In heraldry, it’s called The Rule Of Tincture. Metal should never be placed upon metal. St Albans City arrived at Lewes this afternoon with a mix and match kit. Their choice of outfit, yellow and blue striped shirts with white shorts and socks broke this rule – yellow represents gold and white represents silver. St Alban himself, had he a particular interest in the conventions of heraldry (and, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate) might well have been appalled. He would probably, however, have been even more enraged by the travesty of a performance that a team bearing his name managed this afternoon at The Dripping Pan.
Perhaps no-one had reminded them of the importance of this fixture. St Albans went into the match one place and one point above Lewes, third from bottom, in the Blue Square South table. With one win in their last twenty-three matches, there is no question that they are facing a scramble to avoid relegation from this league and this match felt as if they are sleep-walking through this situation. If they are to have any chance of avoiding that relegation, it is a truism they need to be winning matches like this. If they can’t guarantee winning matches like this, then they need to at least be in the game. As a bare minimum, these games need to be contested. Today, though, they were swatted aside by Lewes.
On the pitch, it took time for Lewes to get into gear. For the first half hour or so, the two teams seemed reasonably evenly matched and it took two goals in three minutes just before half-time from Paul Olima and Ben Godfrey, which effectively ended the match as any sort of contest with half of it still to play. Early in the second half, Olima added a third for the home side. St Albans pulled one back from a corner through Adam Everitt, but Everitt last barely one hundred and twenty seconds longer before being sent off. The game was over and Lewes, for the first time since August, are out of the relegation places. The leapfrog over St Albans City, who drop into the relegation places with no immediate prospect of improving.
Oddly, though, today was not so much about what happened on the pitch. Lewes had their limitations. That much was obvious from the number of times that they unnecessarily conceded possession in the middle third of the pitch. What was even more noticeable, however, was the number of occasions that St Albans gave the ball back to them. How easy they made it for them. These considerations could be taken care of, but there is something wrong at the heart of St Albans City FC. There were differences between the two sides on the pitch, but even these are dwarved by the differences between two clubs away from the pitch.
St Albans City supporters could be easily forgiven for looking at The Dripping Pan with the green eyes of envy. Third from bottom in the table they may have been at kick-off, but the crowd for this match was 727 people, more than three times the feeble crowd of 232 that saw St Albans surrender at home against Farnborough FC in a league match on Tuesday night. The Dripping Pan hums with volunteers selling programmes and raffle tickets. Lewes FC has moved with infectious enthusiasm towards become a supporter-owned club, run by its own community for the benefit of its community. The unspoken atmosphere around the club indicates that, despite the tough times that the team faces on the pitch at present, brighter times are ahead.
For St Albans City, however, where a ray of sunshine will come from without institutional change within the club remains unknown. This afternoon, around sixty or so supporters made the not inconsiderable journey from Hertfordshire down to the Sussex coast. Their patience snaps during the second half. Support turns to understandable frustration at a team that seem to playing as if the players barely even know each other. There are mutterings on the terrace behind the goal of how difficult it would be to ever get back up from the Southern or Isthmian League Premier Divisions should they fall through the trapdoor this season. Whether it is necessary at this stage to call for a public meeting with the owner of the club to address the issues (including but not limited to an FA investigation into financial irregularities which could yet cost them a points deduction) currently facing their club. This is what they’re talking about on the ground – a heartfelt dissent, borne from a deep, deep concern for something that they care about very much indeed.
These two clubs, then, have much in common yet are miles apart. One of the key aspects of issues that Lewes are currently dealing with is the management of expectations. Should they fall from the Blue Square South, they will rebuild. They will find their level, wherever that may be, and they will be fine. They will still be there. St Albans City, meanwhile, slip quietly into the relegation places. Perhaps it is their turn. By the end of this season, it will be a quarter of a century since they last played below the level at which they play now. The route back, however, is a tortuous one and it is a path littered with the battered and bruised bodies of former foes such as Aylesbury United or Chesham United. It is considerable to drop down through the non-league pecking order than it is to rise up through it, and this knowledge may be what is concerning those supporters that are starting to call for tangible, fundamental change within the club. Previous indicators have pointed towards the club stumbling on and not listening. There is still time for them to reverse their truculence. Whether the will is there for them to do this, of course, is another question altogether.