“Is this your first time?” So asked the Sussex groundhopper as I made my way through the muck covered path behind the goal to set up a position to take some photos. I tried to appear quite the veteran of East Sussex soccer but my interlocutor, even more recently arrived, made my experience look puny. This is someone who goes to Battle Baptists and Hollington when the heights of the County League get too dizzy. I can’t compete with that. I just took some photos instead.
But what of the game? Well, we waited for a game of football to break out but it wasn’t that sort of afternoon. There was a lot of effort, a lot of physicality and a lot of passion. What there wasn’t, for most of the time, was anything resembling sustained, coordinated play. In the first half, when the tackles flew, that was kind of fun. In the second, as Westfield tired and neither team did much to inspire, it was less fun. But I can’t be too sad. Any match which features an exploding sugar bowl has to be worth remembering fondly. For the record, Sidlesham won 3-1, overcoming an early deficit to run out deserved winners.
Nobody is going to claim what we saw today was a classic but, as the man who goes from game to game to game will no doubt agree, that’s not why we’re here in the first place.
Smarter people than me might think of Inclosure Acts. Or maybe they’d dwell on the need for rules to decide who owns what fence and whose responsibility it is to maintain a fair and sound border. We might get flippant and discuss boundary disputes and or think of Les Dawson talking over a garden fence with Roy Barraclough. Maybe we could wonder about how thin pieces of budget wood implant themselves as solid, defined boundaries even as we watch foxes dig under them.
Welcome to rugby union in Sussex Division Four (East). We’re so far down what passes for a pyramid here that it’s hard to work out what level we’re talking about. At a rough guess it would take something like eleven direct promotions and a thousand pages of red tape for a team down here to make it all the way to the top. Today, all anyone was really bothered about was whether the visitors would make it all the way to fifteen. They didn’t have even enough men and relied on a fair few (estimates varied) from the Hastings areas to get up to strength – and even then needed the Cinque Ports touch judge to step up to the plate when fatigue meant more numbers were required. It is to everyone’s credit that whilst it was expectedly ragged at times, there was a pretty decent game of rugby to watch at all.
St Leonards Cinque Ports won 31-10. I know this because the twitter feed told me. I lost count when I didn’t see the indications following a couple of conversions. The man who runs the twitter feed also runs the line, leads the training, takes match notes and, today, gets to play some rugby for his club’s opponents. There are hundreds like him in all sports up and down the country every weekend. That doesn’t diminish the individual effort – rather, to me, it shows what an under appreciated army we have sustaining sport in this country.
The match was a bit odd. Lewes probably had the majority of possession, almost certainly had the majority of territory, and yet were never really that close on the scoreboard. Ports had a well organised defence (although a team who’d met each other before would have stretched them more) and some excellent quick breakers. That was the difference.
It was a lovely day to watch some rugby. Obviously my solution to the numbers problem would have been to get them to drop to 13 a side and cap the phases allowed before losing possession at six but even allowing for the obvious deficiencies of insisting on too many flankers there was some good football on display at times. The sun shone brightly and it was pleasantly warm. The match was hosted by Hastings & Bexhill and it’s the first time I’ve been up there and not immediately been afraid that I was about to blown from Kansas into Oz.
All in all, a very nice afternoon. I took some photos (here). I may be back. After all, someone has to be there to see St Leonards Cinque Ports make all those promotions until they can face Wasps on equal terms. Just so long as they never ask me to make up the numbers …
Your reward for driving this bit of the coast at this time of night at this time of year is this lit up fountain. It didn’t used to be lit up. Drive on knowing that it’s the little things that make the difference.