Non League Club

Arrested Development

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 8, 2013

Lewes v Met Police 2013 NLDIn the space of four years, Non League Day has become a fixture in our footballing calendar. Today, even Premier League fans are starting to realise that there is life outside of the sanitised environs of the greediest league in the world, and for the price of a Premier League burger, you can actually see a whole 90 minute match, standing where you want and even, whisper it quietly, in some ground, having a beer whilst the game is going on. For us Non-League fans there isn’t really anything special about the game this weekend. After all, every week is a Non-League Day. We don’t need to be converted, we saw the light some years ago. However, this year, against the backdrop of a record shopping spree by English clubs during the transfer window, it appears that even the big clubs are realising that they can help out their little neighbours by putting an advert in their programme or on their website for games this weekend. Even Sky Sports have got in on the act, spending some time down at The Pan this week understand what Non-League football is all about and why it offers such a cathartic alternative to the Premier League.

However, could the footballing authorities done more to help the Non-League game? Absolutely. Off the top of my head, how about these three ideas:-

1. With no Match Of The Day on the BBC on Saturday night, why don’t they take the cameras to three or four Non-League games this weekend? What a perfect showcase for the game. Every club has a story to tell, whether it is about famous fans, charming grounds or simply the Non-League fans themselves.

2. With three international “double-headers” per season, why don’t Premier League and Championship clubs play friendlies against local Non-League sides? After all, with squad sizes of 40 or more first team players, even the top sides would only lose half of their squad to international duty. So instead of them going on an extended binge, why not take a side down the road to play against their local Non-League side? The squad would get a decent run out and the Non-League club would get a massive revenue boost from an additional game which would likely bring in higher than average attendances. West Ham playing a friendly against Ilford, Clapton or Barking would keep the club afloat potentially for a couple of seasons.

3. What about Sky scrapping the charging model for its services for clubs that mean that the monthly subscription for Sky Sports is based on the rateable value of the ground. NOT the actual club house, but the ground, meaning that for a club like Lewes, Sky Sports would cost us over £850 PER MONTH. Just up the road, the Brewers Arms has a much lower rateable value, as it is significantly smaller than The Dripping Pan and so fans go there to watch their lunchtime game, spending money over the bar which could have gone towards the club coffers. Fanciful? Well, it seems BT Sport have the right idea, offering a flat rate of less than a quarter of the cost of Sky Sports.

But we know these ideas would just fall on deaf ears if the authorities were asked about them. They simply have no motivation to help. The Non-League game isn’t a money spinner for the TV companies, an attractive option for many Premier League and Championship clubs. Instead Non-League Day is about trying to attract those fans who may live on the doorstep but for one reason or another have never crossed the portal. That’s modern football for you.

The Football Tourist Cover_AW-page-001Ah yes, modern football. How apt that for Lewes’s NLD game against Met Police that the match sponsors would be STAND, the footballing movement who stand against many aspects of the modern game. They would be joining The Football Tourist in the homely confines of the Rook Inn, enjoying some home-made ham sandwiches in the Board-a-kabin at half time. And who exactly is the Football Tourist, I hear you say? Well, it’s really me. Big surprise there. The Football Tourist represents two years of my life, travelling around the world watching games, sampling local hospitality and occasionally taking in some local culture. OK, well, once in Glasgow. What better place to let the Football Tourist out of the box than at The Dripping Pan.

The season had started well for The Rooks. Seven games in and Little Miss Defeat hadn’t been seen so far. The most successful teams in history are built on a mean defence and that is exactly what the new management team has delivered so far. The Lewes fans, so used to suffering even this early in the season don’t know what to moan about. Crowds are up and the Jungle was buzzing with optimism as the two teams took to the field on a perfect Sussex afternoon.

Lewes 2 Metropolitan Police 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 7th September 2013
“Don’t worry…this is a very different Lewes side.  We don’t panic and we certainly wont throw this one away”.….4:47pm as Met Police suddenly found out where the penalty area was, threw a ball in and somehow pulled a goal back.  We were in the 3rd minute of the four indicated by the referee and the visitors had just got reduced the arrears to 2-1.  Forty three seconds later they scored a second.  The ground, previously a cauldron of noise, fell silent.  The one Met Police supporter appeared to have disappeared.  Lewes manager Garry Wilson took his frustration out on an advertising hording.  The fans on the Philcox couldn’t believe that we had just conceded 2 goals to a side with 10 men in less than a minute of injury time.  And then it started to rain.  Rough Justice?

