Grier's Guide to Lewes
The match: Lewes v Kingstonian, Isthmian Premier. Saturday 16 April, 15:00.
The club: Community-owned club who have yo-yo'd quite a bit in recent seasons. They were founding members of Conference South, at our expense, when they beat us in a playoff in 2004. They're probably most notable for being the first club in the country to pay their men's and women's teams equally; the latter play in the Championship and will welcome Liverpool to the Dripping Pan a couple of weeks after our visit.
The town: Delightful historic town set in the rolling hills of the South Downs. Well known for its annual bonfire celebrations which take over the town with an incredible display of light and noise. The different bonfire societies always try to outdo each other - our favourite is Waterloo due to their red and white hooped colour scheme. Effigies are burned every year, with 2021's including Joe Biden, Dominic Cummings, Matt Hancock and a giant toilet roll (a throwback to panic-buying during the pandemic). Boris Johnson got a rare year off, having featured in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The ground: The Dripping Pan, Mountfield Road, Lewes, BN7 2XA. Perhaps the most picturesque ground in the league, with views over the South Downs. It has a large covered terrace at one end and a smaller open one at the other, along with a long main stand.
Directions: The usual route from Clapham Junction is closed due to engineering work so you'll need to get a train from London Bridge (61 minutes) or East Croydon (45). The ground's about a five minute walk from the station - go left and then left again. There's a small pay and display car park outside the ground and metered street parking. Lewes' website warns that the town's traffic wardens are 'keen' and advise visitors to get the train - both to save the planet and to enjoy the town's 'many excellent pubs, cafes and restaurants'.
Tickets: £11 adults / £7 concessions / U16s free. You can buy them online in advance at https://www.tickettailor.com/events/lewesfootballclub2/555909/
Our record there: Our last visit was just as the pandemic was starting, Ks recording a 2-1 win with the players avoiding pre-match handshakes. A week later, all football was cancelled and within another week the country was in lockdown. Late winners have sent the Ks fans delirious on a couple of occasions - Paul Vines in 2013 and then Ricky Sappleton in 2015 were the men whose late strikes led to much spilt beer on the terrace behind the goal.
Recent form: Lewes have had a good season and at time of writing are just inside the playoff spots, although a surprise 3-2 home defeat to Wingate saw them miss a chance to consolidate that place.
Players to watch: Ex-Cray manager Tony Russell arrived in the summer with a number of his former players, including the free-scoring Joe Taylor. Taylor is the division's third top scorer with 27 this season, having topped the table in both pandemic-shortened seasons. Right back Juevan Spencer joined from Ks in mid-season.
Crowd: Lewes' crowds are among the highest in the league and Ks fans tend to travel there in good numbers, which can make for a great atmosphere.
Drinking: The town is proud of its local brewery, Harvey's, and their beer can be found in nearly all of Lewes' pubs. The closest pub to the station is The Lansdown, where if the weather is decent Ks fans are likely to be spilling onto the street as kick-off approaches. Most of the pubs in town are fairly traditional, particularly the centuries-old Lewes Arms, although Patch Beer Cafe bucks the trend by focusing on modern craft beers rather than cask ale. Other pubs around the station and ground include The Elephant & Castle (The Elly), which is the best bet for live sport, and The Royal Oak, where the football club was formed in 1885. The White Hart has a plaque to mark that Tom Paine 'expounded his revolutionary politics' there and across the road is another pub, named after the man himself. A few of Lewes' pubs, including the Lewes Arms and The Elly, feature the local game toad in the hole, which involves trying to throw brass coins ('toads') into a small hole in a table - much harder than it sounds.
Food: There's decent fare on offer at the ground and in most of the town's pubs. Lewes is fiercely independent-minded so don't expect to find fast food chains - the mere prospect of a drive-through McDonald's opening produced an outcry a few years ago. Instead, Lewes features many small independent cafes such as Patch, Carafe Coffee Roasters and Bun + Bean, which specialises in veggie burgers, coffee and craft beer.