Non League Club

Playing away in Dreamland

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 13, 2014

13804963363_e4a9f3df14_b“Well I’ve been working hard to reach me sales target
To earn a few quid for an away trip down to Margate
I’m gonna blow my commission tomorrow on all me football family
We catch the train at eight so don’t be late, were off to see the sea”

We are the luckiest fans alive today. Who else wouldn’t want to be spending a day at the sunny British seaside today. It is fair to say that prior to the release of the fixtures back in July, Margate away in either the earlier part of the season or towards the end would have been perfect.  In the last two season we had been down to the Isle of Thanet in October and January, so it was time that the fixture computer was kind to us. What better way to celebrate our promotion than a knees up on the golden sands and sewage outflow pipe of the Costa del Thanet.

Well, as our big sweaty transatlantic friend still warbles, two out of three ain’t bad. We were going to get our day in the sun in April at Margate, and ‘that’ sign was still warning us about staying away from the pipe carrying ‘stuff’ into the sea, but alas there was to be no promotion party. In fact our recent, and by recent I mean the last half of the season, has been a bit of a mystery. With a third of the season gone we were one place and two points outside the playoffs. However, the harsh weather, which first kicked in in October for us seemed to throw a spanner in the works and since then we have taken on average a point a game.

I still get the “sack the board” chants aimed in my general direction by those who still don’t quite get this community club aspect and realise that I can’t be sacked by the fans (voted out in October, indeed) but we will finish the season in a stronger position both on and off the field than last season and can look forward to next season when the regeneration project will commence on The Dripping Pan which will ultimately give us a new viable revenue stream.

photo 4 (5)Our hosts today will also be looking forward to next season. Next chairman Bob Laslett has already shown his intentions by bringing former AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown. Rumours of weekly budgets in excess of £5k will certainly make them the favourites come August, but I hope the club don’t go down the all too familiar road of Non-League boom and bust.

Whilst the ambition for the owners may be a rise up the leagues, it has to be sustainable. Redevelopment work continues at Hartsdown Park and that will give them a solid base, but if they do “build it” who will come? Only twice this season has the attendance at home broken the 500 barrier and both of those were due to the sizeable away support of Dulwich and Maidstone. Success on the pitch will bring people through the gate – in their one season in the Conference Premier where they played in Margate (as opposed to the two seasons in Dover) they did get over 1,100 on average, fuelled by away fans making a new ground visit. Today that number has decreased by 66%. With three other Ryman teams almost on their doorstep, plus Gillingham and Dover playing at higher levels close by, it is hard to see where these new supporter will come from.

“Along the promenade we spend some money
And Cynical finds a spot on the beach that’s simply sunny
Big Deaksy will enjoy himself digging up the sand,
collecting stones and winkle shells to take back home to Dan”

But today is all about a bloody good day out.  With our final away game on Easter Monday at Harrow Borough not really ticking all of the boxes for a “Jolly Boys Outing”, today was all about a few beers, some sunshine, dare say a couple of giggles and if we were lucky, a Non-League dog or two. Heck, even a long overdue three points would be as good as a Kiss Me Quick hat, a lick of a lolly and memories of the Radio 1 roadshows down here as teenagers….happy days.

It is fair to say that the walk from Margate station to the town centre has seen better days.  It is a crying shame to see so many places that I remember as a kid boarded up.  Dreamland, still home to bits of the UK’s oldest rollercoaster stands desolate, like a Scooby Doo spooky location.  There has been years of talk about turning it into an interactive museum of the rollercoaster but that day seems along way off.

photo 2 (28)Thanks to ClubSec Kev’s inside knowledge we bypassed the Pound shops and arrived at The Lifeboat pub, possibly the best secret in the town with its range of over 20 local ales. Lunch consisted of a few pints from the Westerham and Whitstable Breweries, sharing our memories of what we had been doing on the 15th April 1989, the day of the Hillsborough disaster which every club would be respecting today.

Margate 1 Lewes 1 – Hartsdown Park – Saturday 12th April 2014
One taxi ride later and we were at Hartsdown Park.  You can see signs of the foundations being laid for the redevelopment and I’d hope they retain the existing structure at the Hartsdown Road, although essentially it is only a two-sided stadium with nothing at the far end bar the railing around the pitch and portakabins on the right hand side.

