With the mighty Rooks making their longest league trip of the season to deepest Suffolk at Leiston, I volunteered to go and retrieve the youngest Fuller’s from my in-laws in Newark. This annual ritual normally involves having to re-educate them on certain aspects of every day life, such as how to use electricity, eat with a knife and fork and not to douse every food item with gravy. It also gave me the opportunity to enjoy a night out in Lincoln, with £1.99 pints a norm, with The Current Mrs Fuller and a football away day on the Saturday.
But where to go? Northern Steve had to work so I would be flying solo. I ruled out a visit to North Ferriby United in protest to their owners, laughed at the amount Notts County wanted to watch a League Two game (and the fact that their ticketing website was down) and had been to the likes of Grimsby Town, Boston United and Alfreton before. One new name caught my eye – Basford United down in the Evostik League Division One South. Promoted to the league at the end of last season as Midland League Champions, the club are probably best known for featuring not one, but two Hendries, Stuart and Lee. Yep, that Lee. The 38-year-old former England international is still on the books at the Mill Ground along with his younger brother Stuart.
Just one line below on the list of fixtures was Carlton Town v Leek Town. Carlton was at 4 O’Clock on the map of Nottingham, essentially on the right side for my trip back up the A46. Google Maps said that with a fair wind, no Sunday drivers and a run of green traffic lights I could get between the two grounds in 16 minutes…or a half-time break. Would be rude not to do a Souness (“One half and he’s off) and cover two games. First stop – north Nottingham and the home of the Shipstones Beer, back in the suburbs after a twenty year holiday in Burton-on-Trent.
Basford United 1 Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 – The Mill Ground – Saturday 22nd August 2015
With the sun shining, there can be few better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon than watching Non-League football. From the moment I arrived at The Mill Ground you could sense that this was a club who were starting to make their move up the Non-League pyramid. Smiles all round as you enter, buy a beer, order a sausage cob (had to use my local dialect look-up app for that). Whilst it was only game 3 of the season, the visitors arrived from Sheffield with a 100% record. However, it was the home side who did all of the early running, having an early goal disallowed for offside and commanding the midfield, thanks to the impressive Jermaine Hollis. They got their reward just before half time when Rob McCormick scored on his debut.
“Basford again started well in the second half and had chances to extend their lead but as the game wore on, Stocksbridge began to find their feet and they equalised through sub Richard Patterson on 69 minutes. Five minutes later United were awarded the perfect opportunity to go back in front but substitute Stuart Hendrie’s penalty was saved by substitute keeper David Reay.
Both sides then continued to push for a winner but it was the visitors who then snatched all three points in the first minute of stoppage time, as Hinchcliffe’s 30 yard thunderbolt crashed off the underside of the crossbar and into the Basford net.”
Carlton Town 1 Leek Town 3 – Stoke Lane – Saturday 22nd August 2015
If you plan to visit Carlton Town in the future and use Google Maps, don’t. Because it will direct you to Stoke Lane but the wrong side of possibly the most ludicrous 10 metre section of road known to man. Outside the entrance to the ground is a small stretch of road that is a bus only route, meaning if you are coming from any direction bar the A612 you will need to go on a 3 mile diversion just for a 3 second journey. I’m sure some local counsellor is feeling very pleased with himself about putting that in place.
Anyway, due to the unforeseen diversion, my arrival at Stoke Lane meant I had missed the first few minutes of the second half. Once again, I rely on the official match report to fill in the first 47 minutes:-
“Carlton came out of the blocks fighting as Leek struggled to get into the game. With Daniel Gordon setting the tone, as he ran into space and delivered a shot that was just wide of the post. Then the away side were struggling to get the ball away, but the best the Millers could offer came from Nangle, as he dragged his shot wide of the target.
Josh Rae was then the latest player to cause a threat, as his cross seemed to be destined to meet Daniel Fletcher, but Chris Martin was able to parry the shot just before the striker got there. Then a few moments later Fletcher had a second chance from a Tom McConway corner, but his header went out of play for a goal kick. Then finally the hosts broke the deadlock, as an error of judgment from Martin ended up with the ball at Nangle’s feet, who turned Dan Shelley as he cut inside, to then launch a shot onto the left boot that Martin could only get a hand to, before the ball rippled the net.
