SATURDAY, April 19, 2008. A date that will go down in footballing history for Rooks fans – the day Lewes Football Club joined the elite of non-league soccer.
Second half goals from Paul Booth and Jean-Michel Sigere against Dorchester Town ensured Steve King's men would join the likes of Wrexham, York City, Oxford United and Crawley Town in the Blue Square Premier next season.
The Rooks might even have a return date with their FA Cup foes from earlier in the season if the Stags of Mansfield Town are unable to avoid the drop from League Two in their last two matches.
A healthy crowd of 1,665 were able to finally rejoice a league championship win that for so long this season seemed destined for the Dripping Pan – before a topsy-turvy chain of events after the Christmas period threatened at one stage to send the title in the direction of fierce local rivals Eastbourne Borough.
Saturday's attendance would surely have been even higher but for the oppressive weather that hung over the Pan on Saturday afternoon.
Perhaps it was the overcast conditions, or maybe Lewes's tentative first half performance – or even the knowledge amongst some in the crowd that Eastbourne were losing a game they needed to win in faraway Newport – but the atmosphere in the ground before the break was not what one would expect from a potentially title-winning encounter.
No doubt the players and management were taking nothing for granted at this stage, but there was an almost tangible fear amongst the spectators that Lewes would cross the finishing line in an anti-climactic manner, whereby the Rooks failed to win but were handed the title by Borough's failure to get the result they needed to keep the championship race alive.
In a quiet first period against a Dorchester side ultimately doomed to relegation, the main talking point was when Ian Simpemba appeared to pull back Jones Awuah when the striker was bearing down on goal. But to his relief and the visitors' fury, referee Warren Atkin waved play on and an off-balance Awuah sliced at his shot.
The best chance of the game so far came five minutes after the break when one Dorchester full-back, Jamie Cumming, hit a magnificent cross from the right to the far post, where the other full-back, Jake Smeeton, was waiting unattended. Fortunately for the hosts he hit a defender's shot and sliced his half-volley horribly wide.
Pleasingly, Lewes now began to show glimpses of the form that had seen them lead the Blue Square South for much of the season.
Rooks skipper Steve Robinson played a ball to the far post where the league's top-scorer, Paul Booth, was just unable to get a touch.
The excellent Drury then induced a free kick near to the Magpies' box when a surging run forward was halted by a foul from Jamie Gleeson, who was booked for his trouble. Another teasing ball in by Drury from the resulting free kick almost put ex-Dorchester striker Matt Groves in at the far post.
The Rooks were forced into a substitution on the hour mark when Anthony Barness came on for the injured Lewis Hamilton.
And it was Barness who set up the goal that started to get the home crowd in a party mood. On 67 minutes, the ex-Bolton and Chelsea defender hit a delightful floated cross into the area, where Booth rose majestically six yards out to power a header into the far corner of the net.
Almost immediately Groves replaced by fans' favourite Sigere.
The visitors should have equalised moments later but Gary Bowles made a hash of his free header at the far post. Sigere then drew a save from keeper Francisco Ramos after a lovely one-two with Drury on the edge of the box.
Although Lewes were by now playing much more to their accustomed level, the visitors still occasionally threatened – and Jon Cocker curled a free kick just wide on 84 minutes.
But any lingering nerves were banished on 90 minutes when Sigere slid a shot home after a cross from man of the match Drury found him unmarked at the far post. Cue scenes of celebration for a team that unquestionably deserved their crown of Blue Square South champions. Now for the big boys...
See Lewes pick up their championship trophy after tomorrow's game at the Dripping Pan against Weston-super-Mare, kick off 3pm.
LEWES: Jordan, Conroy, Hamilton, Cade, Robinson, Simpemba, Drury, Holloway, Groves, Booth, Binns. ATT: 1,665. REF: Warren Atkin.