Non League Club

Last minute .com again

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 26, 2012

After the cup exploits last week against AFC Sudbury, it was back to earth with a very big bang, complete with a “Kiss Me Quick Hat” on Saturday as five second half goals sunk the Rooks at Margate.  The journey back from a day out at the seaside on a normal trip is depressing enough, but one in the middle of January when you have been spanked 5-1 is possibly up there with a trip to the dentist or one of those “can we have a quick word in the cubicle” conversations with customs at the airport.

However, all was not lost.  The Rooks had to chance to show their “bouncebackability” with another home cup tie.  And not just any old cup tie.  One against Eastbourne Borough, sworn enemies, deadly rivals and pretenders to the title “Best Non League team in Sussex”.

The Sussex Senior Cup is a strange competition.  The bigger clubs (i.e Crawley Town and Brighton & Hove Albion) rarely take it seriously, yet every year it is the same story.  The former seem to be eliminated early, the latter in for the duration despite fielding essentially a reserve team.  Last season Lewes lost in the quarter finals at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, thus denying themselves the chance to reach the final, which was played at The Amex.  This year, wins over Wick and East Grinstead had sent up a mouth-watering tie with Eastbourne Borough.  The winners would join Crawley Down, Whitehawk and the winner of the BHA v Bognor Regis Town game in the draw for the semi-final.

Brighton & Hove Albion had reached the final of the last five competitions, winning four. In fact it was Lewes who were the last team to break this run back in 2006 when they beat Horsham.

Lewes hadn’t met Eastbourne Borough since New Year’s Day in 2009 when they met in the Conference Premier.  Both teams had been promoted from the Blue Square South the previous season – Lewes as winners and Boro via the play offs.  Those two games over the Christmas period had attracted near 5,000 fans.  How both would love half of that now.

The clubs have lived almost parallel lives in the past season.  Both were relegated last year – Eastbourne Borough from the Blue Square Bet Premier, and Lewes from the South division.  More recently both had become manager-less as Eastbourne decided to part company with their management team who in part had been at the helm for over a decade.  But whatever the circumstances both sets of fans wanted to get one over on the “old enemy”.

We were expecting a decent crowd.  Obviously this was a “minor” cup competition in the eyes of many fans and we would normally only expect a few hundred.  However, the draw of the derby-day atmosphere was certain to bring a few more through the gate.  But perhaps the real compelling event would be the lure of the Lewes burger.  Last week The Guardian Food and Drink supplement no less had spoken about the Lewes Organic burger being “the best fast food he has come across so far. The club spends more on its chefs that it does on players”- The Guardian Food and Drink – 18th January 2012

Lewes 1 Eastbourne Borough 2 – The Dripping Pan – Wednesday 25th January 2012
For 94 minutes this was a classic cup tie full of passion (on and off the pitch), hard tackles, goal mouth incidents and a decent atmosphere created by 637 fans.  And then, the curse of the Dripping Pan struck again.  Just as we had seen so many times (in fact twice already in January) we concede a late goal.  Not quite a Horsham late goal, but still deep into injury time.  Unlike the Horsham game this one was the knock-out box.  With the game poised to enter Extra Time, Eastbourne Borough took all of the spoils and dumped Lewes on their backsides and out of the Sussex Senior Cup.

Pre-match had been a juggling act for new boss Simon Wormull.  I arrived at the group at 4pm to find him busy on his phone trying to work out the formation.  With our only goal keeping option, Rikki Banks, on loan from Eastbourne Borough and thus not able to play, he had managed to pull in a young Polish keeper to make his debut (Pawel would later dislocate his finger in the warm up, yet in true British Bulldog spirit simply taped it up and carried on playing).  He brought in a number of the impressive youth team players and leading from the front, named himself on the bench. The spirit of the team of 2008 was not yet dead.

