It all started because I had nothing better to do. It was Saturday lunchtime and, on a whim, I had decided to go to the football. With South-West London looking like a little bit too much like hard work and the Albion playing away from home, a trip to Lewes seemed like the ideal solution. I’ve been there before, a couple of times. In 1986, St Albans went there on the last day of the season in the Isthmian League First Division needing to win by four goals to guarantee promotion. They were four up in less than half an hour, and ended up winning 7-1. A picture of that day still hangs in the clubhouse at Clarence Park. Two years ago, I saw there again to see The Saints win 2-0. This, however, was my first visit to Lewes since moving to Brighton. I live yards from Brighton railway station and, at the other end of the journey, Lewes’ ground is but yards from Lewes railway station. The entire journey, from my front door to their turnstiles, takes a shade over twenty minutes.
Lewes’ ground, the magnificently-named “Dripping Pan”, is one of the more unique arenas in English football. On two sides, it is surrounded by high grass banks which are levelled off at the top so that people can stand and watch. Behind each goal there are high terraces, one open and one covered, and one corner of the ground is taken up with the clubhouse from which you can watch the game (should you not mind the metal grilles across the windows) or whatever happens to be on the television. Most pleasingly of all, they don’t even mind if you take your plastic glasses of beer out onto the terraces during the match. It all makes for a most civilised atmosphere. The truth of the matter is, however, that it’s not safe. The days of taking your drink out onto the terraces must surely be numbered, as must be the high grass banks that make the ground so distinctive. The potential for development at The Dripping Pan is great, and the club;s circumstances could well make development a pressing issue. Going into yesterday’s fixture, Lewes were top of the Conference South, a point clear of their local rivals Eastbourne Borough. Their opposition, Bath City, have a reasonably big past – they spent most of the 1980s and 1990s in the Conference – but have fallen on tougher times recently, slipping down the divisions and into the Southern League before getting promoted back into the Conference South as champions at the end of last season. They went into yesterday’s match in the play-off places.
Such matches are “must win” matches for a team hoping to win a championship, and with conditions being pretty terrible (a high swirling wind and driving rain), the atmosphere around The Dripping Pan felt somewhat nervous. Within ten minutes, most of the excitement for the afternoon had taken place, with a scuffle following a bad tackle that could quite easily have seen one or two players sent off, and the only goal of the match coming from a cross from the left which was eventually turned in by top scorer Paul Booth. The match continued with the underlying feeling that it could all go off again at any moment – Bath’s Justin McKay finally picked up a second yellow card with twenty minutes left to play, leaving the match effectively over as a contest. Lewes stay top of the Conference South, though I think they still have a lot of work to do if they’re to bring The Dripping Pan up Conference standard.
Reasons Why I May Adopt Lewes As My Team In Sussex
1. “The Dripping Pan” is a brilliant name for a stadium.
2. Their nickname is “The Rooks” (the chess piece rather than the big, squawking bird).
3. It is literally twenty minutes, door to door, from my house.
4. They sell sambuca and tequila behind the bar.
5. You can take your booze out onto the terraces with you.
6. You can shout, “COME ON, LEWES”, in the gruff manner of Inspector Morse.