However, the lead wasn’t to last long, as Tim Grice managed to find himself through one-on-one, after a pass from midfield. With the striker taking the ball round Curtis McDonald, before gathering his composure, and slotting it into the bottom corner. Before the break, Carlton had another chance to take the lead, as again, Martin played the ball straight to Nangle, but this time his effort, on his right foot was just over the crossbar.”
The bright blue skies were slowly being eaten up by dark, grey thunderous clouds. On the pitch Leek Town looked the stronger of the two sides, controlling the midfield and constantly looking at a ball over the top of the back four. Grice was the main threat and he didn’t hesitate when presented with a one-on-one chance, as Conor Green was unable to deal with his header, and the striker didn’t wait for McDonald to come out, instead just smashing the ball into the back of the net. Grice completed his hatrick with a fine solo effort when it appeared that the opportunity had gone with ten minutes left.
As the final whistle blew, the seventy or so fans made a hasty retreat before the rain fell. It had been an interesting afternoon, getting another couple of perspectives on how other’s approach Non-League match experiences. For both home side, the start to the season hadn’t been ideal. However, nothing is decided in August.
To be fair there was a dozen or so titles I could have used for this mini-blog about my visit to watch South Park. Not since Rhubarb & Custard Rovers went bust back in 1978 has a football club spawned its own animated show. Not even the Oil and Gas billions of Chelsea and Manchester City led to the resurrection of a new series of Hong Kong Phoey or Top Cat (rumours that Barcelona have signed a deal to remake that as “Top Catalunya” are yet to be confirmed). According to the Buzzfeed website, the catchphrase in the title is the most recognised line in the animated sitcom that has been running for 18 series since the late 1990’s. Oh how the fans of Ryman League South side South Park must laugh every time visiting supporters leave. The club apparently still has a ban on signing players called “Kenny” for fear of their lives.
The football club’s trajectory has been at the expense of the TV show. There could only be the place for one South Park in the media and it was the time of the football club to claim their rightful mantle. Just ten years ago the club were playing in the Crawley & District League. They didn’t play their first national cup game, the FA Vase tie against Shoreham, until 2006 and five years ago entered the FA Cup for the first time. In 2014 they won promotion to the Ryman League and more than held their own in their debut season last year, mainly thanks to the goals of Chris Smith (34 goals) who had now joined tonight’s opponents, Burgess Hill Town.
One of the keys to their success is having a 7 day a week facility that is used by the community. Whilst the clubhouse sits a couple of hundred of yards from the ground, it is used for all hospitality for the club as well as a cricket pavilion and darts. Dare I say there was a fast shoe shuffled there a few nights a week too. For those who don’t know where South Park is then let me enlighten you. Head around the M25 to junction 8, follow signs to Reigate, navigate the one-way system and then head down the narrowest, twisty country lanes for 1.4 miles and you have arrived at your destination.
Tonight’s game was a bit of a bonus as it gave me the chance to have a little look at one of our opponents next season, Burgess Hill Town who swept all before them last season and judging by their pre-season acquisitions will be quite a proposition this season. Not that you can ever learn anything from friendlies, apparently.
South Park 1 Burgess Hill Town 4 – King George’s Field – Wednesday 29th July 2015
The one vital component in scouting a team is a team sheet. It’s all very well in the professional era where all of the players have names on their shirts, but at a Non-League level it is neigh on impossible to find out who is who unless you know the club well. Which I didn’t. Still you can look at formations and style of play – that is until they change that two or three times in the game. Still, I had a nice bottle of Hog’s Back Brewery TEA which more than made up for my almost blank sheet of paper at half time.
This really was a game of two halves. It also broke my run of twelve consecutive games where both teams had failed to score, a run that had taken me across the world and back. South Park started the brighter and took an early lead and had the better of the midfield exchanges in the first period, then after the break it was a different story as Burgess Hill changed things around and scored four goals which their dominance deserved.
Time will tell how far the South Park journey will go. For now they seemed very much at home in their little country pad, with an excellent community facility, looking to upset the bigger teams in the league.
It started out with a miss
How did it end up like this
It was only a miss, it was only a miss
At exactly 11am 258 days ago we boarded a train at Liverpool Street station, heading east to pastures new with hope in our hearts. The new season was upon us and after a disappointing previous campaign we had rebuilt in the summer and quite fancied ourselves for a shout at the play offs. Of course, putting my official hat on we were “confidently optimistic of an improvement on last season”, but as we know there are only four objectives any club really sets out to achieve every season.