The opening exchanges were fast and frantic.  Eastbourne had the better of the opening exchanges but then the Lewes midfield got hold of the ball, and Mel Kamara started powering forward from midfield.  In a space of a few first half minutes Michael Malcolm showed that when luck is not on your side, nothing rolls for you.  First he powered a header against the inside of the post, with the Eastbourne keeper stranded and then he saw his goal-bound toe poke trickle slowly towards an unguarded net only for it to be cleared by a last gasp sliding tackle.  Half time – all square in love and war.

The Eastbourne fans had come in good voice, although some of them had obviously brought the “Football Fans song book from Green Street” with some of their chanting.  Chaps – it’s a Sussex Senior Cup game not Millwall v West Ham.  A chant of “No one likes us” made me chuckle as I recalled an away game back in April 2009 when they played at Altrincham which I saw where the home fans all clapped the 13 supporters who had made the trip on a cold Tuesday night – see someone does love you!

Ten minutes into the second period Eastbourne took the lead when a misjudged throw from the Lewes keeper fell straight at the feet of Matt Crabb and he sent the ball back over his head into the net.  Lewes doubled their efforts with the impressive Harding always looking dangerous and Malcolm seeing efforts blocked by last gasp defending.  Finally Lewes got their reward when Nanetti was brought down by the Eastbourne keeper Masters.  With no covering defender and Nanetti not going away from goal it was bizarre that the referee (interestingly sharing the same unusual surname as an Eastbourne player) did not even book the keeper.  Good job Hansen et al didn’t see it as we would still be discussing it now.  Booth stepped up and dispatched the millionth penalty of the season for Lewes and it was game on.  

We were in for a frantic final period with both teams having chances but failing to really test the keeper.  Four minutes of injury time were announced, and with the clock showing 93:47 Ciardini’s sliced clearance fell to Ben Watson who thumped the ball home.

Lewes can feel hard done by to lose so late on, but in these games there always has to be a winner.  This was one of the best performances of the season without a doubt and with more luck the scoreline would have been more favourable.  But that is football.  This is a team in transition and most of the fans appreciated the spirit, effort and hard work of the players as they made their way off the pitch.  The Sussex Senior Cup will just have to wait another season.


Six on the Ley Lines

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on November 30, 2011

East Grinstead is a strange old place. Sitting on the border of Kent and Sussex it has been home to many famous people, drawn to the town by the peace and quiet, the sweeping South Downs and the country pubs with roaring fires. Winston Churchill retired here, purchasing the impressive gaff Chartwell, Winnie-The-Pooh set up his pad in the nearby Ashdown Forest and talking of joke characters, Peter André lived here too.

But what draws such strange people to the area like Plastic Peter, or the ridiculous Right Said Fred (currently singing weekly at Saracens Rugby Club with their version of “Stand Up for the Champions”)? Some suggest it is not for the slice of Daily Mail inspired middle England, but because of Ley Lines. Ley Lines are alleged alignments of a number of places of geographical and historical interest, such as ancient monuments and megaliths, natural ridge-tops and water-fords. So is this the explanation for the presence in the town of organisations such as The Mormons, The Church Of Scientology, The New Life Church as well as your regular old religious denominations.

So why congregate on East Grinstead? The Scientologists arrived when founder L Ron Hubbard bought a big old pad in the town back in 1959 and since has welcomed celebrity followers such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Katie Holmes, Kirstie Alley and, er Peaches Geldof to their mansion on the outskirts of the town. Tom and Katie love a trip down to the Co-Op when they are in the shack, whilst John can park his Jumbo at Gatwick nearby.

With so many celebs wandering around town how could there be room for a football team? Last time I saw Tom Cruise at a game it was watching David Beckham playing in the Bernabau. So where does he get his fix of “soccer” in this part of East Sussex? East Grinstead Town obviously. The Wasps were formed back in 1890 and have probably seen a fair few Mormons and Scientologists tucking into a cup of tea and a burger in the GEC Stadium over the years. The Sussex League team have floated along without causing too much of a kerfuffle in the town during the last 120 years unlike the various religious sects and their moment of glory came one hundred years ago when they reached the final of the Sussex Senior Cup, losing to those legendary St Leonards Amateurs in a snow storm. Ironically with winter weather threatening to take hold of South East England, I was watching the Wasps take on the Rooks in the same competition one hundred years later.

