Non League Club

Flat liners

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 30, 2012

I thought I’d start today’s blog with a little sneak behind the curtain in the running of a football club. Not a Premier League club, but a proper grass roots club.  Before I got involved at Lewes I had no idea of the workings of numerous aspects of the team such as how budgets are set, what goes into a player’s contracts and even the intricacies of a 7 day approach. But it seems quite apt to give some background into what goes on at a pitch inspection based on the recent weather we’ve had to endure.

8040065289_95075bc067_bAfter the deluge during the Bognor Regis Town game on Wednesday, the pitch looked in poor shape come 5pm. There were puddles in both penalty areas and in the centre circle. Despite the valiant efforts of Roger and his team, there seemed more hope of watching Ian rather than Kieron Thorp performing in the goal mouth on Saturday. With the forecast for more rain during the rest of the week, decisions had to be made about the viability of Saturday’s game versus Thurrock. So here is my Dummies guide to the who, what and when of pitch inspections.

The “who” cannot just be carried out by any old bloke. Everything in football these days is governed by rule books thicker than a Harry Potter book. Failure to comply with every subsection will lead to censure, a fine or worse. So when a game is in doubt a club has to contact a referee and arrange a suitable time for the inspection. It cannot be carried out by a club official – it has to be a qualified referee who is currently officiating at the same level as the club involved – i.e someone who could indeed be the match referee. Due to the distances involved in travel, it is rare that the inspection is carried out by the actual appointed officials – most clubs have local contacts who will oblige if asked.

The “what” is straight forward and clearly outlined in the FA rule book. The pitch has to be deemed safe and able to withstand a football match as a going concern. The referee will see how the ball rolls in certain areas of the pitch, whether any parts are dangerous (in frosty conditions) and if visibility is good (foggy conditions). He will also take into consideration the current weather conditions and the forecast.

The “when” is also a tricky one. Too early and you risk the possibility that conditions may improve and the pitch will be playable, too late and the away team and fans will already have set off thus incurring wasted expense. Last week Lowestoft Town had to cancel their game versus Margate around 2pm with the Kent sue already having traveled for 4 hours to get to furthest Suffolk. Clubs have to take the weather forecast and travel conditions into account.

8325796750_411093830c_bStraight after the Boxing Day game against Bognor Regis Town, we decided to hold a pitch inspection on Saturday at 9am. Why then? Well, the forecast for Thursday was poor but due to clear all day Friday. That meant the pitch would probably dry with the mild temperatures and winds from the Channel. Thurrock would have to travel across the QE2 Bridge and around the M25’s current problematic sections from junction 2 to 6. As our game was kicking off at 2pm, they would need to be at The Dripping Pan by 12pm, thus allowing themselves two hours travel time. A 9am inspection meant that they would have plenty of time to know the outcome before they had to travel. If we felt the pitch condition on Friday was still poor, and a deteriorating forecast, we could ask the league’s permission to hold one 24 hours prior to the game.

But all our forethought and planning proved to be unnecessary. The rain mainly bypassed the Dripping Pan on Thursday and Friday, and the stiff breeze from the sea soon dried out the wet patches so Lewes became one of the few games in the Ryman Premier League to beat the weather without the need of an inspection.

Whilst some players may have wanted an extended break over Christmas, Lewes were keen to keep their recent excellent form going. Two consecutive wins over teams higher in the table had once again ignited the Play Off passions and hopes were obviously high for three more points against a Thurrock team who were at the wrong end of the table for their liking. After years of relegation battles and reprieves in the Blue Square Bet South they had hoped for better luck by dropping down a division, but like many before them such as Bognor Regis Town, found that this division is just as unforgiving.

I headed down to Lewes early for this one. Not for fear of having to beat the expected hundreds flooding through the gates, but because I was on the train and we all know how screwed up our rail networks are at the moment. Unfortunately, whilst other Lewes fans had been celebrating long into Boxing Day night, I was standing outside the TBIR Taxi in the freezing, pouring rain awaiting recovery from Green Flag. Something to do with the Cam Chain and best part of £2k to fix. Happy Christmas.

