First Home Game

After the first home league game of the season got postponed due to a Covid outbreak amongst the Harrogate Town players and staff it meant what should have been the second home league game became the first. With no game on the Saturday it was a midweek introduction to a season at the People’s Pension Stadium. Crawley Town had lost their first league game of the season away at Hartlepool, and then lost at home in the Carabao Cup, going out 10-9 on penalties to Gillingham. They were up against Salford City, the most monied team in League 2, who had drawn both their league games so far.

We just missed the kick off (a bit ironic really, seeing as our season tickets have EARLY in large letters on them), and were wandering down toward our seats when we saw Alan Vaughan who was stewarding; we both used to work with him until a few years ago when he was one of the casualties from a round of redundancies. We had a quick chat and we had only just sat down when my Jonah streak struck, and Salford took the lead in the seventh minute.

There was a muted groan, and a small cheer from the sparse Salford following stood behind the other goal. I have no idea who scored (and didn’t bother to look it up), for two reasons: first, we were late, there was a queue at the shop, and so I didn’t manage to get a programme; and secondly, the announcement over the PA floated away somewhere into the ether on this late summer’s evening, a theme to be repeated during the game. A couple of people sat under a speaker may have heard what was going on, but no one else would have.

It’s going to be a steep learning curve. We don’t really know the names of any of the players yet, and having no programme isn’t going to help that, and even with my glasses on, I still struggle to read anything but the big numbers off the back of the shirts. Perhaps by the time we’re half a dozen games into the season I’ll be up to speed.

The same could be said about the songs and chants, but fortunately we aren’t talking about something akin Prince’s back catalogue to have to wade through. It’s definitely more like 2 Unlimited. (Not quite a case of “there’s no lyrics”, but there aren’t many). If you can repeat “Red Army”, “Crawley Town”, “CTFC”, Ole ole Crawley”, “When the reds go marching in”, and “Come on Crawley”, then you’re already ninety percent of the way there.

And there is a drummer. Well more than one, but one a row back and about a dozen seats over from us. As we see him leaving the game later, it’s not a small drum either. There is another drum in the terraces as well, but that isn’t heard very often and is a lot further away.

Even for an evening kick-off it did feel like Crawley’s players were still asleep, and for the first half hour they were rubbish. On their first venture into Salford’s half someone behind me shouted “Shoot” (before Salford had scored), which made Helen laugh, as that’s usually my trick. There weren’t many forays into the Salford half, and it looked as if a heavy defeat might be coming (the only other one I can remember early on ended up with the ball going over the roof of the away terrace). Late into the half there were two good Salford chances in the space of seconds, both well saved by Glenn Morris (I did have to look that up), and then Crawley broke away and equalised as Ashley Nadeson converted George Francomb’s cross in the thirty-eighth minute. (Yes, I looked them up too.) This also bought about a new chant about “Morris is our keeper”.

This seemed to settle the Crawley side down and the misplaced passes seemed to disappear, and there were another couple of chances to score before the break. Not that anyone knows when half time is coming. I think that Crawley must be unique in the Football League in not having a scoreboard anywhere in the ground. There is no clock, and no other indication as to what the hell is going on in the game (for those who may be late, or drunk, or even stupid).

As we head for the queue for half time drinks (tea and a Pepsi for us rock ‘n’ roll types), we can see what appears to be a dead hair extension lying on the pitch near the centre circle. I spend some time during the second half looking to see who’s missing a weave.

The second half begins with another ball finding its way out of the ground before the first (and only booking of the game) for a somewhat cynical trip by Crawley’s Jack Payne.

Balls three and four were lofted into the night in quick succession. It must cost a fortune in match balls, as I’m sure they will have disappeared into the night in the company of a Broadfield scally. I certainly wouldn’t recommend parking by the stadium unless you fancied a ball sized dent on your roof or bonnet.

Crawley are beginning to dominate in possession and chances, and a screwball scramble in the box ends up with a corner for Crawley and also a scuffle between the Salford keeper and one of his own defenders. The ref steps in before punches are thrown.

This only encourages the Crawley support to raise the volume on the “Oooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, you’re shit!” chants whenever he takes a goal kick.

And not long after Crawley do get a second goal, Jake Hessenthaler (son of well-known manager / irritant Andy) nods in a cross from George Francomb (again) to make it 2-1 in the seventy-fifth minute. Cue scenes. Whilst the fans and players are all celebrating, some halfwit in the terraces throws a red smoke bomb into the Salford penalty area. It is during these distractions that Salford sneak two substitutes on. I didn’t know at the time and left the game thinking that even when losing they hadn’t used any subs at all (as opposed to Crawley using all three of theirs). It was one of many things I looked up when I got home.

The only PA announcement I clearly hear during the game comes when they announce the crowd of 2,167. I think the 67 would have been the away support (which may be generous).

For the last five minutes of the game, and for the first four of six minutes of injury time, Crawley suddenly seem content to try and defend their lead, which mixed with some additional effort from the Salford players leads to some nervy moments, but then Crawley break, take a couple of fouls over by the far corner flag and see the game out for their first win of the season. And I feel like less of a Jonah.

More of the same please.

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