Non League Club

No fairytale ending for the Bromley Boys

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on May 4, 2014

“It’s a marathon not a sprint”.

The favourite line of football commentators, players and managers when they lose a game during the season.  The season isn’t won or lost over 90 minutes but over the course of nine months.  Technically that is true, but when it comes to play off time, then the previous efforts go out of the window and it all comes down to ninety or in some cases, one hundred and eighty minutes of football.

7228388842_a8a95e8d49_bThe end of season play offs are the high point of the season.  Two teams essentially fighting like gladiators in the Coliseum.  Only one can walk away a victor, battered and bruised ready for the next opponent, whilst the loser has nothing but memories of a successful league campaign that ultimately led to nothing to console themselves with.  People who say the play-offs are unfair are either a) play-off losers or b) anti-football fans.

Yes they are incredibly harsh sometimes.  Take FC United of Manchester.  In with a shout of the Evostik Premier title until the final day of the season, they finished 16 points above 5th place Ashton United this season, yet in front of nearly 3,000 home fans this week, they lost in extra-time.  Their dream of moving up to the Conference North for the first time in their history was dashed by a 120th minute goal by Ashton’s Jack Higgins.  In the Ryman Premier League, the teams finishing 2nd and 3rd, Bognor Regis Town and Kingstonian respectively, both lost their home play off matches this week.

I can still remember the pain of 2004 in Cardiff when West Ham lost to Crystal Palace in the Championship Play Off final.  Palace had come from nowhere to sneak into the play offs at the last gasp and feeling the injustice of the fact that without the play offs we would have been promoted in third.  The following season it was our turn to sneak in at the last-minute and were promoted after beating Preston North End having finished twelve points behind 3rd placed Ipswich Town.

I’d still like to see a team from the division above thrown into the mix as it used to be the case when the play offs were first introduced into English football back in 1987.  In that season Charlton Athletic had finished third bottom in what was then Division One, and then beat Ipswich Town, fifth in Division Two, to play Leeds United for the place in the top tier.  After two 1-0 wins for the home sides, the game went to a replay which the Addicks won 2-1 after extra-time and thus retained their place in the top division. In the league below the story was slightly different as Sunderland were relegated from Division Two after losing a humdinger of a tie against Gillingham, who finished fifth in the third tier on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate score.

13912890359_f1ae9a728c_bThere can be few things more dispiriting in football than being roundly beaten in the first leg of a play off game.  On Tuesday night, Bromley FC, who had led the Conference South table for the best part of half the season, only relinquishing control for the last time in March traveled down the A2 to face Ebbsfleet United who only secured their play-off spot with two weeks to go.  Bromley would have fancied their chances to have come away from Stonebridge Road with at least a draw, especially as their coach, Hugo Langton is a master of preparation and would have had a game plan nailed on.  However, fate can sometimes be a fickle friend.  Ebbsfleet opened the scoring after just 60 seconds and then less than ten minutes later Bromley’s Ashley Nicholls was sent off for deliberate handball and Ebbsfleet were 2-0 up from the resulting penalty.  Two further goals proved the David Pleat theorists wrong in the perfect storm – i.e “Playing against 10 men is often harder than 11” and “2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football”.

But Bromley do at least have a second bit of the cherry.  Miracles do happen in football (just look at the fact Sam Allardyce is still in a job, or that Stoke City now play attractive football) so it was with the hope of a reversal of fortune that I planned my last Saturday of domestic action of the season.  They were desperate to have a shot at the Conference Premier, having never ventured so high in their history.  The excellent book, The Bromley Boys by Dave Roberts (coming to the silver screen soon) highlights the time when, in Roberts’s eyes, they were the worst team in England.  They have got better since those days, and now with one of the finest Non League grounds in England, they had all their ducks in a row to have a crack with the big boys of the Non League.