Lewes 1 Thurrock 2 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 29th December 2012
On word that described this game perfectly was “flat”. Whether you want to talk about the performance, the atmosphere (bar the 6 Thurrock fans who never gave up making a noise) or the Harvey’s Best. Flat. Perhaps the emotions of Wednesday took too much out of the players and the fans? Perhaps it was just an off day. Flat.

8325794998_b631b9a089_bSimon Wormull was able to shuffle around the team after bringing in new signing Callum Donaghey which meant that Brinkhurst (disappointingly not wearing the Warrior Skreamer’s that we had donated to him) was pushed up into midfield and Schaaf and Wormull himself dropped to the bench. The pitch looked in great condition, but the rain soon started falling again, meaning conditions were once again problematic.

Thurrock elected to swap ends, the first time we’ve experienced that this season and perhaps that unsettled the team. It certainly confused me as I headed up to my normal place on The Jungle for the first half before realising that everyone else was at the far end, under cover and dry. Talking of dry, the condition of the kit after Wednesday’s game had been so bad that despite 3 washes by Pav the shorts and socks were still, as any paint manufacturer would describe, “Oak white”, so the team ran out with last season’s home shirts in and our away shorts and socks. Unsettling…and flat.

Lewes drew first blood. We score a lot of goals from set-pieces thanks in the main to Karl Beckford whose delivery was once again pinpoint accurate for new signing Donaghey to head home. Despite only having been with the club for 24 hours he’d had time to copy the Jack Walder goal celebration of throwing himself to the floor.

SAM_4501Neither team really created any further chances in the first half and it was bizarre to go into the board-a-kabin at half time and not have any other half time scores to discuss (as we had kicked off at 2pm). The second half was only a few minutes old when Danny Green fired home an equaliser for the visitors, who were capitalising on the tired home legs. Thurrock hadn’t played for 11 days and their freshness started to show as the game wore on. On 67 minutes they took the lead when Stuart Thurgood’s cross was diverted into his own net by Jon Dollery.

Thurrock may be at the bottom end of the table but at full-time had taken 6 points of the Rooks this season. Our record against teams below us isn’t great, seeming to raise our game for the teams at the top. After the game you could feel the disappointment of the players. This was an off day and they would be fired up for the battles ahead I’m sure.


Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on November 27, 2010

Today’s football had been planned for week and was due to coincide with a nice family lunch as a starting point.  CMF wanted to spend some of my money on Christmas presents and I had no intention of venturing into any of the 21st century cathedrals we have built in the South East of England.  So I agreed to drop her off at Lakeside and pick her up afterwards, leaving me with a 3 1/2 hour window.  I hate to say that I was turning my back on Lewes, who were playing at Ship Lane against Lakeside but there is only so many cars you can count on the M25 there.  Instead I had two options.  Billericay Town and Concord Rangers.  So I went to the God of all decisions.  Twitter.  I asked which one I should go to, and within minutes I had my answer:-

“Could an access all areas and guaranteed player/management interviews sway your decision? Also unlimited tea/biscuits?

Direct from the horses, well press officers mouth at Concord.  In truth he had us at unlimited tea.

But of course I didn’t figure in the sudden and unexpected drop in temperatures.  Games started to fall to the weather from 9am but Concord were holding out.  A local referee came and visited the ground just before 11am and gave it the all clear.  Both managers seemed happy and the message went out it was on.  And then the referee turned up at 1.30pm, realised he didn’t have his gloves with him and promptly called the game off.

Fortunately I was already north of the river when Concord let me know, and with the games at Billericay, Aveley, Ilford, Grays Athletic and Tilbury all gone the same way I had little choice but to head to Thurrock.

