Sussex Double Header – Episode 1

For the second year running my Christmas footballing life has been saved… by Sussex.
Not what you were expecting?
Well the greatest festive dilemma is not what to buy Great Aunt Pernickety, nor which ramrod best stuffs a liberally basted turkey. As small children countdown advent with a daily dose of teeth-rotting chocolate that has precious little to do with the birth of any deity known to man, this small child is whipped into a frenzy by the religious fervour of the middle aged… the weather (and football of course).
Even though I couldn’t attend, it was no consolation that the Boxing Day match in Bristol was rained off. Instead I saw it another example of how Messrs Ferguson and Co – in all their pantomime finery – are now mind-gaming the weather in a vain attempt to bring about the advent of a winter break, for their overexerted stars who clearly need a mid-season space to colour in the gaps in their tattoos.
Going into the third festive fixture, with Watford away to Brighton – three grounds of whose I’d already sampled – an 1881 jaunt was on the cards and so I planned my day accordingly. At the start of the week three teams, in three counties, were on my radar. By Friday night, five days of eat-sleep-football-weather was taking me to both new highs and lows; my mind was racing with excitement, and worry. Wales, Sussex, Lancashire, Rain, Wales, Sussex, Gales, Lancashire, Wales, Floods, Sussex, Lancashire, Wind, Wales, Sussex, Lancashire, Wales, Sussex, Lancashire, Biblical Downpour…
For my chosen 1881 game I needed to leave prior to their pitch inspection so, I set out early planning to get to the Beaconsfield Services before re-evaluating the situation. As I passed Junction 14 on the M25 the phone rang…
Pulling over, I checked the other two game options, sighed deeply, then hurriedly phoned a friend who earlier in the week had invited me to share some corporate hospitality at the Amex. Arriving back home I noticed something interesting on my twitter timeline… “No pitch inspection needed @Lewes_cfc for game v @thurrockfc – GAME ON! 2pm kick off – see you there.” A 2pm kick off 5 miles from the 5.20pm at the Amex. Not 1881 but, a speedy replacement, and a double… oh, if I must!


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Isthmian League Premier Division – Lewes CFC v Thurrock FC
Saturday, 29th December 2012, 2pm
The Dripping Pan
Distance 55 miles, Attendance 433
Driving through the picturesque town I’d already made a mental of the architecture, castle, flint walls, and Anne of Cleves House but, standing atop an ancient and blustery mound the sight was truly beautiful. No, not the ruined priory to my right or the South Downs in the distance, but beautifully mown grass of The Dripping Pan 100 yards in front where monks once made salt.

121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (12)b

Moments later – fulfilling a New Year’s resolution of yore – I’d lost fourteen pounds. I felt sure my lovely wife would be happy with this as long as I omitted from the tale the match ticket and a bumper festive double programme I’d acquired.
121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (10)bThrough the turnstile, one finds themselves standing atop a magnificent steep covered terrace, with great views across the pitch. At the entrance level there’s a well stocked club shop, food, toilets and wheelchair facilities; below, the bar was crammed with punters, a desirable scarf collection and the kind of posters that would make any design student weep with envy. Cakes and chocolate aside, next door, piping hot Bovril was for sale. To the right was a comfortable looking stand covered in solar panels which generate the club’s electricity; to the left, a raised walkway that I could imagine parking deckchairs on in the summer months whilst chilled beer sellers serve drinks during pauses in the action (chilled beer not frosty service that is). Ahead an open terrace – in these conditions at least – looked slight less appealing.
121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (3)bOn arrival, the tannoy music was somewhat worrying but, after a jovial line-up announcement, the J Giles Band told us of their Centrefold whilst The Stranglers’ No More Heroes was cut short for Sussex By The Sea and then we were off. Teams out (thankfully not the Milan and Norwich they bore a striking resemblance to), handshakes done, sprint away, clap imaginary friend in the crowd, coin toss for a home kick off, and plenty of wondering four men and two flags were alone in the cold at the far end.
For the opening ten minutes it really could have been Milan (of the Ruud era rather than our Lord Luther’s); the passing and movement were superb coming towards us, with Jack Walder, Ben Godfrey, Callum Dunne and Karl Backford all looking sharp. Harry Honesty apart, Thurrock looked totally outclassed but then circumstances saved their day. When I expected Lewes to romp away with the game, the weather changed (Ferguson’s weather no doubt); wind swirled, rain intermittently came down, and the conditions reduced play to something a little less sophisticated than before. Despite the mistakes both teams came close however, it wasn’t until the closing minutes that deadlock was broken when Callum Donaghey headed home Beckford’s second corner in quick succession. What happened next I have no idea but the ref seemed to take it was a queue to put in his own pantomime cameo though thankfully this was behind you, us and him by the interval.

121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (45)   121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (20)b   121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (33)b

As fans queued at the shop like the Sales had just started, IT’S BEHIND YOU (sorry), one steward happy to chat about supporting West Ham in his youth, prima donnas, beer, Sham 69, and his enjoyment at working at The Dripping Pan. The latter was a subject Director Fuller was keen to emphasise during the second period and, clearly an enjoyment that the visitors could empathise with an hour later.
As the home support became frustrated with the conditions, the officials and their team, Thurrock’s Danny Green curled in a fine effort leading to the inevitable chants of “Su-per Thu-rrock F-C” being by far the greatest team the world has ever seen. The joy/pain was doubled twenty minutes later when Jon Dollery tidily tapped the ball home at the far post… of his own goal. near us, The Thurrock Four (or Five) sounding more like they were hurling abuse at Cheltenham celebrated by telling us how much they hated Chelmsford, before bursting out another round of “Come on you evergreens, sumo drinks are on me….” (or something like that). From there on in there was no way back for The Rooks so, bidding my farewells I headed off to catch a lift to the next stop.

121229 SDH1 IPD Lewes v Thurrock (58)b

Founded four years too late to join the happy 1881 band, Lewes (looks over shoulder wondering if Lewes Retweet is still stalking me) is very much a team I am pleased to add to the anal spreadsheet I religiously keep. The Dripping Pan has history, a pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff, and the nous to move kick-off times so as to offer doubles to fans (no I wasn’t the only one). Best of all, it has a wonderful safe standing area where supporters of both teams mixed amiably (see FA it can be done) and it reminded me of TSG Sprockhövel (high praise indeed).
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