The Ball is Square

That sinking feeling

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 30, 2014

14898284290_f8e8dcf3a9_zThere are some teams that whenever you play them, there is always something to talk about.  Games between Lewes and Hampton & Richmond Borough can never be classed as dull and today was no different.  Just six games into the season and the game between The Beavers and The Rooks was already being classed as a “six-pointer”.  Both sides found themselves in the bottom four coming into this game.  That certainly wasn’t in the plan for both sides at the start of the season.  But then again, if life was predictable, we wouldn’t need bookmakers.

We’ve seen sending offs galore between the two sides, last minute winners, relegation-saving goals and strikes that would have won goal of the season if it was in the Premier League.  Today, we would have swapped all of that drama for a dull 1-0 away win.  Irrespective of the result, it would be one of the better away trips of the season.

Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Lewes 1 – The Beveree – Saturday 30th August 2014
In the past few weeks we’ve been left ruing some bizarre refereeing decisions that have had a direct impact on our poor start to the season.  Today, once again there was some poor officiating although none of the decisions could be said to have ultimately impacted the result.  The Rooks only came to life when Hampton & Richmond’s full-back Ben Osman was sent off for a second yellow with twenty minutes to go.

14898233309_615b6cc306_zBoth sides looked nervous in the opening period with few chances on goal that worried either keeper.  In fact the highlight of the first half was finding out they had garlic mayonnaise to put on the chips – such refinement is sadly lacking at Non-League grounds these days.  But all of that changed within seconds of the restart when Lewes’s winger, Nick Wheeler was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the area.  Most of the crowd didn’t see the offence although the linesman was pretty quick in raising his flag.  Of course it was Charlie Moone who stepped up and slotted the spot kick into the corner.  Moone seems to have scored in every game he has every played against Lewes. In fact on the train on the way down I discussed the odds we could get on him as first goalscorer, that is if I was allowed to bet on football still.

One became two soon after when left-back Wells was allowed to head home unmarked.  The day was going from bad to worse.  But then, a ray of hope as Ollie Rowe pulled one back and then Osman was sent packing.  Could we fashion another dramatic result at the Beveree?

Ten minutes later, Nathan Crabb got to the byline and pulled the ball back to Terry Dodd.  Five yards out and Dodd managed not only to fail to hit the target but managed to clear the pretty high stand behind the goal.  I repeat, from five yards. Hampton were now hanging on, although using as many time-wasting tactics as possible.  Last season, the FA, under instruction from FIFA, instructed referees to only stop the game for an injury if it was clearly serious or a head injury.  Yet today the referee kept stopping play every time a Hampton player rolled around on the floor.  If we can be bothered to understand the rules then surely they can too.

15061901466_c05b6e76f6_zWith a few minutes to go Elliott Romain was wrestled to the floor by Hampton full-back Wells.  Then, right in front of the “assistant” referee, they had a tussle that quickly escalated to a 18 man brawl.  The officials completely lost control of the situation and it took a couple of players from each side (one being the Lewes keeper) to restore order.  Wells was yellow carded as too was Romain, yet the original offence was worthy of a booking alone.  In which case, what exactly did Romain do?  A picture tells a thousand words so make what you will of this…

Alas, for all the bluster it wasn’t enough.  A fifth consecutive defeat for Lewes was our reward for the long journey.  You make your own luck in football, so they say but someone needs to tell us the recipe!

The Gladiators versus The Spartans

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 25, 2014

There can be few better feelings in life than watching a game of football with the sun beating down on your face, beer in hand surround by England’s green and pleasant land. Add in a view to die for and a pie with gravy and this could be Nirvana. I could have chosen one of twenty games in the Premier League or the Skybet divisions today that were within an hour’s drive of Northern HQ but instead I’m at Causeway Lane, Matlock, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District. Even the sale of the naming rights to the ground (“The Autoworld Arena” conjures up images of Speedway to me) can’t spoil the beauty of the moment.

15007767741_867b992671_zNobody was telling me to sit down, taking my beer away or trying to sell me a credit card. Watching football at the highest level of the game in a England has been a joyless experience for a number of years. As each season passes and clubs find more ways to justify ticket price hikes whilst greedily scooping up more cash from TV deals, pre-season tours and bizarre commercial partnerships.  It’s no surprise that the governing body, the Football Association are just as guilty these days, happy to put aside their unelected mandate to run our game with a focus on all aspects and all levels for the latest sponsorship deal.  I still find it incredible that an organisation that talks about the importance of sport for children to maintain a healthy lifestyle by signing long-term commercial deals with the world’s most recognised fast food brand and a brand of beer.

