STEVE KING is set to celebrate a significant milestone on Boxing Day when the Lewes FC boss takes charge of the Rooks for the 300th time.
King took over at the Pan as a green 33-year-old back in 2003, and after some frustrating years when the Rooks were not allowed to participate in promotion play-offs, he led the Rooks to the non-league elite in 2007/08 when he won the Blue Square South championship by nine points from Eastbourne Borough.
Few if any, though, would have thought King would be back in charge of the Rooks for the 300th time when he was sacked by the previous Board at the end of that very season, for the strongly denied reason that he and his title-winning squad were too expensive for the club to keep on.
King moved to troubled Northwich Victoria before then guiding Farnborough to the verge of the Blue Square Bet National, before being invited by the new Board of the now community club to make a shock return to Lewes this summer.
Looking ahead to the 300th game, at the Pilot Field for the Ryman Premier clash with Sussex neighbours Hastings United on Monday, King admitted: “It’s been a ride and a half.
“Including Northwich and Farnborough, I have nearly 450 games under my belt at the tender age of 42. To reached that kind of landmark at that age, not many people can say that. I must admit, it’s an achivement.”
Steve Ibbitson praised King for his good working relationship with him while Ibbo was boss of the U18s.
He said: “People often say to me about how frustrating it must have been for me running the youth (Under 18) team when Kingy was manager of the first team.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth. He made it clear to me that the Under 18s would only get into the first team if they were better than what he had already got (in the first team squad).
“He came to watch us play and came to watch us train, and he gave them opportunities in Sussex Senior Cup games and so on.
“He was a very good first team manager to be working under as an U18 manager.
“The important thing the kids knew was that they only came through to the first team if they were good enough… if they were better than what he (King) had got.
“He and I agreed completely on his philosophy.”
And Ibbitson also praised not only King’s ability to pick a good player in the making, but also his “phenomenal” work ethic in travelling round the country to try and find the next Andy Drury or such-like.
He said: “Steve has got a great eye for a player. Part of that is his being able to pick a player, particularly at a young age. Much of it is his knowledge of players.
“But a large part of it is his phenomenal hard work, where he travels all over the country trying to see as many games as he can. His record at this level is second to none in the country.”
King insisted all three red cards shown to Tooting & Mitcham players on Saturday in their 3-1 defeat to Lewes at the Dripping Pan were more than warranted.
Charlie Dove was shown a straight red for a foul on Christian Nanetti before half time, while Matt Drage and Terry Fennessy both received second yellows after the break.
“They were all sendings off for definite,” said King.
“The first one was a straight red. If he (Nanetti) hadn’t jumped that tackle he would have broken his leg.
“And the second one was like Jay Spearing’s red card for Liverpool (against Fulham). He tackled with the first leg and followed through with the second leg, and took him (Nic Ciardini) out. And the third one was a no brainer.
“We were dominating the game even against 11 men. Their keeper pulled off two or three fantastic saves.
“They then put men behind the ball, and I was very disappointed with their goal – we should never have allowed them near our goal.
“But I knew we’d get the result, even at 1-1, and it could have been more but for their keeper who was like superman.
“We’ve now won six out of the last seven games. That’s the kind of form this club hasn’t seen for three seasons.”
Lewes travel to Hastings on Boxing Day for the first of two local derbies over the festive period. The Rooks first have take to a trip up to East Molesey on New Year’s Day (which this year falls on a Saturday) to take on the Met Police, before hosting Horsham on Monday, January 2 (kick off for that game has been brought forward to 12pm to avoid clashing with an Albion game.
Hastings have had a relatively non-descript season thus far, sitting as they are in a fairly comfortable mid-table position. But one thing King had to say about the Boxing Day trip east was the Pilot Field playing surface. “The pitch is lovely over there,” he said.
King has always insisted his teams enjoy playing on good surfaces as it suits their passing game. And with the Lewes boss also a fan of the Police’s East Molesey pitch (having spoken highly of their surface ahead of the Rooks’ Ryman Cup win there two weeks ago), Rooks fans prepared to make the away journeys this Christmas could be in for a treat of top quality Lewes footballing displays.