Non League Club

Five shades of Cray

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 24, 2014

After four weeks without a ball being kicked today looks like the day when we finally get to see some silky-smooth Lewes football. The Rooks have seen their last six games cancelled which now means they face 17 games in 8 weeks in March and April. Not that they are alone but it does reduce the concept of a league season from a marathon to a series of shuttle runs. In normal circumstances you wouldn’t bet against the teams with games in hand, but when you are forced to play 2 or 3 games a week most clubs would rather have the points in the bank.

However, you can never accuse the masters of our league of sitting on their hands and doing nothing. Oh no. This week they allowed VCD Athletic to play at home instead of away against Brentwood to avoid another cancellation (VCD sit top of the Ryman North with just the six games in hand over second place Soham Town Rangers). Respect.

12725040234_9157a90b48_bDue to Bromley’s game scheduled for yesterday, our match against tenants Cray Wanderers had been shunted 24 hours later onto a Sunday. Now this was unusual. I had to consult with ClubSec Kev on the last time we played on a Sunday (Hendon away 2010). Personally I’m all up for Sunday games as it means I can slip in a bonus game on a Saturday – oh, sorry I meant do some scouting on the Saturday.

It was 40 years ago last month that league football (bar the Sunday League-type stuff) was held on a Sunday. Millwall may be called a lot of things, but trendsetters isn’t normally one. However, on Sunday 20 January 1974 The Lions welcomed Fulham at The Den in what was the first of a dozen games played on that day. On police advice the game was to kick off at 11.30am and admission was by buying a programme as it was illegal at the time to sell tickets for sporting events on a Sunday (one of the reasons at the time why Test cricket had a rest day) thanks to the Sunday Observance Act of 1780.

However it was really until the mid 1980’s that games were regularly played on a Sunday, when the first major TV rights deal was signed. ITV used to show a live game on a Sunday as part of the 2 year deal signed in 1983 for just over £5million, or 16 weeks of Wayne Rooney’s wages in modern monetary terms.

Time has moved on thankfully and Sunday’s now offer us all the same perks as the rest of the week. All day drinking, the ability to wash our cars on the drive (still outlawed in some European countries) and of course wall to wall football coverage on TV. It was therefore rude not to head to Weatherspoon’s at Bromley South, after getting the jet washer out, for a few beers with the Lewes Lunatic Fringe whilst watching Livorno v Hellas Verona on the big TV, followed by Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla and then the swift walk to Hayes Lane.

Cray Wanderers weren’t having the best of season’s. With four clubs due to be relegated this season they sat rock bottom coming into this game. They say it’s better to be in the gutter looking up at the stars than the other way round but that’s not a good look at the end of a Saturday night (apparently). The Non-Leagues today are full of examples of have and have nots. If the rumours are to be believed, one Kent-based club now has a weekly budget in excess of £5,000 per week which is crazy money at this level. Cray would simply love a place they could call their own home – a dream that every year takes one step forward and two steps back. Their latest attempts to get permission to move back to their homelands of the Cray Valley has met resistance from various factions.

Cray Wanderers 1 Lewes 5 – Hayes Lane – Sunday 23th February 2014
We can dress this game up any way you want but ultimately it was a walk in the park for Lewes. The fear we had walking to the ground from our colossal Sunday lunch and a few £2 (Two!) beers at Wetherspoons was that the players may have also indulged a little too much after the enforced break. Heck, it’s been so long since we say them play some may have even completed degrees with the Open University in Astrophysics.

12724459583_39b6858cca_bBut as the two teams lined up our fears subsided. Bromley FC has a strange beer zone in front of their main stand where you can consume a beverage. A row of tape and a steward marks the point where drinking is deemed acceptable and when it becomes a problem. In fact Bromley has more warning signs about not being allowed to do things than most Premier League grounds. My favourite is the warning about a “deep crevice” at one end of the ground. Picturesque as the ground is, it loves a queuing system as well with tape delineating the queue for food, beer and the toilets. Fun is OK, as long as it’s controlled and takes place between the line of tape

But we didn’t need tape or any silly rules about where we could and couldn’t drink because we had goals, and bags of them (assuming your bag could only hold a maximum of 4 goals). Ben Austin’s towering first half header from a Nicky Wheeler cross (“full-back not comfortable when wide player cuts inside” – tick) was merely the Hors d’oevres to a second half feast.

12724467203_2b6a1237b9_bLuke Blewden doubled the lead with one of those near-post headers on the run that make even the most resolute fan punch the air in delight. Number three came from Jack Dixon’s penalty kick which had us scampering down the terraces to get an action shot and then Dixon scored his second with a screamer from the edge of the box. His early season goals had been vital in our challenge near the top so who’s to know what another purple patch could deliver now.

The fifth arrived when Sam Crabb played a neat one-two on the edge of the area, found some space and slotted the ball home. Cruel as it may be we urged the team on to score more, knowing that the home side were only 2 goals shy of conceding a hundred so far for the season.