The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and it was fair to say that reflective atmosphere was adopted by Lewes in the first half as they struggled to make any impact at all on the game.  They lacked fight, bite, bustle, hustle and thrust.  Margate, with their megabucks budget didn’t really dominate, although they forced over ten corners yet really made little chances in the opening period.  In fact their opening goal came direct from a Sunday League style mistake by Malins who perfected an air shot when trying to clear and 31-club (THIRTY ONE!) Jefferson Louis made no mistake from ten yards.

13804975605_0100422596_bLewes were forced to shuffle the pack once again with an injury to Andy Pearson meaning midfielder Logan had to drop to centre-back and Jack Dixon coming on. Sometimes such events turn games and this is exactly what happened in the second half.  Lewes started to believe that they could get something from the game and pushed forward, using Crabb and Wheeler out wide.  In the 65th minute the ball found its way to Wheeler on the edge of the box, he shimmied, twisted, turned and dropped his shoulder to confuse the defender, putting him on his arse and then slotting home.

13804968985_3accd6dc40_bMargate were rattled and Cynical Dave smelt victory and told the Margate keeper and centre-backs so.  A few minutes later a miss hit shot from Dixon/Malins/Crabb (we can’t remember who exactly) bounced up on the hard surface and into the net.  Referee gave the goal but the linesman deemed the retreating Nathan Crabb and Luke Blewden in an “active” offside position despite no appeals from the Margate team.  Even the keeper agreed it was a harsh decision.

A point apiece was probably a fair result for a game of two halves.  The Lewes Lunatic Fringe partied like it was 1999 on the way back to the station.  It had been a great away day and our reward was a family size bag of imitation Frazzles and a few bottles of Pedigree whilst we reminisced about the season.  Days out like this make the wind, rain, snow, sleet, floodlight failures, abject defending and poor refereeing decisions all worth it.

“Down to Margate, you can keep the Costa Brava, I’m telling ya mate I’d rather have a day down Margate with all me Lewes family”

So what makes a good football programme?

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on October 26, 2013

Today marks my third month in the hardest job in football.  Manager’s have an easy job turning up for 3 hours on a Saturday to watch a game for free.  Directors?  Well that’s just sitting round a table eating biscuits and talking about building new toilet blocks (well, to an extent).  I’m talking about one where you need to be available 24 x 7 yet your work often ends up being discarded in the bin.  I am a (co) Football Programme Editor.

New Picture (3)In the past three months, Barry Collins and myself have put together ten editions of the Lewes matchday programme.  Programmes that every week we think are getting better and better.  It does help that Barry has had some experience in the editing game (Anyone heard of PC Pro magazine by any chance?), we have a brilliant team of designers over at East-Web (thanks Jack and Lee) who lay it all out and some excellent pictures from the shutter finger of James Boyes.  But it is the bits in between that cause us to burn the midnight oil.

When we took over the role in the summer, Barry and I had grand plans for the programme.  Who wanted to read dull boring bits about the away team when they only bring two fans? Adverts? Seriously…one or two at best.   People flocked to us promising us Pullitzer quality articles.  But when the chips have been down and we needed to do three programmes in a little more than five days where were they?  Exactly.  We were on our own.

The problem for Non-League clubs, as Glenn Wilson pointed out in a recent When Saturday Comes article is that the job is the one nobody wants to do.  The role is one of those that if we do a good job, no one notices, but if it goes wrong, everyone tells us.  Whilst we have “editorial” control, our audience doesn’t really care.  We currently have 12 pages of adverts in a 32 page programme.  That in my honest opinion is too many.  We have no choice but to carry FIVE from the Ryman League because of a deal they did. It is arguable we get the value of any commercial arrangement even if one of the ads is for Boux Avenue.  So each week we have to come up with something new.

Lewes v Margate 2013So far, so good.  I have no idea if sales are up or down, but two weeks ago we sold out (and long before kick off) for the first time in years.  In fact the silent majority were soon quick to voice their disapproval of the fact, telling us we should have printed more.  Well, perhaps if those same voices would have given us some feedback when we asked earlier in the season perhaps we may have.  We are still trying to put our own stamp of individuality on each edition.  Our offering today against Margate included an article on the real founding fathers of Football, an interview with one of our oldest and most loyal fans, a piece on our opponents written by one of their more well known fans and a “last word” from Barry about his Geoff Shreeves moment last week.  See for yourselves and tell us what you think by reading a pdf copy here.

