Harrowing in Harrogate

It is our first Crawley Town away game. Nothing like a five-hundred-mile round trip to start these things off. We were making a weekend of it, going up Friday and coming back Sunday to do some sightseeing along the way.

Crawley haven’t had the best start in the league; played two, lost two, both 1-0, and only the one shot on target, and that was in injury time in the second game. We are rock bottom of the table, the strongest team in the league. But we played a lot better on Tuesday night in a win against league one Bristol Rovers, which got us a home draw against Premier League Fulham in round two. Harrogate Town meanwhile won their first game of the season 3-0 at home against Swindon Town, only to lose their second game away at Crewe Alexandra by the same score line, and they sit in mid table.

Being up the night before we were surprised to find that the team were staying in the Crowne Plaza as well, and on the whole their demeanour was a happy and relaxed one at breakfast. I’m not convinced that the same could be said about the manager Kevin Betsy. His assistant was telling him to relax, but after being the last down for breakfast, he had a coffee only and wandered away looking worried and distracted by his phone.

It is a lovely walk to the grand along wide roads lined by grand houses, and across wide sweeping open parkland. The small south stand of Harrogate’s ground is well hidden behind trees, with small corner entrances. I ask about a programme before going in, which I’m glad I do as they are only available before entering the ground. We get drinks, but aren’t allowed lids, which Helen isn’t happy about. Judging by the sticky metal floor in the stands, there is a lot of spillages from not having lids. Being in the south stand does mean that we are in the shade, and on a sweltering day like today, that can only be a good thing. Our seats are in line with the six-yard area, and on the front row, so not bad at all.

There is a good smattering of fans for such a journey and considering there were train strikes on the day. A number of them did seem a bit confused when they bought their pies only to be faced with the question of “do you want peas and gravy with that?”

Pre-match there was a whole host of different music playing, and they had a radio DJ in between songs and doing announcements. They might have been better keeping her to do the match announcements, as the bloke doing them was hilariously bad at trying to read out a number of the Crawley Town players’ names.

In the warmup there was some sharp shooting, but there was one spectacularly high and wide effort that not only managed to find its way over the east stand, but also over the much higher netting behind it, to smash against the chimney breast of the house next to the ground. I’m not sure Harrogate will be getting that ball back in a hurry.

Harrogate are playing in yellow shirts and black shorts (and looking like a pound shop Watford), with Crawley in their home kit.

Being at an away game, the Crawley support is even more partisan than usual. Every decision is questioned louder. There are more direct words at the officials. Although most of it is more than fair. It looks as if because Harrogate are playing in black short, that the officials with their black shorts are acting as if they are the same side. Absolutely nothing is being given to Crawley, no matter how blatant or obvious.

Into four minutes of first half injury time the first match ball is out over the south stand from a Jake Hessenthaler clearance.

I didn’t recognise the half time play list at all. It hadn’t been a great first half from either side.

However, we start the second half much more brightly, there is early pressure, and we get a shot off on target. Only to go back to sleep. Nine minutes in the second ball disappears over the south stand with a Harrogate clearance that deflects off James Tilley.

With about quarter of an hour left in normal time after some ebb and flow in the game, Crawley get a cross in, and Tilley hits the cross bar with a looping header. There are shouts of corner all around us, but I don’t think the keeper got a touch.

They announce the crowd as being 1,304, but don’t mention how many away fans. I tried counting them a couple of times during the game and got 98 both times.

A few minutes later we manage a quick break, and the ball comes to sub James Balagizi whose shot goes over the bar in the best chance of the game so far. The game moves into six minutes of injury time and with only a couple of minutes left the ball comes through to Balagizi in the box again, and as he lines up his shot it seems as if he is fouled. OK, it was a blatant penalty, not given. And is if by instant karma, the ref then trips over his own feet as Harrogate clear the ball. That deserved a bigger jeer/cheer than it got.

There was a late Harrogate chance that just missed, and the final whistle goes to bring the 0-0 to a close and put us all out of our misery.

It is Crawley’s first point of the season, and it was enough to take us off the bottom of the league table, jumping us up three places to the giddy heights of 21st. (Still not high enough to see us on our own programme’s league table if the formatting stays the same.)

The rest of the fans start the long journey home, and we walked back to the hotel through glorious sunshine and beautiful architecture. After we had clapped the players off and we had picked up all our stuff to leave we went past the snack bar on the way out. It was still open, still doing hot food and drink, and cold drinks. Why can’t we do the same at our home games? The post-match curry was a bit later than usual, and not at the Downsman for a change, instead at a local curry house called The Shalimar. (Not quite the correct spelling, but I was humming “Take That To The Bank,” as it certainly wasn’t a “Night To Remember.”)

Looking at the game there were some dreadful refereeing decisions. One called for a foul by Francillette, which was when he had the ball, passed it, and got caught by a Harrogate player following through, who himself fell over and writhed around on the ground. Until the writhing started no free kick had been given. To add insult, it was a coming together that saw Francillette have to ultimately leave the pitch injured. To the extent that when he did appear again towards the end of the second half it was on crutches (I’m not why he made the trek around to the dug out on crutches unless he really wanted to.)

A couple of minutes later one of the Crawley players went down with an obvious head injury, but the linesman, who was stood less than five yards away didn’t flag for a stoppage, and it was thirty seconds later that the ref blew for a stoppage, and only then reluctantly as the rest of our players (and all of our fans) were screaming at the officials about the head injury.

I thought the standard of refereeing at our level was poor last season, but it seems to have kicked on and is worse this season. I’m not sure what it is, but there seems to be a real bias against Crawley. Last season John Yems’ bombastic style went against us (a direct quote from a league one / two referee I know). But since his departure, what is it? Anti-American / crypto sentiment? Or is someone from our team / staff going and defecating on the official’s pre-match buffet? (I could understand doing it on the post-match buffet after performances like todays.)

If so, them stop it. Yeah, it may have been funny, but it is costing us points, and it will lead to us getting sending’s off and disciplinary issues going forward. As if the officials aren’t going to protect out players (such as Appiah getting kicked in the stomach twice today) then they are going to start protecting themselves (which Kwesi is more than capable of; he got a booking for leaving more in than he should and got subbed before he left any more markers.) The blatant non award of a penalty at the end of the game just put the cherry on tip. We might have missed it if it had been given but be fair and give them the chance. Something like that is as bad as the non-given goal against Leyton Orient in out last home game of the season. It seems like an ongoing vendetta.

On to Tuesday and the home game against Northampton Town.

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