Non League Club

Victory has a thousands fathers

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on November 16, 2013

jfkThe immortal words of JFK, who was killed 50 years ago next week sum up the feelings around the Dripping Pan this week.  Today marks a welcome return to Saturday football for Lewes FC.  It’s been three weeks since we saw such action thanks to our elimination of both national cup competitions and a postponement all too quickly last weekend at Grays Athletic.  We’ve had some midweek action in that period, with one of the worst refereeing performances ever recorded on Tuesday night away to Bury Town seeing us fall to a 97th minute goal. But the mark of a great team is how they bounce back.  As the 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy was immortalised not for his good work as the most powerful man in the world, but rather by his public and contraversial death.  However, whilst he was in office, he was the king of the one liners that are still used today to motivational effect.

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction”

Since we were last here, beating Margate back in October, everyone at the top of the table have been busy having their apple cart’s upset, including the visitors at The Pan today, Lowestoft Town, who bizarrely lost 2-0 at home to Cray Wanderers last Saturday.  Lewes’s next visitors at The Pan on Wednesday had just two wins prior to their visit to Suffolk last week and had conceded on average over 3 1/2 goals a game.  AFC Hornchurch’s home defeat to Harrow and Maidstone’s home point against Leiston are further proof that no-one wants to win this league.

After the most pointless international break in the season, once again this was the opportunity for the half a million or so Premier League and Championship fans to get down to their local club.  The annual Non-League Day campaign is a great success on the international break in September, but this is actually the fourth such break so far this season.  So what impact has these enforced breaks have on Non-League attendances?

Lewes v Lowestoft 2013jpgLet’s start with Non-League day in September.  The total attendances in the Ryman Premier on the 7th September was 5,540, an average of 461.  The biggest attendance was Lewes v Met Police at 788 and the lowest at Thamesmead v Wingate where just 64 came through the gate.  The Lewes one was interesting and Met Police only appeared to bring 5 fans.  The two Saturday attendances either side of this was versus Canvey Island (532) and Margate (570).  Our average league attendance is 547 so you could say that Non-League day was a success at The Dripping Pan.  Our visitors today, Lowestoft Town, average 504.  On the two international break weekends they have played this season they saw 585 and 500 come through the gates of the New Meadow.  Margate, also at home on two of the three dates had 491 and 401 respectively against their average gate of 427.  In both the Lowestoft and Margate cases, the former attendance was on Non-League Day.

So, we can deduce that Non-League Day worked at our level.  National press coverage and promotions saw new fans boost attendances to Non-League clubs  by over 15% in all three cases.  But looking at the October date, the attendances actually fell on average.  Why?  Because Premier League Championship fans don’t like the freedom of a Non-League game?  Being able to have a beer on the terraces?  Paying a third of the average cost of a Premier League seat? Being able to stand, sit, sing and shout what you want?  I genuinely do not know.  Perhaps attendances today will give us more of a guide into the mentality of these floating fans.

 If there is one set of Ryman fans I feel for it is Lowestoft Town.  Their rise through the leagues in the past few seasons has been impressive, but it seems that the Ryman Premier is one step too far to breach.  Three successive Play-off final defeats where they have lost by the odd goal to Tonbridge Angels, AFC Hornchurch and Concord Rangers, the last two at the death.  Crowds are down at Crown Meadow, and has been a matter of debate in recent weeks on the Trawler Boys forum.  Some of their away travel, including today’s trip to Lewes, involve longer journeys than it takes most people to travel on their summer holidays.  Their form so far this season suggests that their annual play-off appearance may be off the menu too although a win today would see them leapfrog the Rooks.

Lewes 0 Lowestoft Town 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 16th November 2013
Well that didn’t go according to plan did it?  Lewes simply failed to build any momentum in the game, and were caught out twice in the second half by a more determined Lowestoft Town side, who could also afford to miss a second half penalty.  However, few of the 706 fans who saw this game will remember this game for the performance of one man.  The referee.  It is all too easy to blame a defeat on the officials, who have a hard enough job as it is, but that’s not the case today.  Lowestoft were the better team, hands down, but this game as a spectacle was killed by constant whistling and bizarre decisions by an official who seemed way out of his depth.