Now why my reluctance at going to see my beloved Lewes?  Well, I have been to Thurrock a few times before, and it is not a ground that I really warm too.  The small number of Thurrock fans are decent sorts but I think they could do much more to attract bigger crowds, but then so could so many other clubs.  I didn’t really fancy Lewes’s chances either – despite climbing out of the bottom three recently, form on the road this season had been challenging.

Fifteen pounds for Lolly and myself was high for football in this league but I never begrudge paying to watch football at this level.  So we met up with Deaks and Dave, who had managed to drag themselves out of Lakeside for the game, along with a guest visit from Dagenham Dan who like us had seen his plan A, B and C fall by the wayside.

I could go into great detail about the game but who really wants to hear about a game with a blow up doll, two penalties, another Lewes sending off, the long awaited return of David Wheeler, the longest queue for a cup of tea in the world, Patrick Marber wearing a hat with strange flaps on, Alex Leith being told he is not allowed to take pictures as it is “against the law” and a referee wearing gloves.   But a picture paints a thousand words, so enjoy the story unfolding below.

Thurrock 3 Lewes 1 – Ship Lane – Saturday 27th November 2010

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Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on October 10, 2010

Integrity versus loyalty.  Always a very difficult decision.  For the TBIR team we faced a big dilemma this weekend as to where we should nail our FA Cup colours.  Our heart said Lewes v Thurrock, our head said Whitehawk v Hendon.  We are committed to bringing you the best in the Non League action across the country and the qualifying rounds of the biggest cup competition in the world allow us to rove to pastures new.  The 3rd Qualifying round was a perfect example of this, but we now have our deep affiliation to Lewes and so when the draw threw up a winnable home tie with Thurrock I felt a pang of guilt that I wouldn’t be going.

But then the full draw became clear in the FA’s crystal ball and just 6 miles away as the Rook flies was a new ground, a new club and potentially a new adventure.  Whitehawk.  We immediately contacted our Head of Research and Development as to how we could be at two places at once without affecting the Time/Space Continuum and after a few Fuller’s Honey Dew Ales he came up with the solution.  Unfortunately a pending patent stops us revealing the actual solution here, but rest assured there was no smoke or mirrors.

When I told people I was heading down to Whitehawk everyone who knows Brighton looked at me as if I was mad and shook their head.  “Lock your car doors“, “Make sure you don’t wear your watch“, “Don’t forget your bullet proof vest” were three such comments.  But as a veteran of Zagreb, Bratislava and Arbroath it was water off a ducks back to me.

We drove down the Falmer Road, past the impressive new American Express Community Stadium which will be Brighton & Hove Albion’s new ground in just a few months time on a beautifully sunny day.  The road takes you high above Brighton, with the road falling down towards the sea.  A quick right along the top of Brighton racecourse and the a left literally across the track and down the hill.  So far all I saw was neat bungalows and smiling children playing in the sunshine.  As you get near the bottom of the hill you through a left, drive past the Caravan Club (a code word for a massive orgy according to Jay in the Inbetweeners) and there is the ground, hidden behind the trees.  So where exactly was this war zone?

We parked, paid our £8 and walked into one of the most rural grounds in England.  From all parts of the ground you simply cannot see anything apart from greenery.  The club after nearly 50 years since their formation had at last left the county leagues, having won the Sussex League last season.  They were also just one game away from Wembley in the FA Vase last year, losing to Wroxham in the semi-finals.  They were also managed recently by ex-West Ham legend George Parris.  This game against Isthmian Premier League Hendon marked their joint furthest progress in the competition.

Fanny’s was the obvious choice for a quickie prior to the game, and full sated we took our place behind the goal.  The pitch must be a nightmare to play on.  It seems to slope in all directions, and is bloody wide – a fact that the home team tried to exploit from the first minute with long cross pitch balls.  FA regulations meant that no alcohol could be taken out from the bar, but that didn’t stop a number of fans who simply brought out the cans from their bags as if it was part of a normal country picnic.

