A Very Hot Spur

I don’t believe in fate, divine intervention or any other codswallop that suggests our lives are pre-determined in any way. However, as the rain lashed down on a typically British July morning, something told me to switch off the TV, fire up my laptop and check my LinkedIn account for the first time in months. There, at the top of my Inbox, was a message saying, “Hi Richard, my name’s Andy. Would you be interested in a job presenting our live English Premier League programmes in Singapore?” Er, has Kool got a Gang, Andy? Thanks very much!

My only previous experience of life in Asia was last October when I spent a week in Chengdu, China, where the cultural differences to the UK were so vast that I felt as though I’d been transported to Mars. However, for the chance to work as the lead presenter on national television I would happily have accepted a job in Burkina Faso.

Thankfully, Singapore is about as westernised as Asia could possibly be. Three months on and my girlfriend and I are happily ensconced in ex-pat life, living in a condo facility with a gym, tennis court, golf area and no less than seven swimming pools to choose from for our morning dip. I’m also regularly strapping on the football boots again and turning out for British Hotspurs, although 3pm kick-offs in the Singapore heat should be strictly reserved for the mad and the masochistic. On my debut I started promisingly, but after 20 minutes my body and mind wilted in the heat and I found myself stumbling around aimlessly, looking lost and confused, like a man trying to read road signs in a foreign language.

It was a far cry from my first competitive game in Sussex back in August 1999, just a few weeks after moving to Brighton from South Yorkshire to start work as the sports editor of the Sussex Express newspaper. My main remit was to report on Lewes FC’s progress in the Ryman League, however, I still naively believed that I was too good a player to be consigned to the press box on matchdays, so I persuaded then manager Jimmy Quinn to give me a couple of run-outs for the Rooks. A week later, and after a brace of forgettable performances, I was back in the press box with my notepad and pen…

November 18, 2011, marks the tenth anniversary of arguably Lewes FC’s finest hour; their qualification for the first round proper of the FA Cup – after no less than nine preliminary round ties – and a trip to the mighty Stoke City. Life on a local newspaper can be fairly routine and monotonous, but not during that unforgettable weekend. On the Friday night I drove from Hove to Glasgow – via my parents’ house in Doncaster for a pit-stop and a steak dinner – to watch Hailsham fighter Wayne Alexander successfully defend his British light-middleweight title with a second round knockout of Joe Townsley (finding myself in the middle of an estate in Govan after taking a wrong turn and being confronted by a group of lads casually throwing bricks at each other remains etched in my memory). Then, on the Sunday morning, I refilled my flagging Vauxhall Corsa, printed off an Autoroute for Stoke and headed to the brand new Britannia Stadium. As I strolled past the statue of Stoke legend Sir Stanley Matthews and through the turnstiles, it appeared as though half of Lewes had made the journey up the M6. The atmosphere was carnival-like, but in our heart of hearts we all expected to see Quinny’s collection of coppers, carpenters and antiques dealers get rolled over by their illustrious opponents. However, although the Potters ran out 2-0 winners, Lewes had their moments; veteran sweeper Paul Thomsett was arguably the best player on the pitch, while Dominic Shepherd, Andy Johnson and Chris Dicker all went close to scoring for the Sussex minnows. Those memories will stay with Shep, Johnno, Dicks and all those associated with Lewes FC forever.

A decade on, and it’s Premier League Stoke City whose progress I’m now regularly reporting on via a TV studio in Loyang, Singapore, while the Rooks have quietly drifted back down the non-league pyramid and into the Ryman League after flirting with the big time following their promotion to the Conference in May 2008. The man who guided them there – Quinn’s successor Steve King – is back in charge at the Dripping Pan aiming to revitalise a Rooks side dogged by off-the-field problems for the past few years. He’s certainly got the pedigree to do so after leading the Rooks to three promotions during his previous tenure from 2003 to 2008. However, any hopes of another money-spinning FA Cup tie with Stoke were dashed back in September when King’s men went down 4-1 to Chertsey in the First Qualifying Round. A repeat clash with the Potters would have required an almighty effort, or maybe a spot of divine intervention…

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