Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Wrexham FC - Beth sydd yna i ddim hoffi!?*

Wrexham FC

Obviously, we get to deal with a lot of football clubs here at European Football Weekends. Some of them leave lasting impressions on us, friendships are formed, cats end up kissing dogs and it all ends up happily ever after, just as we like it.

In this - part 1 of an occasional series - we take a closer look at one of the clubs who have left a lasting impact on these pages: namely, Wrexham FC.

When Wrexham visited the Dripping Pan, Lewes in February of last year, I for one expected them to come down with a high and mighty even aloof attitude. Nothing could have been further from that there truth. Dean Saunders took time out to talk to EFW, their fans were superb both on and off the park and in the WSA (Wrexham Supporters Association) they had an organisation to be proud of.

So EFW teamed up with Mark Griffiths of the aforementioned WSA this week to delve a bit deeper into Wrexham FC and amongst other things; their support, rivalries and of course where we can grab a nice beer if we were ever to visit their splendid old Racecourse Ground:

What is Wrexham's support like both home and away in terms of numbers and vocal support?

Impressive to be honest! Attendances have help up pretty well through the years of turmoil and even relegation to The Conference didn't dent the figures until our season went down the pan in March and April. In fact until that point although our attendances were down on last season, there were actually more Wrexham fans attending! It was the big drop in away support which pulled the overall figure down. I think there's a fresh loyalty created by suffering together which I feel rather proud of!

We take a good contingent to away games too - we're helped by the fact that there are lively supporters groups around the country, particularly the London Reds, who turn out in force down south. Relegation to The Conference must have been a godsend for them - every other week we're playing on their doorstep! In terms of volume, I think we're pretty good. Certainly a good cup tie at The Racecourse or an away match like Burton last year where we filled half the ground sends a tingle down your spine! The atmosphere was terrific on the first day of the season and it was a shock when the attendance was given at only three and half thousand as it felt and sounded more like five. The following Saturday we went to Crawley and the 200 away fans were considerably louder than the 800 home fans, although neither contingent could drown out the shouting of Steve Evans, sadly!

What is the away allocation given to teams at the Racecourse Ground and has anybody actually filled that in recent years?

Until about a year ago we used to give a whole stand to away fans, and once or twice a season it'd get close to capacity or full. Now we give a section of the main stand - I suspect it holds around 500 - and last season only one team (Altrincham) brought more than 200 fans.

What's the Racourse ground like these days?
I've heard they want to do some work to the Kop!?

It's still a nice ground - the terraces have been seated so it's an all-seater now as sadly The Kop has been closed. The development has divided the fans, who are understandably very sensitive about such schemes after what we've been through recently. It's making match day a little awkward as most of the club car park is closed and there's a huge red wall sectioning off the building work which stretches round a quarter of the ground. The concerns about the redevelopment are where the profits go - we've been told the club will benefit massively from it. but whether that's crafty legalese or genune's splitting supporters - and the fact that it's being done in stages, and a new stand's the final phase. Thus far there's no planning permission to build a replacement stand and therefore no guarantee there'll be one.

Who are Wrexham's main rivals?

Chester, Chester and Chester. We don't get along. Having said that, when Chester have been in difficulty off the pitch, we've always been concerned as we don't want to lose their rivalry. Likewise, when we were in danger of disappearing some of Chester's fans gave superb, highly visible support. Wrexham's fans find City's current problems worrying. No fans deserve the problems they've got a the moment. The thought of them going to the wall is horrendous.

As for other rivals, Shrewsbury Town is a derby of sorts, although I always feel it's more keenly felt at their end than ours, Port Vale games can get rather unpleasant off the pitch and Cardiff don't get much sympathy up here. When they got to the FA Cup Final and kept talking about how all of Wales wanted them to win it was pretty difficult for a lot of us to stomach! Mind you, I'm sure it would have gone down even less well in Swansea!
Is there an ultra culture in Welsh football?

Naturally things vary from club to club. Certainly at Wrexham we have a superb group of lads called "The Twelfth Man" who embrace the positive side of ultra culture, making lots of noise, bringing in banners and always coming up with new songs. They've arranged events like a scarf day where every fan going to a game got a free scarf and are a superb bunch.