13913036890_ddcae1e47d_bEbbsfleet on the other hand were past masters of the Conference Premier.  The one consolation they could take if they somehow lost this game was that they would have two local derbies against Dartford to look forward to, after the Darts relegation from the Conference Premier last weekend.  But that would be a small moment of happiness.  They drove up the A2, around the M25 and then followed the A21, making sure to watch the speed camera at the Michelin-starred Chapter One, with more than hope in their hearts.  They could almost smell the final where Sutton United or Dover Athletic would be waiting.

Bromley is only a bus ride away from TBIR Towers so it would be rude not to let such a potential momentous occasion pass by.  The core of the LLF were also en-route, fuelled by Terry’s 50p off beer vouchers for Wetherspoon’s and the prospect of no footballing action in Sussex. The sun was shining so it was undoubtably going to be the best day ever.

Bromley 1 Ebbsfleet United 0 – Hayes Lane – Saturday 3rd May 2014
This wasn’t a thriller to be honest.  Both camps said as much in their post-match comments to the press.  Bromley had to come out of the blocks flying and try to make an immediate impact into the four goal deficit.  They couldn’t.  The very big and strong Ebbsfleet defence held firm, using delaying tactics when they could to take the sting out of the Bromley momentum, whilst every so often using their wide men to push the home team onto the back foot.

13912982527_b78776790c_bWith a quarter of the game gone Ebbsfleet appeared to have taken the lead.  A fifth goal over the tie would have had the fat lady on the pitch singing her heart out but the referee deemed that the scorer, Ben May, had used a hand instead of his head.  Harsh from our angle.  The scare seemed to shock Bromley into life and within two minutes they had taken the lead with a cracking strike from Danny Waldren.  Every long journey starts with one small step – but would this be too little too late in the tie?

Bromley really needed a second before half time to stand any chance of turning the tie around.  Higgins went close with another strike from distance which Fleet keeper Edwards did well to push away but I think the visitors back four have had harder afternoons this season.

The second half saw Ebbsfleet slowly start to press the Bromley midfield and thus back into their own half.  The home side simply could create anything of note bar a Waldren header.  Ebbsfleet could have had a goal themselves when the impressive McMahon fired his shot narrowly wide.  A brief moment of hope appeared with ten minutes to go when Rance was given a straight red for his challenge on Goldberg but the numerical advantage lasted all of three minutes when Bromley’s Holland received a second yellow.

14100063954_fa5a40aa86_bDespite five minutes of injury time being played, Bromley knew the game was up.  It had been a long, hard season where they had fought and won for the most part.  Their fans stayed behind to salute the team, but the feeling of despair was clear to see as they slowly walked off the pitch for the final time this season.  Ebbsfleet would now be hosting Dover Athletic in the Final, who had surprisingly beaten Sutton United 3-0 despite playing for 80 minutes with ten men.

Draycott, Lord of the Manor

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 14, 2012

“Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity”

Every football team in every season has one defining event, the moment that decides the fate of the team, the players, the manager and the club. That moment may be a refereeing decision, a piece of individual brilliance or simply a team collectively not turning up on the day. But you can look back at the history books and find that compelling event. In this season’s Premier League there have been many, but if Manchester United take the title, many will point to the events of Easter Sunday as that moment when United got a fortuitous refereeing decision in their game versus QPR and then a few hours later Mikel Arteta’s last minute winner for Arsenal against Manchester City all but ended their challenge.

But for Lewes that moment still hasn’t really happened yet, or so we think. We could point to the last minute equaliser at home against Lowestoft Town, or Billericay Town’s 93rd minute winner in March. But with games running out perhaps the most defining moment was going to come at Hayes Lane, BR2 when the Rooks were going to take on Cray Wanderers. Fifth place taking on sixth, separated by just one point. A draw would open the door for Hendon, Wealdstone or Canvey Island; defeat for the Rooks would almost spell the end of the play-off charge; a win for Cray would see them with a foot in the end of season lottery.

The mood around the club had been improving almost every day since mid January. The all conquering Lewes Ladies, the Rookettes, had secured the South East Combination title some weeks ago and would be welcoming the likes of West Ham, Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur to the Dripping Pan.  In addition they had the small matter of the Ryman Cup final next week versus Eastbourne Town. The Youth team are one game away from winning the Ryman League South (albeit they have to play the team who are top, away and win by three clear goals).  And then there is the first team.

