Roker Report: How long have you been going to watch Lewes FC Women?
Ash Head: Back in 2009 one of the fans at a men’s game, after a particularly dismal match, suggested I come along 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 shirt.
I never looked back. In 2011/12 we won the league and cup double. I was covering games live on Twitter by then, completely hooked.
RR: Lewes are known as the Rooks, and you go under the moniker of the Rookmeister on Twitter - what’s the story with the club’s nickname?
AH: Lewes have been known as the Rooks for as long as anyone can remember.
Partly it has to do with the castle – Lewes has a famous keep which hosted the first ever ‘parliament’ between Cromwell’s men and the King’s people following the battle of Lewes.
But we are also blessed with those particular birds as guardians of the Dripping pan, our iconic ground. They’re always strutting about the place, pinching discarded chips and rooting for worms. The club posted a cute April Fools feature based on them too.
RR: A win and a loss so far this season, are you confident the club can replicate last year’s strong performance in the Women’s Championship?
AH: Without a doubt. I’m a fan, I would say that … but I know [manager] Simon Parker and his captain, Rhian Cleverley. These are strong-minded people with a clear vision of how the game should be played. We’ll lose a few tight games but we’ll be very hard to beat. We turned over London City last time out, a fancied side tipped for the top. That said, I see no clear favourites this season. Look at your crew – absolutely flying, unbeaten in the league, and you’ve barely got your feet under the table.
Sunderland and Watford are not here to make up the numbers, they’re both good clubs with strong backing and well-gelled squads.
It’s 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 do things a little … differently!
Music is a big part of our matchday; Bonfire (massive in Lewes, look it up) drumming bands and a local Brass band who love to make up songs about the players and belt them out from the terraces. Lewes is genuinely inclusive; the club works with the Supporters Club to enhance facilities at the ground, actively seeking out the next positive change to get more people involved.
That, and Lewes is a relatively small community. We look to engage with local groups and businesses, encourage youngsters to get involved (we’ve had Kids Go Free for under 16s, for both men and women, for many seasons now).
Then there’s the strong Equality message. It’s an ethos, not a catchphrase. Many of us genuinely can’t see why anyone should be treated differently based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, or belief system.
You’re all welcome at the Pan Siro.
RR: Stuart Fuller and the new performance director Kelly Lindsey have both spoken about their ambitions to take Lewes Women right to the top of the pyramid. How realistic is that from a fan’s perspective?
AH: Oh that’s a tough ask! So many clubs have the firepower at their hip if they want to use it. Premier League clubs can toss some loose change to their women’s teams any time they like. Lewes have 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 favourite films. It’s entirely possible that the Dripping Pan could one day become a Field of Dreams. There’s a heck of a lot of hard work to be done between now and then! But with a CEO like Maggie Murphy you can be sure if we do fall short it won’t be for the lack of effort.
RR: You’ve got some exciting and talented players at the club. Who are the fans’ favourites at the Dripping Pan?
AH: Ini Umotong is a big favourite of mine, has been since she pulled us apart for Brighton a few seasons back. She scores goals, is a nightmare to mark, and is a ray of sunshine on and off the pitch. Sophie O’Rourke, at left-back, is another that fans love to watch. She’s small but feisty, quick as you like, and a heck of a lot tougher than people think. Rhian Cleverley (skipper) is a true leader.
We’ve been blessed with some outstanding captains over the years, Rhi is right up there, on and off the pitch. Keep an eye on Paula Howells. She ghosts in and out of games but can do things most players can’t. Her in-game vision is superb, clarity of thought and movement hard to predict.
RR: Will you or any of the other fans be making the very long journey up to the Stadium of Light this Sunday?
AH: Genuinely upset to miss out. The return of football has coincided with a resurgence in work. There will be some from the club there, no question. You’ll definitely hear them …
Good luck on Sunday. Whoever comes out on top it’ll be a cracking game.