Do many Wrexham fans follow the national team?

Yes, and you often see Wrexham banners at the away matches. Having said that, the fact that virtually all the games are now played at the Millennium Stadium makes attendance a lot more difficult. We all hark back to the good old days when internationals were shared between Wrexham and Cardiff.
On a recent trip to Wales, I was quite taken aback with the North/South Welsh divide. Does that rivarly manifest itself during Welsh national games?

It certainly used to: I remember being in Wrexham's Kop as a kid and hearing the fans chant for Wrexham or Cardiff rather than for Wales! I don't think it's as pronounced now, but I could be wrong. It's an issue which transcends sport though: politically we feel we've been by passed. It always seems like there's plenty of Welsh Assembly funding sloshing around for projects down south, whereas we are still waiting for a promised direct train link to Cardiff!

That's enough about rivals, do Wrexham have any 'friendships' with other teams?

We made a lot of links during our troubles. The support we received was wonderful and a Fans United day was held at The Racecourse which attracted seven thousands fans, many travelling across the country. Most obvious are Brighton, as a core of their supporters gave us wonderful support and drawing on their own experiences, gave us advice on what we should do. I'm very proud of my Wrexham/Brighton scarf. Personally, I have a genuine affection for Eastbourne and Workington after our trips there last season. I hope you're appreciating my bias towards Sussex!? (absolutely spot on, aside from Eastbourne - Ed).

Tell us a bit about the WSA. There really is some splendid stuff on that website with well written blogs and videos.

Cheers! We love doing them. We started off as a hospital radio broadcast back in the 1950's, run by Wrexham's Supporters Association. Recently we've looked to expand though: we do commentaries from all games for the club's website and produce podcasts after every game, plus chat show style podcasts every week with focus on Wrexham but often go off topic to discuss non-league or Welsh footy matters. We slap in the blogs for good measure too! It's all hosted on the Supporters Association website, of which I'm the webmaster. I'm currently completely redesigning it, which is a lot more work than I anticipated.
What is the best football ground in Wales?

As I follow Wrexham home and away, I don't get much chance to see grounds that we don't play at. Also, as Cardiff and Swansea have moved well out of our orbit in recent years, I haven't been to their new grounds, so I can't judge them really. Cefn Druids ground is quite nice - a bit like Lewes with grass banks around the pitch.

And the worst?

Let's just say there were good reasons for Swansea and Cardiff to leave The Vetch and Ninian Park!

Has the novelty of being in the Football Conference worn off?

Not for me - I'm really enjoying it (while obviously wanting to get for the good of the club!). The welcome you get at most clubs is terrific: Lewes, Eastbourne and Workington particularly stood out as memorable days out last season. That said, the totally random nature of the Conference refs and administrators is something that wears a bit!

Do you still harp on about those famous cup runs and the wins over Arsenal and Porto because I would!?

Absolutely! If you can't wallow in your past what can a football fan do? We were amazingly consistent in the cups. I remember us playing Ipswich in the mid 90's when they were in the Premiership and feeling beforehand with absolute certainty that we'd beat them - it just seemed so inevitable. And of course we did! The Porto game was perhaps more remarkable than the Arsenal game. Although everyone knows we'd finished bottom of the the league the season before and Arsenal were champions, the fact was that we were on the up - we were promoted the next season. In contrast, the side that beat Porto was genuinely poor. We were strapped for cash, lost every game between the two legs emphatically and struggled to stay mid-table in Division Four.
Who is considered to be Wrexham's best player of all time?

I guess it's a toss up between Tommy Bamford (every club has had one - a guy who played before the second World War with a phenomenal scoring record - over 200 goals approaching a goal a game) and Arfon Griffiths, who played the most games for us, either side of a spell at Arsenal. He was a Welsh international and went on to be our player-manager when we enjoyed our greatest ever season, winning the 3rd Division title, the Welsh Cup and getting to the quarter finals of both FA and League Cups.

The Red Dragons or The Robins?

Call me an old stuck-in-the-mud but it's The Robins for me.

What is Wrexham like as a City?

