4th Qualifying Round
Saturday October 27th 2007
Kick Off 3:00pm
Weather: Mild and breezy
Distance travelled: 160 miles
My first ever visit to Priory Lane, home of Eastbourne Borough. One thing I had been told about (or should I say "warned" about) were the drums. The Eastbourne Borough drums, the favoured instruments of a small group of youngsters down one side of the ground. A never ending beat. All the way through the game. And they were damn noisy. But I must say they did actually contribute toward a good atmosphere, just as long as you stood at the opposite side of the ground to them. With the help of those drums, Eastbourne Borough beat a path into the First Round Proper of this prestigious competition.
Ever since their name was pulled out of the hat to face Bromley I have had a great response from Eastbourne Borough FC. I have already written a post on how the club is run by an immensely dedicated team of volunteers and of the sense of pride that emanates from the club. I was now looking forward to experiencing this first hand.
I and a friend (PB) were asked to arrive at the club early so that we could be treated to a look behind the scenes. In all honesty, I expected nothing more than a quick fifteen minutes walk around the ground. Mainly because I appreciate how busy anyone involved with football clubs can be on match days. However, our host Lee Peskett (webmaster and committee member) gave us well over an hour from his busy schedule in what was a most fascinating and educational tour around Priory Lane.
Lee was an enthusiastic host. We were shown around the Langney Sports Club which sits adjacent to the ground and is an important part of the set up there. This included the Adult Training suite and the conference room above, resplendent with framed national shirts from the 2006 Non League Four Nations Tournament (Priory Lane hosted all three England games). Into the Executive Boxes (in the Mick Green stand) which double up as home for the '"Owlets" Nursery School during the weekdays. Into the Boardroom built onto the back of the main 542 seater stand which also includes a couple of newer executive boxes. We were kindly introduced to the Chairman and Commercial Manager and we witnessed first hand the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes long, long before the turnstiles clunk into action.
And as if to exemplify the varied jobs those involved in the club have, when we met the Chairman he was hard at work on the construction of a smoking shelter outside the bar. I believe not long after he had to make a quick change into his suit to welcome the Bromley visitors.
We were also introduced to David Bauckham who took time out to meet us. Anyone involved in non-league football, particularly in Sussex, will know David. He has also been involved with Eastbourne Borough for longer than he cared to share with us. We were later to see David writing up the team names on a white board displayed just beyond the turnstile entrance (a feature which was endearing in it's own right) and off around the pitch to take match photographs.
Many involved with the club have indeed been involved for some time. I mentioned in an earlier post how the club was founded by members of the 1960s youth team. Some of these guys are still involved with the club today. The manager (Garry Wilson) came to the club in 1999 and the coach (Nick Greenwood) in 1997. Both have helped steer the club from Sussex County League football to the pinnacle of the Conference South in a little over seven years. One of Eastbourne's players, Darren Baker, has made over 740 appearances.
And it is this that impressed me most about the club; the length of time people have been around at Eastbourne. No fly-by-nights here looking for a quick buck or a moment in the spotlight. Instead, people who are truly committed to the club and the community and have been so for a very long time. I came away with an even greater understanding of how this club has developed as a community asset, how it has grown since the mid-sixties on the back of extremely well managed local effort, commitment and hard work. And the club are proud of this. And quite rightly so.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. In amongst all this there was a game to report on. And not a bad game either. An impressive crowd of 1212 included about 200 travelling Bromley fans. [By way of comparison, Gretna only attracted a crowd of 1020 for their game with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Premier League on the same day].
The first half was quite an even, if somewhat tense, affair; both sets of players were certainly up for it with strong, uncompromising physical challenges the order of the day. At times the referee struggled to keep control of this feisty encounter. Eastbourne Borough looked the more dangerous up front, and they took the lead after 27 minutes when Andy Atkin nodded in a cross. Eastbourne Borough missed a good chance to go 2-0 up before the break when Andy Walker saved easily from a weak, fluffed shot from only a few yards out.
In the second half, Eastbourne had the edge for the first ten minutes or so but failed to capitalise. The home team were given a wake-up call when their goalkeeper Lee Hook had to make a wonderful double save to deny efforts from Nic McDonnell and Barry Moore. But Bromley did not have to wait long. A route one ball played up field fell kindly to the on-rushing Garath McCleary who finished well to bring the scores level. 1-1 after 56 minutes.
Then on the hour Bromley's Mark Corneille received two quick bookings in the space of a few minutes for badly timed tackles. End of the game for Corneille. Strangely though, the reduction to ten men seem to galvanise the away team who dug deep, defended well and began to hit Eastbourne Borough on the break. Tactically, Eastbourne got it all wrong during this stage of the game. They had opportunity to make the most of the additional free space, but resorted to long balls. Possession was squandered all too easily and passes often misplaced.
Into the last quarter of the match and the draw looked increasingly likely with each passing minute. My thoughts soon turned to a Tuesday night replay at Hayes Lane. But then a double substitution on 72 minutes by the home team seemed to change the complexion of the game. Eastbourne's passes were a little more accurate and attacks a little more assured. Bromley began to struggle with the lone striker and were forced to defend deeper and deeper.
But then a breakthrough. On 87 minutes Eastbourne were awarded a disputed penalty. My view is that I thought it was a dubious decision; two opposing players collided just inside the box with both players running away from goal. The referee all too quickly pointed to the spot. The resultant penalty kick was unceremoniously thumped into the onion bag by Paul Armstrong to send the home fans into raptures and the drummers into overdrive.
2-1 and Eastbourne Borough go through to the next round.
What a marvellous day. There is much more that I learnt about the minutiae of running a club such as Eastbourne Borough but I will save some of my thoughts about that for a future post.
We headed for the car after the game looking forward to the draw for the next round. And I must admit it was quite tense waiting to see who Eastbourne Borough would play and by association where fate would be sending me next.
And I'm very pleased to report I will be back at Priory Lane in two weeks time to watch Eastbourne Borough take on either Weymouth or Hitchin Town. Another trip to the South Coast.
I drove home with a splitting headache with the pounding of those drums still resonating around my thick skull. I managed to call in at the local doctors on my arrival back in Chertsey for a quick diagnosis. Apparently, it was the worst case of percussion he had ever seen.