Lewes is weird. They’ve been blowing up the Pope here for centuries at Britain’s best free show, the attractively lawless Lewes Bonfire night celebrations.
The football club is a strange cove too. And has been reflecting its slightly arty-farty status with some great match posters.
Been coming, on and off, for more than 20 years when the sunken pitch was surrounded by four grass banks, at a 45-degree angle.
Spectators perched on the top of the bank behind a railing and one side had a quaint wooden stand. A rise up the leagues to the Conference saw big improvements and some loss of old-school weirdness and atmospherics.
But most of the original charm remains and you’re nearly always assured of a good match here – in maybe 15 visits, can only recall one dud.
As luck would have it, Leatherhead were the opposition. If you remember 70s cup runs you’ll recall Leatherhead built up a head of steam one year, dominating coverage and nearly toppling Leicester after taking a 2-0 lead only to lose 3-2 in the fourth round. The had a star player – Chris Kelly.
From Wikipedia – “Kelly was the star player of the side, described as by the Daily Mail as “Leatherhead’s answer to Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh” and earning the nickname ‘The Leatherhead Lip’ for his readiness to talk up the team. At the height of the team’s success, Kelly appeared on national television, including Match of the Day, Nationwide and Tomorrow’s World. He achieved immortality when, later in the year, his name featured in the TV comedy Porridge on the back of a copy of The Sun, read by Fletcher.”
He was everywhere at the time. Hogging the papers and the football coverage on the two channels where you might find FA Cup coverage. Yes, there were only two. Leatherhead seemed to be an important footballing centre. It took another 20-odd years before I discovered it was a suburb in Surrey.
I was rooting for a 0-0 right from the off. The golden goal draw gave me no other option. Instead of a magic minute, I picked up the ‘0-0 scoreline’ ticket and figured that gave me a better than average odds of winning.
Tricky Nicky Wheeler put paid to that after seven minutes. A diagonal crossfield pass found him on the edge of the area. He skipped to his right to beat his man and curled in a cracker from 20 yards. It looked too easy and Lewes were leathering the visitors for a good 25 minutes.
Leatherhead barely got out of their own half in that time and appeared to be no match.
But they got a toe-hold into the match when home skipper Jack Walder felled an attacker and Darren Smith scored from the spot.
We then got the 21st century equivalent of the Leatherhead Lip – visiting manager Richard Brady who was noticeably voluble even from the other side of the pitch. Later, sitting behind him, he swore once too often and the ref rightly had a word and thankfully shut him up.
It was game on from that moment. Lewes could only rue not making the most of their utter dominance and the even-stevens second half battle was only settled when Dan Parkinson grabbed the lead on 80 minutes.
Lewes, fifth in the Ryman Premier League, were felled by a side ninth in the division below.
But they certainly put their art and soul into providing a great experience.