Why We All Need To Get Behind Lewes Football Club As They Battle Relegation

Photo: James Boyes

I remember my first trip to the Dripping Pan, it was August 2019 and it was a beautiful day on the south coast as they welcomed newly promoted Blackburn Rovers on the opening weekend of the FA Women’s Championship.

The Pan or Pan Siro as fans affectionately refer has such great character, a modern stadium but with nods to the past. You have an all-seater stand alongside the pitch and behind the dugouts, an even newer terrace stand behind one goal, and at the opposite end a concrete terrace stand like you might have seen in grounds up and down the country from the 1950’s. Not to forget the beach huts with a great view looking down onto the pitch.

The match itself was a hugely entertaining 5-1 win for Lewes. That day I fell in love with the club and what they bring to women’s football.

Photo: Stu Barker

The club’s ethos is to not only achieve success on the pitch but to use the power of football to bring about change in their community and further society as a whole. Their commitment to parity and equality saw them named as the winner of the inaugural Since 71 Game Changer Award in 2019/20.

Fast forward to March 2024 and the Rooks are in real danger of dropping out of the Championship into the third tier of the women’s football pyramid, the FA Women’s National League.

In a world where many football clubs prioritise profit over their fans and local communities, Lewes’ 100% fan-owned model must be seen as a model that can be successful and not only sustainable but also allow the club to compete against those with the backing of Premier League counterparts. If not then I fear women’s football becoming a carbon copy of the men’s game with a glass ceiling that cannot be broken without Premier League backing.

I would throw Durham into this category as well. If clubs like them can thrive at the higher end of the women’s football pyramid then it can give others hope that they can one day bridge that gap and compete with the biggest names in the country.

Photo: James Boyes

Under the stewardship of Simon Parker the club finished the Covid effected 2020/21 season, in fifth position with 28 points. Comfortably above the likes of Crystal Palace, Charlton Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. The following season the Rooks finished with an improved points tally of 29 but that was only enough for eighth position. Last season they slipped one place into ninth with 26 points.

At present, Lewes occupy the second relegation spot with 16 points, something that was added this year after the FA and NewCo’s commitment to promote both Northern and Southern National League winners.

December also saw Lewes dumped out of the Adobe Women’s FA Cup to lower league Ipswich Town, going down 3-0.

Photo: James Boyes

In August it was revealed that Victoire Cogevina Reynal’s Mercury 13 group were seeking to takeover the women’s team. The consortium included the former England forward and current Angel City sporting director, Eni Aluko and former Italy goalkeeper Arianna Criscione.

With the bid being for the women’s team only, many questioned whether the owners would opt to safeguard the club’s future at the expense of their famous partnership with their male counterparts.

The Rooks would hold true to their core values and in November the news broke that the discussions had came to an end. CEO Maggie Murphy said, “Lewes FC is a club that has always had community and social impact at its core. Through our discussions, we found that whilst we shared a common belief in the future growth prospects of women’s football, the structure needed to make this specific opportunity work would be too disruptive to other values that we hold dear.”

I believe that this was the correct decision but it does mean that the club have missed out on vital investment that would have no doubt been used to strengthen the playing squad. The club needed an something to happen after picking up just four points from a possible thirty in the opening ten Championship matches.

With nearest rivals Reading two points ahead and with a game in hand it is going to take a monumental effort, starting against Southampton (a), Crystal Palace (h) and London City Lionesses (a) on the final day of the season. Outside of Reading and Durham, I don’t think that there would be a football fan in the country that would take any pleasure if Lewes dropped out of the Championship.

Last week’s 2-1 win over Watford should give everyone involved with the club hope. If there is any doubt around the club then they should draw inspiration from Coventry United’s great escape.

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