Non League Club

A strange case of Mimi Labonq

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 21, 2013

786There isn’t a lot to say about a trip to East Thurrock United that hasn’t been said before.  Predominantly by me, naturally, on my three previous visits to this little slice of rural England-cum-Oil refineries.  I’ve mentioned before it can claim Denise Van Outen and Dougie Poynter as its famous daughter and son, but have I ever mentioned it was also the home village of Sue Hodge, better know as Mimi Labonq from the classic 80#s comedy show ‘Allo ‘Allo.  Sue was a regular at Rookery Hill, cheering the lads on as they rose through the divisions I’d expect, signing autographs like the one to the right for anyone who wanted it (an autograph that is and perhaps some witty Anglophile banter). Oh, and every time we have come here, we have lost.  One bloody nil.  So excuse me if even a chance of seeing the 1985 Mimi in all of her finest didn’t excite me.

But tonight Matthew, it was all about the action on the pitch and not off it.  A strong Parliament of 40 Rooks had descended on deepest, darkest Essex for the midweek encounter with the Rocks to see if this great start to the season could continue.  My mate Ben told me that the last time Spurs had won away on the opening day of the season they qualified for the Champions League.  The last time the Rooks had gone 3 games unbeaten at the start of a season they won the league.  Like all football fans, we clutch at straws even after three games in a season.

So with the sun setting over the Thames Estuary, and the full moon rising on the opposite side of the ground we awaited the Spartans, led by Jack Walder into the arena.  With the battle cry ringing in our ears he led the warriors into the arena, “Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time!”….or it could have just been “come on lads”.

East Thurrock United 0 Lewes 2 – Rookery Hill – Tuesday 20th August 2013
It’s games like these that make a successful season.  The Lewes of old would have wilted in the setting sun, uneasy with the direct pressure the East Thurrock team put us under.  But these days they are made of stronger stuff and a goal in either half was enough to fairly take all three points.  A rare non-Arsenal caller to BBC’s 606 programme on Saturday suggested that the mark of a championship winning team is to play badly and still win.  Personally, I think that is all bollocks.  A championship team will very rarely play badly.  They may be out-thought, out-muscled, out-played for parts of the game, but it is how they respond that marks them out to be champions.  Not that I am suggesting for one minute this Lewes team are Champions-elect, far from it.  But the concentration on defence before attack, retaining shape and always supporting the man with the ball is there for all to see.

Mixing the short, fast ball with the occasional lob over the heads of the retreating centre-backs worked perfectly.  Add in the huge throw-in#s from Treleaven and it is fair to say the keeper had more than the setting sun causing him a headache.  Three points were never really in doubt after Jack Dixon powered in his second goal in as many games on the half hour mark.

9556338673_5f8d93b53f_b (1)The home team did strike the woodwork (or plasticwork as it is these days) in both halves, giving us a bit of a moment.  But the ball over the top with five minutes to go saw substitute Olorunda hold off his marker and fire the ball into the corner of the net.  Game over.  Tough on the home side who came into the season with high hopes and then lost the nucleus of their squad to bigger sides, a fact that frustrated the officials no end in the board room post game.

Competition at the top is already fierce with four teams already on 10 points from four games, trailing the 100 percenters, Grays Athletic.  Next up for Lewes is the small matter of a visit to Maidstone United.  After that one we can dare to dream like the Spartans, or even about Mimi.

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The Silent H

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 24, 2013

Looking around for a game to go to on Saturday morning I took inspiration from my daughter, who was happily playing with her Moshi Monsters (21st century version of Weebles in my view) singing to herself about her Heart Skipping a Beat.

8501817584_2f35b1ab3f_b“Where should I go today, Bella?”

“I know, let’s all go to Witam!”

I had no idea where she was talking about, unless she was referring to Witton, which of course we all known is just a part of Northwich and home to Witton Albion. So I asked her why she had suggested such a strange thing.

“Oh my Goodness, me and you – the Army of Two – let’s go to Witham! I know you are Busy, and you know I am a bit of a Troublemaker but Please Don’t Let Me Go to Ikea with Mum. I’m wearing my Heart on My Sleeve and I want to go with you”

At this point my eldest daughter came in the room and gave her little sister a round of applause. It appeared that they had a childish competition to see who could get the most song titles from one artist in one sentence. I mean, what a ridiculous game. Who on earth would play a game like that, especially in a national newspaper report (let’s move on quickly). I Still had no idea who she was trying to refer to.

