The Early Years
Lewes Football Club was formed following a meeting at The Royal Oak pub on 23 September 1885. For the first eight years, the players wore light green shirts which were designed to reflect the scenery of the surrounding South Downs, but black and red finally became the club colours in 1893.
The club has played at the Dripping Pan ever since, apart from a couple of seasons prior to the First World War when the club was banished to the adjoining Convent Field. The early years of the club produced only mediocre results and successes were few and far between. In 1920, Lewes became founder members of the Sussex County League.
Progress was slow and despite four runners-up places, by the 1960s Lewes had only one Sussex RUR Cup win to their name. In 1965, the club’s fortunes changed dramatically, winning the County League title for the first time with a massive nine-point lead over runners-up Lancing, as well as both the RUR and Sussex Senior Cups.
Lewes became members of the Athenian League and after winning the Division 2 title in 1968, promotion to the Premier Division was gained just two years later when the Division 1 title was snatched from Boreham Wood, with a further Sussex Senior Cup triumph added in 1971. Six years later, the club entered the newly expanded Isthmian League.
Promotion to Division 1 soon followed although two sixth-place finishes in 1982 and 1989 were the highest positions attained in Division 1. During that time, Lewes reached the final of the Sussex Senior Cup on three occasions, and won the trophy in 1984/85.
Disaster struck in 1990/91 when Lewes were relegated for the first time in their history. An immediate return as runners-up to Purfleet followed, but that success was short-lived and relegation in successive years meant that by the 1994/95 season the club was down in Division Three.
The slide continued and the first season in the basement division would have been the last in the league if it hadn’t been for Cove who conveniently propped-up the league and saved Lewes from automatic demotion.
The club survived rather than thrived until the 1998/99 season when Jimmy Quinn joined as manager, and at the first attempt missed out on promotion by just one place. Midway through the 1999/2000 season Martin Elliott and a new board of Directors stepped in and immediately the fortunes of the club began to improve, with the capture of the Sussex Senior Cup in 2001 following victory over Bognor Regis.
There was mixed news on the pitch. The pinnacle of the Men's team's achievement, and what a pinnacle, was to gain promotion to the top of the non-League pyramid in 2007/8. However, the Rooks only lasted one season in the top flight as the Global Credit Crisis hit and funds dried up. The Rooks' new economic reality saw them drop down the divisions.
However, a brand new Women's team was started by Jacquie Agnew and underwent a dramatic rise form park football to the Women's Combination.
A New Dawn (2010s)
Behind the scenes, a group of six supporters calling themselves Rooks125 were working hard to take the club into community ownership having witnessed the serious financial problems that had befallen the club, despite the owners' best efforts.
Finally on July 8th 2010, Lewes FC was officially transferred out of private ownership into a mass-ownership Community Benefit Society called Lewes Community Football Club, consisting of benefactors and members of the former Management Committee.
The six members of Rooks125 formed the inaugural Executive Board, working as volunteers to install improved working practices and procedures during the season before planning to open up the wider ownership of LCFC to all the club’s supporters in 2011/12. The first chairman of the Community Club was appointed in 2013 with club legend Terry Parris taking up the position. Terry was succeeded by Stuart Fuller in 2015. All Board positions now are elected by the whole Ownership base.
On the pitch, restricted resources saw the men's team drop two Leagues, down to the Ryman League South (now called the Bostik League).
The Women's team enjoyed a meteoric climb up to the FA Women's Premier League (South), gaining promotion from the Combination League by winning every match but one, which they drew.
So where are we now?
In July 2015, the club opened a state-of-the-art 3G all-weather facility adjacent to The Dripping Pan, for the whole community to use as well as all Lewes FC teams to train on. Planning permission has also been gained to build a new Community Clubhouse inside the Pan and the estimated £1.5m required is all that we need!
The Men's team are now brilliantly led by Darren Freeman and are climbing the Leagues again, currently playing in the Isthmian (Bostik) Premier League.
In 2017, we launched the ground-breaking EqualityFC campaign that saw Lewes FC become the first (and currently only) club side in the world to have equal playing budgets for women and men. A rapid rise in attendances at women's games also helped Lewes FC Women to gain admission into the second tier of the League structure and play in the FA Women's Championship, alongside clubs such as Spurs, Manchester United, Aston Villa and others.
In December 2018 Fran Alonso was appointed first team manager for Lewes Women and saw them finish their first ever season at step 2 in 9th place, whilst the Men's team finished their first season back in the Isthmian Premier League in 11th place. Our Under18s once again had a superb season, retaining the Sussex Youth Cup and winning the Isthmian Youth League South under the stewardship of Dale Hurley.
In October 2019, first team manager Darren Freeman stepped down to concentrate on his work with a sports management company, with Ross Standen and Tony Coade stepping up from their coaching duties to become Joint Managers.
The club continues to create a solid foundation on which to build for the future. It has around 1,400 Owners and has gained a great reputation for all its community work, stand-out marketing and strong backing for equality in sport.
The future is bright, the future is black & red…