10890607274_09d3fe8ac1_bIn the first half we saw a Lewes cross hit a Lowestoft hand (“ball to hand”) and seen by everyone in the ground.  Penalty? Corner! Nope, goal kick.  A few minutes later a similar incident saw a corner given when no Lowestoft player was near the final touch.  During the game the Lowestoft keeper kept kicking from his hands, but carrying the ball outside the box as he did.  “LINO!” came the shout after the first couple of occasions, yet not once did he pick up on the offence. Even the Lowestoft bench saw it and sent messages to the keeper not to do it.

But the icing on the cake was a 21-man brawl in the second half.  Lewes broke out of defence, a player from each side fell to ground and appeared to “tangle” on the floor.  The ball was played behind the Lowestoft back four and Lewes were away.  But the referee, having waiting a good 5 seconds after seeing the incident on the floor, blew his whistle to sort out the mess.  He then decided to restart the game with a contested drop ball, irrespective of the fact Lewes had been in an attacking situation and in possession of the ball.  From the restart the ball bounced about a bit, a Lowestoft player kneed Nathan Crabb and all hell broke loose.  The officials simply had no idea how to restore order and it was left to the players to “police” themselves.  The result was yellow cards for four players, including a second yellow for Crabb.  But one bizarre fact remained.  We all thought the Lowestoft number 4, Adam Fisk, had been booked in the first half.  Yet before the referee had asked everyone what happened, Fisk had run over to the bench and put the number 20 shirt on.  The referee then appeared to book the number 20, Fisk.  That sums up his performance all afternoon.

The first half saw little to write home about, with Lewes perhaps just shading it, but come the second half it was Lowestoft who made The Rooks pay for some sloppy play with goals from Manny Osei in the 50th minute and then Robert Eagle who took advantage of a mis-timed overhead kick from a team mate to head home.  In between Rikki Banks had saved a poorly taken penalty.

10890482636_b2b494085e_bThe highlights of the afternoon were the fact over 700 had taken advantage of the lack of Premier League and Championship fixtures, and the outstanding red and purple sunset.  That means on the three instances where there had been an international break this season, we had had two crowds over 700, and one over 1,100 (which was an FA Cup game versus higher league opposition).  So the lack of higher league football was certainly helping our attendances.  It’s just a shame that we hadn’t been able to give those extra fans a victory to take home.  But all teams are entitled to a bad day in the office.  Let’s move on and concentrate on Wednesday’s visit of Cray Wanderers.

The last word on the day has to belong to John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

“…but defeat is an orphan”

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Lewes show their Sunday best

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 30, 2012

After last week’s defeat to Hendon in the FA Cup we had to watch through our fingers as the draw for the next round inevitably paired the Dragons with Eastbourne Borough.  The biggest game the Rooks could get – hammering home the disappointment even further of the exit in the shadow of Wembley Stadium and the loss of prize money.

But a week is a long time in football and at this stage the cup competitions come thick and fast.  As one door to Wembley slapped shut, another bursts open.  Who needs the FA Cup when you can have the Trophy instead.  Sure, the cup is a bit smaller but it still has a lid you can put on your head when you dance around the pitch at Wembley Stadium.

Lewes’s record in the competition hasn’t been great.  They’ve never been passed the 3rd round, and the last occasion they got that far it all ended in a bit of a bizarre game.

The date will forever be fixed in the memories of those who braved the cold to be at the Pan on Saturday 14th January 2004.  FA Trophy fever had reached Lewes, with the club progressing to the 3rd Round of the competition for the first time in ages.  Their reward for a 4-3 win away at Cinderford Town in round two was a home tie with Weymouth, managed at the time by Steve Claridge.  Nothing out of the ordinary about that you may think, but 90 minutes later most of the thousand plus crowd had to have their jaws physically closed and their eyes popped back into their sockets after a thirteen goal thriller.

