It’ll Be Alright on the Night: Non-League Tales from Chairman Stu – Lewes Community Football Club

It’ll Be Alright on the Night: Non-League Tales from Chairman Stu


NB: the following is a complete transcript of an LFC “podcast” conversation – unfortunately the audio track didn’t make it due to some microphone “issues” …but thank heavens our little audio-to-text robot was still able to do its thing!

Bla, bla, bla… intro, intro….

Roger: I’m joined today by our chairman, Stuart Fuller. Hey Stu. How are you doing? 

Stuart: Yeah, all good thanks. How are you Rog? 

Roger: Yeah pretty good. We’re both on lockdown here, working at home – but there’s a lot of stuff going on with the football club right now, right? You’re in conversations with the league quite a lot at the moment.

Stuart: Yeah. So one of my other roles in football is a director of the Isthmian League and we talk almost every day about what’s going on – which as you can imagine is quite a challenging situation we are in but mainly I’m thinking about next season, whenever that will be and preparing the squad details.

So in many ways, the situation is not great – we have no football (aside from the huge issues we all face!) and we’re all trying to adapt. But in terms of preparation, it gives us a bit of time, which is something normally you don’t have. Usually, the season ends, and then you’ve got a very small window before players disappear off to sort out contracts and pre-season preparation.

Roger: Right, so hopefully as the weeks go by and we get a bit more clarity it can help us all with some better planning. But what I wanted to chat to you about is days gone by. I was chatting to some of the players last week and they gave me some gems – some really funny stories about the team. And as we both know, the world of non-league football can be odd at times. I was wondering if you have any other great stories to share with us.  I mean, how long have you been Chairman for now Stu?

Stuart: I’m in my sixth year as Chairman. But when I first joined the board, which is nine years ago, the first task I was given was to manage the manager – and our manager at the time was Steve King ….Steve’s an interesting character – someone I have a lot of respect for, but he wasn’t the kind of guy that really wanted to be managed by someone from the board, let alone by someone who’d never been involved at his football club.

So that was an interesting time! We can look back and laugh at it a little bit now, but, yeah Steve had his own way of doing things – and he’s gone on to manage at a much higher level. But when I started working with him he’d just come back to the club after leading us through a really successful period, and then we were kind of on our way down again in the 2010 and 2011 season.   Steve’s approach was very much in the “ask for forgiveness rather than permission!

And so after Steve left, we had some tough times trying to climb back up to the second tier. I’ve worked with a number of different managers, all of whom have their own characteristics, and all of whom I’ve had good relationships with …it’s been an enjoyable time – and there’s certainly a number of interesting stories. 

Roger: And these are the things that I wanted to ask you about – probably on a no-name basis …there must have been an awful lot of fun stuff and a lot of characters. Do you have any personal faves? 

Stuart: Well, what I’d like to say to start with is you’ve got to remember – and I think people sometimes forget this – that the majority of the squad are young. So they’re in their early twenties and some in their teens, and they’re doing stuff that other people at the same age are doing, but not necessarily alongside a part-time career in football. So they’re seen as footballers and I think sometimes a lot of the fans only see them as that. Of course, they play football for Lewes, and we expect them to care for the badge and everything like that, but they are also youngsters with a whole other side to their lives away from football and they get up to a lot of other stuff that youngsters tend to do.  Some of them are sensible, and some of them sometimes lack that little bit of common sense. Of course, things go wrong and we can look back now and laugh at certain situations.

I remember one game when we were in a relegation fight, which has been a common story in the last decade,  a few years ago at Enfield Town when a car-full of teh squad didn’t arrive at the ground on time because for some reason they thought we were playing Hendon, who were ground-sharing with Harrow Borough  30 minutes away. So not only do they go there, but they wait there, assuming that everyone else will be arriving soon enough. In situations like that, when you lose one player because of a travel issue, often you’ll start with them on the bench – but it’s a bit harder to do when there are four of them!

Things like that happen more often than you think at this level. Our keeper Nathan is great for this, and he won’t mind me saying, he’s done a few classics in his time. Being a goalkeeper, it has a different effect on the team. You know, you can start a game if you’re missing your full back or your centre forward, but it becomes a bit tougher when you’re missing your ‘keeper. And last year when he was playing at Saltdean, he turned up for a home game against Selsey only problem was that Saltdean were away at Selsey so he had to hot-foot  it down the A27. 

There are little stories like that which do make you laugh and then there’s the ones involving our managers that linger on.

