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LEFT FIELD  -  on Hamlet, the Herald and Happy Birthdays

LEFT FIELD - on Hamlet, the Herald and Happy Birthdays

By Kevin Anderson
24th August
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Kevin takes his usual stroll around a sun-baked Priory Lane....

Local newspapers are under pressure as never before, as the whole media landscape changes. As my colleague Ken McEwan explained in the last home programme, we can no longer take Herald coverage for granted. Ken and I do supply copy and reports whenever we can, but – and I hope I’m not giving away trade secrets – the editorial staff at all the local papers are down to skeletal levels. I am personally a passionate believer in the importance of a strong local press, warp and weft with the local community – informing, engaging, challenging and questioning. Don’t give up on the Herald, their staff are doing their best. (And they haven’t paid me to say this – they’ve actually never paid me a penny!) Anyway, I knocked out a match preview for this week’s Herald, but just in case it missed out, you can have a read here…

“Pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off. Eastbourne Borough enter a testing Bank Holiday weekend, still reeling from a 5-0 defeat at Braintree which nobody saw coming.

“No single game defines a season. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one match 5-0 may be a misfortune, but to lose two would be seriously worrying. All teams, even very good ones, can have one of those afternoons when nothing goes right. Lampard’s new Chelsea were decimated at Old Trafford, but nobody wrote off the Blues’ season. And very much further down the ladder, the Sports can climb back. Just as long as losing does not become a habit...

“Only three weeks in, and the National South has seen its share of surprising results. Title favourites Havant smashed Dorking Wanderers – previously unbeaten – by 6-0. And in their next game, against Chelmsford, the Hawks couldn’t buy a goal. Written-off Weymouth are riding high, expensively reshaped Dartford are struggling, and the Slough Town machine is still winless.

“Until Saturday’s implosion at Braintree, Lee Bradbury’s side were making steady progress. They came within seconds of holding highly-fancied Billericay, they comfortably despatched Tonbridge and they had arguably the better of the draws with Oxford City and Maidstone. At Braintree, the Sports were second best by a mile. What went wrong, and what needs to be put right?

“Bradbury may tweak his preferred defensive shape of three centre-backs, or at least rein in his marauding wing-backs Tobi Adebayo-Rowling and Kris Campbell just a little, while the ship is stabilised. In midfield, he is spoiled for choice, but the balance between the enforcers and the creators is tricky. The inventive talents of Dean Cox and Nicky Wheeler have so far had relatively few minutes on the pitch.

“Finally, Borough’s potent strike force needs to deliver. Greg Luer and Elliott Romain – with Charlie Walker as back-up – have the guile, pace and strength to give opposing defences nightmares. By National South standards, Borough really do look a top-half squad, but they still have everything to prove.

“The gruelling August fixture list gives little respite. On Saturday the Sports welcome Dulwich Hamlet, physically powerful and backed by their cheerfully boisterous supporters. Of three encounters last season, Borough won two, including a bizarre FA Cup victory in which ten-man Hamlet battled back from 4-0 down to a nerve-shredding 4-3. This season the South London outfit have added the goal threat of Danny Mills, who always seems to score against Borough. It should be a cracker, with Priory Lane hosting a free-admission Family Fun Day from late morning onwards.

“And on Bank Holiday Monday, Lee Bradbury leads his squad to Havant and Waterlooville – his former employers – for a real test of mettle. All outcomes are possible – except another 5-0.”

