When you’re heading to a ground named High Road you might expect it to be rather urban. Served by a wide variety of shops and amenities, close to public transport links, and at the heart of a bustling community. Well Chipstead FC certainly can claim to be at the heart of its community- you only need to witness the large number of small children in club tracksuits (from the club’s EIGHTEEN youth teams) charging around the car park (and across the cricket field- lovers of the summer game look away now) before the game to understand its importance to the town that shares its name- but apart from that it’s rather more ‘Take the High Road’ than High Road.
Sadly that comparison doesn’t work entirely- Chipstead doesn’t have the Highland cattle, the lilt of Gaelic or the compulsory character named Hamish- although there is a Callum Maclean, who might have fitted in well in Blair’s Store. Mind you, there was a herd of sheep around half a mile away, if that helps, along with a couple of horses and what appeared to be one solitary cow- perhaps there are others but as anybody knows they are masters of disguise. Just to add to this menagerie, an away fan mid-way through the first half was heard to loudly describe a refereeing decision in rather bovine terms, too.
It was the home fans doing that by the end of the second half.
Chipstead main stand
(Please note- those who don’t have any recollection of 1980’s Scottish soap opera can tune in again now. There won’t be any more obscure TV references in this article. Promise).
We were here to watch Chipstead take on league-leaders Lewes, and attempt to upset the form book. Would they do it? Even Nostradamus would have difficulty predicting the outcome. Perhaps the best way to sum up the season of those in green and white hoops is with a jumble of capital letters. DDDWDDWLLL.
We’ve picked the last ten matches, but if you looked at the campaign as a whole you’d find it was all like that. One week they might be beating Corinthian-Casuals away, or drawing with Greenwich Borough, and the next they’re losing to Whyteleafe or East Grinstead. Those who are looking for certainty need to look somewhere other than the High Road, as the side in green and white hoops are a bookmakers nightmare. With Chipstead, you never know what you’re going to get.
Lewes were almost at the opposite end of the form spectrum. They’d also had their moments, as losses at Ramsgate and Horsham during the last month had shown, but all-in-all it’s a good time to be a Rook. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the folk from the Dripping Pan had rediscovered their positivity- it was always a fairly positive place even when the results were god-awful, apart from one particular gentlemen at the front of the stand who seemed to find something new to moan about on every visit- but Lewes FC are in a better place both on and off the field than at any time in their history. There will undoubtedly be people (probably led by the chap at the front of the stand once more) taking issue with that statement, but even when they were winning the Conference South to gain promotion to the top flight of the non-league game some years ago, that was a pyrrhic victory given that it was built entirely on unstable foundations. These days success is sustainable, and that success echoes right through the club, with the women’s team in fourth place in the Premier South table and through to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, the Development Squad and Girls Academy sides having fabulous seasons, and the Under 18’s beating their Wealdstone counterparts in the League Cup Quarter Finals earlier this week. Even Barry in the club shop is reporting record Christmas sales. East Sussex is a red and black world indeed.
Here come the teams!
Wandering around the perimeter path at the far side of the ground before the game- a stretch of concrete so narrow, by the way, that it’s tantamount to discrimination against fat blokes- Buddie the Chipstead programme editor was full of confidence. Not for him were worries about taking on the league leaders; there were far more positives than negatives in this green and white world.
“The football this season has been really entertaining. The team pulls together, and despite the inconsistent results there’s has been far more good than bad- and we’ve been better against the higher placed teams. I expect at least a point today- perhaps even all three.”
The Lewes fans, most of whom arrived moaning about the roadworks on the M23, Chairman Stuart being the exception (“it took me 27 minutes”- you can go off some people), were soon forming the majority of the queue at the Muddy Boot Snack Bar. Many of them were still in it as the match kicked off, and Chipstead began like a side determined to prove Buddie right. They continued in a similar vein for much of the first half, whilst the leaders looked rather lacklustre. Dean Gunner had the first real chance in the thirteenth minute, the delivery from a short corner finding him powering into the box, but the ball curled wide of Chris Winterton’s left hand post, leaving the Rooks keeper to berate his defence so loudly that you could hear him in Croydon. A moment later and it was Sam Bell who was firing just wide of Winterton’s other post, and the Rooks were rattled.
Most of Chipstead’s attacking play came from wide areas, with both full backs and winger Leon Lalor-Dell particularly impressive. Time and time again they ran at the Lewes full backs and regularly came out on top, although Winterton wasn’t unduly troubled by the shots that came from all of their hard work. Lewes, when they got forward, seemed to have left their shooting boots at home- two free kicks and a further effort from the edge of the box clearing the bar by a number of yards and endangering the cars in the car park behind the goal. Erivaldo Felix had a shot easily saved for the Chips, Lalor-Dell hit the side netting, and then with seven minutes to go the league leaders had their best chance of the half, a lovely one-two between Steve Brinkhurst and Jamie Brotherton ending in a cross-shot from the full back which crept just wide of the far post. Half time arrived, and the home side were far the happier. Perhaps apart from Buddie, who was now worrying that the Rooks would go and nick it in the second half.