“Dad, you are so square. She is talking about Olly Murs”

Of course, Olly Murs, I said, pretending I knew more about the cheeky chap than the fact he wore a silly hat everywhere. Apparently her little speech had six of Olly’s “greatest hits” in and I am proud to say I knew none of them. It seemed that Littlest Fuller was a bit smitten with Olly and was keen to go to where he lived to see if he was about. Not as much as some chap from One Direction mind. It seems the latest trend in the life of a 9/10 year old girl is to change your surname to the boy band member you “love” the most. So my daughter was currently referred to by her friends as Mrs. Tomlinson. Honestly, kids of today.

Of course I initially said “no” to such a flight of fancy, but then I realised that she was talking about Witham (but with the slient ‘h’ of course) and not Witton. Hmm….Witham. Home of Witham Town. Ryman League North. Never been there. And they are at home. Could I? Should I? Would I? Oh yes.

To be most famous for the birthplace of an X-Factor run up didn’t fill me with much hope that a cultural afternoon in Witham was high on the agenda. It does, of course, have the River Brain (one of my favourite British River’s along with the Mint and the Biss) and is the home to Britain’s 150th busiest train station, but nothing to really amuse a nine year old. However, I had a trump card up my sleeve for my Olly Murs-loving daughter.

“Why don’t we go and see where he used to play football?” She hates football but I had pushed her into a corner. She wanted a tour of Olly’s haunts, and Witham Town was one of those. Apparently, according to Wikipedia anyway so it probably isn’t true, Olly played for “The Town” before he made the, ahem, “big time”. Sometimes I am a bad bad Dad.

So in the TBIR Taxi we climbed and down the A12 we went, pulling up outside the Spicer McColl Stadium. “Oh look, what a co-incidence. There is a game on! Let’s go in to see if Olly is watching. He loves football”. Of course he wouldn’t be there but I think I could buy myself at least an hour of her checking every single one of the 100 or so fans who would be watching the game versus AFC Sudbury before she realised she had been tricked. And when that moment came I had armed myself with 3 (three!) Kinder eggs for her to have. As I said, sometimes I am a bad, bad Dad.

8501953964_56f1cfd2dd_bSo what can I tell you about Witham Town? Well, they have had a bit of a yo-yo existence between the Isthmian and the Essex Senior Leagues in the past decade. Last season they were promoted again as Champions of the County and took their place once more in the Ryman League, reforming their triangle of local derbies with Heybridge Swifts and Maldon & Tiptree. This is a hotbed of Non League football, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and whilst Witham can boast Olly Murs as a former player, Heybridge could boast Dean Holdsworth as one of their Alummi. They also have dug outs situated the furthest apart I have ever seen, essentially level with each penalty area. Any fourth officials working here must hate it, having to cover more distance than most of the players.

The season so far for Town had been relatively positive. Seventh place coming into the game, but probably too far away from the top five (ironically with Maldon & Tiptree and Heybridge Swifts in there already) for a play off push. This was almost a local derby for visitors AFC Sudbury. Despite being “over the border” in Suffolk, relatively local matches are few and far between and so they were sure to bring a few fans to cheer on their side, who a few years ago would have hoped to have been seriously challenging for promotion themselves instead of a mid-table position.

The Spicer McColl Stadium was easy to find. Round the back of the town centre, once you see Asda, turn left and its next to the railway line. In fact any trains passing by could have an excellent view of the game. Handy to know if there is ever a big cup game here and they can simply park the train, rather than the bus, on the railway lines and watch the game from there. It was also freezing. Really freezing. Ten pounds later (admission, golden goal, raffle) and we were in. Functional sums up the ground. Certainly no lack of cover from the rain and a small main stand, featuring a fantastic glass press box that could seat 2 people at best.