Got to be a stickler for accuracy and point out we're a town. We applied twice for city status in the last ten years but were beaten by Brighton (understandably) and Newport (less so). We were hit hard by the decline of the mining and brewing industries - we're a brewery and market town in essence. It's pleasant enough - St Giles Church in the centre of town is impressive - bit I guess most visitors here use us as a base to explore the surrounding countryside and tourist attractions.

We like a pre (and post - Ed) match beer on this site, can you recommend us any nice pubs?

The Turf is actually on the corner of the ground - in fact its attic was the changing room for decades and until the new stand was built in the late 90's fans could watch the game from its balcony. You can still see the balcony from certain angles, but it looks rather forlorn now as it faces a wall of corrugated metal!
The Turf - Right what's everyone having!?

* Beth sydd yna i ddim hoffi!? = What's not to like

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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Saint Peters denies EFW our first 'Smash and Crabb' headline of the season.

St Albans 1-1 Lewes (22:08:09)

- click on photos to enlarge -

Such is the joy of following The Rooks on the road that our numbers are now swelling. As well as stalwarts Cynical Dave and Big Deaks, we were joined in this trip to St Albans by Mr Fuller of TBIR fame, his daughter Lolly and newest EFW member and all round good chap Al McCulloch.

Obviously, no trip to St Albans is complete without a visit to the City's splendid Cathedral. It was interesting to learn that an earthquake shook the abbey in 1250 and damaged the eastern.....what's that Deaks!? Britain's oldest pub is just around the corner!? Off we jolly well go my son.

EFW team in 'visiting a Cathedral' shock.

EFW team in 'visiting a pub' shock (not).

EFW logo action.

As per usual it was a thirsty old day for the EFW team and so after spending six seconds marvelling at the second longest Cathedral in the UK it was time to move onto one of the umpty thrumpty pubs that lay claim to be Britain's oldest with a visit to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. Never mind oldest, it was also one of Britain's most expensive, so after a swift pint it was time to move onto the ground via another pub (Robin Hood) and just for good measure a few more pints in the clubhouse at the ground.

Said clubhouse had an 80's feel to it which was reflected in the music (Depeche Mode, Cure, Abba etc) and the fact that we all sat around watching events unfold at the Oval in the Ashes on teletext. Bless them.

This match represented a small milestone for me in that it was the 200th ground I've visited. I can't think of a nicer place to have chalked up the double century. The ground looked a picture. Sadly, St Albans - like Lewes - are in a bit of financial bother. Most of the fans we saw in town beforehand had Arsenal shirts on and were off to the Emirates. Give me a trip to St Albans over a visit to Arsenal any day of the week. People of St Albans, give your club a helping hand.

The first half of match was pretty much a non event aside from an incident in which Danny Cullip got sent to the stands for having a 'quiet word' with the lino and a bit of inspiration from Dan Beck, who nearly lobbed Lewes into the lead. Nobody in the crowd seemed too bothered though as players and fans alike basked in the glorious Hertfordshire sun-she-ine.

Wonderful old stand at Clarence Park.

One man and his dog.

"Pssst...don't worry lads, I'll add on an extra minute at the end for you to score!"

Art, or is it!?

Travelling Army.

Even with my most optimistic hat on, I don't think I could have foreseen the circumstances that occurred midway through the second half. As you may know, European Football Weekends sponsor Lewes striker Sam Crabb. So here's the deal - in the 67th minute David Wheeler was up to his usual tricks with him going one way, the crowd going the other. So he swings in a little cross for our man Crabby who coolly finished to make it 0-1. He then ran over to me and well - let's not beat around the bush here - we had a little cuddle.

Cynical Dave in full celebration mode as Crabby and I share a little moment.

So just as I was penning my 'Smash and Crabb' headline - which I've had tucked away in a little draw for a while - up pops Mark blooming Peters for St Albans in the chuffing 93rd minute and bloody well heads past Rikki Banks for the flipping equaliser. Probably just about deserved on the balance of play but pretty annoying all the same. There was even time for Lewes to romp up the other end in more time added on (this bit we didn't mind) but Lewes sub Louis Pople fluffed his big chance after a neat run which denied us a last minute frenzy. Stinker.

Back in the clubhouse after the match and in order to do our bit to help St Albans survive, the EFW team finished off the supplies of Brock Bitter behind the bar. Cynical Dave then chose this moment to win 20 notes on the football scratchcard (he has previous in this department). We also chatted to the players and afforded ourselves a small giggle as we noted that Chris Breach was wearing what appeared to be a pair of diamond earrings.

