Non League Club

Artificial Intelligence

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 9, 2014

It’s the second weekend of February. I’ve just returned from a business trip in Copenhagen where the snow lays fresh on the ground and the temperatures barely broke freezing point. Whilst people’s perception of Denmark is that at this time of the year it is a frozen wasteland, the snow has arrived nearly two months later than normal – hardly ideal when their football league is coming towards the end of their winter break.  A few inches of snow doesn’t stop sport in these parts. A few years ago I experienced the lowest temperature I had ever experienced at a football match in Randers, in the north of Denmark when the FC Copenhagen were the visitors in a game played among piles of snow and temperatures as low as minus 15. It was November. Today it is February and we are still yet to see any of the white stuff.  We know though that when it arrives it will be the worst winter ever .

Because we need more issues with the weather right? I can’t remember a day when it hasn’t rained this year.  On Friday I was supposed to be heading for the bright lights of Newport County but their game against Fleetwood  Town fell victim to the rain.  To add insult to injury (as well as the reported £180,000 the club has lost since late December) the Football League had written to the club to “express concern” at the fact their last four (now five) games had fallen victim to the weather.  Really?  As if the club needed any reminding! They even approached AFC Wimbledon, opponents for their next home game on Tuesday night to see if the game can be played in Kingsmeadow, but I am sure there is a rule somewhere the footballing authorities have saying they can’t.

12389182495_f6f185ee43_bBut what about further down the leagues?  Some County League clubs haven’t seen any action since mid-December.  In the Ryman League once again over 80% of the games this Saturday were cancelled.  Of course the league authorities are all over the situation, giving help and support to the clubs who are suffering.  Yeah, right.  Not a word apart from a reminder that when a game is cancelled, we need to re-arrange it as soon as possible.    Our postponement count so far has now reached eight games. Eight games that we now have to fit in somehow, somewhere. And that is before any of the potential white stuff arrives causing more chaos. Our game today away at Enfield Town was called off DESPITE the pitch being playable when the pitch inspection was carried out.  The referee decided, without any consultation with Lewes, that conditions would get worse and it would be an issue for us to travel at 9.15am.  Thanks for that. If he would have bothered to ask he would have found out we were willing to travel.

With clubs up and down the country in a similar position surely the leagues need to start taking action now? We already have nine games scheduled for March. Who benefits from that? Certainly not our attendances as fewer away fans are able to travel during mid-week, certainly not our finances as non-season ticket holders can’t afford to attend all the games (we currently have 4 homes games in 11 days), certainly not our pitch which is already suffering from constant pools of water sitting on the surface for weeks on end and certainly not for the players who face a strain on their normal working lives in playing all of those games.  But there is a proven answer.  Two letters – 3G.

Anyone who watches games in the Non-Leagues in the south of England knows about the success of Maidstone United and their Gallagher Stadium.  They took a risk in building a 3G pitch and it has paid off.  Regular crowds of over 2,000 at Step 7 of English football, higher than many teams in the Football League have supplemented the income generated by having an asset that can be used for 10 hours a day, seven days a week.  Whilst other fans are forced to head to Ikea on a Saturday afternoon at the moment, Stones fans cram into the Spitfire Lounge, spending their cash over the bar before watching their team lead the Ryman Premier League.  Life is good in Kent.  Or so it should be.

Alas, Maidstone’s charge up the leagues ends here.  Two weeks ago the Conference sides met to discuss the prospect of allowing 3G pitches in their structure.  They voted against allowing them, thus denying Maidstone any chance of promotion.  However, Maidstone aren’t taking this laying down, and quite rightly so.  The voting process was not representative of all of the clubs.  Whilst the Conference Premier clubs each got a vote, those in the North and more importantly, the South where Maidstone would be promoted to, had just four votes for the whole league.  Second class citizens? Absolutely. The vote was in favour of not-allowing 3G by 21 votes to 11.  Conference South clubs like Sutton United are championing the cause as they are very keen on installing one themselves.  Their manager, Paul Doswell, summed up the situation clearly:-

“It is all about promotion to the Football League, where 3G pitches are not permitted. Most Premier clubs have ambitions of promotion so they are not going to vote in favour because it does not suit them.

“They are not going to consider the clubs further down the pyramid and do us a favour – this is just them looking after number one.”

With no sense of irony today, 9 of the 11 games in the Conference South (and 7 out of 11 in the Premier) were postponed whilst the Stones welcomed Canvey Island and 1,794. spectators, a bigger attendance than at every game in the league above bar one.