A couple of years ago we played Cray Wanderers at home, and we had this bizarre record against them. Until this season we had a brilliant record against them, winning eight in a row. We’d played them three times in 18 months and they managed to get six players sent off during that time but it was an incident with Daz that lives in the memory.  Something happened in front of the dugouts and Darren tried to break up a coming together.

There was a bit of a scene – but in the middle of it one of the Cray Wanderers players grabbed Daz’s glasses, dropped them on the floor and stood on them.  Daz couldn’t see a thing and ended up getting sent off himself. But we won, and I think I’ve still got the message on my phone from Daz that night saying Sorry I got sent off Mr Chairman x”.  It’s difficult to get annoyed when you get things like that, you just laugh.

Roger: Yeah, I remember the conversation the following week – it was like glassesgate – did it happen, who took them? And we were studying the pictures and the video.

Stuart: Ha, yeah it was kind of funny.  We have photos that show who the guilty party was.  Another one from the dugout is from this season… The league has a Respect table which is all down to the behaviour of the players and the coaches when it comes to dissent and gentlemanly conduct which also has marks submitted by the officials.  And when this season ended a few weeks ago, we were actually top of the league – not just for the Isthmian Premier but for all four Isthmian division – which is something to be really proud of. We only had one ‘bench’ yellow card all year, and this came in the game against Potters Bar Town when we couldn’t hold the lead in injury time. Instead of closing the game out, we decided to go on a big counter-attack and of course, we managed to lose the ball they hit us on the break and scored.

Ross Standen was so furious on the touchline that he managed to kick a water bottle from the dugout on the halfway line into the back of the net. And so the ref booked him. But the funniest thing about it was when he did it, he came over to the dugout and said ‘OK Ross, what’s your name?’

Roger: Ha! I remember that. I remember Ross losing it when we went totally Kevin Keegan. And it was a crucial time as well, because we so did not need to concede that goal!

And what about the players Stu? Because the other thing which is brilliant about the guys is, as you mentioned, they’re normal folks in the sense that most of them have a day job. So when they’re not footballing, they like Superman and Clark Kent – they have an alter ego. And I think Frankie Chappell our tough nut centre half is a primary school teacher, right? 

Stuart: Yes that’s right. 

Roger: Right. And my son Lucas is just amazed by this – he says there’s no way he’d like to get on the wrong side of Frankie in class!

Stuart: Yes, of course, we have to remember that our guys have other jobs. Sometimes we have players that have to say ‘I can’t play next week because I’ve got to work’ – that’s a big issue for midweek games when players work in education. 

And then there’s the whole social side… I think one of the funniest stories I have to share is from when we used to play Guernsey away. Obviously with Guernsey, a flight is required. So the first time we played them, it was a Sunday, and it was literally meet up at 7am, the game was at 2pm and then we flew back at 6pm all together. It was a real novelty for the squad and we treated them as if they were a professional club with lunch at a posh hotel near the ground and the pre-match briefing there.

The following season we had the game on a Wednesday night, so we had to stay overnight – and there’d been a few issues with other teams staying overnight in Guernsey in previous years …it’s just not very easy because the hotels would get booked up early and some places don’t take teams. But there was this one new hotel where the guy was a football fan and he said, ‘yeah, all good we’d love to have you.’

So we fly there and play the game on Wednesday – and we have a relatively weakened team because goalkeeper Chris Winterton couldn’t get time off work, and he and his wife had just had triplets – so Nathan stepped in. And Frankie couldn’t play because it was a school night …but we went out there and we won 3-0. And then after the game we hop on the coach to go to the hotel, which is on the far west end of the island, which is about a 15 to 20-minute drive from the stadium, down a country road, in the middle of nowhere.

So we get to this hotel and it is in the middle of nowhere, we walk inside and the guy says hello and sorts out all the rooms and tells us that the bar’s open for as long we might want.

There’s essentially three groups within the squad: the youngsters Nathan and Harry, who are both under the age of 18 – so they go off to bed; then we had Gus Sow and Jonte Smith – along with Jonte’s XBox, who disappear quickly to go and play FIFA; and then there’s the rest of the squad who arrive and promptly disappear off to their rooms.

So Darren and I call them all and ask if they would like to come down to the bar. And they say yes, but when they come down we see that they’re all spruced up ready for a big night out… and we’re like, ‘guys, this is Guernsey, nearly 11pm on a Wednesday night, in October and we’re in the middle of nowhere’.

And they’re super confident that somewhere will be open, so they ask the guy at the hotel to call them a taxi, and I think there were 12 of them …so they need at least three taxes, maybe more.

