It is a phrase that is often trotted out by supporters of a team that have had a period of success followed by a period of disaster that everyone should strap themselves in and enjoy the “rollercoaster ride”. There is one significant problem with this analogy, which is that most people wouldn’t want to spend too long on a rollercoaster and would actually want to get off it after a few minutes. Rollercoaster rides, it is not unreasonable to suggest, are fine in short bursts but it is probably not advisable to stay on one for several years.
Lewes supporters could be forgiven for feeling as if they have stepped off a rollercoaster. This week, they stepped off a rollercoaster that took them up-diddly-up-up before crashing back to earth. Today, though, normality might just have returned to The Dripping Pan. The story of the ups is well known. Funded by a playing budget that was out of proportion to the club’s resources, they moved up into the Blue Square Premier. Hopelessly outclassed at that level, they surrendered their place in that league without too much of a fight, but the real fight at the club was taking place off the pitch. Financial crisis followed financial crisis, and the club was frequently believed to be days or hours from closure.
Last week, they survived another brush with the High Court, as an outstanding tax bill was paid off at the last minute. Normality might be ready to make a return to the club, starting with a Blue Square South relegation battle against Weston-Super-Mare. It is a match that neither side can afford to lose. Lewes are third from the bottom of of the BSS, and are just a point ahead of Weston (“Super-Mare”, as the match programme helpfully points out, means “On Sea”, in case you were wondering), but there is a more confident atmosphere about the place this afternoon – the confidence of of turning the page and beginning a new chapter in the club’s history.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the chatter on the terrace behind the goal is of the FA Cup, but there is plenty enough going on in this match – at least, there is in the early stages – to keep them diverted. After eleven minutes, Callum Hart trips David Wheeler and Joe Keehan sends the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot. Ten minutes later, more careless Weston defending allows them to double their lead when Clayton Fortune handles the ball inside the penalty area. Keehan’s penalty is identical to his previous one, but Sawyer goes the wrong way again and Lewes lead 2-0.
On the pitch, it is downhill from here on. The bumpy, uneven surface doesn’t help matters, but the biggest problem for both teams is a lack of creativity in attacking positions – quite possibly borne out of the draining of confidence that comes with a season struggling near the bottom of the table. It’s not difficult to see how better teams in this league would tear into them, but they are largely cancelling each other out and, since they already have a two goal lead, this suits Lewes rather well. Half-time also brings the third biggest cheer of the afternoon, when the PA man takes a moment to remind everybody the match between Manchester United and Hull City is a Premier League match because “Manchester United have already been knocked out of the FA Cup”.
The second half continues the pattern of the first, with Lewes looking more likely to extend their lead than Weston look like getting back into it. The gilt-edged chance of the half falls to Jean-Michel Siguere. After Louis and Wheeler work smartly on the right-hand side, a low cross finds Siguere unmarked and six yards out but he tries to backheel the ball in but only succeeds in rolling the ball into Sawyer’s grateful arms. Meanwhile at the other end, Weston’s best chance of the afternoon comes from a long range free kick that is brilliantly turned over by Lewes’ Rikki Banks. The limitations of the teams and the state of the pitch continue to frustrate the likelihood of anything easier on the eye drifting into view, but this match is about points and, at full-time, Lewes have all three of them.
They remain in the relegation places, for now. Fellow strugglers Worcester City also won against the managerless, relegation-bound, cannon fodder from Weymouth, so they stay in the same position in the table. Something at The Dripping Pan has changed, though. The feeling coming from the club is cautiously optimistic. The crowd sang “The Rooks are staying up” at the end of the match and, while avoiding the drop is far from a certainty (and they have another relegation six-pointer at Dorchester on Tuesday night), for the first time this season it seems that maintaining Blue Square South football at the club beyond the end of this season is a realistic possibility. They have stepped off the rollercoaster, and the calm doesn’t seem to feel too bad at the moment.