Maidstone United 1 Canvey Island 1 – The Gallagher Stadium – Saturday 8th February 2014
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With Lewes’s game being cancelled I took the opportunity to slip on my scout’s coat and head down the M20 to take a look at The Stones. We are due to play them in 4 weeks (another re-arranged game) so you can never watched enough of an opposition – well that’s what I told The Current Mrs Fuller anyway.  This was my third visit to the Gallagher and on the previous two occasions (in July and August), the torrential rain had put the completion of the games in doubt.  Third time unlucky? It certainly appeared that way as I headed down the motorway.

The ground was buzzing when I arrived at 2.15pm.  The bar was rammed with people enjoying the Arsenal thrashing on the TV and the number of fans with various other club’s coats, hats and scarves suggested that once again this was the last cab on the Non-League rank.  Whilst our cupboards have been bare for weeks, Maidstone have been dining on fillet steak – and they deserve a bit pat on the back for that (and Harlow Town in the Ryman North who also have a 3G).

As if my divine request the rain held off for nearly two hours whilst the game was played.  Dare I say it that the sun even made a rare appearance.  Your remember the Sun?  Big yellow ball of fire in the sky?  That’s the fellow.  Well, he seemed to enjoy his afternoon out even if the Stones fans didn’t.

12389164285_dd39af8e3e_bThe club had recently brought in Luke Rooney, the ex-Gillingham wide midfielder.  Playing week in, week out in front of four figure crowds means that they can afford to bring in players of his calibre and manager Jay Saunders changed his formation to accommodate Rooney.  The Stones got out of jail late in the game when Collin converted a penalty after Attwood was brought down by the Canvey keeper in a game that they were second best in most areas.

Canvey had begun with John Sands in their starting XI, the man who scored a 20 minute hatrick against Lewes just a few weeks ago and the striker was a constant thorn in the side of the Maidstone back-line.  The home crowd groaned in frustration as the away side’s sturdy defence held firm on the perfect surface.  Half-time, with the game scoreless, the crowd headed for the bars and catering facilities to boost the finances even further.

The visitors took the lead early in the second half when Curran’s near post run wasn’t picked up and he had the easiest job to head home.  Maidstone huffed and puffed but simply couldn’t break down a determined Canvey side who looked rejuvenated since Sands joined them at Christmas.  But they couldn’t hold out.  With their goal under siege, Attwood burst into the area and was brought down by keeper Chalmers-Stevens who could be thankful he only got a yellow and Collin smashed home the spot kick.

The rain started falling again just as the final whistle blew.  Over 1,700 fans may not have seen the best game of the season but it was a game and in the current scheme of things that is as rare as our footballing authorities doing something to help clubs at this level.  The Conference may think they have won the 3G battle but I think the war hasn’t yet started.

I’m alright Jack(s)

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 17, 2013

“I just can’t look, it’s killing me.”

Picture the scene. The time? 10:30pm CET The place? A train trundling through the lowlands of Holland, somewhere between Best and Utrecht. The reason? Work. The problem? Lewes are playing at home to Hampton & Richmond Borough. There are only a few minutes left, the score is 1-1 and I’ve just lost my 3G signal. The Rookmeister has left his nest and I am flapping helplessly in the wind, or as my very good friend Ben sitting opposite would say, “Sitting in the corner with your dick out”. I immediately tell him to correct himself – the Dutch are a liberal bunch but there are rules on these trains.

The problem is that Lewes don’t have a very good record at hanging onto a point late in home games. Time after time we’ve all said a collective “bollocks” as a corner isn’t cleared and the ball is turned into the net. Another point dropped. In fact if we would have ended our games at the 85 minute mark in the past two seasons, we would probably be in the Football League now. Of course we would have.

“Jealousy. Turning saints to the sea, turning through sick lullablies, turning choking on your alibi.”

I’m jealous. Immensely jealous. I know I have another 3 or 4 hours of travelling and then work before I can call this ridiculous day over. Whilst I have had a fantastic dinner in one of Eindhoven’s best restaurant’s bought for me and now I’m heading to a hotel room where the toilet is in the middle of the room in a Tardis and with free “movies” I;d rather have been at the Pan, watching the first home game of a season of huge promise. I wanted to be standing on the Jungle, pint of Harvey’s in hand marvelling at the footballing revolution taking place on the hallowed turf. I wanted to see the paying public marvelling at our new creation, the Lewes matchday programme.

“But it’s just the price I pay. Destiny is calling me. Opening up my eagle-eyes. I’m Mr. Brightside.”

