later I landed in Los Angeles to temperatures that would have had The Sun trumpeting as “Phew, what a scorcher” and “It’s hotter than Greece”. During the next week I worked with the sun shining all day, with my walk to the office along the empty beach in Santa Monica. Bliss, you may say and I would agree. Yet you mortals back in England were suffering freezing temperatures and tonnes of the white stuff. And of course that mean a serious lack of football.

Being purely selfish I was glad when the whole country called off their games the following weekend. Lewes’s game at Wingate & Finchley was postponed whilst I travelled east from California to New York. I cheered. Wingate is one of only two grounds I haven’t been to in the league so a re-arranged midweek fixture suited me perfectly. Seven days later and I was back in the UK but the after effects of the coldest February on record in many places in England again decimated the fixture let (and our plans for a game). What did this mean? Well, on the positive side, Lewes had gone unbeaten during February. On the pessimistic side, it would mean their last league win was 7 weeks ago when they beat Hastings United.

The enforced break had given manager Simon Wormull to assess his squad. Out had gone striker Michael Malcolm, and returning to the club was centre-back and ex-captain Chris Breach. Three good centre-backs may be needed for the visit to AFC Hornchurch.

The Urchins were enjoying a good season. They had devastated Lewes earlier in the season, ending The Rooks 100% home record with a four goal second half display. Since then they had topped the league, and despite losing a few games, had hung onto Billericay’s coat tails thanks to their strong, well organised approach play, and a proven non league centre-forward in Martin Tuohy, Golden Boot winner three seasons ago with 50 goals.

AFC Hornchurch actually play in Upminster, which is really the starting point of Essex.  The drive down the country lanes from the M25 revealed some impressive houses, and the area can boast such residents as Jessie J, Frank Bruno and that girl from S Club 7 (Not Rachel Stevens, or the one that looked like a boy).  It also has two windmills.  One which is one of the last remaining grade II windmills left in England; the other is a pub outside the tube station.  Guess which one we saw today?

As we supped our fine Essex Ales (Peroni, Strongbow and Tetley’s), the team news came through.  AFC Hornchurch were fielding their two new players – Ex-Norwich City, Crystal Palace and Peterborough United striker Leon McKenzie and Fola Orilonishe from Sutton United.  Lewes included signed that morning from the youth team Kelvin Brown as one of the three subs.

Hornchurch’s ground is a real mixed bag for spectators.  Firstly, it is an athletics ground – but not a proper one as it only has six lanes.  Unlike Melbourne Park, home of Chelmsford City, there are no big stands where you can watch the game from a bit of a height, nor is there any temporary stands behind either goal.  This means the views from the small stands around the pitch are poor.  However, they have an excellent bar area behind one goal that is set high above the pitch, meaning you can watch the whole game from inside the bar, or on a nice sunny day from the terrace outside.

As with all away games this season, Lewes arrive bearing gifts.  A pretty impressive gift if you ask me as well.  Seventy two pints of FREE BEER in the form of a polypin from Harvey’s, known globally as the world’s greatest beer.  Within minutes of the beer arriving the away fans (and officials) will be queuing at the bar to get their pint of local luxury.  The clubs can charge what they want for the beer (although few seem to grasp the whole point of the exercise and faced with an opportunity to earn 100% profit, still overcharge).  We arrived in the bar at The Stadium and became one of many to ask for a Harveys.  “We haven’t put it on yet”…after the twentieth person came and asked they eventually obliged, although the barman who took the first pint screwed his face up and threw most of his drink away – a fine endorsement indeed.

Hornchurch also have a satellite feed from overseas.  Based on the adverts I deduced it was Albanian.  Whilst people crowded round to watch the Chelsea v Birmingham City game (which was on UK TV anyway) they were showing Everton v Blackpool at 3pm, which was watched by no-one.  And here lies one of the points why it is a bit of a non-issue.

As the teams emerged from the dressing rooms and down the steps onto the pitch, the rain started falling.  Hornchurch’s pitch had not endured the past few weeks well, and up until Friday were still not 100% confident this game would go ahead.

AFC Hornchurch 1 Lewes 0 – The Stadium – Saturday 18th February 2012
Big Deaksy chastised me after my post-match comments when I said we battled well but ultimately fell short.  He suggested this was the corporate line.  He is of course right to an extent.  It was a crap game, played in crap conditions, on a pitch that helped neither team which eventually had a big hand in deciding the result.

