Non League Club

Tales from a Non-League Chairman – Part 8 – Win or not quite bust

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 26, 2015

It started out with a miss
How did it end up like this
It was only a miss, it was only a miss

At exactly 11am 258 days ago we boarded a train at Liverpool Street station, heading east to pastures new with hope in our hearts.  The new season was upon us and after a disappointing previous campaign we had rebuilt in the summer and quite fancied ourselves for a shout at the play offs.  Of course, putting my official hat on we were “confidently optimistic of an improvement on last season”, but as we know there are only four objectives any club really sets out to achieve every season.

“Consolidation” – means avoid relegation but at least keep the interest of the fans up until Easter then we can slash the budget
“Pushing on” – means we’ve increased the budget to what the management team wanted so they better reach the play offs
“Challenging” – we’ve mortgaged ourselves to the hilt and sacrificed our first born for promotion and don’t want to think about not going up
“Happy with our lot” – we really have no idea which of the three above apply

17267771231_2f0f73d226_zWe wanted to “push on”. We increased the budget, we brought in two or three players that had other clubs and observers suggest we were dark horses in a league that would be dominated by the two big spenders in Maidstone United and Margate.  When Luke Blewden opened scoring on a dust bowl of a pitch at the Village Glass Stadium in Witham back on the opening day with twenty minutes to play, the Lewes Lunatic Fringe were in full voice.  But football is a fickle mistress. Five minutes later Witham equalised to snatch a point.  Five games later and we had two points from a possible fifteen. Five more weeks on and we had been dumped out of the FA Cup back at the Village Glass Stadium. Five months later and we felt we needed to change the management team to give us some fresh impetus.

We looked for crumbs of comfort.  We had games in hand.  We seemed to be on the end of every poor refereeing decision dished out.  We had injuries to our key on the pitch leaders. Our much heralded, long overdue 20 goals-a-season striker suddenly developed an irrational fear of shooting.  Whilst we have the responsibility of governance of a football club owned by 1,000 plus people across the world, we are also first and foremost fans.  We see what everyone who stands on The Jungle sees or who travels up and down the rail networks as part of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  Sometimes it’s hard we represent the hopes, dreams and fears of that group.  We want to believe things will turn out “alright in the end”.

Sometimes you need to take a step back to see the reality.  Despite what we are led to believe in the movies, there are no happy endings in life, especially in football.  We can look back at a dozen or more incidents in the season with the “what if?” question.  What if we hadn’t given the ball away so cheaply in injury time against Harrow a few weeks ago leading to them scoring? What if we had a competent referee in the home game against AFC Hornchurch who would admit he made a mistake in the lead up to their opening goal? What if Elliot hadn’t been sent off away to Canvey Island when we were in control of a 1-0 lead? What if is a game that any football fan can play for ever.

17080473148_1f2636ab18_zNo one connected with the club expected our longest and last away journey of season to be so vital, even a few weeks ago.  Destiny is always in our hands for the most part of the season, and our recent run of poor results has coincided with two of the four “dead and buried” teams going on championship runs.  We imagined today’s visit to the picturesque Ram Meadow in Greene King country being a shorts and t-shirt day, looking forward to a decent drink and a mellow reflection on the season.  Instead we go dressed for wind, rain and 90 minutes of keeping one eye on results elsewhere.

As an owner of Lewes Community Football Club I’m invested in the future of the team, both on and off the pitch.  However, as Chairman I have to be 100% invested in what happens today. If results don’t go our way will it be catastrophic in the long term for the club? Probably not, but it will sure hurt and I have to bear some of the responsibility for that.  As I mentioned earlier, sometimes being a fan can make you see things differently.  If we get what we need today the euphoria will be short-lived.  Yes, we did the short-term job, but what about our original goals for the season? We certainly haven’t progressed for a number of reasons that collectively aren’t any one persons fault.  As a member of the elected board of directors we all have to shoulder the blame and responsibility.  Time for reflection will come in due course.

For those who have been Lewes followers for a few seasons will know the drill by now. Five years ago we were dead and buried in the Conference South with five games to go.  Somehow we managed to give ourselves a shot at survival on the final say, needing a win at Hampton and Richmond Borough.  Nearly 150 Lewes fans descended on the Beveree that day to see The Rooks grab a 2-1 win and survive.  Two years ago we needed at least a point as we trailed Cray Wanderers in injury time away to give ourselves hope of survival.  The scenes when Nathan Crabb equalised will long live in the memory of the hundred or so fans at Hayes Lane that night.  Few will remember the two games after that where we played for nothing more than a few more points for respectability.