Anyway, the guy says there’s one taxi driver who lives around the corner and he gives him a call and interrupts his TV for the night and this chap agrees to take them. A while later he turns up and takes the first four, and then he comes back a bit later and takes the next lot.

Then he decides that he’s had enough. Which means we have six or seven players out somewhere in Guernsey and six or seven people back at the hotel. So the players at the hotel manage to convince the barman to take them in his car and they have a whip-round to give him some cash. He then takes the next four and comes back half an hour later for the last lot.

And just as he’s about to take the last lot, the first lot – the guys who had been into town – wander back into the hotel …because everything is shut and they can’t find anywhere to go. And all the while this is happening, there’s me, Barry, Ross Kevin Brook, Debbie (our physio), Codge and Daz sat happily at the bar watching them go back and forth. 

Roger: Ha! That’s great. They really needed Frankie there. It’s all about logistics. 

Stuart: The funniest thing I’ve ever seen on the pitch was with a guy called Dan Perry, who I really liked a lot. He picked up a couple of nasty injuries in his career and he never really had the best opportunity and we were really pleased to sign him, but I remember when we played Dorking a couple of years back…

We went one up early on, then they equalised with minutes to go and went on to score again in injury time. We were still doing well, and the ref gave us three more minutes on the clock.

Dan Perry was on the bench and Darren turned to him because somebody had pulled up with a strain – Dan needed to get on to the pitch quick. So, Dan’s getting ready and he’s pulled his shirt over his head and they’re waiting there in the dugout and then we break away and it’s two against one and we’re in for the equaliser.

Jonte is clean through and he knocks the ball forwards to Charlie Coppola I think and Darren gets up on his toes and shouts: “GO ON! GO ON! GO ON!” Dan Perry can’t see much because he hasn’t got his shirt over his head, but he thinks Darren’s talking to him… and so he just runs onto the pitch, blind, like a headless chicken.

And the referee sees this and he’s trying not to laugh, but he stops the game and Dan gets booked because it’s an unauthorized entry into the game. Of course meantime Darren’s going mad because we had the chance to pull the goal back.

Oh my God. That’s still one of the best. 

Roger: Oh, poor Dan. Can you imagine in the dressing room afterwards? Sorry guys!

Stuart: Yeah. Dressing rooms are always funny. One of the ways in which Darren would get the team to hurry up and get out onto the pitch at an away game was to put on something like Chris De Burgh on the stereo – and it’d work every time.

Roger: I remember when I was playing, I’d always do things that made me feel like such an idiot. I’d forget my boots or something – and then, as a youngster, I’m sitting in the changing room just hoping I’m not picked. There must be some examples of people being unprepared?

Stuart: Well, we’ve had at least one player this season leave his boots on a train.  So he goes back to get them from Worthing or somewhere.  It’s touch and go whether he makes it back for kick-off and we have included him in the starting XI.  He eventually arrives at 2:55pm.  At 3:07pm he has pulled up injured and needs to be replaced!

I don’t know whether they wanted to try and copy the professionals, but at the start of the season we order brand new kit – and at the first game all the players are cutting their socks off at the ankles – Barry even makes it clear that the club will fine them (actually more than the cost of the socks themselves). So we ask them why, because you know, this is new kit – and they say it’s because they want to wear under-socks. And then the ref decides before the game that there’s too much white showing on the socks, because there are rules about matching kit colours, and the players end up using black tape to bind around their white under-socks. So, of course, they could have just worn the black socks in the first place.

Roger: I’ve never really understood that rule. I remember with undershirts and players having a different colour under their club shirts – someone took us to task on Twitter after one game because our players weren’t wearing matching shirt sleeves, and they were absolutely mortified.

Is there anything else on the manager side of things? You mentioned Steve King and that you had a good relationship. Darren too, right? And all the other guys… 

Stuart: Yeah, when we were looking at managers maybe six years ago, Darren applied and he turned up for his interview and he didn’t have any socks on.

He had a suit on. He was very smart, but he didn’t have socks. And when I called him back to say he didn’t get the job that time he said: ‘I’ve been a professional footballer, and then I went straight from football into running my own business, and then I went into management and in all that time I’ve never ever had to do an interview for a job before, so can you give me any feedback?’ 

So I suggested he wear some socks. And when the job came around again and he turned up, the first thing he said was: ‘I’d just like to put on record that I’m wearing socks.’

But hey, I’ve been very lucky to work with some really good managers and some really good coaches

Roger: Yes that’s for sure. Well, thanks Stu for your time there – it’s been great reminiscing, some super stories.  Hope the planning goes well and that we can use the extra time to get things really going for next season. 

Stuart: Thanks Rog. Catch up again soon.