In one of the vagaries of the fixture calendar, we are in the middle of a three-week gap between home league fixtures for Crawley. Therefore, I went mad and bought a ticket for the first home game in the group stage of the Papa John’s Trophy for tonight. That was Saturday afternoon, though when I went to print it off it came out blank, with no bar code to be able to scan to get into the game. I was going to ring the club to get an alternative, but when checking again this morning the bar code had miraculously appeared on the pdf.
In case you don’t know, Papa John’s is the eleventh name for the Full Members Cup, a trophy contested by those teams in League One and League Two (originally Divisions 3 and 4), although there are now sixteen academy teams from the top two leagues in the competition. Which means that one of Sunderland’s 2020-21 trophy winning side competed in their academy side when that was entered in a previous year. As yet, Jack Diamond and Lynden Gooch are the only players to manage this feat.
There was also a period in the early noughties where the top twelve sides from the conference were invited into the competition, and Crawley Town made their debut in the competition through this route in 2005, losing in the first round to Gillingham. (Much like the Carabao Cup this year.)
You may recognise it from any of its previous sponsors. Freight Rover, Sherpa Van, Leyland DAF, Autoglass, Auto Windshields, LDV Vans, Johnstone’s Paint, Checkatrade, and Leasing.com have all had a pop at it.
It was an early kick off for an evening game – at 7pm, which meant it was a rush to get back from work, and back out to the game. I squeezed into my replica top for the first time this season as well, over the top of another t-shirt to prevent a build up of static that would have seen me throwing off sparks like that mad woman in the Tesco Clubcard advert. It is a bit snug, but I should have known this as it’s made by Errea, which I’ve come to learn is Italian for “comes two sizes smaller than it says on the label”.
Crawley weren’t expecting a large crowd for the game against Leyton Orient as the People’s Pension Stand, we have our season tickets in was closed. Instead I took a seat in the main Mayo Wynne Baxter stand. This did mean I could get a view of the new scoreboard that is being installed. It might be the only view I get of it all season, as it’s going up in the north east corner away from the prying eyes of those in the People’s Pension Stand.
I got a programme on the way in, but it’s a pre-printed one to cover both the home games in the Papa John’s Trophy, and as such didn’t have any squad list on the back, so it was back to struggling to work out who the players were. That wasn’t helped by it being a much-changed team from the one I’ve seen for league games. And they played as if they might only have been introduced to each other just before the kick off. One of the dangers of a much-changed side.
By the time I’ve got a drink the game has kicked off. I get to the row my ticketed seat is in to find it would be the inside one. Plus, there is someone sat in it. The one at the aisle side is free, so rather than clamber over eleven people to have an argument with the tosser in my seat, I took the extra leg room option. Bit of a bonus really.
Doug E Fresh was just finishing his warm up when six minutes in Leyton Orient scored. A lack of closing down meant one of their players managed to pass the ball into the net off the post from the edge of the area. The defence hadn’t quote woken up at that point. Nor had it two minutes later when a sliced clearance managed to clear the MWB stand.
Leyton Orient usually play in red and white but were wearing a fluorescent yellow kit this evening. So bright in fact that they looked like a set of yellow highlighters. A blind man on a galloping horse could have seen them from space. Yet, for some inexplicable reason the Crawley players couldn’t at any point during the game and passed to them more than each other.
I was just thinking that the drummer hadn’t turned up, only to find a minute later that he was sat directly behind me. Fortunately for my eardrums, without his drum, which he’d left in the bar as he didn’t think the quiet MWB stand could take it. Even without the drum, he can’t half shout though, only in that stand no one wants to join in with his chants.
Twenty-eight minutes in, (not days or months later) and it’s 2-0 to the visitors. A cross goes to the far post and is nodded back over the keeper. Although there is a lack of pressing again, so much so the crosser of the ball was able to finish his own crossword first.
Half time arrived without any further score, and a Crawley (weak) shot on target, two if you count a hopeful through ball that ends up in the keeper’s arms as a shot. It doesn’t look like there is much chance Crawley will be progressing to the knockout stages, but some fans are taking the positives from the game as I overheard one bloke say (unironically) “At least we will be able to concentrate on the league now”.
The drummer doesn’t return after half time. I assume he went to the terraces, where there was a four-beat drum blast midway through the second half.
Into the second half and seven minutes in (not six this time Doug E Fresh) the second ball of the game is launched out of the ground, this time over the People’s Pension Stand, pretty much over where I usually sit. Looking over that way is dazzling; the spotlights are much brighter than the sun. My eyes have barely recovered before ball three is hammered over the KRL Logistics stand.
On fifty-nine minutes it’s 3-0. Another ball is allowed to bounce across the box and is easily prodded in. This leads to a double substitution from Crawley, bringing on a couple of players I recognise from league games. Well after the game has bolted. (Do donkeys bolt?)
4-0 in the seventy-seventh minute. Guess what? Another ball into the box not attacked by the defence and an easy tap in again. FFS! It’s quickly followed by a rare excursion into the Orient penalty box and there is a shout for a penalty. One that turns into a full troop of screeching howler monkeys over in the next block. The screeching barely dies down for the rest of the game. I’m thanking my lucky stars it wasn’t the first minute. I don’t think my ears could have taken it.
The crowd is announced as 810, with 106 away fans in that, although that number rapidly decreases after the fourth goal, with the howler monkeys counting it down as people go. The sponsor’s man of the match is named as Amrit Bansal-McNulty, I think mainly because it’s frowned upon to give it to an opposition player. Although to be fair it was a toss up between him and Mark Marshall for who was the best of a bad lot. In fact, I think Bansal-McNulty would be a great player, if only he wasn’t four feet six tall. I hear the announcements better in the MWB stand. If they can do it there, then they can sort out the one in the PP stand surely.
The ref indicates three minutes of injury time. Or in the context of this game insult to injury time. No one wants three more minutes of this, bleeding sadist. It is one of those days. Things went so badly that you’d go home and kick the cat. Only I think the players would probably miss today.
As for me going by myself, in replica top and no Alan stewarding? It’s too early to say it’s a streak of any kind, and I’m definitely hoping it’s a one off.
Right, where’s that pizza we were promised?