But back to today.  As our train passed the Village Glass Stadium on its way to Bury St Edmunds, via Ipswich, we raised a plastic cup of Jaipur to those halcyon days of summer and for one brief five minute spell where we saw a season full of 3 point away days, flowing football and an end of season promotion party.

17266471962_aacd85df5d_zThis was to be our last league visit to Bury Town for the foreseeable future.  Relegation had already been assured some weeks ago but instead of rolling over and sacking off for the rest of the season, they’ve started putting in some decent performances.  In fact, in the current form tables Bury rank higher than Dulwich Hamlet and Margate.  We certainly weren’t arriving expecting any favours.  We knew that 3 points was our prize. We congregated in the Old Cannon brewery, just a five minute stroll from the ground.  The mood was quietly confident. If it wasn’t for the need for three points this would be the best away day ever.

The final pre-match thought as we entered the delightful Ram Meadow come from Lewes-born US firebrand Tom Paine, which adorns the home team dressing room at The Dripping Pan “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”

Bury Town 0 Lewes 2 – Ram Meadow – Saturday 25th April 2015
With 5 minutes plus stoppages to go we heard the news that Peacehaven & Telscombe had lost 4-2 meaning our safety was assured.  Lewes had dominated the game, scoring twice and retaining possession for the best part of 85 minutes.  Rikki Banks could have joined us on the sideline for a pint from our hosts Beer festival and still kept a clean sheet.  Two goals made by Nicky Wheeler, scored by Elliott Romain and Henry Muggeridge saw the Rooks home.  The travelling fans basked in the Suffolk sunshine and celebrated with the players at the final whistle.  Game over, job done.

16645740604_08d43770f4_kIt wasn’t the easiest ninety minutes though when you have to keep an eye on scores elsewhere.  To give you a flavour of the afternoon, here’s what happened:-

3:09 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 1 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 – Lewes drop into the relegation zone on goals scored
3:11 – Canvey Island 0 Wingate & Finchley 1 – Lewes climb to 19th as Canvey fall into bottom 4
3:18 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 0 – As you are
3:22 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1 – No changes
3:22 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 – Nervous looks around the terrace
3:23 – Bury Town 0 Lewes 1 – Elliott Romain’s goal sends us up to 16th, Canvey still in bottom 4
3:27 – Leatherhead 0 Harrow Borough 1 – Harrow leapfrog Lewes into 16th
3:33 – Canvey Island 0 Wingate & Finchley 2 – Fat lady starting to sing at Canvey Island
3:35 – Canvey Island 1 Wingate & Finchley 2 – Nope, it was a whale in the Thames Estuary, sending VCD into the bottom 4

So at half-time the bottom of table looked like:-

16th – Harrow Borough 53pts (-13)
17th – Lewes 53pts (-23)
18th – Tonbridge Angels 52pts (-4)
19th – Peacehaven & Telscombe 51pts (-24)
20th – Canvey Island 50pts (-18)
21st – VCD Athletic 50pts (-19)
22nd – Witham Town 42pts (-22)
23rd – AFC Hornchurch 39pts (-23)
24th – Bury Town 32pts (-50)

Surely the second period couldn’t throw up as many twists and turns, could it? Well, how about:-

4:03 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 – Charlie Moone…of course Charlie Moone.  No changes at the bottom though.
4:11 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 – Now this is interesting
4:12 – Bury Town 0 Lewes 2 – Muggeridge’s peach of a header gives us breathing space
17266415262_56d15160ba_z4:12 – Canvey Island 2 Wingate & Finchley 2 – What a 90 second period – Canvey on a roll, Peacehaven wobbling
4:17 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 3 – What on earth is going on down there?  Peacehaven fall back into bottom four
4:17 – Canvey Island 3 Wingate & Finchley 2 – The reverse comeback at Canvey Island..Only Peacehaven in the group of relegation candidates now losing
4:27 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 2 – Worrying glances at what’s going on at Peacehaven from the Angels
4:39 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 4 – All over bar the shouting as Peacehaven will have to score 3 times and hope that Bury or Wingate can muster two goals.
4:40 – Tonbridge Angels 2 Dulwich Hamlet 2 – Angels can party as it will take a miracle for them to go down
4:42 – VCD Athletic 1 Billericay Town 0 – VCD leave it late but that should put the final nail in the Peacehaven coffin
4:44 – VCD Athletic 2 Billericay Town 0 – And relax

