NLW #4: The Last love of Lewes
Danny Last is the proprietor of the rather brilliant European Football Weekends blog, chronicling trips to grounds near and far in the name of good football, bad football and beer. He also loves Lewes FC and has been kind enough to tell The Seventy Two why, beginning with a delightful illustrative quote:
The joy of non-league football is proximity, authenticity, an absence of graft and greed, and, in Lewes’s case, a chance to gather behind the goal with a pint of Harvey’s, the local nectar, and talk to old friends whilst the South Downs frame the efforts of a mostly homegrown side.
Rook who’s talking
I wish I’d written that paragraph. But I didn’t.
It was a snippet taken from The Observer, and penned by the fair hand of Paul Hayward. I loved it for two reasons…
Firstly, it sums up the joy of an afternoon spent watching football at the Dripping Pan, and, secondly, tremendous use of commas don’t you think?
Articles about The Rooks have surfaced in the Daily Telegraph, The Times and that one in The Observer recently – everybody is talking about them.
They’re newsworthy because they’re now owned by a not-for-profit community benefit society.
Six blokes basically, who’ve picked up the mess of last season, seen the light, and plan to allow the club to become fully owned by the fans within two years.
Raising the profile
I met the aforementioned six blokes on Lewes High Street before The Rooks match with Basingstoke.
My normal pre-match routine of a few pints was put on hold while we, and a number of other volunteers, stuck posters up around the town and placed leaflets into the palms of the locals.
The plan was, and is, to raise the profile of the club and, moreover, get people through the turnstiles at the club. We need more supporters.
Pleasingly, the response has been great.
Gates for the first few home games of the season at the Dripping Pan have been hugely encouraging, almost double what they were at the corresponding time last season.
A fresh approach
The club appears to be moving forward in every direction. It had to in order to survive in this current economic climate.
There’s a fresh smell as you enter the ground on matchdays this season, and that’s not just the whiff of optimism. The catering has been overhauled. There’s now lettuce (lettuce!) in the burgers and the coffee tastes of, get this, coffee.
The clubhouse, affectionately known as The Rook Inn has also had a makeover. The beer is now supplied by a local pub who take great pride in their ale.
Gone are the dour brown walls – replaced by football memorabilia collected and donated by fans from all around Europe.
Two seasons ago Lewes were in the Conference, but that proved to be a step too far.
They paid for a combination of overspending, the recession’s effect on the previous owners’ business and some awful off the field decisions regarding the team management.
Relegation was inevitable. Lower crowds ensued, commercial and sponsorship revenue dried up – whilst the debts piled up.
The club would have collapsed last season had it not been for a number of volunteers working around the clock and using their own cash to pay off the worst of the debts.
A winding up order was averted – just. It owed HMRC about a hundred grand at that point. Ouch.
Share the wealth
So for now, the Lewes six; Patrick, Ben, Charlie, Eddie, Alex and Nick, along with a large number of benefactors (who have backed the new scheme with pledges of £1,000 or more to buy a share), have begun to build a solid base for the the plan for town ownership.
In 2011, shares can be owned by anyone who wants to become involved for an annual payment of £25.
The management team; Steve ‘Ibbo’ Ibbitson, Jason Hopkinson and Simon Gough all work voluntarily.
They are the nicest men in football, and if anyone deserves a break it’s these three chaps. Hang behind after any game, and they’ll talk you through it leaving out no detail too small.
The emphasis on the pitch is very much on youth – it has to be. Gone are the days of reckless overspending and living beyond our means.
Lewes as a town is a bit different. It has its’ own currency (the Lewes pound), mad pub games and bonfire societies ahoy.
And is there a better name for a football ground than the Dripping Pan? A natural bowl that, evidently, was originally created to be filled with water for mock sea battles.
If you want to discuss this, and more, then head down to a ground where mirth and hilarity on the terraces is almost guaranteed. Oh, and mine’s a Harvey’s – local nectar indeed.
Written by: Danny Last
Visit European Football Weekends for more from Danny on Lewes… and the rest of Europe…
This Saturday, Lewes entertain Hampton & Richmond in the Blue Square South.