Come matchday and you would think we could relax, our work finished for the week and people enjoying the fruits of our labours.  But you would be wrong.  We have to be on the look out for the next story.  Jack Walder’s Captain’s Notes don’t just write themselves you know, and we still have the match report to worry about.  No wonder we start on the Harvey’s at 2pm!

Lewes 3 Margate 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 26th October 2013
Last Saturday Margate hit Wroxham for nine in their FA Trophy tie, whilst Lewes somehow managed to turn a comfortable win into a surprise defeat to Leatherhead.  Normality was returned on Tuesday night when Enfield Town were put to the sword and after what seemed like an age, Lewes climbed back into the Play-Off spots. But today..Wow.  This was the best Rooks performance of the season.

photo (14)We had only just taken our places on The Jungle when Nicky Wheeler was in the right place at the right time to pick up a pass (or was it a shot) from Logan, turning and curl it into the top corner.  We all scrambled for our golden goal tickets – producing a 2,4 and 5 minute tickets between us. Alas, Bob’s watch was either too fast or too slow and he settled on 3 minutes as the winning time.

Lewes continue to boss the half, with Margate’s goal leading a charmed life.  Twice the ball rolled in slow motion towards the far corner only to take a small diversion at the last minute, and Wheeler, Nathan Crabb and Logan all came close to scoring a second.  Margate’s cause wasn’t helped when Joe Vines was given a straight red for an aerial challenge on Sam Crabb. It was harsh to say the least, especially as the referee was some distance away.

Two minutes into the second half and Lewes were 2-0 up and playing against ten men.  The hour of David Pleat was upon us.  Two nil, as we know is the most dangerous score line in football, coupled with the “difficulty” in playing against ten men meant we were doomed to a painful last half an hour.  Fortunately, Pleat talks absolute bollocks so our victory was never in doubt once Jack Dixon had smashed home Hall’s pinpoint cross in the opening seconds of the second half.

A very professional performance was completed when Dan Smith bundled in Wheeler’s “cross” (it was a shot) with then minutes to go and the pain of the three defeats in recent weeks was out of the system.  Full time brought a rousing chorus from the fans and recipricated by the players and management team.  Barry and my afternoon’s work was now about to start again.

photo (12)First up, we had to track down one of the management team (Thanks Danny) for their post-match words; then it was a quick chat with Captain Jack (who showed real class in avoiding the constant intimidation from the Margate centre-forward) for his (edited) comments for the next programme and finally we simply cruised the bar looking for the next big story.  OK, we had a beer in relief that we had a whole 7 days off before the whole process of putting together the next programme would start all over again.

As I walked out the ground I saw a pile of unsold programmes from today’s game.  All of our hard work, those long hours trying to push the envelope, the ground breaking editorial, for what? Now I know exactly how the Beatles felt when they went on tour to Hamburg in the early 1960’s. Heartbroken.

 

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Adding insult to injury time

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 12, 2013

I don’t need no arms around me.
And I don’t need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don’t think I need anything at all.
No! Don’t think I’ll need anything at all.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.

Ah the magic of Pink Floyd on a cold Thursday night in East Sussex, an almost as famous quote as the classic line utter by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now of loving the smell of Napalm in the morning. “It smells like victory, son” he said as we entered the Pan after a difficult week and took a long, hard, deep breath it was Harvey’s we could smell, the smell of winners, surely.