So final table looks like:-

CDeKrBlWIAEyaV_16th – Harrow Borough 53pts (-13)
17th – Canvey Island 53pts (-16)
18th – VCD Athletic 53pts (-17)
19th – Lewes 53pts (-22)
20th – Tonbridge Angels 52pts (-4)
21st – Peacehaven & Telscombe 48pts (-27)
22nd – Witham Town 42pts (-22)
23rd – AFC Hornchurch 39pts (-23)
24th – Bury Town 32pts (-50)

There wasn’t the same elation as we saw at THAT game at Hampton & Richmond Borough all those years ago, but the trip back to Liverpool Street was a lot more pleasant than the trip up.  That was until when we looked forward three weeks to the Sussex Senior Cup final at The Amex against Whitehawk. Objective number 1 achieved. Hope had delivered.

Bury the bad news

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 20, 2014

The end of a football season is a day of mixed emotions.  For some fans there will be the euphoria of promotion, the nervousness of not wanting to be totally embarrassed playing at a higher level next season, whilst for others there is the dread of relegation, the gnarling feeling that your team is too good to go down and that immediate promotion is so much of a certainty they may as well not relegate you at all.  For the vast majority of us though it is simply a time to breathe a big sigh of relief that another campaign of broken dreams and false hope has ended.  “Next season, it will be all so different” we tell ourselves, knowing deep down that apart from the odd result here and there, it wont be any different at all.  In fact it will be exactly the same, with only the players names being different.

In the Non-League world we have the added concern about whether the club we support will still be going come August.  In the past nine months a number of teams have simply given up mid-season, realising there is no future for them.  Spare a thought for the Eastwood Town or  Rye United fans who would have started the season will hope in their hearts only to see the club they loved vanish before the first signs of Spring.  You can’t be a glory hunter in the grass roots game that’s for sure.

13938821455_382e6265ca_bToday was my last visit to the Dripping Pan for the season (for footballing reasons anyway). With a work trip taking across the Atlantic next weekend, the visit of Bury Town would be my sign-off for the season.  The lot of being a Director of the club however, does mean I will still be involved in the club every day of the Summer break.  And what a Summer it promises to be.  We have some big plans this year, plans that will hopefully see us start the long climb back up the Non-League pyramid. For us at Lewes it has been all about stability in the past few years, picking up the pieces of the broken Non-League dreams of our fathers and patiently gluing them back together to make sure they don’t shatter again.  Get the off the field stuff right and on the field it will click into place.

Our season has been no different to 75% of the rest of the Ryman Premier League clubs.  We have had high points – a fourteen game unbeaten start to the season gave us all hope that this season could be the one, followed by six weeks without a game due to the weather that ultimately decided our fate.  A mad March saw us having to play nine games, including matches against the six of the top seven in the division with a heavy injury list.  Things got so bad that it was nearly time for me to polish up the Puma Kings.  But our Premier League survival was ensured mathematically a week or so ago meaning that we would be living to fight another day next season.

Planning for the end of season period starts around Christmas time.  We need to ensure we have budgeted for all the essential work that needs to take place around the ground, including the pitch. Many fans forget that we have zero income from the end of April to July when we start selling Season Tickets, yet costs are still incurred. The land grab of trying to find a “big” club to come down and play in a pre-season friendly often starts a year in advance, and this year, without mentioning any names, we think we have pulled the golden rabbit out of the hat – I would say more but fear for my life from the wrath of Garry Wilson.  A game against a big name side can generate a huge amount of cash for a Non-League club – a crowd of even 1,500 paying an average of £10 (inc food and programme) would be enough to bring in two or three more decent players for a season.  Yet it is the hardest job in the world to get any of the big clubs interested – they probably received dozens, if not hundreds of requests to play against Non-League teams every season, each one as deserving on paper as the next.

13915682416_12fa913d62_bThere’s no better place to watch a game when the sun is shining than at The Dripping Pan, and with Brighton not having a game today the hope was a decent attendance.  Sure, there was nothing to play for but pride and a mid-table league position, but at least there are no dodgy dealings going on akin to a Biscotto, the Italian term used for convenient drawn games at end of season which hinders neither side.  Our attendances this season had fallen in the past two months with so many midweek home games but still we would finish the season with an average just over 500 – a figure higher than more than 60% of the teams playing in the Conference North/South.