9529342797_b619ec8435_bDolly Parton once said you can’t have the rainbow without the rain, so my pennance is missing the game. From what I read on Twitter we were on top, but were up against some dogged Beavers and an official who liked being a man of mystery in terms of his decisions. Watching games unfold like this is horrible. Worst. Day. Ever.

But that was then, and this is now. Saturday. Match day. And I was back in Lewes. Did it miss me? Of course not. 516 hearty souls saw the game on Tuesday night, just 5 supporters short of the best crowd of this round of games. Make no mistake, if this post isn’t full of enough clichés already, build it and they will come. The crowd was up by nearly 200 on the comparable first midweek fixture on last season. The campaign was one away win at Hornchurch old and already the locals were queueing around the block to see the Rooks.

A lot has gone on behind the scenes recently to contribute to this. We’ve covered our new management team in previous weeks, their different approach, the squad of local players and the standards they want to set. At the board level, we now have clear roles. And not just one either. Good old Clive now wears the Treasurer/Commercial Manager/Coach Driver and Head of Catering Director’s hats all at the same time like an umpire on a cold day. Charlie is in charge of blue/red/purple sky thinking and poster design. Ed is in charge of crap music and regimented meeting agendas, whilst I have taken charge of the website and programme, along with the real brains in this area, Bazza Collins. Every other week we report back on progress of our actions as we move into a new phase of the club’s existence – solvency.

1-lowSo for us chosen few it’s not just about tuning in for the game, and that is why I feel the pain of Mr Brightside from 160 miles (fact – as the crow flies, Amsterdam is the closest capital city to London) away. Still, with only 46 league games this season (with the predictable 2 month winter freeze/flood to factor in), games come thick and fast.  Just three days later I am back at the Pan, pint of Harveys in one hand, flapjack in the other.

Canvey Island are today’s visitors. I’m sure they aren’t too impressed with a start of two defeats from two games. If pre-season betting odds were to be believed, they will be challenging us for the “midtable mediocrity” slot, although the same bookmaker had Thamesmead Town as joint favourites who so far have shipped nine goals in two games. Once upon a time kids the Gulls were flying high, in the Conference no less but just like the Rooks, it’s a very different ball game at the top of the Non League pyramid and either you have the resources to compete and not just survive. The Conference’s loss is of course the Ryman’s gain – you can’t fail to have a bad day out on The Island at any time of the year.  The Gulls are one of the teams we actually have a good record against.  There aren’t many in the past few years, although my Lewes definition of a good record is not losing 75% of our respective games.  In fact, in the past two seasons we have actually been unbeaten on our trips to the Costa del Canvey, raking up a total of 11 goals in our three wins and a draw.  Confidence is a defence mechanism against reality, as my 10 year old daughter would say.

Lewes 1 Canvey Island 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 17th August 2013
3:04pm and the ball was nestling in the back of the Canvey Island net. Less than 5 minutes gone.  Just enough time to walk to the Jungle and take our places before Jack Dixon smashed the ball home form 20 yards.  As if that wasn’t enough, the Red Arrows flew overhead.  We don’t do things by half here in Lewes you know.

9529339895_86cdd6f988_bThe game wont live up there in the greatest games in history.  Despite the fact it was mid-August, the weather was positively end of Octoberish.  Whilst Lewes always looked the most likely to score another, it wasn’t until Canvey were reduced to 10 men for an off the ball set of handbags that the Rooks threatened the Canvey goal.  Whilst they have only scored 3 goals in the opening 3 games, there are goals galore in this side.  The fact that the defence looked so strong, even with midfielder Jack Walder playing there today shows how far the team have come in such a short period of time. And of course there was the record-breaking performance of the Crabbs.  Not one, not two but three Crabb brothers started, and finished the game today.  I cannot remember any side ever fielding three brothers in the same starting XI.

532 saw the game today, the (joint) biggest crowd in the division, and almost treble that of our local Conference South team.  Feel-good football is back.

No Dr Feelgood factor for Lewes

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 28, 2012

“”You have to have the rain before you can have the rainbow”

In just 24 hours I would be walking along Santa Monica Pier in SoCal as us surfers know it, the sunshine on my face and the sand between my toes.  You can’t beat a bit of winter sunshine to recharge the batteries after Christmas.  And as if I needed any more incentive to go I had the promise of a date with the not too shabby Natalia Velez to look forward to.

But first I had a date with one of Essex’s finest – Canvey Island who were visiting the Dripping Pan for an early doors game against The Rooks.  Early doors because of Brighton’s cup game versus Newcastle United just down the road at 5.15pm.  Thanks to the Ryman League seeing sense, and the Essex side happy to leave Lakeside an hour earlier than normal, Lewes stood a chance of a decent crowd.  We littered the Toon websites, forums and Twitter feeds with invites and promises of pints of Dog, Jimmy Nail look-a-likes and Lewes wearing a special one-off black and white striped shirt just for the day.  Not strictly true but  would they really notice after tucking into a few pints of Harveys?