Cynical cleans up in the football scratchcard department.

Big Deaks, Crabby, Danny Cullip, Danny and Ryan Storrie*.

Happier times for St Albans in this photo story of the day they clinched promotion at the Dripping Pan.

Before making our way out of the ground we popped onto the pitch for our mandatory photo. Then events took a turn for the better as the St Albans Chairman invited us into the boardroom for a bit of the old free beer and food! There we chatted to the match officials, giving the lino a bit of friendly stick about the Cullip incident before travelling back into London Village with them on the train. They then went off to work for the football foundation, officiate in the West Ham v Millwall League Cup tie and referee the Aldershot under 18's match respectively, whilst we headed back to Brighton for a few more bevingtons. Good old life!

The booze brothers. Danny and Deaks.

* Ryan Storrie is in competition with Sam Crabb in the EFW/TBIR competition. You can find details of this by CLICKING ME.

For more photos of the day CLICK ME.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Cove Rangers

Brighton and Cove Albion

Cove Rangers 4-0 Brora Rangers (15:08:09)

-click on photos to enlarge image -

Such was the efficiency and helpfulness of Rainbow City Taxis (ironically sponsors of Cove Rangers) that 20 minutes after watching Aberdeen lose to Celtic, the EFW team were on the terracing at Allan Park in good time for this Highland League fixture in the Aberdeen suburb of Cove Bay.

Amusingly having just watched Celtic, this was to be the battle of the Rangers. Cove Rangers being the Highland League Champions of the last two seasons and Brora; a slightly less prestigious outfit from the small industrial village of Brora, Sutherland over four hours north (north!) of Aberdeen.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Allan Park is the marvellous slopping pitch. Throw in the lesser seen floodlight/telephone mast combo, a quaint press box, views out to the North Sea and a pretty swish sponsors lounge and - despite being fairly small (2,300 capacity) - Cove Rangers have a neat little ground. Plans are afoot however to move the club to Calder Park at Altens in the near future.

How many grounds do you walk into and receive a warm welcome and handshake!? This was a first even for me and I've seen games at 199 grounds around Europe. Martin Hill from the Cove Rangers website was the chap in question and as we chatted away, it occurred to me that a fine Brighton and Cove Albion was being formed. (I'm from Brighton, he of Cove).

Having endured an epic coach journey down here, by the time Brora Rangers had entered the pitch and stretched their legs they were 2-0 down. Early goals from the bald headed -EFW man of the match - Martin Johnston and Robbie 'Limahl' Henderson (he is a ringer for the Kajagoogoo front man) saw to that.

Brora Rangers all at sea. Views out to the North Sea (tick).

The Champions flag flies proudly over the home faithful.

Martin Johnston fires in yet another effort on goal.

Robbie Henderson strokes home from close range.

With Barrie Stephen and Roddy Black combining well down the left flank and Martin Johnston and Kevin Webster pulling every string known to mankind, it was one way traffic for the Champions. Johnston had previously played for Brechin City and Webster Arbroath - it showed.

During the first half Brora Rangers Scott Beg made a crunching tackle just in front of us on Barrie Stephen. Pleasingly, the referee waved play on. This was a great introduction to fitba in the Highland League, it's not for the feint hearted or indeed for fannies!

As the game moved into the second half, the Brora keeper had a few minutes he'd probably rather not be reminded of, so lets do it. Firstly he let our man from Kajagoogoo claim his second of the afternoon with the softest header I've ever seen. Limahl nodded in a cross from the magnificent Kevin Webster which trickled through the legs of Macallum at a rough speed of 2mph. Cue uproarious laughter from those behind the goal and a trip to the low self esteem clinic for the Macca.

Limahl heads in the softest goal of all time. Bursts of laughter all round ensue. Probably worth clicking this image to enlarge it.

Next up Macca was 'too shy shy' as Kevin Webster (him again) smashed in a free kick, this time at about 300mph from the edge of the box. If we were worried about the standard of play upon entering Allan Park we needn't have worried. Cove Rangers at least are a classy outfit. Another Championship beckons.

