'The Rooks' as the club are nicknamed after the towns castle, were formed at The Royal Oak pub in 1885 moving into the Dripping Pan ground. The team originally played in green shirts to reflect the South Downs that surround the town, until they adopted their red and black colours in 1893. The club were members of the Mid Sussex League until 1920, when they joined the Sussex County League.
In 1965 they were crowned league champions which led to a move to the Athenian League for the following season. In 1977 Lewes joined the newly extended Isthmian League, where they played in the lower divisions. Jimmy Quinn took over as manager in 1998 with The Rooks in the bottom tier. He led the side to two promotions in consecutive seasons.
Steve King took over in 2003 as through non league re-organisation and a play off win, Lewes found themselves joining Conference South as founder members. The team continued to prosper and they missed out on promotion in the play offs on a couple of occasions. At the end of the 2007-08 season The Rooks were crowned champions and promoted to the Conference National. However, the celebrations were somewhat muted amongst fans as King's contract was not renewed, with all the players except one departing.
Kevin Keehan was appointed somewhat surprisingly as his only previous football experience was as Commercial Manager of Brighton & Hove Albion. It was soon apparent he was out of his depth and he resigned by the following March, with Lewes finishing bottom of the league and relegated a few weeks later.
Worse still for the club was news of a financial crisis. They had overspent to chase their dream and also spent a lot of money on renovating the homely but aging Dripping Pan into a stadium fit for their recent status. Lewes were taken over by the Rooks 125 group, with six founder members forming the new board. The club were members owned, with lifetime shares of £1,000 only initially available. The team were relegated once again back to the Isthmian League as they battled on with an inexperienced side.
In April 2011 members shares became available for £30 per year, which entitled equal owners to be involved in elections and receive a membership card which gives discounts at many local businesses. Meanwhile King returned as manager for the 2011-12 season. However, his latest spell didn't last long as he left the club by mutual consent following an internal investigation in January 2012.
Simon Wormull took over as manager, but was dismissed in March 2013 after The rooks failed to reach a play off position, with Garry Wilson being handed the reigns. He led the side to a sixteenth place finish before departing in February 2015. In October 2015 the former Brighton and Fulham favourite Darren Freeman took over as manager.
Lewes FC will play in the Isthmian League Premier Division in the 2015-16 season.
Tuesday 12th December 2007
I decided a nice day out of London in East Sussex was just what the doctor ordered to get work out of my system on my day off. What nicer than visiting some towns I had never visited, but had read about and heard of second hand from family and friends? Southern Railways issued a ticket for just £10 that allowed unlimited travel on their trains for the day, so I set about making my plans.
It was a cold but beautiful bright day as the train dropped me at Lewes station from Victoria. I walked round to Mountfield Road, which was less than five minutes from the platform where a gate was open, with a club worker going about his business. He was more than happy for me to go inside and take some photos.
The Dripping Pan was simply stunning. Just the name had me intrigued from the first time I heard it. When I first saw photos, I just had to go. The ground had seen quite a change in the previous few years before my visit, but it had kept the charm of old, with some tasteful buildings being added to the natural contours of the site.
The clubhouse and changing room block once stood next to a grass bank. It had now been joined by the Philcox Terrace, a steep area for standing fans with an aesthetic roof. To the left was the Grass Bank. This was as it says. A steep bank with an area of flat standing at the top so fans look down on the action. The far end was just about completed. The Ham Lane End was a newly constructed open terrace for the demands of segregated matches, which had taken a lot of planning and appeals to get passed. Finally the Rookery Stand was an all seated structure, built into the old banking. Previously the South Stand, an old cover stood on top of the natural bank. It was one the best and characteristic venues I'd ever had the pleasure to visit.
I walked into town and charm just oozed from there as well. The castle stood on the hill and a river ran through the beautiful streets. The Harvey's Brewery was another very welcome feature. I tried to find a bus going to nearby Ringmer, but there was a very irregualr service, so I looked around my surroundings for a bit longer. Eventually I returned to the station to take a train to Eastbourne.
I was determined to be back.
Lewes 1 AFC Sudbury 1 (Lewes won 5-4 on penalties) Wednesday 18th January 2012 (Isthmian League Cup Quarter Final) att: 266
Indeed I did return, but it took far longer than I intended. The good news was that I was not disappointed.