9693689437_5c3b67b564_bIt was veritable who’s who of football writing royalty in the Pan for Non League Day.  Ian King from 200%, Mark from 2nd Yellow and of course David Hartrick from IBWM and Ockley Books who was matchball sponsor.  Now the privilege of such a role these days at Lewes is to lead the teams out…We can even provide full kit if they really want to get into the spirit.  Unfortunately David was just late enough to miss out on that honour.  Funny that.

The first half wasn’t the most exciting affair although Lewes did come the closest to scoring on a number of occasions.  However, it was enlightened by the ridiculous sending off in the final minutes of the half of the Met’s, and ex-Lewes player, Stefan Cox.  Quite how he could have argued for so long about the decision is bizarre.  The referee had warned him twice about persistent foul play before he finally booked him and then just a minute later he went in late on Sam Crabb.  Still, it gave us an opportunity to bring out the tired cliché about how hard it is to play against ten men.

Watered and fed at half time we took our place on the Philcox, whilst the Met Police fan went up the other end to stand.  Ten minutes into the second half and we finally had something to cheer about as Sam Crabb pounced on a loose ball in the area and scored his first goal for the club since he rejoined in the summer.  Now we were motoring.

9696235740_088b0db0c3_b (1)One became two in the 79th minute as Nathan Crabb took advantage of hesitation in the Police defence and side-stepped the keeper before slotting home.  We were home and dry and heading back into the Play-offs.  The mood on the terrace was one of satisfaction, a job well done and the post-match celebrations could begin.  Four minutes of injury time to be played.

And then the wheels fell off the wagon.  Steve Sutherland, Met Police’s centre-back scored the first and to tell you the truth none of us saw who scored the second a few moments later.  Without using too many clichés here about the Police, we had been robbed.

Despite the bitter disappointment at the final score, Non League Day had been a success.  With no away fans to speak of we had seen the highest Ryman Premier League crowd of the day (bar Maidstone United) and had delivered 90 minutes of incident for those Non League novices to take away.  If just 10% return at some point in the season then you could say the whole day has been a roaring success.  Perhaps next year we will find time for a 94th minute winner?  We can but dream.

Where’s your Amber Nectar gone

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 3, 2011

A trip to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire for an FA Cup game should have given me plenty of scope to think up a headline or two but I struggled for hours as to what I should call this.  Could it be Sweet Amber, the classic song by Metallica; or perhaps bAmber Gascoigne, in homage to the original University Challenge quizmaster, or even Every little helps as a nod to Cheshunt’s most famous resident Tesco.

But let’s just think sensibly about this.  It is Non League Day.  A day of celebrating everything good about our grass roots game, and reminding all of those fans who are used to being told where and when to sit down, what you can and cannot chant and above all expecting to pay significant sums of money to keep a badge kissing footballer in his mansion for another season.  And to me, one of the key elements of Non League Football is a beer.  Let’s face it there is nothing finer than enjoying a pint whilst you are watching a game of football.  We do it at home, we can do it in the pub, but the fun police say we cannot when watching “professional” football.

So what better way to celebrate NLD than to raise a glass to the combined brains of Mike Bayly and James Doe for giving us the second Non League Day.  But of course those pesky fun police said “NO”.  Well at least at a significant number of Non League grounds.  You see it was FA Cup Preliminary Round day, and that means a new set of rules apply.  Sorry, I missed out a word there, it was The FA Cup, Sponsored by BUDWEISER, preliminary Round day.  A beer sponsoring our national competition yet the licensing laws had to change.  Madness.

I was just going to have to grin an bear it.  I was off to Cheshunt versus Southend Manor.  Ryman League North versus Essex Senior League in front of 150 fans.  If I had chosen to be at Wealdstone just down the road I could have lined the pints up around the edge of the pitch without an issue as that was a league game and would be played out in front of three times as many.  But the FA know best and the Southend Manor crew were obviously a major worry for them and alcohol.

This was our first venture into the FA Cup this season, and as you would expect our options for a game were numerous.  The Lewes Lunatic Fringe were heading off to deepest, darkest Hampshire for Badshot Lea v Chertsey Town, with the winner hosting Lewes in the next round.  Then there was the emotional step back in time to Corinthian (Note – NOT Corinthian Casuals) versus Maidstone United at Gay Dawn Farm, a lovely little ground surrounded by the Kent countryside where I grew up playing football. But on a day where I was to rack up my 27th game of the season so far I needed to put some family time in.  A few weeks ago CMF and I had enjoyed our little jaunt down the White Water Rafting course at Lee Valley and thought it would make a good day out for the Little Fullers, and so I agreed to take them up there. So my “sphere of influence” was set to within 15 minutes of Waltham Cross.