If you were wanting to visit a Highland League game then let me point you in the right direction. For a wonderful local rivalry, look no further than Cove Rangers v Inverurie Loco Works. At this level anyway, it's about as good as it gets. Three seasons ago the Locos were all set to win the league on the last game of the season. Cove had other ideas though and a 1-1 draw on the day denied the Locos the title. Things have never been the same since. One for the EFW notebook.

Nairn County and Buckie Thistle have wonderful old skool grounds that would be worth a visit but the most scenic is probably that of Fort William. At least the local fans there can marvel at Ben Nevis as they face up to another probable defeat for The Fort.

After the match Cynical Dave, Cynical Bob and I made for the comfort of the well equipped Cove Rangers social club. Beer flowed as usual and we decided that this was to be just the start of our Highland League adventure. We'll be back!

All very relaxed on the home terrace. Note the floodlight/telephone mast combo in the corner.

Corner flag looking on in envy at the plush sponsors lounge.

The wee press box.

Allan Park, Cove Rangers.

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Aberdeen FC

Stand Free Wherever You May Be

Aberdeen 1-3 Celtic (15:08:09)

- click on photos to enlarge image -

There are two main industries in Aberdeen; oil and lap dancing. Basically, one half of Aberdeen take oil out of the ground and the other half rub it all over their bodies -boom boom, tish. Welcome to the Granite City where Cynical Dave and I would pitch up for three days of football and beer. In true EFW fashion - what's not to like?

We had a wee dilemma for this opening SPL match of the season. Aberdeen FC had kindly presented European Football Weekends with a couple of press passes. However, prior to them doing so we'd also purchased two tickets in the Richard Donald Stand next to the Celtic fans. So, did we want to hob knob with the press pack or soak up the atmosphere?

For the sake of television, the match kicked of at 12:45. We arrived early doors and initially went into the press box to have a nosey round. After a word with Murdo MacLeod we decided to wave a white flag and resort to plan B - the pub. I saw a photo in the Scotland on Sunday the next day of funnyman Billy Connolly, who was sat right near the seats we'd have been in. I was also duly told however that he'd have ignored us anyway!

The Granite Ground entrance

Murdo MacLeod joins the EFW bandwagon

First view inside Pittodrie and the Red Ultras dispay taking shape in the Y Block.

Right next to Pittodrie is a number of golf courses that run along side the North Sea. More importantly though, said golf courses have social clubs whereby one can partake in what I like to call 'lovely beer'. We opted for the Caledonian Golf Club. Strictly speaking this is a 'members only' bar but luckily I knew the magic formula for gaining access; 1 x nod coupled with 2 x winks.

Fully refreshed we made our way into the Richard Donald Stand to soak it all up. After penning an article on the Aberdeen Red Ultras I was keen to see how they'd fare in the stands against their rivals from the Green Brigade Celtic. The Red Ultras shaded the display stakes with a fine effort in their fairly new location in the Y Block of the ground. The Green Brigade responded by unfurling a large banner surrounded by a number of green and white flags.

A fine effort from the Red Ultras.

The Green Brigade respond with their own little number.

Celtic fans did however win the vocal battle. I've seen Celtic a number of times at Parkhead and given their reputation, the atmosphere has always disappointed me. So it was good to see them out in force here and singing for 90 minutes. They went through their full repertoire of songs at full volume including a homage to Artur Boruc just after half time that seemed to go on for ten minutes or more. So 1-1 off the park as far as I'm concerned.

On the park and especially in the first half Celtic ran riot. Aiden McGeady and moreover Shaun Maloney tore into the Dons from the start. If Scott McDonald had been on his game as well, Celtic may have had a hatful in the first 45 minutes alone. As it was they declared at 3-0 up with goals from McGeady (x 2) and McDonald.

It says a lot to me about Scottish football when a famous old team like Aberdeen have to sell their captain and playermaker of last season Scott Severin to - with all due disrespect - Watford FC. Add to this the fact that Mark McGhee simply has no money whatsoever to play with and what are you left with? Well, signings from Swindon Town is the answer in the form of Jerel Ifil. Not too bad but he's not going to bring the glory days back is he?

The Celtic huddle

Man dressed as sheep

Aberdeen attack (must have been the 2nd half - Ed).