I was here on a mission from God. Well, sort of.  The little Fuller’s had been enjoying a week of a Northern life at the in-laws and I was here to collect them and re-as simulate them back into normal life.  Whilst the Current Mrs Fuller was conducting a Southern language lesson I took my leave and headed 39 miles west to Matlock. How could anyone resist this game? The Gladiators versus The Spartans played in one of the finest arenas that England has to offer.

I was disappointed when I rang the club in the week and asked if I wore my toga I’d get in free? It appeared that the Matlock Town marketing machine had let the opportunity of a themed match day experience pass them by.  I’m sure Woburn Safari Park could’ve had done without a lion or two for the afternoon and as for an orgy? Well I’ve still got the numbers for a couple of trainee Bunny Girls I met at the Playboy Mansion a few years ago (Did I tell you I’ve been to the Playboy Mansion?).  But any sad face soon disappeared when I pulled into the car park on the cricket pitched, stopped at mid wicket and looked straight ahead at the three-sided Causeway Lane ground. Ruddy marvellous.

The Northern Premier League, just like its southern cousins, is a pig to get out of with only the winners guaranteed a spot in the Vanarama Conference North.  Last season, Blyth finished in 8th spot, not too far off the play-offs although quite how they would fair in tier 2 of Non-League football is another matter, with significant away trips to Oxford City(550 miles), Worcester City (500 miles), Gloucester City (550 miles) and a whopping 600 mile round trip to Lowestoft. This underlines the main issue with the current non-league structure – trying to fit clubs into a rigid structure that ignores geography.  The big elephant in the room, still, is FC United of Manchester with their travelling legions and inability to progress out of the NPL Play-offs. A visit by the bootleg Red Devils swells the coiffures of all the clubs in this league.

14824252268_da93451cac_zI handed over my £9 for entry, £2.50 for my pie and £2.70 for my pint and I was a happy man for the next two hours. My afternoon was completed by seeing two of the finest Non-League photographers known to man, Chris Hayes and Paul Paxford at the far end and made my way down there to get snap happy.

Matlock Town 1 Blyth Spartans 1 – Causeway Lane – Saturday 23rd August 2014
Opposite the ground is Hall Leys Park, where their Bank Holiday festivities were well underway.  As the two teams emerged the sound of Disney filled the air. Surely they had better walk out music than this? Then it dawned on me that it was the theme tune to Frozen which was being shown on a big screen in the park opposite. And so the songs punctuated the air for the rest of the afternoon as the two rivals cancelled each other out in an entertaining draw.

The Spartans started the game with the smell of blood in their nostrils. Roared on by a small group of away fans, the leader of whom loved nothing more than an occasional jig around the terrace outside the bar, spilling most of his beer each time. He had something to really shout about just before half-time when a Holland skipped passed his marker and fired the ball into the corner of the net.

14987846766_0633f5f872_zThe second half saw a re-energised (I.e bollocked) Matlock team emerge, realising the weaknesses in the Spartans right hand side.  The away keeper was forced into half a dozen good saves before he was finally beaten when Hawkins reacted fastest to a deflected cross and smartly headed home.  If the game was to produce a winner it was undoubtably going to come from the home side but then they sat back, almost inviting The Spartans to attack with numbers.

The final whistle saw a round of applause from the 260-odd souls in the ground.  “Better than the bloody rubbish we saw on Tuesday but we are still rubbish” said one fan as he waked past me “still liver and bacon for tea and Tess Daly on Strictly. Life isn’t all bad, son.” Wise words indeed and with that I headed back east to the Littlest Fuller’s. He was spot on, life in the Non-Leagues in the English Summer wasn’t bad at all.

Matlock Town face the same issue many Non-League clubs have each and every week. Within a 30 minute drive of the town this afternoon, Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Alfreton Town all played at home.  That’s the challenge – trying to encourage the locals of Matlock not to hop on the bus or train at 2pm but to stay at head down to Causeway Lane.

