Non League Club

Pitch Perfect

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 18, 2014

It may have escaped the attentions of thousands of football fans in England who get their kicks watching the Premier and Football League in recent weeks, but us little old Non-League clubs haven’t had a good Christmas or New Year.  The persistent rain in the past 4 weeks has seen Lewes lose four league games to the weather, including the two money-spinning Christmas home games against AFC Hornchurch and Maidstone United.  The latter game on New Year’s Day would have seen the first, and almost certainly, only four figure crowd at The Pan this season.  We can say with some confidence that the postponement of that game alone will have cost the club thousands of pounds which we have no way of getting back.

harrow_2013-282x400But today is a story of unsung heroes.  Throughout the last few weeks our Pitch Team, brothers Jack and Joe, along with our General Manager and Club Sec Kev and put in hours at all times of day and night to get pitches ready.  Super human effort on New Year’s Eve trying to clear the pitch of water when everyone else was tucking into their JaegerBombs went unthanked by the weather as just as they had got the grass in shape, another deluge overnight made it unplayable.

20140118-100824.jpgOn Wednesday this week the game was 50/50.  Thursday it was 25/75 and then the real rain started on Thursday night.  Nobody connected with the club could see this game going ahead.  Another blank weekend both for the footballing fans in Lewes and the coffers of the bank account beckoned.  At 10.30pm last night. this is what the pitch looked like (thanks to Mr Boyes for somehow sneaking onto the pitch to take a snap) and an early inspection was planned to tell us the inevitable.

But miracles do happen.  At 9.30am the water had disappeared and the inspection was cancelled.  We had a game…finally. Jack and Joe Fingerneissl were to be the toast of the Dripping Pan.

The good news was that the Rooks were in fine goalscoring form, slotting in seven in the past three games.  The bad news was that we had also conceded seven in those same three drawn games.  Three great games to watch for the neutrals, none more so than on Tuesday night when after just thirty minutes the 20 or so Rooks fans who had made the trip to deepest and darkest Essex were rubbing their eyes in disbelief as Luke Blewden put us three-nil up against Canvey Island.  Free flowing football that would have had Sam Allardyce recoiling in horror was a joy to watch.  Alas, the second half display was more akin to watching West Ham as the Rooks conceded 3 goals in a fifteen minute period to give the home side a share of the points.

But today would be different, right?  Harrow Borough were the visitors and our recent record against them was pretty impressive.  Three win and a draw since our return to this level against them was surely a good omen of what would happen this afternoon?  In the corresponding fixture last season, Harrow’s manager and vocal star of the Non-League Show on BBC5 Live Dave Anderson was sent off after suggesting that the referee was “like a child on Christmas Day” for the amount of “presents” he gave to Lewes in the 4-2 win.  We shouldn’t need any help from the officials this season to get a long overdue win, surely?

But let’s not forget that we actually had a game to watch, and a team who were a million miles away from the one we watched last season.  Football should be played with a smile on everyone’s faces – a fact we often forget.

Lewes 1 Harrow Borough 1 – Saturday 18th January 2014 – The Dripping Pan
In the end it was a familiar visitor that cost Lewes 3 points.  The ghost of season’s past – the late equaliser.  Despite dominating the game, Lewes could only find the net once and eventually were made to pay.  However, despite the result, there were many positives from a game that stretched our unbeaten home record to over two months.

imagePersonally, it was a good day.  The microphone was thrust in my hand 10 minutes before kick off and I managed to perform admirably, remembering to announce the teams without an issue, getting both scorers right and not forgetting to do the half-time announcements.  I did miss one of the Harrow Borough’s second half substitutions, but I don’t think anyone noticed (really) and I announced the Golden Goal as 58 minutes, much to the annoyance of Terry who had 57 minutes on his ticket and then offered me half the cash if I announced there had been a Stuart’s Inquiry (copyright Dave Lamb for thinking that one up) and it was really 57 minutes.  Then I found out I had won second prize in the monthly Panning For Gold draw and for once made a profit out of coming to a Lewes game.

The team certainly hadn’t let the second half performance at Canvey Island get to them as they set about trying to break down a stubborn Harrow Borough.  Early pressure saw the Harrow keeper Shea called into action and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Lewes would open the scoring.  Despite some neat build up work including 4 (FOUR!) instances of Crabb triangulation in the first half (Crabb passes to Crabb who then plays it to Crabb) the Harrow back line mopped everything up thrown at them.

image (1)Lewes finally took the lead when Millwall loanee Charlie Penny rose at the near post to head home just before the hour and we all relaxed and expected a second or third.  But it was not to be.  Despite some great interplay outside the area, once again it was the Harrow defence that had the last laugh.  With no physio on duty for the visitors it was left to Lewes’s Natalie to help out the opposition when injuries occurred.  With just ten minutes to go she had just helped one of their players off the field.  And her thanks?  Harrow broke, played the ball to the right and Lucien struck the ball across Rikki Banks into the corner of the net.  That wasn’t in the plan.

