This is a post which unfortunately was never posted on LeagueBelow.com, so time it saw the light of day! Slightly out of date as it was ready to go at the end of October, but nevertheless, here it is: Featuring Lewes FC and Shoreham FC in the Bostik League South
From East to West, Sussex stretches a long way across the South and with a lot of clubs chasing the dream of the National League and beyond. Some have already been there, crashed and burned, for others it’s a brand new adventure.
Lewes have been there, a meteoric rise through the divisions under first Jimmy Quinn’s control and then Steve King’s management saw them arrive in the then named Conference National in 2008. But that was where the fairytale was to end. The wonderfully named Dripping Pan was home to a season of the best non league teams visiting East Sussex with most leaving with three points after one of the worst seasons in the club’s history. King was gone and with it the squad disintegrated just after promotion was won, it’ll never be known if the Rooks could have survived with the talented team King had assembled.
Instead a sorry season produced a return of just 4 wins and an instant relegation before the final ball was kicked. That one year kick-started a downward spiral on and off the field. With a ground holding only a few thousand and performances not pulling in supporters, finances were not enough to support a Conference side with increased travelling and wages causing the club to fight off numerous winding up orders the following year and just surviving on the field in the Conference South.
2010 was the year Lewes finally began the long road of stability with the club becoming Lewes Community Football Club with fan ownership encouraged the following year. Despite things looking rosier off the pitch, on it the struggles just wouldn’t go away and the club were back down to the Ryman League after a miserable few years at higher levels. There were a succession of managers in and out of what seemed a revolving door, which with constant change oversaw another relegation to the Ryman South in April 2016.
The constant from that season is the management team and Darren Freeman appears to finally have the Rooks on the right track for the first time in years. Before this week’s round of midweek fixtures, Lewes are unbeaten in their first 11 games and giving their supporters, who have suffered a lot over the past few years, reason to be upbeat. Although there is a long way to go, Freeman will be confident he can add another promotion to the honours board.
Contrast Lewes with Shoreham. The Musselmen arrived in the Bostik South Division by default, although they will argue quite rightly promotion was gained without breaking rules. Finishing second to Haywards Heath, another Southern Combination season was beckoning until Heath were charged with playing an ineligible player, fined and deducted 9 points costing them the title and promotion. Shoreham were duly handed the league title and an unexpected shot at the next level.
The problem? The season had finished for Shoreham at the end of April and their place in the Bostik League wasn’t confirmed until mid June, by that time most players were already set with destinations for the new season and the club itself was preparing for another Premier Division season. Manager Bryan O’Toole had already stepped down, players had left to test themselves at Bostik level with other Sussex clubs and the look out for players was for a season in Sussex.
So with a change in the dynamics and very little time to assemble a squad that will compete, the Musselmen started the season weeks behind the rest of the division. A 4-0 hammering on the opening day showed how big the task will be over the next few months to catch up with established sides. But, before the midweek round of fixtures there have been signs things are improving and with the signings of George Gaskin and Lee Garnham from Littlehampton should provide some much needed firepower with Dan Simmonds having been shouldering the goal-scoring burden for the first 2 months of the season.
Can Shoreham survive? Looking at the table, the early season unrest at Ashford and continued struggles at East Grinstead, Horsham and Guernsey may well see the Musselmen take a second season at Bostik level, and if they do you know the preparation for a new season will be through.