One fixture jumped out.  Cheshunt versus Southend Manor.  Not because of the glamour of Cheshunt Stadium, nor the fact that Cliff Richard grew up in the town, but because I could walk to the ground from our Fuller Family Festivities. Oh, and Iain Dowie, a man only equalled in the “faces for radio” competition by Jimmy Bullard, played for the club for a while.  If it is good enough for him, then it is good enough for me..that sounds a bit Dodgy (Ed – groan).

Cheshunt FC are something of a fixture in the Ryman League.  They have bounced up down and around through various restructures, hitting the dizzy heights of the Premier League in 2004.  Today they sit in the Northern half of the second tier of Isthmian League football, enjoying the local derbies against the likes of Ware, Waltham Abbey and Potters Bar Town, albeit with moderate success, finishing last season in 18th spot.

Visitors Southend Manor were formed back in 1955 by Doris Metcalf.  Well, Doris and Gil who I assume was her husband Gilbert.  After doing their stints in the Southend Leagues they made it into the Essex Senior League in 1985, and actually won the league in the days before automatic promotion up the pyramid in 1991.  Last season they gained a respectable 5th place finish, and whilst they have aspirations to be playing at the Cheshunt level one day.

So FA Cup Preliminary Round here we come.  The prize for the winner?  A cool £1,500 and a home tie against Romford or Royston Town. But as we were going to be “dry” for the next two hours we needed some liquid refreshment.  On arriving at the ground we saw no special offers for Non League Day, no reduced admission for Premier League and Championship fans despite passing half a dozen Spurs shirted youths walking away from the ground.  I did see a small poster in the club bar, but it was hardly getting into the spirit was it.

Cheshunt 0 Southend Manor 0 – The Stadium – Saturday 3rd September 2011
Cheshunt play at The Stadium.  It is a bold claim to use the singular for their ground.  It has seen better days.  I am not sure that it had a car park, or whether it was some kind of builders yard.  Caravans in one corner, portaloos in another and right in the middle a big pile of stones.  I will use the word “worn”.  The actual playing area was one of the strangest I have seen as well.  On the halfway line on either side, the fences bent inwards by 5 metres to create a sort of picnic area.  You have to see it to understand what I am saying, but it was very strange.  However, it is a great feeling to walk out of the bar through a tunnel on the halfway line.

I will whisper this quietly, but it wasn’t a very good game.  Both teams seemed to struggle with the heat, a sentence that we haven’t had to use in 2011 in England.  But actually when you think about it, these teams were only separated in theory by six places, with the visitors arriving in Hertfordshire on top of the Essex Senior League.  The two teams had actually met before in this round of the cup back in August 2008 when Cheshunt ran out 2-1 winners.

Cheshunt weren’t at full strength with skipper Matt Turpin and Charlie Moxon suspended, keeper Williamson still out injured and Josh Hutchinson and Glen Parry both missing.  And why were Mesers Hutchinson and Parry missing?  The former was at a wedding, the latter still on holiday with the lads in Shagaluf.  You can’t beat Non League football can you?

Well, what can I tell you about a nil nil draw where neither keeper really had a save to make?  Well, at one point Cheshunt nearly ran out of balls and a drastic search on the roof of the main stand ensued when they were down to one.

The away keeper, Adam Seal,  can be thankful that the referee didn’t show a red card for a rash challenge outside the box in the first half, and Southend Manor can also be thankful that the linesman wasn’t able to keep up with play, twice flagging for non-existent offenses that would have seen Cheshunt players clean through on goal.

So a draw was probably the fairest result in the end on the last day of summer. Cheshunt’s best ever run in the FA Cup had come in 1977 when they reached the 4th Qualifying round but I think it will take the return of their party players to get anywhere close to that this year.

The attendance looked quite a way down on their previous league game against local rivals Ware (197) which will be a disappointment, but I have to say that perhaps the club could have done more to get some of the locals involved in Non League Day.

The sun shone all afternoon and despite both teams struggling to put themselves into the next round

For more snaps from the world’s oldest cup competition click here.