Illness had robbed Lewes of Chris Breach, and Wormull attempted to fit square pegs in round holes, with Nanetti playing just behind Paul Booth. But there was little they could do about the strong wind blowing down the pitch that saw the ball by-pass the midfield in the opening exchanges.  The home side made the best of the early running, and Lewes keeper Pawel Szelemj was the busier of the two but was rarely troubled although Hornchurch did have a good shout for a penalty when Tuohy was sent crashing in the area.  Perhaps the referee, aware of the two soft penalties given for the Urchins in the reverse fixture earlier in the season was trying to even it all up!

On the half hour mark came the deciding moment of the game.  Hustwick underhit a back pass to Pawel and the heavy ground slowed the ball up further, allowing the predatory Tuohy to anticipate the roll of the ball and he nipped in, rounded Pawel and slotted home into an empty net from an acute angle.

During half time the heavy rain upgraded itself to a monsoon.  Consequently around a third of the 298 fans in the ground stayed in the bar, watching the game from our own large Executive Box.  The tail wind was now blowing towards the Hornchurch goal and Lewes started to create some chances.  Harry Harding, fresh from his two weeks at Fulham, started to dominate proceedings and Booth had a couple of half chances.  But the Hornchurch keeper was rarely called into action – in fact it was still Pawel who had to make the saves from the likes of Tuohy and Thompson.

Lewes’s fight boiled over during the second half on one occasion when Jack Walder’s tackle on McKenzie started a mini-difference of opinion and the Lewes youngster could count himself a bit lucky to stay on the pitch.

The final whistle was greeted with some relief by the home fans – a 1-0 win is never comfortable whilst Lewes can take some heart by the performances of the back four, especially Charlie Leach who showed maturity well beyond his young years.

The next few weeks will prove a massive test for the team.  Two games against the most in-form team in the league start the run of games.  East Thurrock United have strengthened their squad thanks to the money they earnt in their FA Cup run to the televised first round game versus Macclesfield Town, and Lewes visit them first on Tuesday in the Ryman League Cup semi-final, before they come down to Sussex on Saturday.  After that the Rooks have games against four of the top six in March.  New players are on the horizon and the play-offs are still only a few points away, but it will need something extra to spark the team back into life.  The watching world (in BN7) turns to Simon Wormull to see what that will be.

A double dose of Essex United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 28, 2011

What a day this promised to be.  Three (well two and a half) fiercely contested local derbies, either side of the River Thames, which thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, that I could go to, as well as still putting in some “Fuller Festive Family Fun”.  Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones, catching up on the events of the year and generally being around those nearest and dearest to you.  But when the words “Let’s go to the sales” are mentioned, all love goes out the window and football becomes a viable option.  Hence, when the three Fuller girls all expressed a wish to go shopping, I played the football get out of jail free card and planned my day of hot and spicy local derbies.

First up was a trip under the Thames to Essex for the “Battle of the M25 junction 28” as they call it in these parts. Billericay Town sat proudly on top of the table before a ball was kicked.  Despite their nearest rivals all winning yesterday, their amble goal difference of plus 27 saw them safely sit in first place.  Visitors AFC Hornchurch lay in fourth with a game in hand and just four points below.  So a win for either side today could be pivotal in the final shake up.

Whilst most football leagues will boast “this is the most difficult division to get out of”, few can claim that at the halfway point in the season there has been five different leaders, or that the top if they won their games in hand would be separated by just five points.  The Ryman Premier League has proved to be a great league for the neutrals to follow, but a bugger if you are the follower of one of the clubs.  With the Christmas period throwing up the odd derby or two, we would have been a fool to miss this one.  Billericay Town versus AFC Hornchurch.  Two teams separated by the M25 just a few miles apart and by just four points at the top of the table.

This was hard to miss.  With Lakeside just a few miles away I was able to deposit CMF and The Little Fullers at the Cathedral of Orange Tans and head northish through the vineyards of Essex to Billericay, home of Steve Davis, Alison Moyet and Lee Evans.  All three would surely be at New Lodge for this top of the table clash? I cannot think what else they could be doing on a post Christmas afternoon.

Billericay Town have surprised many this season with their rise to the top of the table.  Just two defeats, one of which was in the first week of the season to Lewes, has seen them jump above the likes of Lowestoft Town, Hendon, Lewes and visitors Hornchurch.  Their success has been built on a strong goal scoring record that has seen them average over two goals a game this season, and seen them put the likes of Kingstonian Wingate & Finchley, Tooting & Mitcham United and Canvey Island to the sword this season at home so far.  Their style has come in for some criticism as being too direct, whilst visitors Hornchurch had been called “too physical” in the past. Frankly, football is about results and so if a style works for a team then they deserve their success.  The facts suggest that whatever style works in this division as they are top of the league, with 46 goals scored to their name.

