The night before we went live, Lewes Football Club played a friendly against an Arsenal XI managed by Liam Brady at the Dripping Pan, in front of a near four-figure crowd, some of whom were standing in the newly opened Terry Parris Stand, backing onto Ham Lane.
How things have changed. Ten years ago, almost to the day, an announcement went up in the Sussex Express. The club was up for sale, for £5,000. At the time the Rooks were in dire straits. ‘Crowds’ amounted to 25-30 fans, the pitch was a cabbage patch, the players’ kits were full of holes, and the team were in danger of dropping out of the non-league pyramid, from Rymans League Division 3 to the County League.
Local businessman Steve White approached the board, was immediately signed as Chairman, and the tide started turning. Lewes just managed to avoid relegation, and signed a new manager, Jimmy Quinn. Since then the club has been run with skill and flair, and now Lewes FC are sitting at the top of the Blue Square South League, four levels up, with a team full of exciting players, and an astute and well-connected manager, Steve King. Arsenal are the third Premiership club to send a team down for a friendly this season. The Dripping Pan is on the football map.
There is now a very good chance that we will be seeing Conference level football in Lewes in the very near future. Such a step would be a difficult one to make, but it would ensure a further jump in the standard of football we are now getting used to. Is it worth starting to look at the example of Villarreal, a Spanish town of 28,000 inhabitants whose football team recently got to the semi-finals of the Champions League? Steady now: clearly not. But football is run on dreams, and with Arsenal playing at the Dripping Pan, we’re entitled to believe in miracles, even though the Gunners won 4-0.