On the walls of the Richard Donald Stand.

Bobs Full House in the South Stand.

So not much skill for the home fans to get excited about but what really got on their goat was the lack of passion and effort. Aberdeen seemed to be a soft touch and that simply won't do. I don't like picking on individuals (yes you do - Ed.) but Lee Miller appeared out of breath and unfit. Shocking. I later discovered that he is possibly on the verge of a move to Middlesborough which possibly may explain that. Inexcusable in my book though.

So after 45 minutes the fans around me had run dry of expletives and Mark McGhee took his weary troops into the dressing room complete with 1 x face like thunder. He must have said something of note because Aberdeen looked much better in the second half. They scored the best goal of the game when midfielder Sone Aluko fired in a volley and could have gone onto score again - to set up a lively finish - but goosed up a couple of chances shortly after their goal and that was that.

Thanks to Rainbow taxis, twenty minutes after the final whistle the EFW team were stood on the terraces of Allan Park for the Cove Rangers v Brora Rangers game in the Highland League.

Aside from that it was pubs o'clock for us. The best ones (that I can remember) were:

The Pittodrie Bar - rammed with Aberdeen FC memorabilia complete with a section dedicated to the Tartan Army invasion of Wembley, breaking crossbars etc.

The Pittodrie Bar

The Scotia - decked head to toe in Scottish scarves and flags and (I think) the Tartan Army HQ in the North East of Scotland.

We'll be coming down the road. The Scotia Bar, Sommerfield Terrace.

Peep Peeps - look behind the hype (it was featured on Britain's Roughest Pubs) and the masking tape holding the tables together, this is a great boozer. We received the warmest of welcomes in here, class in a glass.

The Broadsword - we nicknamed this place The Jockey after the pub in Shameless, full of 'characters' but give me that over a Harvester any day of the week.

Butchers Arms - full of pennants from every Scottish team you can imagine, a great place to watch live 'fitba' and if you time it right as we did FREE PIES!

The Kirkgate Bar - another of my favourites with several references around the bar to Gothenburg '83 and happier times for Aberdeen when they beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup. Hopefully those days will return but I can't see it for the foreseeable future can you!? Cheers!

Our mates from the Red Ultras

Nearly on the pitch lad 7/10.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Full steam ahead for The Iron

Braintree Town 3-0 Lewes (11::08:09)

Welcome back the beautiful (conference) south...and relax. Last Saturday there were cheesy grins all round on the terraces of the Dripping Pan, Lewes as we raised a glass to the previous seasons relegation. We toasted the return of beer on the terraces with a welcome pint of Harvey's whilst swinging a fast shoe to new Lewes anthem 'Hippipolla' by Sigor Ros. All was well in the world of EFW as we set out for another season of mirth and hilarity.

How to follow that 1-1 draw with Weymouth!? (not easy - Ed). Well, I was asked by Lewes FC to go and cover their first away game of the season at Braintree Town, Essex AND pen a 400 word match report for the official Lewes website along with the match day programme. A serious match report!? Moi!? Oh dear....this will end in tears.

The highlight of a hellish train journey across London and through Essex on the worlds hottest/most packed train was a glimpse of the new - soon to slightly underwhelm the world - Olympic Stadium which is beginning to take shape in Stratford. That aside it was a blessed relief to reach the clubhouse at Cressing Road and set about tackling a few pre-match beers with Cynical Dave and Big Deaks. Such was the enjoyment of the ale served up by Chrissy and Sharon behind the bar that my first three pints forgot to even touch the sides. Silly old beers.

The new "soon to slightly underwhelm the world" Olympic Stadium.

New EFW signing and Lewes FC striker Sam Crabb (click HERE for details)

Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree battle it out.

Good flagage.

Yellow netting - tick.

Hot air balloon gliding above the darkness.

Hot air ballon with floodlight anyone!?

The BTFC clubhouse is an establishment that the EFW team will be returning to quite regularly. Why is that you ask? Well just get a load of the entertainment they've got lined up in the coming month: Fake That! Only the most sort after tribute band in the last two years. WE BE 40 who "win fans young and old every time they play." Beatlemania who - as one journalist put it - "If you closed your eyes you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference." Lastly, I give you Bernie the Rat Pack Man "I can't believe one man can impersonate so many of the great singers so convincingly! Truly amazing!" Monthly train season ticket to Braintree in the bag - tick.