Every year Lewes come into this competition with hope of at least an appearance in the final. With only two football league clubs in the county (Brighton and Crawley Town), and Eastbourne Borough playing at a higher level, with a prevailing wind and a favourable draw there is always hope that this season will be the one. Last season with the carrot of the final being the inaugural game at the Amex Stadium, Lewes drew Brighton in the quarter finals but couldn’t overturn an early Seagulls goal at the Pan and went out. So this season hope was again still flying when the Rooks beat Crawley Down in round two and were then drawn in the Third Round away at East Grinstead.

A swift change from Director of Communications to a, well, Director of Communications that Superman would have been proud of saw me just getting into the GAC Stadium (aka East Court) just in time for the 7.15pm kick off. To say the ground is hard to find is a bit of an understatement. It is tucked away down a narrow lane that C S Lewis would have used for inspiration with no visible signs of life. However, the capacity car park suggested that this was a big game. Was cup fever in the air or were the Rooks going to suffer at the hands of a lower division side for the third time this season?

East Grinstead Town 0 Lewes 6 – The GAC Stadium – Tuesday 29th November 2011
In the end this went according to the script. Lewes scored six, could have had double that and towards the end the East Grinstead players starting looking at taking out their frustrations on the Rooks players on an ever-increasing muddy pitch.

I had literally taken my place next to Big Deaksy and Dave (Trivia question of the day – name the English team who hold the record of 27 consecutive European games where they have scored) when Ian Draycott cut in from the right and fired the ball home. Super snapper Boysie was still chatting to random tram lovers (He loves a tram does Boysie) so do not expect any pictures of that goal. Draycott only seems to score the difficult goals for Lewes, almost perfecting that “smash in from the edge of the box”.

East Grinstead had an opportunity to draw level when Lewis Hamilton brought down a home player in the box. For a minute it seemed like that Hamilton would get a red card, which in this competition can prove a nightmare as the County FA’s issue bans in weeks rather than games. But in the Lewes goal was Stuart Robinson, returning to the team after a two month hiatus. Robinson is a big chap, in fact it seemed as if he had to duck to stand under the cross bar on his line, but he still got down very quickly and palmed the ball away.

The home defence were living on borrowed time with last ditch clearances being the order of the evening. Finally a mistake was made and Paul Booth had the easiest of jobs to slot home.

A swift retreat to the ample and welcoming club house saw a return to retro football. We all remember page 312 on Ceefax where the latest scores could be found. Today it is the red button on your TV for 21st century Ceefax to get the latest scores. Marvellous stuff.

With the second half barely a few minutes old another defensive mix up saw Harry Harding take advantage and walk the ball into an empty net to essentially kill the tie. Three became four ten minutes later when Ciardini, obviously been studying the techniques of Ray “Tonka” Stewart, smashed home a penalty. Steve King, protected from the elements by his Russian Cossack hat brought on Christian Nanetti for the final twenty minutes and his twinkling toes soon had the home defence losing their cool.

Number five came with ten minutes to go when Mickey Malcolm appeared to have taken one too many touches of the ball but somehow got a shot in that flew into the roof of the net. With that goal it was time to leave and try and dig my car out of the mud. As I walked along the side of the pitch a shout went up and Lewes had another penalty. Despite Nanetti snatching the ball, and Kamara pleading with the manager that he should take it, Ciardini retained his professionalism and took the kick, again powering it down the middle to make it six nil.

Cup competitions often throw up shocks, especially if the bigger teams put out weakened teams. But this season the Sussex Senior Cup now has three teams in the quarter finals, all of whom who have overcome games against smaller teams, scoring an average of 6.5 goals in the process.

The magic of the cup is still alive in East Sussex – perhaps those Ley Lines were magical after all.