It wasn’t the result we all hoped for but let’s look at the positives.

1) An above average crowd of 564 enjoyed a decent game in dry conditions

2) A good performance from the officials (not often you can say that!) who kept the game flowing

3) A £30 windfall from the monthly draw

4) A positive performance from the team that keeps the unbeaten run going

5) It was a game that nobody saw being on 24 hours previously

And point five sums it up.  We got to watch a game irrespective of the final score and for that we have to thank those unsung heroes such as Jack and Joe….564 people saluted your hard work today.

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A Harrowing Experience

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 21, 2013

This week has been painful for us Lewes fans. Our league position and survival hopes were in the hands of others as all of our relegation rivals played, some twice, between Tuesday and Thursday. There, of course, was an ideal sequence of events, but that was never going to happen. The form book was also a guide to how the results went, but once again, that went out of window.

Twitter is a great invention for us football fans as we can get up to the second score updates, but only if people are there and able to relay events first hand. Tuesday night’s game between Cray Wanderers and East Thurrock United was watched by around 150 brave souls, yet it appeared no one thought of sending updates on the score, least of all the two clubs involved. The Nonleaguelive website is fantastic but can sometimes lead you astray as it automatically assumes a game is 0-0 unless it gets updates. So whilst we were happy to see the game still at stalemate at half time, there had in fact been two goals. For those who remember the good ol’ days of watching a vital game unfold on Ceefax, this was just as painful.

8665805297_edab5d1f10_bOn Tuesday night Hastings United finished their game at Hendon with 8 men, after 3 were sent off. On Thursday Thurrock ended with 9 against Lowestoft Town, yet for some bizarre reason neither team will be penalised in the final games of the season with suspensions as the cut off point for this season has already passed. The odds on those five still being at their respective clubs next season is slim so what message is that sending out? Perhaps the clubs will be asked to explain their actions to the Ryman League, but what will that achieve?  In the Premier League, or Football League, suspensions kick in almost immediately. Why can’t non leagues adopt the same model? Doesn’t this send out a message that foul play is acceptable at the end of the season?  Another ridiculous non league rule that needs to be revised, although I am sure they are simply too busy planning their end of season gala dinner (which, by the way EVERY club has to buy at least four tickets for…that’s fair, right?).

Not that Lewes can moan about the situation we find ourselves in. Teams at the bottom of the league are not there because of bad luck. At the end of the season we could easily lay claim to awful decisions in the games versus Hastings United and Kingstonian that should’ve given us five more points (ironically both officiated by the same referee) but so can a dozen other clubs. Teams are never “too good” to go down. The simple act is this season Lewes haven’t yet made the top half of the table, the highest league position being 12th. Too many draws in the first half of the season, too many defeats in the second half have meant we are fighting a relegation battle rather than a play-off one as we expected at the start of the season. Clubs with smaller budges than us are challenging for the play-offs such as Metropolitan Police, Hendon, East Thurrock United and Concord Rangers. These clubs survive on crowds a faction of what we see at The Dripping Pan every other week.

8665795213_87ca887f26_bThree games left then. Eight days to save a season. All three are winnable, but we’ve been here before this season. A trip to Dave Anderson’s Harrow Borough could’ve just as easily been a trip to Stamford Bridge, but with a but more atmosphere. Boro’ are far from safe themselves. The results this week had simply pulled them back into the mix, sitting just five points above Lewes in the relegation zone. A win and they would be safe. Defeat and derby games versus Cheshunt next season could be on the cards.

Earlsmead is the palatial home of Harrow Borough since 1934. It is one of the only grounds in England that still has the bomb shelters erected during World War Two. The roof of the ex-Anderson shelter, named after their current manager, Dave, is still visible in the corner of the ground.

8666942480_cf8efca988_bWith survival at stake, the Lewes Lunatic Fringe met up under the watchful eye of the police at Marylebone. Some cynics would suggest they were there to marshall the Stoke fans arriving for the game at QPR, but we knew better. Big Deaksy, Cynical Dave, Terry Boyle…heck even Patrick Marber had dusted down the Fila for this one. If we were to go down, we’d go down fighting, just like they say on Green Street or Football Factory, but with a few more Greene King London Glory Ales inside us.  The Lewes Express was running fast to Premier League survival, with one stop on the way at Wembley Stadium (railway station).

Harrow Borough 0 Lewes 2 – Earlsmead – Saturday 20th April 2013
This was one of these day which restores your love in the beautiful game.  The sun was shining, the beer was flowing, the company was top notch and we won three points.  Whilst the mood on the way up on the Survival Express was one of uneasy hopefulness, full of “what if’s”, on the way back it was exhausted relief.  It hadn’t been a great game but for the first time in a few weeks we looked tight at the back, organised in midfield and offered a threat up front.

