Roker Report: How long have you been watching Lewes FC Women?
Ash head: In 2009, one of the supporters of a men’s match, after a particularly dismal match, suggested that I come on a Sunday to watch the women.
I was skeptical but then blown away by the commitment of these “part-time” players who gave every last drop of sweat for the jersey.
I never looked back. In 2011/12, we won the championship and cup double. I was covering live matches on Twitter at the time, completely hooked.
RR: Lewes is known as the Rooks, and you go by the nickname of Rookmeister on Twitter – what’s the story with the club’s nickname?
AH: Lewes has been known as the Rooks for as long as we can remember.
Part of it has to do with the castle – Lewes has a famous keep which hosted the very first ‘parliament’ between Cromwell’s men and the King’s people after the Battle of Lewes.
But we are also fortunate to have these special birds as guardians of the drip pan, our iconic land. They are still strutting about the place, nipping discarded shavings and searching for worms. The club posted a cute April fools function based on them too.
RR: One win and one loss so far this season, are you confident the club can replicate last year’s strong performance in the women’s league?
Ah: Without a doubt. I’m a fan, I would say that … but I know [manager] Simon Parker and his captain, Rhian Cleverley. They are strong-minded people with a clear vision of how the game is to be played. We are going to lose a few close games but we will be very difficult to beat. We headed back to London City last time, a whimsical side leaning for the top. Having said that, I don’t see any clear favorites this season. Look at your crew – absolutely flying, undefeated in the league, and you barely have your feet under the table.
Sunderland and Watford aren’t here to pull the numbers, they are both good clubs with solid support and well-formed sides.
It is an exciting season ahead. I think anyone can beat anyone in this division.
RR: There seems to be a vibrant fan culture at the club, what do you think makes it so special?
AH: Lewes does things a little… differently!
Music is a big part of our game day; Bonfire (massive in Lewes, look) percussion groups and a local brass band who love to make up songs about the players and sing them from the terraces. Lewes is truly inclusive; the club is working with the Supporters Club to improve the facilities on the pitch, actively seeking the next positive change to involve more people.
That, and Lewes is a relatively small community. We’re looking to engage with local groups and businesses, to encourage young people to get involved (we’ve had Kids Go Free for under 16s, for men and women, for many seasons now).
Then there is the strong message of Equality. It’s a philosophy, not a slogan. Many of us really don’t see why someone should be treated differently based on their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or belief system.
You are all welcome at Pan Siro.
RR: Stuart Fuller and new performance director Kelly Lindsey both spoke about their ambitions to bring Lewes Women to the top of the pyramid. Is it realistic from a fan’s point of view?
AH: Oh that’s a tough question! So many clubs have the firepower at their disposal if they want to use it. Premier League clubs can bring change to their women’s teams at any time. Lewes has a game plan to counter that. It’s a work in progress, but I have to say I’m impressed so far.
“If you build it, they will come” is from one of my favorite movies. It is quite possible that the Dripping Pan will one day become a Field of Dreams. There’s a hell of a job to do by then! But with a CEO like Maggie Murphy, you can be sure that if we fail it won’t be for lack of effort.
RR: You have exciting and talented players at the club. Who are the fan favorites at the Dripping Pan?
AH: Ini Umotong is one of my favorites, ever since she split us up for Brighton a few seasons ago. She scores goals, is a nightmare to score and is a ray of sunshine on and off the pitch. Another one fans love to watch is Sophie O’Rourke, left-back. She’s small but fiery, quick as you like her, and way tougher than most people realize. Rhian Cleverley (skipper) is a real leader.
We’ve been fortunate to have some outstanding captains over the years, Rhi is up there, on and off the pitch. Keep an eye out for Paula Howells. She goes in and out of games but can do things that most players can’t. His vision in the game is superb, his clarity of thought and his movements are difficult to predict.
RR: Will you or any of the other fans make the very long trip to the Stadium of Light this Sunday?
AH: Really upset to miss. The return of football coincided with a resumption of work. There will be some from the club there, there is no doubt. You will certainly hear them …
Good luck on Sunday. Whoever comes out on top will be a crack game.