Lewes v Hastings United
Dripping Pan / Isthmian League South Division / 26th December 2017
There are many football ground names in football that evoke certain emotions: Wembley, the San Siro, Nou Camp give off a potent smell of grandeur; South American football cathedrals such the Maracana and La Bombonera conjure up images of carnival football and carnival atmospheres; and then we have those old British grounds like Roker Park, the Baseball Ground and The Vetch which crumbling stands and muddy pitches create images of a football’s bygone, more rustic and more brutal days. Football grounds create imagery – sometimes from just their names alone. Which brings me onto the Dripping Pan.
I’d never been to Lewes’ Dripping Pan and so I couldn’t decide whether the name made me think of a greasy spoon on a Saturday morning or an old, almost Dickensian pub in London Town. All I knew was that the name evoked something. And if a football club had called their ground something as bizarre as the Dripping Pan, I knew I wanted to go there. In fact, I’ve probably wanted to go watch Lewes play since my days playing Championship Manager, where I probably learned of their strange ground name for the first time. Well, finally, many years after staring at that flashing bar of Championship Manager, Boxing Day 2017 would find me stepping out of the Sussex cold and into the Dripping Pan.
It seems the site has been always been called Dripping Pan with many believing the name to come from the area being an old salt pan (I did read one theory linking the name to a ‘local whore’ who was particularly good at satisfying her clients.. but I won’t be go into that one and just let you use your imagination there). As a football ground, it is a true non-League relic with the club forming in the Royal Oak pub in 1885 and making Dripping Pan their home ever since.
132 years after the club had moved there, me, my dad and Craig were parking alongside the stone wall that runs down the one side of the football ground. It was a very wet Boxing Day morning, but after an initial brutal downpour, it seemed to subside suddenly and we had more comfortable weather to explore the town.
I’d been thinking of the football ground so much, it was only on arriving in Lewes that I realised I’d thought little of the town. What was clear very quickly though was that Lewes was a lovely little town. Like really lovely. The famous 19th century designer and poet William Morris sums the town up lovely, “You can see Lewes lying like a box of toys under a great amphitheatre of chalk hills … on the whole it is set down better than any town I have seen in England.” (Cheers Wikipedia!)
We snubbed cultural stuff like visiting Anne of Cleves’ home and headed straight through the heart of the town. It seemed a lot of people had had new cameras for Christmas and Lewes had been chosen as the photogenic town worthy of trying out the shiny new kits on show. We avoided all the amateur photographers, who seemed oblivious to everything that was outside their camera, and headed down the hill to the main high street.
A recurring presence throughout my two weeks in Sussex was Harvey’s beer – brewed in Lewes. Across a small bridge in the centre of town, we could spy the chimney of the brewery behind the quaint main street. Halfway up the street we found a particularly traditional, cute little pub called the Gardeners Arms and it looked the perfect place for our first beer of Bozing Day 2017. There was a mix of local characters and real ale aficionado types as there was impressive selection on tap. Predictably, there was Harvey’s beer on tap, but strangely there seemed to be a few beers from Swindon on tap too; plus, the walls had several photos of Swindon Town’s County Ground on display too. There was certainly some sort of Swindonian link going on here.
The street had a slight touch of Diagon Alley too and as we headed back down it, tucked away down another narrow lane and next to the River Ouse was a pub owned by the Harvey’s brewery: the John Harvey Tavern. It would have been rude not to visit a Harbey establishment when in Lewes, so in we went. This was a far more spacious pub than the previous one. The bar was also a far more polished setup than the more ‘local pub-ish’ vibe of the Gardeners before. Me and my dad opted for the brewery’s own Wharf IPA and after first dismissing the beer as quite sickly tasting, our taste buds clearly morphed as we soon decided we loved the stuff. Clearly the previous beers had distorted the taste of what was evidently a beautiful IPA. Anyway, with an hour until kick-off, we thought we would begin the walk to the Dripping Pan.
The Pan was a dripping one, but the weather was far more than dripping. As soon as we began the walk back through the town we got battered by the rain and found ourselves half jogging to the ground. £11 was handed over at the turnstiles (for me anyway, student Craig and over-65 dad got in for less) and it was time to see what all the fuss was about it. It didn’t take long.
Quite simply, the Dripping Pan is a magnificent ground. It’s a really pitpourri of random stuff – and I do love random. You enter via the top of a rather steep standing terrace, which dips down towards the ground. Directly opposite, but what felt like a fair distance away, is another terrace, although this one has no protection from the elements. Down one side of the pitch is a fairly standard seating stand, whereas the other has no stand whatsoever; instead there is large banking which has a footpath at the top, alongside the high stone wall that separates the ground from the town beyond it.