A fine win, indeed the biggest win in the top 10 divisions of English football today, that saw us move up the table. With uncertainty still over what will happen with Maidstone if they finish in the top five, our eyes could start to turn to the playoffs if results over the next 10 days go our way. Best day ever.

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St Nathan the Cray slayer

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 24, 2013

At 5pm on St George’s Day there is only one place any rightful Englishman should be.  In the pub.  That’s the real castle for us dragon-slaying proud Englishmen.  So here I was, in the most 21st century of English establishments, J D Wetherspoon.  You cannot grumble at paying £2.29 for a pint of Blueberry Pie, a fruity English stout with a distinct purplish tinge.  And what better circumstances than saluting our national saint and preparing to watch our national game.

So after the highs of the away trip to Harrow Borough on Saturday, we woke up on Sunday with a fuzzy head and a realisation that one more win could be enough to secure Premier League survival for another season.  That game would be against Cray Wanderers, just one place and two points above us.  Bromley (South) was our destination, and after a short hop, skip and a jump from JD Wetherspoon (Victoria Station) we were in JD Wetherspoon (Bromley).  A first for me – two Wetherspoon’s in less than a hour.

4983022247_383d3f9f68_bOf course with wallet busting prices at £2.20 a pint I got the first round in. Clever thinking, eh.  Ah yes, we only had time for one.  Bugger.  But still it was in jovial spirits that we left the pub for the short taxi ride to Hayes Lane, home of Bromley FC and their tenants, Cray Wanderers, the world’s third oldest football club.

These are testing times for Cray.  Mr. Relegation has been hanging around outside Hayes Lane for the past few weeks, waiting for an opportunity to pop in.  Their groundshare agreement with Bromley is due to end next year, and the prospect of a return to the heartlands of St Paul’s Cray seem further away than ever after Bromley council rejected their planning application for a new community stadium in September.  You often have to wonder whether local authorities actually want to see local football teams survive.  Despite all of the hard work of volunteers to secure a long term future for the club AND a benefit to the local community, Cray are back at square one, still having to worry about relegation just like Lewes.

I like going to watch Cray Wanderers and it will be a terrible shame if they are forced into a nomadic existence.  Nice club, nice people, nice fans and more importantly just a short bus ride away from TBIR towers.  It is a rare treat I have these days that I can use public transport to get to a game (well, yes there are the ones in Germany/Denmark/Sweden/every else apart from Lewes) so I was going to make the most of it.

8675571693_ced51975cd_bThe original game had been scheduled for mid-March but the rain had put pay to that game.  But here we were, at the business end of the season with relegation still hanging over the heads of both teams.  A draw may be good enough for both teams depending on results elsewhere, but nothing beats a win at this stage of the season to just relieve the nerves a bit.

Once again the Lewes fans had come out on a beautiful early Summer’s evening on the London/Kent borders.  As I entered the ground I was greeted with a familiar sound.  “Golden Goal Sir” could I resist?  Two pounds invested, let’s just hope the first one was a Lewes one.  Next stop a pint of Asahi, a bacon and cheese burger and three points please?

Cray Wanderers 2 Lewes 2 – Hayes Lane – Tuesday 23rd April 2013
St George’s Day 2013 9:37pm.  We are deep in injury time and Lewes are losing 2-1.  This wasn’t in the plan.  In fact I don’t think anything was in the plan.  Tonight was just about getting a result and it looks like we are leaving empty-handed.  Well, almost.  I still have a smile on my face from the 35th minute.  A real bitter-sweet moment for me when Cray took the lead with a huge slice of luck, the ball falling from a great height and hitting the completely unaware Bremmer on the head and bamboozling Keiron Thorp in the Lewes goal.  Golden Goal time 35 minutes.  Woo-hoo!  The Cray stewards even went an collected my winnings.  Top club as I said.

One became two on the stroke of half-time when another hopeful ball was played into the area and the Lewes defence decided to all stand around and watch whilst Young wandered into the box, choose his spot and bury it in the corner.  Whilst events in the Champions League brought a mild smile to our faces at half time, the thudding realisation that trips to Mertsham and Crawley Down Gatwick were back on the agenda made the Swiss Roll taste all that more bitter.  Still we had 45 minutes to make it right.

Forty five soon became ten minutes, and hope was disappearing.  Then a mix up in the Cray defence saw Crabb walk the ball into an empty net to give us something to shout about.  Two minutes later and Chris Breach’s header was cleared off the line.  We could still save this game, but time was running out…fast.


Cheers Boysie!

Four minutes of injury time were up when Harry Harding calmly laid the ball into the path of Nathan Crabb after a game of pinball in the box and he drilled it low into the corner of the net.  The question at this point has to be who didn’t end up on the pitch celebrating?  The bench, the subs, Jack Walder and Callum Donaghey, both injured and of course Cynical Dave.  Of course, Dave.  Finally, play restarted (again hats off to Cray’s stewards who simply shepherded everyone off the pitch and no more), the referee blew for time and we had a point.  In the grand scheme of things it was as vital as the three points were at Harrow on Saturday.  Thursday night would determine whether we would be playing for survival on Saturday or not.  But for now it was the best St George’s Day ever.  A last minute goal, a big celebratory bundle and £45 in my pocket for Golden Goal.