“Consolidation” – means avoid relegation but at least keep the interest of the fans up until Easter then we can slash the budget
“Pushing on” – means we’ve increased the budget to what the management team wanted so they better reach the play offs
“Challenging” – we’ve mortgaged ourselves to the hilt and sacrificed our first born for promotion and don’t want to think about not going up
“Happy with our lot” – we really have no idea which of the three above apply
We wanted to “push on”. We increased the budget, we brought in two or three players that had other clubs and observers suggest we were dark horses in a league that would be dominated by the two big spenders in Maidstone United and Margate. When Luke Blewden opened scoring on a dust bowl of a pitch at the Village Glass Stadium in Witham back on the opening day with twenty minutes to play, the Lewes Lunatic Fringe were in full voice. But football is a fickle mistress. Five minutes later Witham equalised to snatch a point. Five games later and we had two points from a possible fifteen. Five more weeks on and we had been dumped out of the FA Cup back at the Village Glass Stadium. Five months later and we felt we needed to change the management team to give us some fresh impetus.
We looked for crumbs of comfort. We had games in hand. We seemed to be on the end of every poor refereeing decision dished out. We had injuries to our key on the pitch leaders. Our much heralded, long overdue 20 goals-a-season striker suddenly developed an irrational fear of shooting. Whilst we have the responsibility of governance of a football club owned by 1,000 plus people across the world, we are also first and foremost fans. We see what everyone who stands on The Jungle sees or who travels up and down the rail networks as part of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe. Sometimes it’s hard we represent the hopes, dreams and fears of that group. We want to believe things will turn out “alright in the end”.
Sometimes you need to take a step back to see the reality. Despite what we are led to believe in the movies, there are no happy endings in life, especially in football. We can look back at a dozen or more incidents in the season with the “what if?” question. What if we hadn’t given the ball away so cheaply in injury time against Harrow a few weeks ago leading to them scoring? What if we had a competent referee in the home game against AFC Hornchurch who would admit he made a mistake in the lead up to their opening goal? What if Elliot hadn’t been sent off away to Canvey Island when we were in control of a 1-0 lead? What if is a game that any football fan can play for ever.
No one connected with the club expected our longest and last away journey of season to be so vital, even a few weeks ago. Destiny is always in our hands for the most part of the season, and our recent run of poor results has coincided with two of the four “dead and buried” teams going on championship runs. We imagined today’s visit to the picturesque Ram Meadow in Greene King country being a shorts and t-shirt day, looking forward to a decent drink and a mellow reflection on the season. Instead we go dressed for wind, rain and 90 minutes of keeping one eye on results elsewhere.
As an owner of Lewes Community Football Club I’m invested in the future of the team, both on and off the pitch. However, as Chairman I have to be 100% invested in what happens today. If results don’t go our way will it be catastrophic in the long term for the club? Probably not, but it will sure hurt and I have to bear some of the responsibility for that. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes being a fan can make you see things differently. If we get what we need today the euphoria will be short-lived. Yes, we did the short-term job, but what about our original goals for the season? We certainly haven’t progressed for a number of reasons that collectively aren’t any one persons fault. As a member of the elected board of directors we all have to shoulder the blame and responsibility. Time for reflection will come in due course.
For those who have been Lewes followers for a few seasons will know the drill by now. Five years ago we were dead and buried in the Conference South with five games to go. Somehow we managed to give ourselves a shot at survival on the final say, needing a win at Hampton and Richmond Borough. Nearly 150 Lewes fans descended on the Beveree that day to see The Rooks grab a 2-1 win and survive. Two years ago we needed at least a point as we trailed Cray Wanderers in injury time away to give ourselves hope of survival. The scenes when Nathan Crabb equalised will long live in the memory of the hundred or so fans at Hayes Lane that night. Few will remember the two games after that where we played for nothing more than a few more points for respectability.
But back to today. As our train passed the Village Glass Stadium on its way to Bury St Edmunds, via Ipswich, we raised a plastic cup of Jaipur to those halcyon days of summer and for one brief five minute spell where we saw a season full of 3 point away days, flowing football and an end of season promotion party.
This was to be our last league visit to Bury Town for the foreseeable future. Relegation had already been assured some weeks ago but instead of rolling over and sacking off for the rest of the season, they’ve started putting in some decent performances. In fact, in the current form tables Bury rank higher than Dulwich Hamlet and Margate. We certainly weren’t arriving expecting any favours. We knew that 3 points was our prize. We congregated in the Old Cannon brewery, just a five minute stroll from the ground. The mood was quietly confident. If it wasn’t for the need for three points this would be the best away day ever.