Cray Wanderers continue to surprise me.  They are a tiny club in comparison to the likes of Lowestoft Town, Wealdstone or Lewes.  They ground share with Bromley FC, have average attendances of 193 this season and rarely take more than a Smart car full of fans to away games.  Yet, just like last season, they are still in with a shout of promotion via the play offs.

The club also dream of “going back home”.  When they were founded back in 1860 by workers building the railway line through Kent they were the third oldest club in the world.  Quite who they played during this period is unknown as the two others were local neighbours Sheffield FC and Hallam.  For those unfamiliar with the area, the Cray is a river than used to run from the Thames Estuary, close to Dartford and down towards Bromley.  However, the club have not been able to find a home back in this area for decades.  Hope is on the horizon though and they are planning on developing a site in Star Lane and have made an excellent video about their plans.

But today playing at Hayes Lane, Bromley suited me fine.  A short journey 15 minutes from TBIR Towers and I was in the quite bizarre Barrel and Hole in Bromley High Street.  £5.15 for a pint of Innis and Gunn wasn’t the first surprise – that was reserved for the prevalence of rocking chairs instead of normal chairs and big luggage cases instead of tables.  Quite a strange choice to meet the rest of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe in.  So much so than they took one look of the picture I tweeted and headed into Weatherspoons opposite the station.

Cray Wanderers 0 Lewes 1 – Hayes Lane – Saturday 14th April 2012
Current form doesn’t lie and so coming into this game Lewes were top of the table from the last eight games.  And bizarrely at the end of 90 minutes they had dropped down into third place despite another excellent win on the road.  It certainly was a game of two halves as Lewes dominated the attacking play in the first half, and showed strength at the back in the second.  One Ian Draycott header was enough for all three points and finally, after months of downward trending, push the Rooks back into the play off zone.

There was two surprise guests when we arrived at the ground.  First up was Current Mrs Fuller, who had manage to escape from Littlest Fuller duties for an afternoon and thought she would spend some time with the man of her dreams.  But he was busy so she came along to football (boom-boom).  And then in the bar was none other than Steve King, ex-Lewes manager who had come along to cheer the team on (I would imagine).

Lewes started the more positive of the two teams, with young Charlie Leech slotting in a full back instead of Kamara and Chris Breach back in midfield.  For the first twenty minutes the ball hardly left the Cray Wanderers half, although there were few chances.  However, it was inevitable that a goal would come and sure enough on 25 minutes it was the Rooks who took the lead when Ian Draycott stooped to head home with ease after a well worked move involving Harding and Crabb.

It should have been two or three by half time with Crabb and Booth both going close, testing the Cray keeper, whilst Matt Ingram at the other end could have had a wander into the Town Centre such was the threat on his goal.

The second half was really a battle of the midfields, with Lewes’s unlikely pairing of centre-back Chris Breach and centre-forward Ian Draycott dominating the play.  Nathan Crabb was the star again, simply for his continuous running and chasing and he was unlucky not to double the score when Harry Harding’s free kick fell at his feet but for a great save by the Cray keeper.

The clock ticked down and we amused ourselves by looking at the score at Upton Park where Brighton had been hit for six.  I mean, who would fancy paying £45 for that type of privilege as an away fan eh Mr Last? (Especially if you have to sit in the home end to witness it).  Other results started filtering through before the 90 minutes were up in our game.  Wins for Bury Town, Wealdstone, Canvey Island and Hendon took the gloss of this victory for Lewes, but even still, the win pushed us into 5th place and come the end of the season that would be enough to go into the play offs.

Two weeks to go and next up would be a trip to the seaside to visit the Beach Boys at Concord Rangers.  Time to get out the fancy dress I think.