Everyone was looking forward to the game.  After the win in midweek this was a banker walk in the park.  And then our mood changed.  At the side of the pitch was Patrick Marber.  The doom-monger.  The curse of the Lewes win.  If we had any sense we would have left there and then and headed down the road to Whitehawk for the afternoon.  His track record of not seeing us win this season played on all of our minds.  Despite his place in the Lewes Hall of Fame somewhere in the past few years he had brought a curse across the Pan whenever he visited.  Dave suggested we all pissed on him to remove the spell and had to be forceably stopped dropping his trousers on the Jungle as the game kicked off.

Lewes 1 Bury Town 4 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 19th April 2014
After 30 minutes there wasn’t anyone in the ground who thought this wasn’t going to be our day.  Winning one-nil thanks to Joel Ledgister’s sixteenth minute headed goal, and Rikki Banks having saved a harshly-awarded penalty when the Bury forward ducked his head into Malins clearance, it was the best day ever.  The sun was shining, the Harvey’s was a perfect temperature and even Patrick Marber was admitting the curse had been lifted.  And then it went wrong.

13939255594_f7b5e073b6_bJust before half-time Bury Town’s Wales stumbled into the area, picked up a deflection or two and manage to stab the ball passed Banks to equalise.  It hadn’t been the best of halves, enlightened only by the goal, penalty save and the heated debate between Marber and Lord Plumpton about the fact both held the same Golden Goal ticket.

If the first half was low on excitement then the second was utterly forgettable, at least for the Rooks.  Ten minutes in and Allen smashed the ball into the roof of the net to put the visitors into the lead.  Five minutes later and the referee was once again called into action to make a big decision, this time deeming Jack Dixon’s tackle on Bennett was late and dangerous, although the influence of the two Bury centre-backs who ran 70 yards to give their opinion seemed to sway his opinion that is was a straight red and not just a yellow.

13938869523_2de803e060_bThe goal meant Lewes had to throw on the not fully fit Nathan Crabb up front and pull Blewden into midfield.  Bury simply stepped up a gear and scored two more without the Rooks ever threatening the visitors goal.  Chants went from “sack the board” to “say away Marber”.  But like water of a duck’s back he vowed to be back next week for the visit of Leiston.

It was a disappointing end to my Dripping Pan season but I would be back (well, I have to as we have bi-weekly Board Meetings) next season, which would undoubtably be the best season ever.

Bury the bad news

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 28, 2013

I truly hate the last day of the season. For many it is a time to celebrate, but being a West Ham and now a Lewes fan, the end of season is normally a time to reflect on a relegation season rather than winning anything (Play off final at Wembley last year accepted). But to me, after planning my games with military precision for the past nine months I have nothing to look forward to. What will I do next weekend (OK, apart from going to the FA Vase and Blue Square Bet Premier Play off Finals)? Or in June when the sun is shining? Cricket? Rugby League? Gulp, family days out at the seaside?

20130427-220836.jpgOnce the last ball has been kicked I will be counting down the days until clubs start to announce pre-season fixtures. My objective of a 100-game season may fall just short this season but I will be back next season, fitter, stronger and willing to travel to even more obscure places to see a game. But hang on, this season still wasn’t quite over yet. The sword of relegation was still hanging over The Dripping Pan. With just one game to go, there was still one spot in the relegation zone left to be decided and Lewes were technically still a “relegation contender”. Granted it would have to take an extraordinary set of results to see that happen, but I look at the fact Titus Bramble is still a Premier League football to prove that football is a funny game and anything can happen. So for those unaware of the current situation, or my visiting colleague from the New York office, here was the low down.

In order for Lewes to be relegated (a concept that would take a few thousand words to explain to any US sports fan) we had to a) lose to Bury Town, b) see Carshalton Athletic win away at Enfield Town, and c) see a seven goal swing to Carshalton Athletic. Possible? Yes. Probable? Even with our poor performances this season, we hadn’t been thumped by anyone this season (well, apart from the 6-1 defeat to Wealdstone). So this wouldn’t be an end of season party, rather a slightly nervous 90 minutes, looking at our phones at events from North London.

Come match day and the traditional end of season sunshine had appeared from behind the rain.  The pitch looked fantastic, just two weeks after the game against Leiston which should have been abandoned.  Ironically this was to be Roger, the groundsman’s, last game in charge of the turf after what was a lifetime.  Never a more loyal and passionate fan you could want to meet and it is volunteers like Roger (or Boysie who was stepping down as programme editor) that keep non league football alive.  Thankfully Roger’s departure will mean we can play some decent pre-match music, especially as Ed Ramsden is still serving his three year ban from the PA system after trying to slip on one too many Fall songs earlier in the season (the actual number was of course one).  So next season there will be a new man on the seat of the lawnmower and in the editor’s chair for the programme.  Who they will be is yet to be revealed, although I have a pretty good idea who the latter will be (The Pan is Round is a catchy title, no?).

