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From Dreamland to Heartbreak | A 2021/22 season review of Lewes FC

Follow the story of one Lewes FC fan throughout the 2021/22 campaign, from the first ball to the last, with all the highs and lows in-between

By Stan Lahood

Lewes, The 'Youth Gang', dreamland and heartbreak | A 2021/22 season review

My group of friends and I have been attending Lewes games ever since we were children. We started regularly attending from the age of 16 during the 2014/2015 season, with a brief spell of absence during our university years. Once the studying was finished, we all made an enthusiastic agreement to go support the Rooks again. I speak for all of us in saying we had no idea what was to come…

The 2021/22 campaign provided a whole range of emotions, but this will ultimately be considered a successful season for the Lewes community to look back on. There are clear signs of progression in place, from the exciting crop of players we have brought in, along with a rise in attendances, and the clear ambition expressed by board members to progress up the leagues, all this proving to be a very exciting time to be a Lewes fan.

I have also been a Queens Park Rangers supporter since the age of six and have regularly attended Loftus Road in the past. I would occasionally go to the Dripping Pan, as Lewes were my local team, but my devotion growing up was only for QPR.

The summer of 2021 was a time of optimism and excitement for Lewes fans. Investment in the team saw the likes of Joe Taylor, Ollie Tanner, and Bradley Pritchard joining, and a new style emerged compared to that of the 2020/2021 season. We had gone from a team battling against relegation, to potential promotion candidates within a matter of weeks.

My friends and I have been called numerous names throughout the season: ‘The Noise’ – Stuart Fuller; ‘The Inbetweeners’ – A Folkestone fan. However, for the rest of this season review, it’s easier for me to refer to us as ‘The Youth Wing’, the name given to us by Barry Collins, which seems to have stuck with us throughout the season.

The 14th of August 2021 was a day that was heavily anticipated: the beginning of the 21/22 season. The Rooks began the season away at Cray Wanderers, with the game played at Bromley FC’s ground. We had acquired what seemed to be most of Cray’s team, as well as their manager. Nevertheless, they were Rooks now, and despite the excitement for the new team, we started the season with a 3-1 defeat.

The team obviously needed time to gel, but the main thing we took away from that game, was the emergence of Ollie Tanner. The pace, power, and skill from this young winger was clear to see, and it seemed exciting times were to come.

From the Youth Wing’s perspective, we were just delighted to be back supporting the Rooks, making a loud noise, standing at the back of a big stand with a vuvuzela… Yet, amongst all the excitement, this was also the game that kicked off the thrill for this seasons train journeys after away days. Music on a portable speaker; 3 bottles of lager for £5; 20 degrees sunshine. The result didn’t matter. Football was back.

Credit: Stan Lahood

After a couple of months had passed, results started to swing in Lewes’ favour. Heading into the Margate away day on the 9th of October 2021, Lewes had won 4 on the bounce, with some big score lines. We made the decision to travel to Margate, and it resulted in being one of the best decisions we had ever made. It took us roughly 4 hours to travel there, courtesy of rail replacement, with the Youth Wing arriving in the seaside town around 1pm.

This was immediately followed by cans on the beach, and then a quick pint at a microbrewery along the Harbour Arm. We arrived at Hartsdown Park in good spirits. That didn't last long. We were 2-1 down at halftime.

Lewes had conceded two sloppy goals, one from a free-kick, where I vividly remember Joe from our Youth Wing stating just before it was taken “That’s never going in” which always inevitably leads to a goal.

Credit: Stan Lahood

The next 45 minutes will probably go down as the greatest half of football EVER. Ollie Tanner running down the left-wing, skinning defenders for fun, whilst scoring some unbelievable goals - one of which ended up being named as Goal of the Season.

The game finished 6-2! 6-2, when we were 2-1 down at halftime! I had never seen such a thing. People were falling over, pints flying, and voices were well and truly gone. We had just experienced our first ‘limbs’ of the season.

I’d describe the word ‘limbs’ as pure euphoria. Nothing beats the feeling of when your team incredibly pulls itself out from the depths of hopelessness. To not only salvage the game, but thrash the opposition. At that point, we were on top of the world, it was truly now Viva Lewes. To top it off, Joe Taylor offered to take a photo with us, which made the front cover of the Lewes vs Leatherhead programme. We were in dreamland. I had never experienced such a good away day in my life, and I probably won’t ever again, but what we discovered from this, was the burning passion and desire to see Lewes play.

The next couple of months saw Lewes rise up the table. Top-of-the-table clashes involved an away day at Worthing, which saw a 5-4 defeat, arguably proving to be the game of the Isthmian season.

However, despite the defeat, I saw one of the best goals I have ever seen, scored by Tanner, of course. If you haven’t seen it, then I recommend you look on Youtube for the game highlights, because - oh my word - the goal caused me to jump on my friend’s back and nearly lose my mind.