Perhaps it was the very real threat of relegation, or the return from a four month injury lay-off of centre-back and club captain Steve Robinson.  But at the end of the day three points are three points.  Add in some favourable results around us and the win tipped the Rooks from relegation probables to possibles……and with a game against fellow relegation battlers Cray Wanderers to come in just three days time, survival was back in our hands.

8665792127_8fd3cc9e41_bThe away support was once again fantastic, supplemented by the non playing members of the Lewes squad.  The word “team” has never been stronger than for this must win game.  The sunshine was certainly very welcome, but we would have easily swapped the clement weather for three points any day.  In truth it wasn’t the best of games.  In fact the official twitter account of the home side tweeted in the first half “this is the worst half of football we have seen this season”.  With the game ticking down to half time, and with neither keeper being tested, we were looking forward to some half time hospitality in the boardroom.

But then a hopeful punt in the air saw the Harrow centre-back and keeper hesitate and Nathan Crabb sneak in between and place a perfect lob over their heads and into the corner of the net.  The ball “nestled” in the corner of the net.  Possibly the best word in football.  Nestled.  We all took a second to look at the ball in the net, nestling, before we broke into celebration.  Not only did we look solid, we were now winning.  And the sun was still shining.

The second half saw us spending far too long looking at the scores from elsewhere on our phones, nervously remembering other one goal leads we had thrown away in the past.  But then came the defining moment in the game.  Godfrey chased the ball to the touchline, fell over with a defender who then proceeded to lay on the ball.  Despite our protests and the fact the incident happened no more than five yards away, the linesman gave nothing.  Fortunately, the referee some thirty yards away saw the offence and awarded a free kick.  Harry Harding delivered the free-kick to the far post, Nathan Crabb got his head to it and it appeared to be bundled home by a combination of Ben Godfrey and a defender.  Two nil, time for a little smile.

8665806239_72ec693e8f_bThe last period of the game saw a few nervous moments at the far end, but Lewes looked more solid than we have seen in previous weeks and the final whistle led to a huge sigh of relief.  Cheap Polish lagers and a packet of onion rings were our celebratory treat for the way home and as we passed Wembley we raised a can.  We may not ever get this close to the national stadium, but it looked like we would still be a Premier League side for another season.  Away days don’t get much better than this.

A Harrowing experience

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on November 17, 2012

Just under twenty fours prior to the Saturday’s home game with Harrow Borough I got a text.  Nothing unusual about that – I tend to get a couple of dozen a day.  But this one requested my services.  Again, nothing unusual about that as I am a talented chap in the world of Brand Management, but this one was a demand for my voice.

It’s been a few years since I prepared to go onstage and sing to a crowd.  Back in the early Nineties, my chum (In)Active Matt and I regularly used to wow crowds in the pubs and clubs of Chiswick.  It was a way to earn some extra cash but the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle wasn’t for us.  We had artistic differences around whether we should become a tribute act.  I quite fancied turning our act into a Proclaimers Tribute act (Againstclaimers), whilst Matt wanted us to be Michael Bolton & the Wanderers.  So we split, agreeing never to pick up the microphone again.  But nearly twenty years later I was agreeing to step back onto the stage again, albeit as match day announcer for Lewes’s game against Harrow Borough.

With Bob away, nobody fancied doing it.  “Hang on”, said Charlie “We have a Communications Director.  This is all about communication and directing so it is Stuart’s job”.  End of story.

So I had a few hours to come up with some “patter” and “banter”.  Crowd engagement increases the audience experience, as I have always said.  So I put my thinking cap on, and remembered one of the best ever pieces of football commentary.  Let me take you back to September 1981.  The place?  Oslo.  The event?  Norway versus England.  The result?  Norway, ranked somewhere in the 60’s in world football took on and beat Ron Greenwood’s England.  To say it was a shock in world football is an understatement.  But it was the passionate reaction from a virtual unknown outside of the fjords, Bjørge Lillelien that would go down in history.  His 45 second rant against the English after the game is now legendary (you can hear it here) and my inspiration.

His speech went down in history as a battle cry for David against Goliath. And with our form so far this season being in the “could do better” category, what better way for me to take the microphone and rally the Lewes fans after a win against Harrow with a slightly edited version, focusing on those famous residents of HA1.

“We’re the best in the Ryman Premier League. We’ve beaten Harrow Borough. It’s completely unbelievable. Harrow, birthplace of giants. Todd Carty – you needed Tucker’s luck today? Where was it?We have beaten them all. We have beaten them all. Benedict Cumberbatch – You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realise your boys were second best today. Patrick Moore – no use turning your eyes skywards, today’s defeat stares you in the face. Linsey Dawn McKenzie – what a set of tits your defence were this afternoon. We’ve beaten them all. We have beaten them all.

