Non League Club

Sofa life is not all it’s cracked up to be

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 12, 2013

Despite the fact we conceded two goals in 45 injury-time seconds against ten men on Saturday, Non League Day was once again a success. Our previous experience in hosting a game on NLD was four years ago when Hampton & Richmond Borough came to visit in our Conference South days. Seven hundred and eight eight fans saw the game on Saturday, the highest crowd in the Ryman Premier League this season (bar Maidstone United), up 48% on our last Saturday home game against Canvey Island. Across the Ryman Premier League every club who played at home on Saturday saw a rise in attendances from a normal Saturday. Hornchurch up by 50%, Bury Town up by 60% and even Cray Wanderers saw a 25% rise.

9706320038_f38cb1225e_bBut Non League is for life and not just for one day when the Premier League players are on the piss in Marbella. So the big test would be how many fans would come back to games this week when the temptation of England’s latest borefest would be on the TV. Last season, the average attendance at the Pan was 542 and this year the first Tuesday game had seen 532 come through the gates, with the average already over 650. There isn’t much more we can do to get our message across in the media. Last week we saw the cameras from Sky Sports News come to the Pan to get an insight into how we have bounced back, in true Partridge-style, from the brink of Non-League extinction as well as the Guardian once again issuing a rally call to come and watch the Rooks. As one of my more media-savvy fans said to me over a few beers last Christmas, “For a club of your modest size, you get a fucking ridiculous amount of attention from the lovely-doveys, don’t you.” But grass-roots football is all about sustainability to steal the latest post-Olympic buzz word. To clubs like Lewes that means becoming a bigger part in the local community. That is where the fans of tomorrow will come from.

Few football clubs really understand the need to recruit new fans these days. Encouraging young fans to come to games means that they will bring along their parent(s) and spend money over the bar and in the club shop. Make the entry point affordable, or even free as with the case for many clubs in the Non-Leagues, then slowly they will return time and time again. Football is in competition with other leisure activities on a Saturday afternoon yet some football clubs still simply see all fans, irrespective of age, as cash machines. The concept of affordabilty and value has simply never been considered by many clubs.

Lewes v Carshalton 2013Affordable football should be the most important phrase adopted by all football cubs today. During the last ten years where we have experienced one of the worst ever squeezes on our personal finances, football at the top-level in England has got richer and richer. sickeningly richer. Whilst every penny in our pocket now means more to us, the top flight clubs have continued to push their ticket prices skywards. Today, tickets for most games are available to the general public, something that was incredibly rare.

I understand the economics behind football these days. Gone are the days that people would invest in a professional football club out of life-long love or local community pride. Today it is all about the return on investment. Has England, or to be more precise, the Premier League, has become the victim of its own success? No…unless you consider that the victims are the supporters of tomorrow.

Tonight around 350 fans would be choosing The Jungle at The Dripping Pan rather than their armchairs to watch their football, Rikki Banks instead of Lambert Jack Walder rather than Wiltshire in the centre of midfield and hopefully the return of Daniel Smith up front instead of Daniel Sturridge. Four hundred fans who would get value for money and hoepfully go home without feeling the need to ring up BBC 5Live or Talksport to rant about things that nobody really cares about.

Things are still tight at the top of the Ryman Premier League table, and despite the Rooks run of four successive draws, they are still only five points off top spot in sixth place. On paper the game against Carshalton Athletic should be a banker home win. But we saw last season how difficult the Robins were to break down. A highly-entertaining 3-3 draw away at the start of the season was followed up by a very stormy 45 minutes at The Pan in February when the proverbial six-pointer saw Lewes race to a 2-0 and the Robins reduced to ten men all within the first twenty minutes. And then the lights went off. The re-arranged game saw Lewes take all three points in a hard-fought 1-0 win that almost sealed relegation for Carshalton. But of course the FA stepped in and the Robins were thrown a life-line due to the whole Thurrock farce that did nothing but tarnish the reputation of the grass-roots game. Unfortunately, once-bitten Carshalton Athletic were still in the danger zone at the bottom of the league. This season, the league had returned to four relegation places. Worrying times indeed for the Robins.

Lewes 2 Carshalton Athletic 0 – The Dripping Pan – Tuesday 10th September 2010
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As I drove away from the Pan last night, all I heard on the radio was moaning England phones, talking about the boring performance.  Hello?  What did you expect from a) this current side b) the current situation and c) what they need to do to qualify.  I wrote earlier in this piece about it being a borefest and I wrote that bit 48 hours before the game.  Why did those fans bother?  With a pretty full non-league programme up and down the country, why didn’t they go and see a local side?  Just over 350 were in the Pan to see Lewes’ unbeaten start to the season stretch to 9 games, the best start to a season for over 6 years.  Whilst the quality was never of an international level, it was head and shoulders above the Kiev fayre in terms of passion, enthusiasm and commitment.

The result was never in doubt after Jack Dixon scored his fourth goal of the season, smashing a loose ball home as early as the sixth minute.  Lewes looked lively in the first half with Walder at his best in the middle of the park, breaking up the visitors play and setting the attacking play under way.  It was a surprise that they couldn’t add to the tally before the break, and even let the visitors, in their very fetching purple kit with gold numbering, into the game.