I’ve seen close to 1,500 games in my life in some of the most bizarre locations.  I’ve seen David meet Goliath and Goliath thumping David but never have I seen 13 goals in a game. Occasionally you hear about complete thrashings, such as Arbroath’s 36 goal victory over Bon Accord back in 1885, or Australia’s World Cup qualifying win over American Samoa by 31 goals in 1986.  But this wasn’t a thrashing.  This was an end to end classic.

Coming into this game, Weymouth were riding high in the Dr Martens Premier and their form soon showed as they took the lead when Claridge himself scored after just four minutes.  The next fifteen minutes saw a further four goals – 0:1 became 1:1, 1:2, 2:2 and then 2:3 to Weymouth.  Unbelievably there was no further goals until the hour mark when Lewes equalised.  The next ten minutes saw four more goals with Weymouth taking a 6-4 lead.  Weymouth then scored to surely settle the tie at 7-4 but back came Lewes with another goal.  With just a few minutes to go, it could have gone either way but a final Terrors effort from Philips made the final score 8-5.

You can only ever pray to see a game with as many goals as that (As I opened up my Non League Paper today I of course noted with irony that the nearest Non League ground to TBIR Towers, Park View Road in Welling hosted a game yesterday which also finished 8-5).  But who knows what magic the cup rubs off and that was why a few hundred good men, women and children had gathered at the Pan ready for their Sunday Best.  With Brighton at home on Saturday, we approached the visitors Lowestoft Town and asked whether we could experiment with a Sunday game – the first time the Rooks (rather than the Rookettes or Junior Rookies) had played on the day of rest for many a season.  They said yes and so whilst the rest of East Sussex were sitting down to their meat and two veg, The Mighty Rooks would be wrestling the fishermen from North Suffolk for a prize pot of £2,550 and a place in the 2nd Qualifying Round.

Lewes 1 Lowestoft Town 0 – The Dripping Pan – Sunday 30th September 2012
This will go down in the folder “in the next round”.  Simple as that.  It wasn’t a classic, certainly not anywhere near the excitement that those fans saw back in 2004, but it was a well deserved, hard-fought win that took the Rooks into the next round and added £2,550 to the bank balance.

Manager Simon Wormull had almost his whole squad to choose from for the game, welcoming back Chris Breach from his dodgy neck and Jake Conroy from his Triathlon activities.  It wasn’t hard for Worms to get the team motivated for this one, reminding the team of the pain felt by everyone at the club after the defeat to Hendon last week in the FA Cup.

Talking of pain, we didn’t need reminding that this was an FA Carlsberg Trophy game.  Which of course means, as with all other FA competitions (ironically virtually all sponsored by brewers), beer couldn’t be drunk on the terraces.  Quite how this would be any different from our game next week (which was supposed to be against Lowestoft again) I do not know.  In fact, with the game being played on a different day, the 350-odd mile round trip for the opposition and the Ryder Cup on TV, expectations were for a 400 attendance.

The Trawler Boys are a good side.  In the past two seasons they had reached the play-off final, losing in 2010 to Tonbridge Angels and 2011 to AFC Hornchurch.  Could it be three-times lucky this season?  They certainly started this cup side as if they meant business, although fielding Robin Tweet (aka John Clive from Carry on Abroad) with his 70’s bubble perm up front was a distraction for the Lewes centre backs, Chris Breach and Steve Robinson (now having raked up 350 appearances for the Rooks between them).  But after weathering the early storm, Lewes came into the game.  It was Jack Walder who turned up the tempo in the centre of the park, harrying and hustling the Lowestoft team who probably hadn’t come across a team that worked so hard all season.

Lolly broke the cardinal rule of watching Lewes.  Never open your Golden Goal ticket until there’s been a goal.  Her eyes lit up as it said 37 minutes.  As the clock ticked onto 36:01 a ball was played over the top of the defence, Nathan Crabb pushed the ball past the Lowestoft keeper and was brought down.  She jumped for joy but her happiness was short-lived.  The referee had given a corner kick.  How? Why?  Crabb clearly had the last touch.  It was either a penalty (which even the keeper thought it was based on his sheepish reaction) or a goal kick.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time we would see some bizarre decisions by the official.