20130427-220854.jpgThe bumper crowd were showing no nerves as they tucked into the Harvey’s.  In fact this had the optimistic feel of a first game of the season, rather than the last.  Bury Town arrived in Lewes with nothing but some pride to play for, knowing that they had once again shown the league they were not to be underestimated.  Whilst not quite making a second successive play off spot (they beat us to 5th place last season by just 2 points), they have once again been there or there abouts in a tougher league.

Luge and Andy were certainly enjoying their afternoon, tucking into the Harvey’s to go along with the various fizzy pop beers they had sampled on the train on the way down.  This was all new to Andy, being a native New Yorker and used to his sport featuring no meritocracy, a franchise-based system, cheerleaders and breaks in play every 3 1/2 minutes.  He’d been to a “soccer” game before, back in November 2009 when he was last in the UK and we took him to see Millwall, but that can hardly be called football can it?  Little did the two know that they were also Match Sponsors and thus had to choose the player of the game. Andy was in his element as he pulled out his calculator to start working out the shots/tackles/passing averages for each player, finally looking disappointed when we said we just give it to Nathan Crabb every week to save the hassle.

Lewes 2 Bury Town 3 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 27th April 2013
As the game entered injury time the packed Philcox Terrace broke into song.  “We are staying up, I said we are staying up”.  A draw here, coupled with Carshalton’s draw at Enfield Town meant Premier League football was secure for another season.  Or was it? A rumour went around the stand that the ever reliable website was wrong, and Carshalton were actually winning.  And then Bury Town scored.  All of a sudden it was down to goal difference.  How many were the Robins winning by?  Was there time for Bury to score one, two or even three more than would have relegated us?  Thankfully no.  The referee brought proceedings to an end.  We were safe.  Let the party start.

Should we really have been so happy though?  We certainly didn’t anticipate a relegation fight at the start of the season, especially on the budget we set.  We were massively hampered by injuries to Steve Robinson, Callum Dunne and Jack Walder in the spine of the team, and it took Nathan Crabb some months in the middle of the season to find his shooting boots.  We drew and lost too many games, always seeming to be one goal away from a point or all three.

20130427-220911.jpgWe started this game similar to the one on Tuesday night at Cray.  Full of midfield invention but nothing reaching the front two. We should have been one up and playing ten men if it wasn’t for a linesman who nobody really understood what game he was watching.  Lewes were awarded a penalty only for him to rule the ball had gone out of play when nobody else had seen it (including the defender tracking back) and then he failed to see a punch on Ben Godfrey right in front of him.  In between those two events, Bury had taken the lead when, perfectly summed up by Deaksy, a hopeful toe poke found the top corner.  One became two from the penalty spot soon after as Bury scored from the penalty spot.  It appeared they hadn’t read the script.

Again, just like Cray, Lewes came out for the second period all guns blazing.  A text-book header from Steve Brinkhurst in the first few minutes of the half raised the spirits in the ground, and when Callum Dunne got some part of his body to a Crabb effort on goal and diverted it into the net there was a genuine feeling we would go onto win the game.  Chris Breach then took a very painful whack to the nose, soon leaving the pitch with blood pouring from the wound, only to appear minutes later with a bandage around the centre of his face.  We didn’t laugh, honestly, and neither did any of his team mates.

8686124947_e4fc15f293_bSo the final act of the season was Bury’s Sands scoring in injury time.  And then it was all over.  Time for the end of season awards.  No surprises that Nathan Crabb picked up a couple and Chris Breach the Player of the Year.  It was disappointing though that Jack Walder didn’t pick up one for worst dressed player, choosing to join in the end of season squad photo trying to look like Olly Murs.

For the players it was time for a night out.  Club Sec Kev had put on his best cardigan for the occasion and would ensure that they stayed on the straight and narrow, handing out fines along the way.  For the officials at the club the long process of planning for next season was already under way.  Non league grounds like the Dripping Pan do not clean, paint or repair themselves and so we need to sort this out, along with the pre-season friendlies, the commercial contracts and of course the all important budget.

But finally the end of the season means that the fans can get to know their loved ones again, reduce their mobile phone bills and cut the grass on a Saturday afternoon.  Sounds idyllic doesn’t it?  No, it is a living hell.  These fine words, good enough almost for Kipling himself sum up what a season means to us fans…I hand you over for one last time this season to Charlie Dobres:-