Where it all started -
The Royal Oak Pub, 1885.
The early years
Lewes Football Club was formed following a meeting of Lewes Priory Cricket Club at The Royal Oak pub on 23 September 1885. Many football clubs were being formed in that decade, predominantly either by factories or by cricket clubs wanting something to do over autumn and winter. Of course they chose to play home matches at The Dripping Pan (just a few hundred yards from the pub) because that was already where they played cricket, since their inception in 1831. Indeed, the second earliest recorded match anywhere in the world took place in Lewes in 1694. However, playing football isn’t great for a cricket wicket and the cricket club finally upped sticks in 1937 to a new ground just down the road.
For the first eight years, Lewes FC players wore light green shirts which were designed to reflect the scenery of the surrounding South Downs, but black and red finally became the club colours in 1893.
The club has played at the Dripping Pan ever since, apart from a couple of seasons prior to the First World War when the club was banished to the adjoining Convent Field. The early years of the club produced only mediocre results and successes were few and far between. In 1920, Lewes became founder members of the Sussex County League.
Our women’s team was not founded until the 2002/3 season, but more of that later…
Winning the County League title for the first time.
Progress was slow and despite four runners-up places, by the 1960s Lewes had only one Sussex RUR Cup win to their name. In 1965, the club’s fortunes changed dramatically, winning the County League title for the first time with a massive nine-point lead over runners-up Lancing, as well as both the RUR and Sussex Senior Cups.
Lewes became members of the Athenian League and after winning the Division 2 title in 1968, promotion to the Premier Division was gained just two years later when the Division 1 title was snatched from Boreham Wood, with a further Sussex Senior Cup triumph added in 1971. Six years later, the club entered the newly expanded Isthmian League.
Promotion to Division 1 soon followed although two sixth-place finishes in 1982 and 1989 were the highest positions attained in Division 1. During that time, Lewes reached the final of the Sussex Senior Cup on three occasions, and won the trophy in 1984/85.
Disaster strikes for the Rooks in 1990/91
Let’s be honest, the nineties weren’t great for music or the Rooks. Disaster struck in 1990/91 when Lewes were relegated for the first time in their history. An immediate return as runners-up to Purfleet followed, but that success was short-lived and relegation in successive years meant that by the 1994/95 season the club was down in Division Three.
The slide continued and the first season in the basement division would have been the last in the league if it hadn’t been for Cove who conveniently propped-up the league and saved Lewes from automatic demotion.
The club survived rather than thrived until the 1998/99 season when Jimmy Quinn joined as manager, and at the first attempt missed out on promotion by just one place. Midway through the 1999/2000 season Martin Elliott and a new board of Directors stepped in and immediately the fortunes of the club began to improve, with the capture of the Sussex Senior Cup in 2001 following victory over Bognor Regis.
Women's team started by Jacquie Agnew and Terry Parris.
There was mixed news on the pitch. The pinnacle of the Men’s team’s achievement, and what a pinnacle, was to gain promotion to the top of the non-League pyramid in 2007/8. However, the Rooks only lasted one season in the top flight as the Global Credit Crisis hit and funds dried up. The Rooks’ new economic reality saw them drop down the divisions.
However, a brand new Women’s team was started by Jacquie Agnew for the 2002/3 season with the support of then club Chairman Terry Parris. The team underwent a dramatic rise form park football to the Women’s Combination, thanks to added support from local businessman Ron Moore.
A New Dawn.
Behind the scenes, a group of six supporters calling themselves Rooks125 were working hard to take the club into community ownership having witnessed the serious financial problems that had befallen the club, despite the owners’ best efforts.
(Rooks125, from left in image: Alex Leith, Patrick Marber, Nick Williams, Ben Ward, Ed Ramsden, Charlie Dobres).
Finally on July 8th 2010, Lewes FC was officially transferred out of private ownership into a mass-ownership Community Benefit Society called Lewes Community Football Club, consisting of benefactors and members of the former Management Committee.
The six members of Rooks125 formed the inaugural Executive Board, working as volunteers to install improved working practices and procedures during the season before planning to open up the wider ownership of LCFC to all the club’s supporters in 2011/12. The first chairman of the Community Club was appointed in 2013 with club legend Terry Parris taking up the position once again. Terry was succeeded by Stuart Fuller in 2015. All Board positions now are elected by the whole Ownership base.
On the pitch, restricted resources saw the men’s team drop two Leagues, down to the Ryman League South (now called the Isthmian League) before promotion saw them rise to the Isthmian Premier League where they are currently pushing for another promotion, back to the National League South.
However, the Women’s team enjoyed a meteoric climb up to the FA Women’s Premier League (South), gaining promotion from the Combination League by winning every match but one, which they drew.
In 2018, the FA decided to reconstitute the top two women’s elite Leagues and, following an exhaustive process, Lewes FC were selected to join the new League for the 2018-19 season. Since then, the team have become well established amongst many Premier League backed sides. Their highest finish to date was 5th.
The future is bright, the future is black and red...
So where are we now?
We’ve been busy building foundations for an exciting future.
In July 2015, the club opened a state-of-the-art 3G all-weather facility adjacent to The Dripping Pan, for the whole community to use as well as all Lewes FC teams to train on.
And of course, in 2017, we launched the ground-breaking EqualityFC campaign that saw Lewes FC become the first club side in the world to have equal playing budgets for women and men.
In 2022, thanks to a Premier League grant of £750k to support women’s football, the Dripping Pan pitch was finally relaid, transformed into a state of the art grass-hybrid plying surface with built in sprinklers.