DIGNITY – Bromley v Lewes

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on October 27, 2010

Imagine a football manager agreeing to manage a club for free?  What about one who willingly puts his hand in his own pocket to pay an overdue bill for the club?  And then one who goes to his own board and suggests there could be a better man to take the club forward and is involved in the interview process?  Pie in the sky right?  Wrong!

Late on Monday night the news was announced that Steve “Ibbo” Ibbitson was stepping down as manager of Lewes FC and would be replaced by ex-Croydon Athletic manager Tim O’Shea.  In an interview with Guardian football writer, and long time Lewes fan Paul Hayward, Ibbo explained the reasons behind this and why it was the right time (For the full version click here)

Too many people have sweated blood to keep Lewes FC going and surviving at this level for us to surrender our status easily. The Club needs new impetus to give us the best chance of staying in the BSS. In my opinion, this gives us a better chance of achieving that, at a cost which the Club believes it can afford.

My last word as manager has to be to acknowledge the part my coaching team of Jason Hopkinson, Simon Gough and Dave Winterton have played in the survival of Lewes FC. In particular, for the last five years or so, Jason and I have stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting many battles, both on and off the field, on behalf of the club.

Often, that has been with a team full of kids, who we’ve seen develop from 15-year-old schoolboys into young adult footballers.  That brings a special sort of camaraderie and is something you never forget.”

Despite the torrid start to the season that has seen the Rooks win just one league game and more often than not more players unavailable through injury than are fit, there was never any doubt that the new board would wield the axe.  Ibbo had agreed that this would be his last season in charge and that he wanted to be part of the process to find his replacement.  With funds in place to purchase some new players he felt now was the time to hand the reigns over to someone new.

Dignity – no other word for it.  Read any of the message boards and you will see the Rooks fans all saying “We believe in Ibbo”.  He took over a virtually relegated team in March 2009 after a disastrous first every campaign in the Blue Square Premier.

Last season, with significant financial pressure on the club that resulted in two winding up orders being presented he masterminded some end of season loan signings that saw the club win three of its last four games to stay up.  Having a beer with him after the last day win at Hampton & Richmond in April he expressed no surprise that the club had manage to stay up, explaining that he had faith in the players and he knew they would not let him down.  The people of Lewes responded by making him Lewes’s “Man of the year”.

This season with a change in ownership Ibbo became much more open, readily agreeing to be interviewed by the directors on video for all to see and hear (the archive can be found here) and including some very funny moments such as describing David Wheeler’s parasite and his reluctance to put him on the bench.

We all have a choice on how we react to the circumstances around us.  Watch any match from the Premier League/Football League and you will see the same reactions from the manager.  “I did not see that incident”, “The goal was offside”, “It was handball”…managers are always the first to point the blame at someone else but never at themselves.  In the past two seasons I have never seen Ibbo blame anyone for the performance of the team.  We have seen some shocking referees in that time, some of whom have cost Lewes valuable points but not once has he spoken out.  Again, there is dignity in that.

The good news is that “Mr Lewes FC” is staying on.  He will become Club Chairman, which I am sure will mean he can still wear his long shorts in all weathers around the club.

The King is dead, long live the king as they say.  Well, not quite.  Ibbo had agreed to stay for one more game – a very convenient for me local match away at Bromley, re-arranged as Lewes had been in the FA Cup at the weekend.  So the travelling Rooks fans could give him a send off.  It was all set up so nicely for me as well.  A bus trip to the ground, a couple of beers and even the appearance of (in)Active Matt.  And then the Slovakian sausage struck.

At some point during the weekend’s festivities in Hungary and Slovakia as part of Ocktoberfest 2010 I contracted food poisoning.  Not just a mild case but a full blown, pack a spare pair of trousers for the flight home case.  Forty eight hours later and 8 pounds lighter the contents of my stomach still seemed to be finding a way out.  I was officially on probation from CMF – if I wasn’t well enough for work, then football was out of the window too.  I resorted to taking tablets – something that never happens in my book just to try and get better.