You know those moments when you say something and then wish you hadn’t said it?
The Rooks looked to take the initiative as the second half began. Brotherton had the first chance three minutes after the restart, and if we’re being kind the ball bobbled just as he shaped to shoot, which was why it cleared the bar and the ground. Up the other end Sam Bell powered through the middle leaving defenders trailing in his wake, but pulled his shot wide. This set the tone for the next forty minutes. A great run from Felix ended in a corner, and that ended with a header from Dan Cumber which dropped just wide of the far post. On the other wing Saidou Khan earned a further corner and the Rooks scrambled it clear to Brotherton, whose run was only halted by a desperate clearance from Felix. The resulting corner ended in a brave save from Michael Sibley, and then the ball was back up the other end, Tobi Adaje cutting inside to curl a shot wide. The home side remained on top as we entered the last twenty minutes.
The Muddy Boot Snack Bar- chips with mayo available, in case you think you're in Belgium.
It was at this point that the referee really made his mark on the game. That isn’t a criticism- he had a difficult job and he made a call- but it can be suggested that what seemed like rather an innocuous decision led directly to the final outcome. Chips number two Saidou Khan had already been on the end of a slightly unnecessary finger wagging for time wasting- if anything the home side were on top at this point- when he picked up the ball to take a throw with eighteen minutes to go. He was just about to aim the throw at Adaje when the midfielder inexplicably moved away, leaving his colleague with the ball behind his head and nowhere to throw it. At this the referee moved in and brandished the yellow card.
Eight minutes later Khan was attempting to block a Lewes attack on the edge of his own box when he entirely mistimed a tackle. You could see that he was attempting to reach the ball, but he certainly didn’t get it. The referee awarded a free kick, and then, to chants of “off, off, off” from the away fans behind the goal, reached for his yellow card followed by a red. The Rooks faithful had got their way, and the full back wandered forlornly to the dressing room whilst the home fans looked on, aghast. The referee undoubtedly got this decision right, by the way- it was indeed a yellow card worthy challenge- but whether the player had merited being removed from the field of play was another question entirely. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that decision, it led Chipstead to withdraw Lalor Dell- a player who had himself been fouled seven times and had perhaps been the stand out performer of the afternoon- and it left a large gap at the back. With two minutes to go a defensive scramble saw the ball head towards the far side of the Chipstead box, and there was Ronnie Conlon, entirely unmarked in the spot where a right back might have been, to wallop the ball home and give the Rooks the lead and the points and spark riotous celebration amongst the travelling fans- celebrations which Conlon received a yellow card for joining in.
Chipstead weren’t done, and with five added minutes to play went in search of an equaliser. Bell was just beaten to a cross and, from the corner, headed just over after emerging from a crowd of players to make contact. Another cross, and once more it was just too high for Bell, who stretched his neck but was unable to connect. And then came the whistle, and a collection of folk in red and black striped shirts with grins like an litter of Cheshire Cats.
As the crowd wandered towards the exit, Lewes Chair Stuart Fuller was asked to sum up the game. He looked for the positives. “It wasn’t pretty but it was effective. In the last fifteen minutes we pushed them a bit more and Darren got his substitutions entirely right. But their centre backs (Sam Page and Dean Gunner) were immense.”
Buddie of Chipstead
As he was speaking, Rooks fan -and badge salesman extraordinaire- Gary sauntered past and added his view, with a grin. “We got away with that, didn’t we?” He was entirely right.
If you’re going to win the league, the knack is to grind out a victory whilst not playing all that well. Today the Rooks did exactly that. They were second best for large portions of the game but when the chance came to take the points, they did it, regaining the top spot they’d lost temporarily when Cray Wanderers had defeated Guernsey in an earlier kick off. The two sides meet next Saturday, and that will be a clash of the Titans.
The inexplicable statistic, however, is that Chipstead sit in seventeenth place. You wonder how a side that can best the league leaders for perhaps sixty of the ninety minutes can be in such a lowly position. Manager Antony Williams will be wondering exactly the same thing- but the performance illustrated the points that Buddie was making before the game. The team was well organised, entertaining to watch and worked hard for each other; it was just a shame that there weren’t more home fans in attendance to see it, given that around seventy of the 132 in attendance today travelled from Lewes.
The people of Chipstead don’t know what they’re missing. But perhaps if the team can continue to perform like this, it won’t be long before more of them take the high road to High Road.
When Chips Attack!