No doubt the most interesting features of the ground stand on the terrace we had entered onto though. On our right was the clubhouse, which looked more of a townhouse than a clubhouse, and to our right were several beach huts – yes, beach huts. In a quirky but brilliant move, Lewes decided that they’d offer an alternative way to enjoy your matchday. Instead of going down the plush corporate box routes, they decided to embrace a more seaside vibe and place several beach huts on top of the banking behind the goal, providing an excellent view of the game. For the best view in the house with mini-bar, food and a matchday programme you’re looking at £40 per person; a perfect choice for stag dos heading into nearby Brighton and who maybe went a bit of football to kick things off.
There’d be no beach hut action for us today and instead we went into the very impressive club house. Again, and rightly so, there was obviously Harvey’s beer to be found here. In fact, there was a wide range of various Harvey’s here giving me scale to try a few different ones, whilst Spurs were on the TV tearing Southampton (I noticed little love for the Saints from those around us).
The 45 minutes flew by in the club bar and soon it was time to head out onto what was already a fairly crowded terrace. We found ourselves a spot in the middle and dragged my dad away from the Hastings lot as I had a feeling that he wouldn’t want to indulge in their chanting and more boisterous spirit. As well as my dad, Bob, we were also soon joined by Craig’s dad, Rob. He’d delayed himself by leaving his wallet in a petrol station, but made it to Dripping Pan just in time for kick-off.
Although it was not quite 7 goal thriller we had witnessed at Burgess Hill 3 day’s ago, this game had enough to keep us mightily entertained too. Something it did have in common with that game at Burgess Hill was that we had an international footballer on show: at Burgess Hill we had Billericay’s Grenada international Ricky Modeste and on this Boxing Day we had the delights of Bermudan international Jonte Smith to enjoy. Plus, he was formerly of Crawley Town too, so Craig was happy,
The game started well, but the most eye catching sight was the very decent number of fans who had travelled over from Hastings. They certainly gave their vocal cords a good work out – mainly for the right reasons, but sadly, from a small gang of them, the wrong reasons too. More on them later.
Me and Craig went off for a wander of the ground, whilst our dads stayed perched on the terrace behind the goal. As we walked along the stone wall – which felt almost prison-like – Lewes grabbed themselves a penalty with the first real chance of the game. Of course, up stepped Jonte the Bermudan to put the home team a goal ahead.
Half-time: Lewes 1 – 0 Hastings.
I’m a big fan of football food in my part of Europe: the Cigánska pečienka in Slovakia, the klobása in Czech Republic and the always excellent leberkäsesemmel in Austria – all superb…but, you can’t really beat a pie at football can you? Football and pies go together like…well meat and pastry. Central Europe has yet to discover pies it seems and having being denied one at Burgess Hill, I was very, very excited for my half-time steak pie. Whether it was just my pie-longing or not, it was delight. Sadly, while I enjoyed my savoury cuisine, I had to witness some unnecessary unsavoury scenes around me.
The Hastings fans had been great throughout the first half and there had been nothing too antagonistic throughout the first half, aside from the playful chanting of “Shall we sing a song for you!” at the home fans. But it seemed some of the younger fans had got themselves well and truly tanked up on festive ale and were denied entry to the clubhouse – for what reasons I am unclear. I am all about people having a good time at football – whether that involves booze or not. However, some of the verbal abuse they were handing out to the stewards was disgusting, so much so that not too long into the second half we had police at the ground watching over the away fans who had moved to the far side of the ground by themselves. Again, I know this was a very small minority taking things too far and 99% of the away fans just seemed to be there to enjoy their Boxing Day and support their local club, which is something I’m sure we all commend (just realised that sounded slightly patronising, but you know what I mean).
Hastings started the half the better team, but the game evened out and became fairly uneventful. That was until the hour mark when a moment of magic settled the game – not that I saw it.
Nature called and I could no longer wait, but as I headed for a piss Lewes earned themselves a freekick a few yards outside the box. For some stupid reason, I decided that Lewes were not going to score and I may as well continue my walk to the toilet. Of course, as soon as I got to the urinal, that split second of silence around the ground struck only to be followed a roar of joy as Lewes clearly buried their free kick. I do have photographic evidence of the goal though thanks to Rob catching a photo of the free kick crashing in. On seeing the photo I was even more gutted as I love a goal that smashes in off the bar. This is happening a lot to me this season.
For the rest of the game, Lewes looked remarkably at ease and were rarely troubled. There was one dipping shot that cannoned back off the crossbar, but that was as exciting as it got in the final stages.
Full-time: Lewes 2- 0 Hastings
The Dripping Pan drips with charm and character and lived up to expectation. One of the finest I’ve been to in non-League. But time to get out of the cold and head back to our Cowfold base for warmth and to continue working my way through all those craft beers I’d received for Christmas.
Highlights: nice town, good pubs – Gardeners Arms and John Harvey’s, great ground, great clubhouse, range of beers at the ground, beach hut option (maybe next time) decent game.
Low Points: few idiotic Hastings fans, missing a goal (again).
See all my photos from Lewes here.