Bromley had started off like a proverbial rocket. Seven consecutive league wins saw them top the table into late September before three wins and finally a surprise 4-1 reverse at Basingstoke Town last week had seen them drop a place or two.  Last season Lewes had simply not turned up for this game.  On a hot August Bank Holiday they had lost 3-0 to the home side in a performance that would have had Ibbo hopping mad.

Bromley 1 Lewes 1 – Hayes Lane – Tuesday 26th October 2010
Ah Hayes Lane, let me count the ways I love you.  I recently chose Bromley’s ground as one of my 5 best non league grounds and on a chilly Autumnal night my opinion did not waiver.  Stand on the open terrace that runs along the side of the pitch and look to your left and you will see a bench lined stand, to your right a terrace with a unique styled roof.  Want a beer, head up to the modern bar where you can even watch the game from the windows.  If only all grounds were like was a shame not more fans felt the same way.  Lewes’s travelling contingent of 12 included 3 of the Rooks125 who like real fan/owners stood on the terrace.

A quick chat with the new manager, and his assistant Neil Smith yielded the fact we were almost next door neighbours in BR1 – a fact that could be quite handy when either of us has had a few too many Harvey’s after a game!  The teams emerged with Lewes sporting at least two new faces and a formation that was unlike anything we had seen this season – in one word – attacking.

Not only did the Rooks start on the front foot but there was also some bite in there.  They were 100% committed into every tackle, chasing every loose ball and making sure every Bromley player knew this would not be a walkover they expected.  With the new manager in the stands, and a debt to pay to the departing one, I cannot think what their motivation was!

The game had a few interesting incidents which were viewed differently by both sides.  The first in the 30th minute resulted in the opening goal for Bromley.  No one was doubting the mistake by the so impressive Winterton in the Lewes goal that saw Bromley’s Tony Finn lobbing the ball into an empty net from nearly 40 yards, but the Lewes protestations were about the initial through ball that saw a Bromley player clearly in an offside position.  But all officials really understand active/passive offside right?  I rest my case.

A few minutes later a scuffle over a loose ball ten yards into the Bromley half saw all twenty outfield players involved in some girly pushing and shoving, with Ibbo chomping at the bit to jump into the action in his final game.  The result yellow cards all round.

Half time over and Lewes introduced some new blood.  New striker Paul Olima had the ball in the net half way through the period but was again wrongly judged to be offside.  It was a belter of a half – both teams wanting to score and defending became an irrelevance.  Ibbo and Jason could simply stand back and almost say “look what we have done – it’s all clicked into place”.

And then at last some reward.  A complete mess in the goalmouth saw the ball apparently cross the line (according to the lino) but from who it is unclear.  The Bromley keeper came out, ended up punching the ball against the bar, Rivers headed the ball into the empty goal but a defenders foot seemed to hook it back.  Who scored? Who cares – 1-1 and to see one of the owners of the club jumping around screaming at the top of his voice must have been motivating for the players.

Both teams had chances near the end and Rivers was millimetres away from sealing a famous win when he needed a Peter Crouch leg to get on the end of a fantastic Murphy cross.  Bromley then had a free kick on the edge of the box in injury time.  The Lewes Lunatic Fringe held their breath and the ball flew off a Lewes shoulder over the bar.  And with that the whistle blew.  Throughout the second half a teenager had been taunting the Lewes fans about our ineptness.  He celebrated like mad that “we had only drawn with Bromley” until his mate pointed out that Lewes were from NEAR Brighton and NOT Brighton, and so a home draw against the bottom team who had lost every home game so far was actually nothing to brag about.

So that was the end of the Ibbo era.  He wandered back to the dugout to collect the kit bags (just like Wenger and ‘Appy ‘Arry do every week) and it was touching to see them share a private moment of chat before they headed back to the waiting throng of press.  The players went off to meet the new management team, whilst Ibbo was presented with an old chum who used to play with him from his Scunthorpe days.  As has become the habit this season Ibbo (and Jason) conducted their post match interview, in what was quite an emotional moment for all involved.  Ibbo we salute you and wish all managers had a shade of the dignity you have shown everyone around you.


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