The final pre-match thought as we entered the delightful Ram Meadow come from Lewes-born US firebrand Tom Paine, which adorns the home team dressing room at The Dripping Pan “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”
Bury Town 0 Lewes 2 – Ram Meadow – Saturday 25th April 2015
With 5 minutes plus stoppages to go we heard the news that Peacehaven & Telscombe had lost 4-2 meaning our safety was assured. Lewes had dominated the game, scoring twice and retaining possession for the best part of 85 minutes. Rikki Banks could have joined us on the sideline for a pint from our hosts Beer festival and still kept a clean sheet. Two goals made by Nicky Wheeler, scored by Elliott Romain and Henry Muggeridge saw the Rooks home. The travelling fans basked in the Suffolk sunshine and celebrated with the players at the final whistle. Game over, job done.
3:09 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 1 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 – Lewes drop into the relegation zone on goals scored
3:11 – Canvey Island 0 Wingate & Finchley 1 – Lewes climb to 19th as Canvey fall into bottom 4
3:18 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 0 – As you are
3:22 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1 – No changes
3:22 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0 – Nervous looks around the terrace
3:23 – Bury Town 0 Lewes 1 – Elliott Romain’s goal sends us up to 16th, Canvey still in bottom 4
3:27 – Leatherhead 0 Harrow Borough 1 – Harrow leapfrog Lewes into 16th
3:33 – Canvey Island 0 Wingate & Finchley 2 – Fat lady starting to sing at Canvey Island
3:35 – Canvey Island 1 Wingate & Finchley 2 – Nope, it was a whale in the Thames Estuary, sending VCD into the bottom 4
So at half-time the bottom of table looked like:-
16th – Harrow Borough 53pts (-13)
17th – Lewes 53pts (-23)
18th – Tonbridge Angels 52pts (-4)
19th – Peacehaven & Telscombe 51pts (-24)
20th – Canvey Island 50pts (-18)
21st – VCD Athletic 50pts (-19)
22nd – Witham Town 42pts (-22)
23rd – AFC Hornchurch 39pts (-23)
24th – Bury Town 32pts (-50)
Surely the second period couldn’t throw up as many twists and turns, could it? Well, how about:-
4:03 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 – Charlie Moone…of course Charlie Moone. No changes at the bottom though.
4:11 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 – Now this is interesting
4:12 – Bury Town 0 Lewes 2 – Muggeridge’s peach of a header gives us breathing space
4:12 – Canvey Island 2 Wingate & Finchley 2 – What a 90 second period – Canvey on a roll, Peacehaven wobbling
4:17 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 3 – What on earth is going on down there? Peacehaven fall back into bottom four
4:17 – Canvey Island 3 Wingate & Finchley 2 – The reverse comeback at Canvey Island..Only Peacehaven in the group of relegation candidates now losing
4:27 – Tonbridge Angels 1 Dulwich Hamlet 2 – Worrying glances at what’s going on at Peacehaven from the Angels
4:39 – Peacehaven & Telscombe 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 4 – All over bar the shouting as Peacehaven will have to score 3 times and hope that Bury or Wingate can muster two goals.
4:40 – Tonbridge Angels 2 Dulwich Hamlet 2 – Angels can party as it will take a miracle for them to go down
4:42 – VCD Athletic 1 Billericay Town 0 – VCD leave it late but that should put the final nail in the Peacehaven coffin
4:44 – VCD Athletic 2 Billericay Town 0 – And relax
So final table looks like:-
16th – Harrow Borough 53pts (-13)
17th – Canvey Island 53pts (-16)
18th – VCD Athletic 53pts (-17)
19th – Lewes 53pts (-22)
20th – Tonbridge Angels 52pts (-4)
21st – Peacehaven & Telscombe 48pts (-27)
22nd – Witham Town 42pts (-22)
23rd – AFC Hornchurch 39pts (-23)
24th – Bury Town 32pts (-50)
There wasn’t the same elation as we saw at THAT game at Hampton & Richmond Borough all those years ago, but the trip back to Liverpool Street was a lot more pleasant than the trip up. That was until when we looked forward three weeks to the Sussex Senior Cup final at The Amex against Whitehawk. Objective number 1 achieved. Hope had delivered.