My good friend Mike Bayly is currently researching a book on the grounds you have to visit before you die. Matlock would be on my recommended top 10 list on a sunny day like today although I’d give it a swerve when the cold Peak District wind blows on a wet Tuesday in February.

Evil Angel*

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 24, 2014

Bad things are supposed to come in three’s correct?  Try telling that to the 70 or so Lewes fans, players, management team and directors who were at the Longmead Stadium last  Tuesday night.  Two goals conceded, two players sent off both for two bookable offences, two players limped off by half-time and unfortunately just two shots on goal.  It wasn’t one of the best away trips we had experienced in the past few years that is for sure.

It is fair to say that the start of the season hasn’t been the best we could have hoped for. The fixture list threw up a difficult start but mix in a raft of injuries and suspensions and we had almost got to the stage where I would be polishing up the Puma Kings at least seven months earlier than normal.  The Rooks went into the game with freshly-relegated Tonbridge Angels with all four first choice midfielders out injured, and finished it with two full backs playing at centre-half.  After picking up just two points from the opening three games this could be the opportunity the Rooks needed to start their season.  Tonbridge hadn’t started brightly themselves, still re-adjusting to the Ryman Premier League after a few seasons in the Conference South.

photo 2In terms of Ryman Premier games, this was one of the more local games for me.  By local I mean less than an hour’s drive away.  With the little Fuller’s away learning what life was like back in the Seventies by staying at their grandparents up north, The Current Mrs Fuller jumped at the chance of a romantic night out in the heart of the Garden of England.  Perhaps I oversold the “I will buy you dinner” part by failing to mention it was to be a hot-dog in the Longmead Stadium but I can get so forgetful at my age.  Still, it was time together, as I tried to break the frosty atmosphere on the journey to the game.

The Longmead Stadium is one of the better ones we will visit in the league this year.  Decent size covered stands behind each goal and a nice size main stand down one side.  They do have a very strange little stand for Directors only on the other side which I could have tried.  They have a decent-size club house but annoyingly no beer can be taken outside although the view from inside isn’t bad.  It had been quite a few years since we had played the Angels as we had passed each other as we were relegated from the Conference three years ago whilst they were going the other way.  The added interest was the number of ex-Angels in the Lewes team including their former captain, Gary Elphick.

Tonbridge Angels 2 Lewes 0 – The Longmead Stadium – Tuesday 19th August 2014
Definitely a game to forget although the aftermath of two players suspended and two who will be unavailable due to injury for at least three weeks is one that will be fresh on our minds for a while.  You cannot take anything away from Tonbridge – they took the chances presented to them without ever looking completely dominant.  Even with Lewes down to 10 men they seemed reluctant to push forward to make the game safe.

After a cautious opening twenty minutes Lewes were dealt a blow when full-back Alex Malins was forced off the pitch with suspected knee ligament damage.  A few minutes later Tonbridge centre-half Jerome Sobers headed home unmarked from a corner.  Sobers was Malin’s man to mark. Ten minutes later Malins was joined in the red cross tent by skipper Gary Elphick, much to the enjoyment of the home fans, with a hamstring injury.

photo 1Ten minutes into the second period and Sanderson, on loan from Ebbsfleet United, picked up a needless second yellow card.  Twenty minutes later and Ollie Rowe joined him after a harsh yellow for tangling with ex-Rook Billy Medlock.  Still Tonbridge took a cautious approach, preferring to sit back and hold onto their lead rather than looking to make the game safe.  But with ten minutes left they showed some genuine attacking intent when Okojie hit the booster button down the right, beat Logan, pulled the ball back for Teniola who made no mistake from close range. Game over.

The defeat left Lewes in esteemed company at the wrong end of the Ryman Premier League table, joining some other sides quite fancied to be at the other end of the league including AFC Hornchurch, Hampton & Richmond Borough and last season’s Play-Off semi-finalists, Bognor Regis Town.  Still, only 42 games to go.  I’m sure we will look back at the indifferent start to the season in a few months and laugh….hopefully.

*P.S – I learnt a few years ago about the power of titling blog posts in a particular away, so the term “Evil Angel” in no way relates to Tonbridge Angels, their team or their hospitality, rather than the fact a very large Adult film producer uses that title for some of their films and thus thousands of people search for it (allegedly).

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