The Wanderers

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 9, 2012

After the excitement of the FA Cup at Redhill yesterday, I needed a day to recover.  Well, actually I needed a day to mow the lawns, tidy up the TBIR Museum, do some proper work and generally be the perfect husband and father I aspire to be.  But with all my chores ticked off by 1pm, the wonderful Current Mrs Fuller suggested I should have some me time.

In fact before she had even got to the end of her sentence I was off, heading a few miles south-west to the metropolis known as Beckenham, right in the heart of Crystal Palace land.  For here, for one afternoon only, Lewes Ladies aka The Rookettes, would be taking on the Millwall Lionesses in a FAW Premier League game.  And if that was not enough, there was the prospect of the second half of the FA Cup tie at Greenwich Borough to think of.  Lazy Sunday afternoon my arse.

So first up was the visit of the Lewes Ladies to South-East London.  Much has been written about the unbelievable achievements of this side, who will this season be competing with the likes of West Ham, Tottenham and Millwall.  Clubs who operate at the highest level of football in this country, and in the top twenty richest football clubs in the world.  Of course, they will argue there is no direct link between the exploits of West Ham Ladies and Sam Allardyce’s side, but they carry the same name, the same colour kit and the same fans.  So from that perspective, the fact that Lewes would be taking the field against a side who operate five leagues above the Rooks was amazing in itself.

Last week, the Rookettes had hosted Millwall in the League Cup, and won in a close fought encounter 2-1, so the Lionesses would be looking for revenge.  Beckenham Town would be our venue for the first of two games this afternoon in the beautiful Indian Summer.

Millwall Lionesses 2 Lewes Ladies 1 – Beckenham Town FC – Sunday 9th September 2012
At the final whistle the Millwall manager shouted one word – “Revenge”.  He felt that certain decisions had not gone his way last week in the League Cup game and saw this result as redemption, although neither team could say they were happy with an inept performance by all three officials.  It was a relatively even encounter, won by a strong Millwall side who used their experience at this level to come from behind to take all three points.

Lewes were certainly the better side in the first half, using the flanks well and getting the better of the Millwall midfield thanks to a fluidity in the interchanging of the front four.  England’s Naomi Cole, Portuguese pair Jo and Veiga and Clare Trafford floated around the Millwall back four, causing confusion whenever they got the ball.  It was no surprise that the goal came through these four when Clare Trafford fed Veiga, who beat her man and shot across the goal which the keeper couldn’t hold and Jo tapped home.

Despite holding the lead at half time, Millwall came out stronger, sensing that they should be the team on top rather than Lewes.  The Lions keeper was still the busier of the two and for the first fifteen minutes the Lewes midfield held the upper hand.  And then the Lionesses pounced.  Despite Holly Hinshelwood’s excellent challenge, the ball rebounded to the Millwall forward who wrong-footed the Rookettes keeper.

The game could have gone either way with both sides going for the win.  But unfortunately, the Lionesses won the game thanks to a brilliant header from their substitute, arching backwards to loop the ball over the keeper.

One final word is for the referee.  Mate, if you are reading this, you are let yourself down with your actions at the end of the game.  Both benches agreed that you were poor, but to wait until the 90+5 minutes to “flex your muscles” by sending the Lewes coach off for questioning the latest in a long list of bizarre decisions was ridiculous.  And to then shout at the top of your voice “Don’t touch me” when he went to shake your hand, well that was pathetic.

The Rookettes will have better days, that is for sure, playing at the highest level they have ever done.  But for now it would be a long, hot journey home.  As for us, it was a simple 3.4 mile drive across Suburban London to Oakley Road, home of Homesdale FC.

Greenwich Borough 0 Cray Wanderers 1 – Oakley Road – Sunday 9th September 2012
Except it wasn’t Homesdale we were seeing.  We were here to see Greenwich Borough, their tenants, playing Cray Wanderers in the FA Cup.  Technically, as the crow flies, the teams were separated by just a mile and a bit, but that doesn’t tell anything of their nomadic lives.

Greenwich Borough used to play, unsurprisingly, in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, almost at the end of our road in SE9.  But they didn’t own their ground, and when a leaflet popped through the door of the ground owners about how to build their own flats, they gave Borough notice to leave and they took their balls and ended up in the Borough of Bromley.

Cray also are Wanderers (as their name suggests), playing their football at Bromley FC, whilst trying to find the funding to return to their spiritual home in Orpington.  So the £3,000 prize fund for this tie could come in useful for that first time buyers deposit.

To say this was a close affair was like saying that Britain likes an athletics event or two.  Both sides had chances to win the game as the clock ticked down, and a replay was beckoning.  And then as we entered the fifth minute of stoppage time up popped Jamie Darvill to bag the three grand for Cray Wanderers, and break the hearts of Greenwich.

So a short hop back to Chez TBIR in time for Roast Pork and a pint of Old Tom.  Sunday’s are rarely better than these.