The clock ticked onto 45 minutes and we prepared to tuck into the fine spread in the boardroom.  But as we moved down the terrace Steve Brinkhurt hit a hopeful ball into the box, new signing Ben Godfrey got a head to it and the ball looped, almost in slow motion, over the Lowestoft keeper and into the corner of the net.  In a half that was relatively devoid of goal mouth action, it came as quite a shock there had been a goal.

Half time sustenance onboard we returned to the terrace sans beer.  The nightmare scenario for Lewes was a Lowestoft Town equaliser.  This is the issue that Non League teams face up and down the country every week.  A draw would mean a replay at Lowestoft on Tuesday night – 170 miles and a 5 hour journey up to the deepest, darkest corners of Suffolk.  Such a journey would mean a 1pm departure from East Sussex.  Most of the team (as most of the players at this level do) have day jobs.  They simply cannot pitch up at work tomorrow and expect their employers to give them a day off at such short notice.  However, the club has to fulfil the fixture or face FA sanctions.  Fair right?

But back to the game.  Lewes built on their first half domination and continued to hassle the Trawler Boys.  Crabb had another good shout for a penalty when he was bundled over in the box by Greg Crane.  Crane wasn’t having a particularly good afternoon, chasing the shadows of Godfrey and Crabb.  At least it was better than the one he had on the opening day of the 2011/12 season when he scored an own goal for Lewes and was then sent off on the half hour mark.

Despite some neat play around the edge of the box, Lewes didn’t really force the Lowestoft keeper into a save.  However, at the other end anything that came within catching distance of Kieron Thorp was snaffled with ease.  Even the five minutes somehow conjured out of thin air by the referee didn’t bring the same nervousness that we had seen last season from the Rooks, and a calm maturity of the young side rode out the added time to move into the next round of the club.

So not the most memorable game for the 407 fans (so close to my 400 estimation) but it was a) a win b) a place in the next round c) made us £2,550 richer and d) showed that this Lewes team has the ability to beat one of the best sides in the division.

As a West Ham fan for over 30 years I am used to exciting but ultimately losing football.  Whilst it gets you plaudits, it ultimately doesn’t win trophies.  So for today, it was all about the result and not the performance. Oh, and £2,550…

Beware the Ides of March

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 17, 2012

According to history, the Ides of March (15th March) is considered to be an unlucky date. Many people think that Friday the 13th is the unlucky date but that came into play after the culling of the Templar Knights in the middle ages on the orders of the Vatican (apologies for the brief religious interlude).

The Ides of March were a hallowed day in Roman history as it was the prime day of celebration for the worship of the god Mars. Just like today Mars was revered but not quite in the same way. Our worshipping of a chocolate bar is a bit different to their deference of the god of war but not far off if you have seen the scrum in Netto when they do a buy one get one free. It was also the day, back in 44 BC when Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was murdered by his back benchers for fiddling his expenses. As he uttered the words “Et Tu Brute” he created the immortal line about literally being stabbed in the back, made even more famous by Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo.

The Ides of March had raised their heads at Lewes this season already. Two excellent wins had put the Rooks back on track for a push for the playoffs, sandwiched by the news that the awe-inspiring, record-breaking Lewes Ladies had won the Womens South East Counties League without even playing. Their record so far thus season of just dropping 2 points is amazing and the club can now boast an England International with Naomi Cole.  The chance of the double came on the Ides of March – the Sussex Cup final versus Brighton & Hove Albion. Looking to defend their trophy, the Rookettes battled hard but fell agonizingly short. The Ides of March – stabbed in the back by those so close (I.e Brighton).

There was still the matter of the League Cup to come as well as looking forward to next season when they would be taking their place in the Premier League against teams who could call on significantly more resources than the Rookettes. Oh, and there was the small matter of Naomi Cole’s recent England debut. Superstition? Who needs it? (more…)