It’s easy to blame managers when things aren’t going well, but I think Tony Russell deserves so much credit for what he’s demonstrated at Lewes. I never thought I could watch such entertaining football at non-league level. I was now at a point where I was choosing going to Lewes instead of QPR, and both were in the playoffs, at the time…

After the New Year, Lewes were looking to secure a playoff spot. Memorable games such as the 3-0 win over Folkestone at the Pan, in dedication to the passing of Cynical Dave, and the home game to Worthing, which saw the highest attendance at the Pan for over 70 years, demonstrated to us that this was a special season unfolding.

Tribute to Cynical Dave - Credit: Lewes FC

Yet, the dream started to dwindle as the months went on. Injuries to key players such as Ollie Tanner, as well as inconsistency in results, meant Lewes found themselves outside of the playoffs with a few games to go till the end of the season.

Lewes had Folkestone to play away from home in late March. We were six points off Folkestone in fifth, with just a few games to play. Win and we’re back in it, lose, and it’s over.

The Youth Wing travelled to Kent in full force. After a four hour train journey, James, Dom and I had to travel through the centre of Folkestone to meet up with the rest of the boys. As we walked down the high street, we could hear echoes of “Lewes” bouncing off the walls. In only a matter of time, there they were, The Youth Wing, outside a micro-brewery, with a flag, chanting ‘Joe Taylor’s Magic’, whilst spilling their pints all over the place.

Credit: Stan Lahood

We were ready. The sun was shining, it felt like Margate, but we knew this was going to be a lot tougher. The pressure was on. We marched onwards to Cheriton Road. We perched ourselves behind the opposition keeper, ready to give our all, and within no time at all, we were 1-0 up.

Everyone was ecstatic. So ecstatic that one of the Youth Wing fell head first down two floors of the terracing. It was like watching an angel fall gracefully from the heavens, except I’d imagine an angel not to be covered in beer and reeking of fags.

Somehow he didn’t need medical treatment and was able to get back up and continue celebrating with the rest of us. We held on. Through the fire in our lungs, we pushed the boys through to the extra mile and held on for a 2-1 win. We were elated. A video with the newly dubbed magician Joe Taylor at the end of the day topped it off. This is what makes this team special. The connection that is shared between us, the players, the management, and the board, truly enables me to say that this is OUR club.

As Ollie Tanner and Stuart Fuller commented in the former's leaving interview, the support was clearly appreciated by the players. The fact that the Youth Wing are now being spoken about in interviews by the club, really makes all of us happy, to see that our support is so appreciated by everyone involved in the club.

Never did I think that my drunken ramblings to Tanner about how great a footballer he is would have been brought up in an interview by him, and that only reaffirms my belief in the connection between The Youth Wing and the players.

Even the shopping delivery driver has spoken to my dad about his appreciation of the atmosphere created by the Youth Wing. I never expected any of this, and I’m sure there’s still more to come.

A couple of weeks later, from another brilliant sunny away day, to quite possibly the biggest game of the season. Home to Kingstonian. Lewes had to win to keep the pressure on both Cheshunt and Folkestone in order to secure the final playoff spot.

Credit: Stan Lahood

Lewes loyalists travelled far - from London, and all the way from Manchester. We knew we had to be there. On what was another hot and sunny game day, there was a sense that there was going to be drama. We made our way from the John Harvey Tavern, to take our spot at the back of the Philcox Stand. We were ready.

Our voices were flowing throughout the game. The game went to 2-2 in stoppage time, and from a Joe Taylor penalty, he made it 3-2. “Joe Taylor’s Magic” rang around the stand. We were jumping with joy. Pure elation. We all had no doubt that we would now go on to make fifth. And then, heartbreak…

In the 97th minute, Kingstonian equalised. I had never seen such anguish at a Lewes game this season. I had gone in an instant from jumping with joy, to sitting on the terrace with my head in my hands. From dreamland, to heartbreak. It’s incredible how football can do this to a person, and it’s why we love it so much.

A Lewes FC player celebrates with the crowd during the 2021/22 season - Credit: Lewes FC

From that point, we knew the season was over, and I must say, what a season it was. I’m sure if we hadn’t have travelled across the South of England to watch the Rooks home and away, and instead just shown up to the odd game for a day out, we wouldn’t have felt that pain, but we did, and I’m proud to say that we did. It’s what draws us all to next season. From the pain, comes hope, and with the plans for next season underway, hope is what will drive us home and away.

The team will take time to realise its potential and take us into the next division. I fully believe, looking at Russell’s track record, along with our style of play and crop of players, that we will have a good chance of it next season.

Carey in goal saved us countless times last season, and I think he’d be a good fit to carry on into the next. With Juevan Spencer leaving the Rooks, signing an attacking right wing-back is surely a priority, along with a dominant centre-back and a winger to replace Tanner.

To conclude, the season as a whole was an unbelievable experience. Getting to know the board, players, and the management has become an absolute dream and I can only see it getting better. Moving forward into next season, there are going to be even more away days, chants, pints, and limbs.

Why do I now prefer to go and see Lewes rather than QPR? Well, I can guarantee you would not get the same connection with the players, the management, and especially the board at clubs in the Premier League or the Championship.

That, and the fact you can drink in the stands, of course.

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