For a small club in a small town in England, Lewes FC has a remarkably large family of friends all around the world.
Last September I met two such friends who hail from San Jose in California.
The story began with a call from Lewes resident Pat Rigg. She said she’d been given my number by that energetic local councilor, Ruth O’Keeffe, who’d told her that I was someone who could undoubtedly source Lewes FC merchandise.
As it happens that’s not my role with the Rooks. But I love a challenge. That’s how on the following Saturday morning I met Pat and her partner Jane McIntosh together with Dr David McGowan and his wife Sue down at the Dripping Pan where said merchandise was ready and waiting to view. Pat is the ex-sister-in-law of David and Sue and has maintained a strong friendship with the Californians for many years.
I discovered that David has a keen interest in football and follows the fortunes of Lewes FC from afar. At Pat’s urging he had already bought a share in our community club. Now he wanted the T-shirt. Or rather a replica strip. It was a beautiful morning and the Dripping Pan looked wonderful. I gave the party a tour of the ground, proudly showing off our impressive stands, the wonderful views to the South Downs and the colourful scarf-lined interior of the Rook Inn.
I have to say I even impressed myself with how much I knew. Certainly David enjoyed the occasion. Upon his return home he wrote to me: “I was privileged to have had a personal tour of arguably the best ‘home grown’ non-league football stadium in the UK. One could sense the passion involved in such a venture. The surface of the pitch looked like velvet.”
I also learnt that David has been a registered referee with the US Soccer Federation, governing body of soccer “over there”. He told me: “I was part of English FIFA Referee Keith Hackett’s crew as a fourth official when he oversaw matches for a summer in the North American Soccer League. In league admin, I served with the San Francisco Bay Area’s Peninsula Soccer League, equivalent to the English Ryman Premier where the Rooks currently reside. I also coached with the San Jose Earthquakes – one of George Best’s teams.”
Outside of football, Dr McGowan’s professional career involved rehabilitation work with the blind and visually impaired.
Anyway, our meeting went very well. So much so that I ended up selling over £100 worth of club stuff that included stylish polo shirts for all four visitors. Pleased to have done such good business, I decided to reward David with a gift of my wartime memories book, Seventy Years On. To my delight he turned out to be hugely interested. His wife Susan’s father had been a sergeant in the British Army in World War II while he himself had an uncle in the US Navy.
David phoned next day. He’d read the couple of stories about war veterans now living in Lewes that I’d bookmarked and asked if there was any chance of a meeting. By good fortune I knew that D-Day survivor Cyril Tasker would be manning his Tuesday morning market stand in the Town Hall so we popped in to see him.
Then I made a call to Eighth Army gunner Bernard Brind at his Greyfriars Court home. He too was in and invited us down. At 94 Bernard is our oldest fan to have graced the Pan this season.
Dr McGowan appreciated meeting the two veterans. He later wrote me: “It was great to have the chance to talk with those two men who are members of ‘the greatest generation’. Having them autograph your book was indeed a real highlight of my trip to the UK. It now occupies an honoured place in my home library.”