8500835577_538b73fc29_bDog in ground (tick), man with radio pressed to ear (tick), player’s Mum telling her son to “wrap up warm out there” (tick). Almost time for kick off then. One lone Witham Town fan was behind the goal, standing with his own proud display of flags. He was the loudest fan I think I had ever heard. He never gave up supporting his team through the game, despite feeling a bit isolated. Cometh the hour, cometh the referee and the players. Showtime.

Witham Town 1 AFC Sudbury 1 – The Spicer McColl Stadium – Saturday 23rd February 2013
The game was a tale of penalties. Ones that were given, ones that were scored, ones that were missed and ones that were blatantly ignored by an inept official. It is interesting to watch games like these where I have absolutely no clouded allegiance to see how bad some referees are. This chap had 45 minutes to forget.

It started as early as the second minute when a home player was hit from behind in the area by a Sudbury player quite a few seconds after the ball had been played. Commentators would say to an incident like this “it was too early in the game to give it”. Bollocks. Time is irrelevant. It was a penalty, pure and simple. To make matters worse AFC Sudbury went up the other end and a softer challenge on one of their players in the area led to the referee pointing to the spot. These decisions do not “even themselves” out.

8500840589_519dc4c59b_bHowever, the Sudbury player struck the penalty against the post, and then the rebound was also struck against the same post, with a reassuring thud that could be heard at the other end of the ground. Had justice been served? Probably.

Just five minutes later we had another penalty decision. This time the referee saw a challenge in the Sudbury box that was marginal and gave the home side a penalty which they didn’t make any mistake from. 1-0. The Witham fans behind the goal went into overdrive.

The remainder of the half was played out in a relatively bad tempered way. The officials simply had no idea how to control a game that was full of niggly tackles and dissent. Consequently both teams felt like they were trying to physically beat each other rather than play a game of football, and the officials were powerless to do anything about it. Time and time again players from both sides confronted the officials yet no action was taken. This is where the League’s focus on the whole Respect campaign and the associated league tables they publish falls down. Some referees I have seen this season would have sent players off for less than I saw here, yet here was one who was not prepared to take any action.

With half time approaching Sudbury drew level. A free-kick from the right was headed on to the far post and Cowley nodded into an empty net. Offside? Quite possibly but that would need an official to be up with play, which he wasn’t. Certainly when the initial ball was delivered the Sudbury players were onside.

After a brief respite from the cold in the bar we returned for the second half. I had hoped that the referee may re-assess his approach to the game to allow it to improve but alas he didn’t. With just over an hour gone and with a dinner date with the Current Mrs. Fuller to keep I departed.

Well, I say dinner date. I had agreed to meet her at Ikea in Thurrock at 5pm. Hang on…Thurrock….That is near East Thurrock, no? And Lewes were at East Thurrock. What a co-incidence! Perhaps we could catch the last 15 minutes there….and perhaps a brief drink in the boardroom.

8500702417_edddfca50e_bTwenty minutes later we pulled up in Corringham, home of East Thurrock. It seemed cheer was very thin on the ground here too. Lewes were losing 1-0. In fact there was really little point in actually coming here at all. We always lose 1-0 here. Twice last year (once in the cup) and always due to a contentious penalty. Today, once again, it appeared that the officials had got it all wrong, with Lewes keeper Thorp being penalised for a foul that even the home keeper said he saw was yards outside the area.

The fifteen minutes I saw was not pretty. In fact Lewes had played ten times better on Monday in their 6-1 defeat at Wealdstone. These are worrying times for the Rooks and with the game against second bottom Carshalton Athletic on Tuesday now bigger than ever. Full time in Corringham, and a quick peak at the scores elsewhere saw that we had missed nothing else at Witham. A trip to Ikea had never seemed so exciting!

Wish you were here?

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 2, 2012

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.

photoFor us Non League fans, our season can often be over before the Christmas decorations go up. Unfortunately, the various footballing authorities front-load the season with cup fixtures meaning that by the end of November the leagues look imbalanced with some clubs playing 30% more league games than others.

Down at the Pan our final cup flame was extinguished this week when Sussex League side Eastbourne United beat the Rooks 2-1. Make no mistake – the club wants to win every game and this was a blow – with the likes of Crawley Town and Brighton really taking the competition seriously, the Sussex Senior Cup is the best route to a trophy.

