Dripping Yarns with David Arnold

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SO, there was no Billy Cotton ‘Pan’ Show. That’s because bandleader Billy – along with Tommy Steele, Des O’Connor and most of the famous people named as likely to take part in a fundraising celebrity soccer match at Lewes FC in January 1961 – failed to show up.

However, my appeal last week to readers for information about the event did strike a seam of memory with Ringmer resident Ken Head. He was a teenage schoolboy at the time and distinctly recalls what an exciting occasion it was.

“Celebrity sporting fixtures were becoming popular around about then and this one was quite a coup for the town and drew a crowd of around 1000 in support of the Lewes Flood Relief Fund,”he said.

“I am sure Sean Connery put in an appearance. Unfortunately one of his fellow players got bored and started to throw lumps of mud about, some of which got into Connery’s eye so he had to go off, injured.

“This was before his 007 debut in the film Dr No which came out the following year.

“Whenever I see a Bond movie starring Sean Connery, I always think of that day at the dear old Dripping Pan when a lump of mud was enough to crock the man who would soon become an invincible British secret agent.

“If only his numerous arch-villain enemies had known that Bond’s Achilles’ Heel was mud in his eye!’

Ken remembers the singer Jess Conrad being there (about a decade later I saw Jess in the saucy show ‘Pajama Tops’ on Brighton’s West Pier) and also the manager of Fulham FC, the impressively named Bedford Jezzard. My own research also identifies another singer, Jimmy Henney, turning out to play.

Ken couldn’t remember the final score – not that it mattered much as there was a lot of chopping and changing going on in the make-up of the teams. Quite a few of the Lewes FC players also were understandably keen to participate.

Although these days Ken is a season ticket holder with Brighton, he also visits the Dripping Pan whenever he can. He thinks the transition to community club status has been marvellous for Lewes FC – especially now that performances on the pitch have greatly improved under the guidance of Steve King.

Last Sunday saw some local sports fans in a quandary. Should they follow the Rooks on the road to Wembley – Wembley FC’s ground that it is – where we were due to meet their tenants, Hendon FC, in an important top of the table Ryman Premier clash – or should they go to hallowed Lord’s to show support for Rottingdean in the Village Cricket Knock-out final?

Several of our most ardent fans felt that whilst there would be many more football matches to come this season, the event at Lord’s was simply too big a sporting occasion to miss. Wrong decision!

Heavy rain at St John’s Wood led to the scheduled 40 over match being abandoned after less than a dozen overs (before a rapid 10-over smash could finally be played once the clouds parted).

But up at Wembley the game against Hendon went ahead and what an excellent (if controversial) game it was, as you can gauge from Brian Pollard’s match report.

Now it has to be said that Wembley FC’s ground is frankly ramshackle although the club was warmly welcoming to the 40 or 50 Lewes fans who made the journey.

But what I found fascinating was the view out to Wembley Stadium and it’s magnificent arch.

It felt as if we were stuck in football’s Third World while just a tantalizing few miles away lay the game’s ultimate palace of dreams.

It didn’t take much for my mind to skip ahead just over a week from now when Lewes set out on this season’s FA Cup trail with a visit to Chertsey. For a moment I dreamed the impossible dream. But in my heart I knew I’d happily settle for an eventual place in the First Round proper!

DAVID ARNOLD

PS. Some whimsical football trivia: Everton goalie Neville Southall worked variously as a dustman, waiter and hod carrier before becoming a professional footballer.

The father of those famous brothers Phil and Gary Neville has the Christian name Neville. And did Sean Connery once star in a Bond film called ‘Neville Say Neville Again’?