It’s on days like this that a club knows who its true supporters are. With a wind chill of -15 on the train platforms and news of a new variant of The Black Death crackling through the terrace trannies, this was a test.
The Youth Wing are all noise and selfies when it’s 18 degrees in the shade and there are Margate microbreweries to be emptied, but when the going gets tough in late November, they’re tucked up indoors with TikTok. You go back to your PlayStations, lads, leave the Baltic away days to those of us with an entire wardrobe of Craghoppers fleeces. We’ll see you in April.
Even though the away throng were well wrapped up (with the exception of Irish Stu, who seemed to think he was on 18-30s trip to Magaluf), nobody was upset when the teams switched ends for the first half and the Lewes Lunatic Fringe could huddle in the end with a proper stand, rather than the exposed tractor wasteland at the other end.
The game had barely kicked off before plots were being formed to storm the Jack Fisk Stand on the far side for the second half, rather than take our chances with the gale-force elements.
Could we see off the dozen or so Wingate fans who’d already planted their flag in the stand? We’d send Alan and his infamous, eye-catching yellow coat on a decoy run around the far side, whilst the rest of us shuffled in quietly from the rear. Tony and Joe aren’t the only ones with a deep tactical knowledge, you know.
Meanwhile, a game of football had broken out. Well, I say a game of football. It was more like a game of Subbuteo played on your nan’s wonky kitchen table, because every time the ball was kicked further than a few inches, it was bent in an entirely unnatural direction by the Force Nine blowing across Finchley.
Freddie Parker was playing up front instead of the knacked Joe Taylor, and at least he was being kept warm from the close attention he was receiving from the affectionate Wingate 5, who cuddled Freddie at every opportunity. “Keep an eye on that number 5 ref,” yelled one terrace wag, “he’s got more arms than The Taliban.” We’re nothing if not topical.
Lewes slightly shaded the first-half chances. Parker had a low effort blocked, Taylor Maloney forced the Duracell battery in Wingate’s goal to warm his hands with a stinging drive, and Michael Klass blasted another long ranger over the bar. At the other end, a wicked, dipping Wingate effort cracked off Lew Carey’s bar, just to keep our nerves in check.
Half-time arrived and the operation to swarm the Jack Fisk Stand was Go, Go, Go. Not before a trip to the refreshments kiosk, mind, where we were thrown off guard by a sign promising home-cooked Carribean food.
No offence to Doris and Pat who were manning the kiosk, but they didn’t look like Non-League’s answer to Levi Roots. And unless the jerk chicken was being masterfully disguised as an ill-looking beefburger, we suspect that sign was intended merely to confuse our hyperthermia-addled minds and prevent us from storming the Jack Fisk.
It didn’t work. Operation Fisk was a roaring success, although not without its hairy moments. As we marched down the far end in single file, our route to the Jack Fisk was obstructed by two three-foot gates that required hurdling.
Gary The Badge hasn’t had his leg up that high since his honeymoon with the lovely Sandra over 50 years ago, and you could barely hear the referee’s whistle for the start of the second half over the noise of hamstrings popping, but we battled on through the wind and the rain. Nice try, Wingate. Nice try.
On the field, the second half was proving more entertaining than the first. Ollie Tanner was clearly feeding off the encouragement from the Lunatic Fringe in the Jack Fisk, as he skedaddled past Wingate’s follically-challenged full-back and put in a delightful cross for Parker. Freddie refused the first-time shot and instead slipped a lovely ball into Brad Pritchard’s path, who planted the ball into the net to give the Rooks a 56th minute lead.
Alas, the good times lasted only nine minutes. A Wingate free-kick was whipped in from deep in front of the dugouts – where, incidentally, Tony was still sitting on his trademark cool box. I had to scrape the ice off my car to get there. What the hell needs to be kept even cooler? Nuclear rods? Joe Taylor’s dire wolf? Chairman Stu’s post-match Cinzano? This is a supporter-owned club (according to the adverts), I demand answers.
I digress… The free-kick flashed across our box to find the big Wingate 5, who had stopped cuddling Freddie Parker for just long enough to plant a header into the top corner. 1-1.
The rest of the game passed in a semi-frozen blur. The referee had a shocker (not least when Salmon was wrestled to the floor in their box), both teams had chances to win it, and Mitchell Nelson was intent on scoring the greatest goal of all time, refusing to pass the ball into the maelstrom and instead dribbling his way out of defence at every heart-stopping opportunity. He almost pulled it off once, too, dribbling so far down the right-hand side that Iffy Allen had to be taken off for an untreatable case of jealousy.
Anyway, it was the very definition of a hard-earned point and if the boys didn’t hear themselves being clapped off at the end, it’s only because Marks & Spencers’ wooly gloves are so effectively at muffling the noise.
Lewes: Carey, Colombie, Nelson, Salmon, Carlse, Pritchard, Maloney, Klass, Tanner, Allen, Parker
Subs: Taylor, Coleman De-Graft, Olukoga, Hall, Weaire
(All photography copyright Chairman Stu)