Edit: in fact my preview did make the Herald, together with some really interesting after-match thoughts from the Gaffer. In particular, Lee was clear that the performance was far below what is expected, although he did rightly point out that the Sports - having used all three substitutions - played with ten men for the final 20 minutes

A 70th birthday is rather special and when it falls on a Borough matchday – bingo! (mine also falls on a matchday later this season, but I’m not telling you when…). Today we send a heap of good wishes and congrats to John Kimberley, gentleman, long-standing Borough supporter and an absolutely lovely man. You may even have known him as Father John Kimberley, for in his career and vocation, John spent many years as an Anglican priest including a long spell as hospital chaplain at the DGH. He has officiated at a number of Borough funerals, including Mike Spooner’s, although “officiating” is rather the wrong word. John is gentle, wise, insightful, humorous, simply in love with humanity. (If we ever decided we need a club chaplain, the short list would be very short indeed…). Admittedly you do need the humorous bit if you’re a long-suffering follower of the Borough – not to mention John’s home club of Coventry City – but the wonderful thing about a club like ours is the knowledge that we are all in it together, and you can be a postie or a priest or a pastry-cook. I’ve never particularly talked theology with John, but I spent many years teaching my RS students that the questions are more important than the answers, and that certainty is often less useful than creative doubt – sorry, I’ve lost most of you here, but I won’t have lost John and I think he’d nod sagely.

There’s no certainty in football, of course, except that Borough always lose at Braintree – and John suffered with the rest of us in the 7-0 FA Cup annihilation, Borough’s heaviest ever defeat in senior football, three seasons ago. Don’t deny it, Mr K. We have the photographic evidence…. (Wisely he stayed away last weekend.)

Good friend and fellow Borough follower Martin Jones reminds us, too, that John has an impressive baritone – he’s a past Chairman of Eastbourne G&S and he has sung at Twickenham with Concentus Choir – and he musters a very decent Sussex by the Sea when the teams come out. You can spot him and shake his hand somewhere along the railings between the main stand and the Mick Green End. Very best wishes from all of us, John, and I’m sure that Sue, the sons and the grandchildren will be treating you royally. The Almighty should really be rustling up a Borough win for you, but, as the other JK, Jurgen Klopp, says, “God loves football, but we have to score our own goals!” I think our own JK would be happy with that.

Incidentally, I wonder if we may expect Bill Kirby - Hamlet's oldest supporter - to join us at the Lane today. I believe Bill is 99 and counting, and he made it to all three of our encounters last season. I've not heard any recent updates but I really hope Bill is still with us and in good shape. A gentleman of the game, and a privilege to meet him.

What on earth was all that about at Maidstone. Around sixty Sports supporters – which was also fairly close to their average age – corralled in one corner of one end, to watch their heroes earn a creditable draw at the Gallagher Stadium. Stopped and frisked? ID required? Escorted to tea-bars or toilets? As one Borough loyalist commented “we aren’t exactly Crystal Palace!” Apparently we were penalised because of some brief incidents at Maidstone’s Weymouth game, when a small number of The Muff got beered up.

Maidstone’s Bill Williams, who in fairness is one of the great and the good of non-League, actually phoned me during the summer for a chat about segregation, now that the Stones were coming down a level to National League South. I explained that here at the Lane, issues with visiting fans were virtually nil, and they were far outweighed by the positives of being able to mingle, to chat, to make new friendships and renew old ones, to change ends at half-time. Even in the Conference Premier, we rarely segregated, and then only on police advice, and the big boys who came down to the coast were always pleasantly surprised. We are Sussex, and Sussex won’t be druv.

Indeed, you couldn’t have a clearer example of the obstinate good sense of non-League than today’s visitors, Dulwich Hamlet. They will descend on Priory Lane, they will be noisy, ebullient, decked out in that thoroughly tasteless pink-and-navy, they will quite possibly out-sing the locals, and they will be great-hearted and welcome guests. Dammit, we were ourselves the first visitors last Boxing Day, at the newly-opened Champion Hill, with a capacity crowd of three thousand or more, and I’m certain that there was not the faintest friction all afternoon. It’s almost the Jo Cox maxim, isn’t it? More in common. We happily share this nutty addiction to the game, and our values are shared values. Segregation schmegregation. We love our football far too much for that.

Enjoy the afternoon, everyone. And make friends with a Hamlet fan.

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