An Urchin recalls when Rooks took the Micky out of Rebels!


I OFTEN find stories for Dripping Yarns in the most unexpected of places.

For example, the other day I happened to be browsing through the match programme from when we played AFC Hornchurch a few weeks ago at their East London ground.

An article called The Editor Remembers caught my eye and, upon delving into it, I was surprised to find it was all about Peter Butcher’s Sussex sporting memories.

I found them delightful and amusing and I hope you do too:

My main memory of Lewes’s famous Dripping Pan ground was the view of its wall from the cricket pitch beside and below it. For it was there that an incompetent scorer denied me what would have been the only century of a lengthy career.

The elderly lady in question left loads of runs unaccounted for in a total of almost 300 and I am quite certain that my official bowling figures of one for 96 were at least 10 runs short of what they should have been.

Ah well, no use crying over spilt catches; plus we are supposed to be talking football here, so up and over the wall we go. I first started watching the occasional Lewes home game in the 1980s when they were always 11th in Division One and the gate was always 73, or so it seemed.

My first very visit to the ground wasn’t for a Lewes game at all, but for a Sussex Senior Cup semi-final between Bognor and Worthing in 1981. Bognor won, of course. They were a team for the big occasion in those days.

I had watched Lewes play at Worthing in various competitions (they usually did well, with goals coming from either Terry Parris – who is now a director of the club – or his brother Pip) before I first saw them play on their own pitch.

That was at Christmas 1982, again against Worthing.

They took a 2-0 lead in the first 23 minutes through Neil Ivemy and Tony Mulhern. But Lewes had made the mistake of listing Mike Cornwell in the programme as Micky, a name he hated, and perhaps that had something to with the outcome.

Cornwell scored one of the most important goals in Worthing’s history bang on half-time, igniting a comeback which finished with a Cornwell winner six minutes from the end, after Paul Lelliott had made it 2-2.

That game was the turning point in Worthing’s season. Mid-table at the time, the victory set them off on a run that saw them end the season as champions.

Lewes had fielded their three giant centre-backs, Ralph Cowan, Grant Horscroft and Steve Eke.

They were arguably the club’s three best players and, whether it was on this or another occasion, solved the problem of having three good players for two positions by sticking them all in the middle, flanked by wing-backs. It was the first time I’d seen the 3-5-2 formation which was to become so fashionable, though I can’t believe that Lewes invented it. Or did they?

I continued to enjoy occasional trips to the Pan after moving to London. Indeed I saw the (Hornchurch) Urchins play there in December 1994 when the Rooks were next to bottom of Division Three and we were 13th. So a 1-1 draw was a poor result for us.

It was in Lewes colours that I had my last glimpse of a guy called Herbie Smith, a player who would have made it to a much higher level had his temperament begun to match his remarkable skill.

Stories about Herbie are legion in Sussex. On this occasion Lewes were playing at Collier Row and, a few yards from where I was standing, Herbie had his foot planted firmly in the chest of a grounded home player.

“Meet Herbie Smith” I heard him growl. Then he glanced up, saw me and gave me a cheerful wave. “Hello Peter,” he said, before replacing his glare and resuming his task of grinding the poor Row bloke into the ground. I miss him.

When I contacted Peter for permission to feature his story in this week’s Yarns, I remarked that I also well remember the inimitable Herbie Smith, not least because the brevity of his football shorts is an unfortunate Dripping Pan image that refuses to fade with time. Peter responded: “I have a fund of Herbie stories, none of them printable. I can, however, reveal that I once wore his shorts when my Worthing Gazette XI borrowed Littlehampton’s strip.

“It didn’t help my performance; the sides were so shredded by Herbie’s thighs that I was showing more leg than Ms Jolie (see this Sunday’s Oscars coverage for naughty leg exposure reference), and whenever I dared to break into a trot I feared arrest for indecent exposure.”