So why the reference to Pink Floyd?  Well, some of you may know that 45 Years ago Lewes FC helped put on a concert at Lewes Town Hall featuring Pink Floyd.  The club was due to mark the anniversary with a Pink Floyd themed game back in January against Margate.  Giant inflatable pigs were strung from the floodlights, tigers were loaned from a zoo to be set free on the hour mark, a spotlight had been set up to shine on midfield diamond Jack Walder….and then the rain/snow/ice/fog came down and the game was called off. None was more disappointed than Luge Pravda, on a rare trip over from New York who had coughed up (well, I had on his behalf) to lead the teams out in full kit as the official matchday mascot (he thought it was just matchball sponsorship).

photo (23)With the design genius of The Darker Side of the Moon consigned to the history bin, the re-arranged fixture obviously had to feature Floyd.  What could better DSOM?  Of course, The Wall.  And unbelievably Mr Pravda was here again, ready to put his PE shorts on.  What were the odds on that I hear you wonder.  What odds indeed, judging by the fact I arrange the commercial meetings across the business and what odds that the bloody snow would make an unwelcome return to scuttle that plan too.  So third time lucky.  As a precaution I had managed to send Luge Pravda out to the Californian desert, meaning the game would definitely be on.

Our visitors had led the Ryman Premier for a time early in season, then fell away, primarily due to postponements, although in recent weeks they had returned to the play off spots.  Unfortunately, the Rooks’s form was definitely that of a relegation side, picking up just one point from the last six games, and that was in the crazy game at Hendon on Saturday where in the first forty-five minutes Lewes found themselves two-nil down, playing against 9 men and awarded two penalties.  Margate hadn’t done us any favours by shipping four against bottom of the table Carshalton, a game which saw Keeper/Manager Craig Holloway sent off.  Lewes hadn’t lost on a Thursday night this season (well, they hadn’t actually played a game) so the omens were good for a vital three points.  If only football was that simple!

Lewes 2 Margate 0 – The Dripping Pan – Thursday 11th April 2013
8641201684_c1e3754956_b
Tom Paine summed it perfectly when he uttered “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”.  Tom wasn’t talking about X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, but about hard-fought victories on cold nights, when the ground under foot was wet and muddy and mist swirled all around.  The players left the dressing room at 7:43pm last night as mere men and returned two hours later as conquering heroes, warriors who had taken on the 300 and won  Over the top hyperbole?  Absolutely, but last night was one of those nights where even the most Premier League-tainted football fan would’ve rediscovered their love for the beautiful game.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.  It wasn’t full of silky, to feet passing, but it was full of passion, guts and above all pride.  All too often the announcement of four minutes worth of injury time is the signal for Lewes to switch off.  I would wager there are no teams at this level of non league who have conceded more goals in the final four minutes in the past two seasons.  Last night when Pav raised the scoreboard and announced to East Sussex there would be four minutes to play, the fans huddled on the Philcox shuddered with fear.  The one goal advantage was virtually wiped out of our minds.  To us battle hardened fans it was only a matter of time before Margate scored.

But we all under estimated the Rooks.  Every player to a man only had one thought.  Win.  I had my Fergie stopwatch app running.  3 minutes 24 seconds were on the clock.  The ball was played square to Steve Brinkhurst twenty-five yards out.  He looked up, drew back his foot and hit the ball as hard as he could, knowing that if it flew wide time would surely be up.  It struck a Margate player, changed direction and the ball span over Holloway in the Margate goal and into the top corner.  Un-bloody-believable.  Beer rained down as fans threw their pints of Harvey’s in the air, strangers hugged, children were probably conceived.  Game over.  The four-minute hoodoo had been broken.

As I said earlier, hyperbole?  Absolutely.  But unless you have felt the despair of seeing your slide slowly sliding down the table, despite still playing well, and all of your relegation rivals winning games where bookies wouldn’t give them odds then you will know that feeling.  For me, having the word “relegated” on my footballing cv was a dark thought that kept creeping in front of my eyes – primarily because my work colleague kept writing it on a post-it note and leaving it on my desk!

photo (8)Let’s not get carried away though.  The win took Lewes one place up the table, and still just a point above the drop zone BUT it gives us hope, and by us I mean everyone involved with the club.  After the game I sat down with manager Simon Wormull.  He was the epitome of calm, sitting in the office working out who was fit enough for Saturday.  Ah yes, Saturday…90 minutes of pleasure and pain please, with an additional helping of drama and nervous checking of Nonleaguelive.com.

Who wants mid-table mediocrity anyway?  As Pink Floyd once famously sang, can you tell Heaven from Hell…well in games like this it is goals like Steve Brinkhurst’s that mean we are heading up rather than down.