Front loading is also the term clubs use for setting playing budgets higher at the start of the season then reducing them over the season as the club is eliminated from cup competitions. But to some outsiders, the natural and planned reduction of the weekly budget is seen as a sign of panic.

Lewes set their budget in this way, allowing manager Simon Wormull to “overspend” in the early part of the season, on the clear understanding that by Christmas it will be brought back in line. Of course there was always the hope that a decent cup run would deliver some good prize money which in turn may go into the budget. In fact some clubs will forecast a level of cup prize money in their budget setting, which is always dangerous. So this week, with the road to the Amex (the venue for the Sussex Senior Cup) was firmly closed for another season and accordingly manager Simon Wormull made cuts to his squad accordingly.

8235102409_102f9792bb_bTo some outsiders this was seen as a sign of impending chaos and doom. To the rest who have a grasp of what’s going on it was disappointing, but all part f he transition of a club into a self- sustaining entity. Very few clubs can ever say they reach that financial plateau but that’s the aim at Lewes.

So three players light, The Rooks prepared to take on the Rocks of East Thurrock United, who themselves had gambled and won in last season’s budget stakes with a fantastic cup run all the way to the FA Cup First Round where their tie against Macclesfield Town wa shown live on TV.  Despite an indifferent season so far, Lewes hadn’t actually been defeated at home in the league since the opening day back in the August sunshine.

The sun was out here too, but the mercury failed to rise much above zero all afternoon.  Manager Simon Wormull was celebrating his 36th birthday in style, by naming himself in the centre of midfield.  Whilst the engine may only get into second gear these days, the range and accuracy of passing is still as good as it was when he was a youngster at Tottenham Hotspur.  With Nathan Crabb also back in contention the Rooks were hoping that this would be an afternoon they would be getting the Rocks off.

Lewes 1 East Thurrock United 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 1st December 2012
Sometimes in football you just have to be happy with what you have got.  For an hour of this game, played on a chilly afternoon, Lewes were by far the better side and should have been three or four up.  But then the deficiencies of the current situation kicked in, with a small squad and an inexperienced bench meaning the team simply ran out of gas, allowing the visitors to equalise and almost deservedly win the game.

8235090491_31ecc0500c_bAs walked down to the Jungle as the game kicked off, the Lewes fans wondered which team would turn up.  The one that battered promotion-chasing Lowestoft Town (twice) or the one that capitulated to County League (Division two as well) Eastbourne United.  For the first half hour it was the former as it seemed that Wormull had balanced the side perfectly, with Walder doing what he does, snapping and snarling at the opponents, Brinkhurst able to attack down the left and Crabb and Godfrey busy up front.  It was no surprise when Godfrey put the Rooks ahead on the 26th minute mark.

One should have been two (or three or four) when Crabb, Schaaf and Godfrey again all went close before the break but we had to make do with just the one as we headed for the Board-a-kabin for our half time treats.

The second half saw Lewes start strongly with Breach’s header rolling along the line and then Crabb “ghosting” in behind the defence but seeing his chip just miss the target.  I was due to write the report for the Non League Paper and was tasked to slip in the word Ghosted and Carbuncle…the former made the edit, the latter is still probably laying on the editors floor somewhere.

Alas with the team running out of steam, it was the visitors who finished the stronger.  Two tactical changes in the 70th minute saw the energy levels increase and it was no surprise when Newby drove the ball home from an unmarked position.  The final twenty minutes saw the Rocks have a goal disallowed for offside, a good shout for a penalty turned down and another great save made by Thorp from point blank range.  It wasn’t the best twenty minutes of my season so I went and cheered myself up with burger.  “Chedder, Burger Cheese or Stilton”…That in itself lifted my mood as Lolly muttered “disgusting moldy cheese” under her breath as I tucked into some Sussex Blue to go along with my Harvey’s Blue.  Football may be more important than life and death, but beer and home-cooked food top that anytime.

8236169626_fb579779b6_bSo we had to make do with another draw.  Mid-table is becoming a familiar home to Lewes this season, and as Worms accepted his man of the match award from the Lewes Forum members, he could only look forward with some trepidation – Lewes’s next three weeks sees them play the teams in first, third, fourth and fifth.  After that performance who’s to say that Abramovich wont come a-calling before the year is over.