Whitehawk 1 Hendon 2 – Wilson Avenue – Saturday 9th October
The game started at a pace with some full blooded tackles flying in.  The winners of the game would get £7,500, which is the equivalent of an additional 10 games gate receipts for Whitehawk and they made the best of the early play, putting the young Hendon keeper Laurensin under pressure.  Whitehawk’s main threat up from came from Joe Gatting, son of Steve and nephew of Mike giving him something to live up to.  He had the first chance of the game after being put clean through in the tenth minute he let the ball over run and couldn’t get his shot in.  Almost immediately Hendon went up the other end, and with their first chance Ate-Ouakrim slotted home when given too much room in the area.

One thing that did strike me as unusual about the ground was the “paddock” area in front of the main stand.  This fenced off area simply caused problems when the ball bounced into it, and no one could get it back easily.  It was almost like a gold enclosure at Ascot with us mere silver ticket holders having to stand outside it to watch the game.  But five minutes before half time the home fans forgot about such trivialities as Paul Armstrong levelled the scores.

Lewes 2 Thurrock 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 9th October
So whilst the sun was shining in East Brighton, just across the downs Lewes were kicking off against fellow Blue Square Bet South strugglers Thurrock.  The Rooks only league win this season was against “The Fleet” back in August, and they intended to do the same, starting with two men up front for the first time in a while.

And the tactical switch worked early on as Tom Murphy headed home a pinpoint cross from Kane Wills.  Director Patrick Marber whispered in my ear that Lewes haven’t lost after taking a lead for six months and thoughts started turning to the next round, and the dilemma of a winnable tie, or a big team at home such as Luton Town or Cambridge United. The atmosphere had been boosted by the presence of the Cliffe Bonfire Society drummers, who drummed their life out, taking the team into half time with a slim lead.

Back over in Whitehawk it was Hendon who started the second half the stronger and substitute Aaron Morgan put the greys ahead before many of the fans had withdrawn from Fanny’s.  Morgan then picked up an injury and was replaced by Michael Peacock.

In one of those amusing for the fans but bloody annoying for the team moments, Peacock lasted just three minutes before he picked up an injury, and the player we had all come to see play came on – Danny Dyer.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what you think of his work) it was not the cockney actor who thinks every situation is going to get “a bit naughty soon”, but Hendon’s midfielder.  There was time though for Jamie Busby to pick up a second yellow in injury time and give Whitehawk a glimmer of hope but it was not to be.  With the afternoon walkers descending the hill above the ground, the referee brought an end to proceedings and the hopes of a famous home win.

Meanwhile, back in Lewes City (a nod there to Batman for those not old enough to remember Adam West in tights), the Rooks were still playing with confidence.  In a day for namesakes, Lewes full back Lewis Hamilton fell awkwardly and was taken off with his arm in a sling (later diagnosed as a break).  Our sponsored man David Wheeler came on as sub, himself still getting back to full fitness after a stop/start campaign and teed up Tom Murphy perfectly for the second goal with fifteen minutes to go.  The Wheeler curse struck again a few minutes later as he was injured in a tackle with the Thurrock left back, and Lewes were down to ten men to hang on.

Every Thurrock attack was greeted with mass nail-biting but Winterton in the Lewes goal seemed to be unbeatable.  It would take something special to beat him, and that is exactly what happened in the 87th minute.  James Boyes, Lewes’s man on the ground summed it up perfectly – “It was a goal fit to grace any level of football, with the winger chesting the ball down in a goal-mouth scramble, before sending an unstoppable overhead kick past Winterton to give the visitors hope of snatching an underserved replay.”

Four minutes of added time were announced and we counted down every second.  When finally the whistle went, the 850+ crowd raised the noise another notch and the new owners of the club celebrated with the fans, as well as a big group hug.  This was progress, and whilst the Que Sera chants of Wembley may be a bit premature it could well be “Whatever will be, will be, we are going to Grimsby Que Sera, Que Sera.”

Two winners, two losers and a break through in trans-space particle acceleration.  Not a bad afternoon’s work!

More photos from our day of time travel can be found at our Flickr feedhere.