The Club have also been scratching their heads as to what they can do to get more people through the gates.  I sympathise with them and this was my whole reason for writing my Blueprint last year.

One player who unfortunately would not be gracing the pitch was Billericay keeper Nicky Morgan.  Morgan was involved in an incident outside a nightclub in Essex in October and received injuries that resulted in him being paralysed from the waist down.  The police have now arrested a man in connection with the injury.  The club have been incredibly supportive of Nicky and we also wish him well.

As we drove up through the Essex countryside we came across a line of parked cars on the road.  Surely this couldn’t be for the football?  After all, here was a team who were averaging 300 give or take a few.  According to my good friend TomTom we were still nearly a mile away.  But yes, it seemed that the locals had all read the article on the website and had put on their Christmas jumpers and hot-footed it down to the biggest game in Essex.

Billericay Town 0 AFC Hornchurch 1 – New Lodge – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Rule number 1 – when you moan about not having enough fans and then they turn up en mass, make them welcome.  The attendance of over 1,100 put strain on every aspect of the club.  The one turnstile struggled to cope in the lead up to kick off, the hot food ran out in the 44th minute as we were queuing, the bar had queues of fifteen minutes.  I appreciate it is a chicken and egg situation but some forethought could have avoided hundreds of people going away from the ground with a poor impression.

The game in truth failed to live up to its top of the table billing.  An over fussy referee tried his best to antagonise the players, managers and fans alike with some strange decisions and a pitch that made playing the ball on the ground impossible but few can argue with the result in the end.  Hornchurch were the stronger team in the second period and before they had scored the only goal, hit the bar with a well taken free kick.

Billericay had been likened to Stoke City simply because they have someone who can hurl the ball in from the touchline.  Sam Berry’s talents were used whenever there was an opportunity in the game and once or twice his throws caused chaos in the Hornchurch area and the odd controversial moment when the referee automatically penalised the home side irrespective of the outcome of the throw.

Both teams are strong, well organised and that seemed to cancel out their attacking threat.  As someone had said to me prior to the game “It won’t be one for the purists” and it certainly wasn’t. Glen Poole had the best chance of the first half for the home side but his shot was well saved by a confident, if bruised Hornchurch keeper, Joe Woolley.

In the second half the momentum swung to the visitors and on the hour they got their goal.  Michael Spencer was sent away down the wing and his cross was met by Tommy Black.  His first effort was somehow scrambled off the line but he followed up and turned the ball home.

With time running out, Billericay pushed forward, first putting one centre back up front, and then another.  Finally, keeper Dale Brightly was added to the attack.  However, from one set piece Hornchurch broke quickly and with the goal empty. Hunt shaped to shoot from the half way line but was brought down by a Billericay player.  Technically he was the last man, even though he was in the Hornchurch half.  The referee decided to give a yellow in one of those decisions that nobody will ever agree on.

Three points to Hornchurch gave them their ninth consecutive win and lifted them up into third, above Lewes and mean that the top four in the Ryman Premier are now separated by just four points.  As Glenn Frey once said – “The Heat is On”.

As the crowds tried to make their way home, we headed through the country roads of Essex, avoiding the eight mile traffic game on the M25 to Mill Road, Aveley for our second slice of Essex United in an afternoon.

Aveley 0 East Thurrock United 3 – Mill Road – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Well, sort of.  We arrived just as the teams came out for the second half, with East Thurrock United holding a 3-0 lead thanks to an eleven minute hatrick from Sam Higgins.  More was sure to follow to warm up the cockles of the bumper 250 people in the crowd.

Aveley’s ground is hard to love.  It looks as if the pitch has shrunk, or that it was once home to an Aussie Rules team.  The huge grandstand with its paddock in front looks like it belongs to a racecourse somewhere and with wasteland behind the other side of the ground it begs for some love and attention.

However, it is home to them (and Romford FC) and is more than adequate for their needs.  Alas, hot food had also run out here as well-meaning that Lolly had to go without her chips (for her Non League chip survey).

It seemed like all of the energies of the players had been spent in the first half as both teams failed to find any rhythm, demonstrating why both had started the day in the bottom three.  The Aveley keeper, David Hughes, was the busier of the two in the second period, making a fine save from Newby and Smyth, underlining the dominance of the away side.

A vibrating in my pocket meant that it was time to leave.  CMF had finished her shopping and it was time for me to return to the safety of South of the River.  Ryman  Premier League scouting assignment completed for the day.