But normal service was restored after the break.  A quick counter-attack saw Nathan Crabb played in and he made no mistake from an acute angle.  Feed the Crabb(s) and they will score and do lots of summersaults to celebrate.  The cheer of the crowd brought those who were sitting in the bar out of their Hodgson-induced coma, raising their spirits for a brief moment before being sucked back in front of the TV.

20130910-235622.jpgWith the pain of Saturday’s two goal capitulation still fresh in our minds we urged the Rooks forwards.  Our hopes weren’t held when Ade Olarunda was sent off for “dangerous play” when his lunge at the ball was judged to be over the top.  The fact that a Carshalton player was some distance away only made the decision more laughable.  However, we came through the last 15 minutes unscathed and the final whistle was met with some relief.

So England drew.  Great.  Well done England.  I still prefer my football these days a little more rustic, with a liberal dash of Harvey’s.

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The Pain of Spain fails to referee the game

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 23, 2013

It had been quite a good few weeks for the Rooks. Results on the pitch had been poor – in fact we were bottom of the current form table – six defeats from the last six games had brought Mr Relegation sniffing around our front door and our chance of a home win against Margate (and a chance to see match ball sponsor Luge Pravda lead the teams out in his PE kit) were dashed by the freak snow that hit East Sussex, cancelling the game for the second time in 2013.

8545562460_4c69d1e0da_bBut a football club is not just for Christmas, it’s forever and so our job as Directors is to build a sustainable club on and off the pitch. We are all 100% behind Simon Wormull (oh God, that sounds like a dreaded vote of confidence! Sorry Simon!) and believe that the team will comfortably avoid the bottom two. So it was positive to see our fantastic match posters get some of the press they have deserved. Both Proworx and East Web have a done a sterling job in recent years as designers, under the guidance of the likes of club Directors Charlie Dobres, Ben Ward and Patrick Marber (see the set here) and this week the national press came calling. BBC local news, Freund11 in Germany, MSN, Yahoo!, The Independent, The Sunday Times, heck even the Daily Mail got in on the act (although their interpretation of the facts still leaves a lot to be desired). Fine praise indeed, and it felt like the world and his wife were now following our results.

So after we put away our Kiss-Me-Quick hats from the Margate postponement, I looked forward to a short trip on the bus to Cray Wanderers for a relegation six pointer. After a morning of stripping (window ledges rather than with the employees of FYEO alas) CMF approved my efforts in the “Husband” department and sent me off to the bus stop, packed lunch and Thermos (you should always write that with a capital T as it is a brand and not an item – just like Hoover, Portakabin and Airtight), slipping my bus fare in my pocket and telling me to be home by 6pm. Alas, just as I set foot out of the door, Mr. Monsoon paid South East London a visit and another game fell by the wayside.

BFeZywoCMAAh-lXSo roll on 80 hours and we were back at the Pan. If Cray Wanderers was a six pointer, then the visit of bottom of the table Carshalton Athletic was a twenty-four pointer. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Carshalton had come to visit us. Just a few weeks ago they arrived in town, had a player sent off after less than 100 seconds, found themselves two goals down and then lost their manager all in the first half. As the teams headed for the dressing room the power to the Pan failed and despite us all holding up our mobile phones, the referee deemed it wasn’t enough so the game was abandoned.

The Ryman League rules state that if a game is abandoned by the referee during or after half time, then no refund is due to paying fans. We met as a board soon after the game and decided to offer admission for the re-arranged match as “pay what you want”. If fans wanted to pay 1pence or £10 then so be it. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important than stupid rules.

Since then the fortunes of both clubs have been on a downward spiral, and with games running out this was a must-win game for both clubs. Alas, there could only be one winner (unless it was a draw of course) and Lewes edged a tense game which saw the return of fans-favourite Harry Harding to the Rooks starting XI, playing on an expenses only basis (footballer playing for the love of the game, shock!). The floodlights stayed on, our special guest Steve Claridge was kept topped up with Harvey’s and the 409 spectators paid an average of £4.72 (and 95 Euro cents) to watch a vital win for the Rooks.

8573436031_0756936be2_bSo could the team keep up the form with the visit of Kingstonian? Since our return to the Ryman League they have been one of our bogey teams. Played three, drawn one, lost two. Hardly inspiring statistics, but we all know that stats can prove anything (did you know for instance that if I lived in San Marino and was an average goalkeeper I had a one in three chance of playing international football?). Kingstonian have suffered in recent weeks because of the weather and with their games in hand would propel them in with a shout of the play offs. Their current form wasn’t good. In fact, the worst in the whole division with just one point from their last six games. Could the Rooks smell victory in the air again? Or was that simply Cynical Dave’s new Horn aftershave?