Our cause had been helped no end by the efforts of the Guardian’s sports team who plugged the game via their Fiver email, eulogising that :-

“At this quaint little ground, you’ll be allowed to stand up, smoke your gills out, watch entertaining Brazil-circa-1970 style football, eat delicious modestly priced organic burgers and lorry back refreshing pints of the local brew Harveys all at the same time”

Thanks to some opportunist sales techniques that would have shamed a time-share salesperson in the Canary Islands I had managed to convince The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning as an owner a few weeks ago.  Yes, he had been worse for wear; Yes, he was distracted by Sarah Hot Scores and yes I may have told him that by being an owner he was entitled to certain perks that weren’t strictly true, but Pressganging is not illegal (I think) in the 21st century.  One man’s Richard Branson is another man’s Asil Nadir. Barry was making his first visit to the Pan and we were determined to make his visit a special one.  After all, since he thrust the £30 in my top pocket back in December, “our” team had won three, drawn four and lost four as well as seeing the manager depart.  Investments can go up and well as down as I reminded him when he asked for a refund.

Canvey Island, the Gulls, the pride of Park Lane.  Lewes had already beaten the Islanders earlier in the season and what they could do with a moral boosting win today.  Performances had been good, but a lack of goals was becoming a real worry.  Five goals in the last six wasn’t a fair return for the effort, but add on the fact that three had come from penalties and you see the issue.  Last Saturday the team lost 5-1 at Margate.  Lewes shots 8, Margate shots 8.  On Wednesday night the woodwork and a bobble in the six yards area stopped two certain goals.  Today there was to be no excuse.  It was win or bust….well not exactly that traumatic but we are hyping this up for the Guardian remember?

This was my third trip to Lewes in just four days after the Sussex Senior Cup match on Wednesday and then the Fans Forum on Thursday where we had batted away all questions fired at us from the fans.  Now was the time for us to live up to our promise of Barcelona-esque football.

Lewes 1 Canvey Island 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 28th January 2012
“You will win nothing with kids” One of the most famous understatements uttered by a pundit.  Alan Hansen may have had to eat his words back when Sir Alex Ferguson blooded the likes of Scholes, Beckham and Giggs at Villa Park in August 1995, but since then how right he has been.  Lewes today were forced to field a very young team as injuries ravaged Simon Wormull’s squad.  The manager himself was even forced to play himself for the final thirty minutes, turning back the years with some of his visionary passing.

I can only imagine the mood in the Wormull house when the sick notes arrived this morning.  Kamara – hip injury.  Robinson – hamstring.  Hamilton – foot.  Hustwick – neck strain.  These four are the Lewes back four. Any club would struggle to cope with such a situation.  A major reshuffle saw Charlie Leech and Jack Phillips in the starting line up as well as new signing Jack Walder in the centre of midfield.

One good bit of news was that the Rooks had ditched the white shorts – going down the full Rosseneri look of red and black – Canvey opting for Crystal Palace away circa 1989.  It was the yellows who started the stronger of the two and thankfully keeper Rikki Banks was in good form.  With Lewes’s recent goals coming from the boot of Paul Booth it didn’t take a brave man (me) to predict he would be the first goalscorer, although Eddie Freemantle refused to take my tenner, reminding me that as a Director I was not able to place a bet on my team.  Sure enough, a minute later Paul Booth rose and headed home a Nanetti cross to put the Rooks one nil up.

The second half saw Canvey well on top and it was no surprise when Jason Hallett scored in the 51st minute.  We weren’t used to conceding a goal before the 90th minute so the crowd were stunned into silence.  Everyone was confused.  What to do?  Well, how about the player/manager bringing himself on…Wormull stripped off and within a minute had played a trademark cross field pass to Nanetti. Every touch was greeted with a cheer.  Could he win us the game and roll back the years?

Alas no.  Canvey got stronger as the game wore on and with twenty minutes to go Bradley Woods-Garness smacked a loose ball home to give the Essexmen the three points.  The thirty or so Canvey fans went home happy, having enjoyed their day out in the sunshine whilst the Rooks fans had to scratch their heads wondering what the team had to do to get that break and three points.

With the rain out of the way it was time to prepare for the Rainbow.  Natalia Velez was sure to ask about the result.  Don’t worry – I will take this one for the team.  Until I return I bid you a fond farewell.