Now for the downside of the evening. For a kick off, my camera broke. Secondly, there was a sign up in the aforementioned clubhouse bearing the less than legendary 'NO ALCOHOL TO BE TAKEN OUTSIDE OM MATCHDAYS' (ouch - Ed) and thirdly; Lewes got a thumping.

As we made our way home on our 3 hour journey back to Brighton, all we had for company was 12 cans of Kronenburg and 1284 discarded copies of the free London Lite newspaper.

Anyway, as I said, I was there in a semi-professional capacity in that I had to actually watch and report on the match for once. So here is the full version of the report I submitted to Lewes FC which will no doubt get edited down to a couple of sentences. Regular readers might want to end the reading of this report now as for once, I had to be serious. Oh well, here we go:

Full steam ahead for The Iron

Braintree Town 3-0 Lewes (11:08:09)

Braintree Town moved to the summit of the Conference South last night after an emphatic home win against The Rooks on a sultry night in Essex.

After a hugely encouraging opening day performance against Weymouth on Saturday – where Lewes dominated for large periods – this was always going to be a trickier assignment. Lewes shuffled the pack with Dan Royce, Sam Fisk and Williams Peauroux making way for Ryan Storrie, Scott Chamberlin and Andrew Pearson.

The two teams trotted out to onto the pitch to a quick ten second burst of Kasabian on the tannoy system. Not bad but not a patch on the new Dripping Pan anthem – a full version, pumped out at volume 10 of ‘Hippipolla’ by Sigor Ros. Dreamy!

On a lush playing surface it was Braintree who started the brighter. On 9 minutes Andrew Pearson did well to block Tommy Tejan-Sie’s goal bound effort and minutes later Sean Marks flashed a header just wide from a Ryan Peters free kick.

The Iron took the lead after quarter of an hour through a piece of individual brilliance from the hugely impressive George Purcell. He burst into the Lewes box after evading two challenges before rounding keeper Rikki Banks and finishing with aplomb.

Lewes stuck to their passing game and galvanised by some neat trickery by the livewire David Wheeler they grew into the match. They had arguably their best spell just after the break. As the Rooks fans were still taking up their positions behind the goal, a combination of Sam Crabb, the (very tall) Braintree goalkeeper and a defender or two all pounced on the ball in a goalmouth scramble. The ball bounced up and off the crossbar, down onto the line and somehow declined to go in.

After that Braintree began to dominate with Matt Game showing some laudable enterprise in midfield and strikers Purcell and Marks showing flashes of awareness and touch which suggests their partnership could well bear fruit for The Iron this season.

Sean Marks it was who further extended the lead beating Banks to a ball that rebounded back off the post from his initial effort to smash it home - into the roof of the net - after 64 minutes.

On 73 minutes George Purcell rounded off a great night for both himself and The Iron by intercepting a tame back pass from the otherwise superb Chris Breach before rounding Banks and sending the home fans home happy with another neat finish.

These are exciting times to be a Braintree Town fan. Not only are they top of the table after a perfect start but plans are also afoot for their team to move into an new all singing, all dancing 6,000 capacity community stadium. Off the pitch at least Lewes FC has more immediate taxing issues. On it, they’ve assembled a team worthy of the shirt and well worth watching despite this hiccup.

Afterwards reflecting on the game Lewes boss Steve Ibbitson had no complaints:

“They were generally more aggressive than we were especially in midfield; they also had more options to keep the ball with two very mobile full backs. In addition they had two excellent front players who complimented each other very well. We struggled to contain them and couldn’t cut out the supply to them. A major lesson we must learn is that no team is going to just let you have the ball and we mustn’t just give it away cheaply as we did last night”.

Anyone still awake!? Thought not. For those of you with insomnia I'll just add an apology for the quality of the photos. I had to take them with my mobile phone.

These just in from Lewes legend Mr James Boyes:

EFW man Crabby jumping for England.

The Daddy! Skipper Danny Cullip wins yet another header.

Credit crunch. Barney gets tucked into the Braintree skipper.

Click on photos to enlarge image

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