Barbara Windsor can you hear me now? JLS I have a message for you. We have knocked you down a few places in the Ryman Premier. Peter André – as they say in your language in the wine bars around Harrow on the Hill – your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating.”

I couldn’t wait to stand in the middle of the pitch rallying the fans….of course we had to win first but that was long overdue.  What could go wrong?

It had been a long week in TBIR towers. I was forced to sit out the nil nil draw with Hendon on Tuesday, although it didn’t sound like I missed much. Morale boosting trips to the troops in Stockholm and Copenhagen had seen delays of over 5 hours due to fog, and even the debut of the Tuborg Julebryg, the Danish Christmas beer, didn’t lift spirits (OK so it did for an hour or two). The Movember moustache was at the difficult point of being constantly moving in the corner of my eye, leading to excessive top lip wiping and to top it all I found out that I hadn’t actually won €67 million in the European Official Lottery despite the email I received from David Cameroon (sic).

A pint of Harvey’s, a Rooks Pie and a chance to deliver my speech when we won would be the perfect tonic. Not too much to ask for is it?

Lewes 1 Harrow Borough 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 17th November 2012
As Meat Loaf famously sang, “Two out of three ‘ain’t bad”.  But in this case I would have traded the Harvey’s Blue Label and the Steak and Ale encrusted in pastry for the win.  It was a frustrating afternoon, summed up by the fact that there were goals galore everywhere else in the division, yet at The Pan the game’s two decisive moments both came within ninety seconds of each other, and both definitely down to big defensive mistakes.

The first half saw both teams create a number of good chances.  Harrow’s centre forward was Danny “The Unit” Buckle, a player who had a spell at Lewes a few years ago and earned legendary status for his mobility and first touch.  It was good to see that he showed no sign of losing his instinct for goal, blazing wide after five minutes when the whole net gaped open.

At the other end, all the talk of the Jungle was the various Movember moustaches on offer.  We had ex-Lewes Director Nick Williams’s Hulk Hogan effort, Cynical Dave’s Ron Jeremy but the star of the show was undoubtably Dave Lamb.  Not only was he sporting a Clark Gable, but had also slipped on a smoking jacket and a snazzy scarf.

Twenty minutes in and Lord Plumpton remarked how poor Lowestoft compared to their league position.  Puzzled faces all around..”You mean Harrow?”..”No, I mean Lowestoft.  Don’t you know who we are playing today?”.  When we told him, he asked if he could get his money back as he was here on false pretence. Jim is a Stoke fan.  Let’s leave it at that.

Despite striking the post and seeing the Harrow keeper Elvijs Puntins pulling off a couple of good saves, it somehow remained scoreless at the break.  I did my announcements and filled my pockets with boardroom sandwiches ready for the second half.  I didn’t have to wait long for the first piece of action to announce.  After spending a minute or so eulogizing the form of Lewis Hamilton this season he then under hit a pass-back to Thorp.  Thorp tried to clear his lines but his kick was charged down by Harrow Borough’s Akinola and the ball rebounded off his shins and into the empty Lewes net.

No sooner had I completed my announcements about the golden goal than I turned around to see the ball rolling very slowly towards an empty Harrow net.  I had no idea what happened.  I waited for the announcement to tell me who scored, then realised people were looking at me.  Shit.  I had no idea who scored, so I told it like it was….”And the scorer of the equaliser for Lewes was….” I paused, looked towards Deaks, Dave, Kev, Jim…anyone…but they hadn’t seen it either…”I don’t know but what the heck, it’s one all!”.

It turned out it was Anthony Thomas, capitalising on a mix up between the keeper (Elvijs had certainly left the building) and the defender.  This was a winnable game.  It became even more so when the Harrow skipper Burgess was sent off for a second (harsh) yellow.  He was soon joined by BBC Non League Show’s and Harrow Borough’s manager, Dave Anderson, sent to the changing rooms by the referee.  His crime?  He said to the referee “You are like a kid on Christmas Day”…Abuse?  Threatening?  Racial?  Offensive?  None of the above.  Poor decision.

Harrow finished the game the stronger and whilst Lewes had the man advantage, they couldn’t force the possession.  So it was another win-less game, although it meant our unbeaten league run at The Pan now stretched back to August.

But my most disappointing part of the afternoon was that I couldn’t deliver my eulogy.  Instead I had another pint of Harvey’s thrust into my hand in terms of payment for my service.  Perhaps it’s not too late for me to make it as a performer..on second thoughts, I couldn’t cope with all that underwear being thrown at me – you never know where its been!