Again I found the Southern Railway day saver better value than buying a return ticket. I took the 6.06 train and just over an hour later I alighted in Lewes. I had read that the clubhouse had hand pulled Harvey's on draught, a beer I'd grown to like from a few sessions in the Market Porter at London Bridge. That sealed the deal for me, and I walked round to the ground at a great rate of knots.
Two youngsters sold programmes outside from a stand normally associated with League clubs. The issue for the evening was reduced in size, but only cost a quid. Very sensible in my book. I paid the reduced admission of £8 (kids were free!) and purchased a golden goal ticket. It read the 75th minute. While I wanted to win, I didn't really want to wait that long to see a goal. As I was walking down the steps of the Coxhil Terrace I was greated with news that the game would be put back until 8pm as the visitors had arrived late. No problems with me. My return train was at 9.50 and I had somewhere in mind to settle for a couple of pints.
The beers was excellent. I tried a Sussex Best, my usual choice for £3.10 and then a slightly stronger and darker Old Ale for £3.20. The match posters at Lewes had been getting rave reviews from my Boro supporting mate Richard Oldale. He wasn't wrong. There was a selection on the walls, with some deserving of their own exhibition.
I wandered outside and took some photos. My own emergence into the 21st Century and the purchase of an iphone enabled me to put a picture straight onto twitter and facebook. I decided to go to the far end of the ground with the home fans to watch the first half. The pitch wasn't totally level, but it was in excellent condition allowing passing football. At least it should have done, but if truth be told the game was scrappy.
The visitors from Suffolk, with a commendable sprinkling of travelling fans had a couple of chances, while the Milan lookalike home side didn't extend the keeper, until a fine turn and shot from Lewes's number nine Michael Malcolm. I was walking round to the clubhouse when a delightful chip from Sudbury's Robbie Martin put his side ahead. The previous Saturday we'd all laughed at my brother when he missed the only goal at the KC Stadium when the call of nature defeated him. Well it was now my turn. Apparently the roars I heard from the portaloo greeted a sweeping header from Matt Somner.
I sought solace with another pint as I listened to Brighton's FA Cup replay at Wrexham. There seemed to be a mixed reaction to Albion's equaliser amongst the locals. I checked my tweets, where I followed Lewes FC where they recommended the home made scotch eggs. The club had its own catering point as well as a portable van from a local firm on top of the bank.
I stood on the Coxhil Terrace and also viewed from on top of the bank. The locals were in good spirits, helped by the beers being allowed on the terraces. They seemed to treat it as a night out with football thrown in. It certainly assisted the atmosphere despite the low attendance.
Lewes were on top but couldn't score. They missed some good opportunities and were incredibly denied a penalty when Malcolm was about to tap in when he was more or less rugby tackled a few yards from goal with the goalie looking on. It was a nailed on spot kick and a sending off in my book, but the ref gave a goal kick!
I caved in to the temptation of the clubs catering. I asked if there were any scotch eggs left? They had all gone, and a local told me I had to be there early for one of those home made beauties. They had Sussex Pasties available, again home made, but I went for a hot dog. It was clear the ladies running the stand oozed creativity and loved their roles as even the hot dog went away from nornal blandness associated with the product as two dogs were served in a lump of French Stick with caramalised onions. I thought it offered decent value for £2.50. I also noted the huge cups of Sweet Thai Soup with French Stick was highly popular. I only wished more clubs made such an effort. Customers will pay if the product is good, and a little bit away from the ordinary. My diet would be ruined if I was a season ticket holder at the Dripping Pan!
The teams could not be separated, and I had to leave to catch my train with five minutes remaining. I got a tweet ten minutes into my journey from the Lewes on loan keeper Rikki Banks who was very happy with himself, as his save in the penalty shoot out had sent Lewes in the League Cup semi finals for the first time in the clubs history.
I really enjoyed my visit. Lewes were doing things right. I always like to visit fellow fans owned clubs, as my beloved Scarborough Athletic are run on that model. I thought it fantastic the way fans were encouraged to become equal owners and to get their membership cards to receive their discounts around the town. I also liked the number of current members - and counting, being advertised. The catering was top class, the beer lovely and the stadium the stuff of dreams to me. The luminous strip on the roof of the Rookery Stand rounded it all off.
I must return to Lewes, but ideally for a Saturday game when I have time to really enjoy everything the town and the Dripping Pan has to offer!