Come Saturday morning and I looked outside. Snow. Everywhere. This is getting very very boring now. People have championed for a winter break in English football for years. But what good would that do? Lewes’s first postponed game this season was on the 22nd December. Three months later and the weather is just as bad and we were supposed to be well and truly in Spring. Perhaps we should adopt the model used in the Danish lower leagues where the football stops in mid November and doesn’t restart until April, although the current weather there does look good for next week’s recommencement of league games.  For once it appeared that Lewes was in a bubble of good weather, so whereas over 60% of the Ryman League games fell by the wayside pre-lunch on Saturday, Lewes was on, passing a pitch inspection after the (local) referee deemed the pitch playable, albeit with the consistency of “sticky toffee”.  Got to love referees, right?  They do a great job.

Lewes 1 Kingstonian 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 23rd March 2013
How often do you ever see an incident in football where the keeper is fouled and play is allowed to go on?  Once?  Twice a season?  What about twice in one game?  And what about when both incidents lead to goals?  Unheard of I know, but today we were blessed with a referee who was responsible for this incident two years ago and ended the game being jeered by over 600 home fans, and laughed at by the rest.  This was the same Mr Spain who failed to give Lewes a penalty when they played away at Hastings United on New Year’s Day for an assault on Steve Brinkhurst seen by 750 people.

Let me paint the picture.  The game is entering injury time, with the scores level.  A ball is played into the penalty area, the keeper comes out and catches the ball in the air.  As he falls he catches a defender.  They both fall to the floor in a heap, the keeper not moving. Amazingly play is allowed to continue for 10-15 seconds as the ball is first cleared off the line and eventually ends up in the back of the net.  The keeper is still motionless, the defender slowly moving.  The referee awards the goal, the crowd are stunned into silence at the decision.  The away team’s fans then suddenly realise a goal has been awarded and they go mad in jubilation.  Staggering.

8582730277_3808ecefa2_bThe history book with simply record this as another home defeat for Lewes, but they deserved so much more.  There will be few of the 686 fans who attended the game who will think otherwise.  The second half of the game saw Kingstonian survive a battering as a highly motivated and determined Lewes team simply kept on pushing forward, chasing a game where they had fallen behind to a controversial goal in the first half where Thorp, again, was fouled as he caught the ball, causing it to break free and find its way into an empty net.  We all think keeper’s are far too protected and so such goals, where there was minimal interference, are just in a way.  Half time, Lewes 0 Kingstonian 1.

Mr Anderson was making his first ever appearance at the Pan, gong one step further this season than Mr Pravda and his Jonah touch of only trying to get to games that are postponed.  With his new Lewes hat on, and a top pint of Darkstar’s Darkness, left over from the Lewes FC Beer Festival, he saw a very different Lewes performance from what we had all seen recently.  The first half goal was against the run of play, and in the second half the Rooks pushed forward, finally getting their just rewards when Nathan Crabb’s shot from close range was bundled into the net by a Kingstonian defender on the line.

Even a betting man would have refused to give odds on Lewes going on to win the game.  The impressive youngster Joe Kay hit the post was a shot, and twice goal-bound shots were headed away as Lewes looked to pick up valuable points that would take them up into 15th place in the table.

But with time running out, Mr Spain decided that he wanted to be the centre of attention and had a very different interpretation of the FIFA rules of the game that allow the referee to stop the game in the event of an injury to a goalkeeper, and one that appears to be serious.  You could even argue that in the spirit of the game we want, Kingstonian should have stopped play on seeing the injured players, but can you blame them for playing on?

At full-time it must have been hard for the Lewes bench to retain their composure in such circumstances.  But they did.  Who knows what the loss of one point (or we could even argue all three) will mean in the long-term but there will be few who were present (including officials from the Sussex FA) who will give Mr Spain any credit for that one decision.

Football isn’t more important than life or death but it does determine your mood for the rest of the weekend.  It will take something special to bring my cheery outlook back….What did you say Deaks, I’ve won £68 in the monthly supporters club draw?  Well, isn’t football brilliant!

We ate all the pies

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 10, 2012

Peters and Lee, Strawberries and Cream, Katie Price and anyone….Classic partnerships that all the family know and love.  For us blokes we could throw in the likes of Pamela and Anderson or Natalia and Velez (what do you mean who???  HER!)…but there is one partnership that rises above all others.  Football and pies.  Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for those two, we would be able to sing “Who ate all the pies” to any visiting keeper.  We wouldn’t have had the marvellous book 92 Pies by occasional Lewes FC visitor Tom Dickinson and every weekend we would go hungry at the game.

We are especially proud of the match day experience at Lewes FC.  We do not have luxurious surroundings like a Premier League club, but we have heart.  A team of unpaid fans are constantly trying to pushing the envelope with new ideas that are new to football.  But pies aren’t new are they?  But few clubs are able to boast their own brand.

In celebration of National Pie Week, Lewes were planning on launching their own range of RookPies at the game against Carshalton Athletic.  Take your pick from Steak and Harveys (of course, Harveys), Chicken and Leek, Chicken Tikka or a special vegetarian Homity variety.  All served by some fans in their finest black and red striped outfits wandering amongst the good and the great of the Dripping Pan.  Ideas formulate quickly and the club are already looking at ways to use social media for pie consumption.  Tweet @rookpies with your name and location #chickenandleek and within minutes a steaming hot pastry delight can be yours. (more…)