An Even Darker Age

Where to start today? Why does it feel like a confessional box? Father, I have sinned, it’s been four days since out last game, and I’m playing away today.

To be honest, the actual game of football being played this evening is the least of our worries. The new soap opera in town is Crawley Town F. Our third manager of the season parted company with the club yesterday morning; thirty-two days and three games Matthew Etherington lasted (what would the odds on that have been?) And the rumour mill has gone into full effect, which is great if you needed a shit load of flour, but not great for fans.

This afternoon there was a message from an anonymous source at the club to say that George Francomb, Tony Craig, and Jake Hessenthaler would not be travelling with the side and that foundation and fringe players would be making up the numbers. Then on the official club website there was a statement from one of the co-chairmen – Preston, that assistant coach Darren Byfield would be taking charge for tonight’s (and Monday’s) game, and that Preston himself would be on the bench to support. It also said that some senior players were no longer a part of Crawley’s future plans. (But it didn’t mention any names.) Then the other co-chairman – Eben, was tweeting all over the place, commenting on the Etherington situation, on Lewis Young not getting the full-time job, and about the senior players (again without naming any), saying that their investigation into the John Yems situation had uncovered things, and that there was a rotten core to the club that needed removing. So, all sounding great then.

All of the items in the previous paragraph came up after we had already travelled up to Stevenage. We had come up early and were staying overnight so we could have a look around, both at our ‘twin town,’ and we ventured outside of the central ring road to have a look at the old town, which was quite nice, and such a contrast to the centre of the town.

Ah, yes, Stevenage, the reason for me writing. We have already played them at home this season, and we lost 1-2. I had a look at the blog post I’d written for that game (link below), and it included a lot of moaning about the decisions given and not given by the officials, soft penalties against ones not given, and the general ridiculous amount of bias against Crawley in the decisions. I also said there wasn’t really much between the teams in that game.

Yet we go into tonight’s game in twentieth position in the league, on twenty-one points, after twenty-two games. A massive eighteen places, and twenty-four points behind Stevenage who sit in second in the league. With a game to go to the halfway point in the season for both clubs, Stevenage are only two points behind the total they managed for the whole season last season, and a win tonight would take them past it. (which they got ☹)

They were in the relegation zone as late as March last season when they hired our ex-manager, Steve Evans. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say, what a difference an experienced manager at this level can make without a reliance on stats, stats, and more stats.

Any experience at this level would be a bonus, not just winning and getting promotions. Leyton Orient got a new manager in March as well, not as successful at this level as Steve Evans, but still with a few years’ experience with different clubs. We played them in our last home game last season (you know the one, the phantom goal not given at one end, quickly followed by the ten-yard offside goal at the other whilst most of our players were still berating the officials and which we lost 0-2). They finished a place and three points behind us last season. If they win tonight, they’ll already have fifty-five points, only three less than they got all last season. (They drew so they only have fifty-three points at the halfway point).

All the chopping and changing isn’t doing anyone any good at Crawley. By the time we get another new permanent manager, we will have had six managerial changes in less than a year. We are managing to make the Tories look strong and stable. The lettuces are definitely lasting longer than our managers.

It had been raining off and on all day, but it had stopped as we walked up to the ground, and it was milder than we had been told to expect, so there were a lot of additional layers being carried in my bag rather than worn. At least I didn’t need to add the weight of a programme to it. Not because they had sold out, but because Stevenage FC are a bunch of cunts and only have it online, accessible by the QR code on the back of the ticket. Which is no use to anyone who doesn’t have a phone that can scan QR codes. And it is by no means any substitute for the traditional printed ones. Stop being twats and assuming everyone wants to go digital and stop excluding parts of your and other fanbases.

There is a good amount of Crawley fans here tonight. After all it is a straight train journey. It’s difficult to judge, and Stevenage didn’t announce the crowd figures, but of the 3,238 fans there must have been at least 300 Crawley fans there.

There is a minute’s applause before the game to commemorate the death of Pele. Crawley are in white shirts and sock and black shorts, and Stevenage are in all Purple as they were when they played at Crawley.

The whistle goes to start the game, and so does the fan chanting and abuse. All aimed at WAGMI and Preston Johnson. “We want WAGMI out”, “Stand up if you hate WAGMI”, “Preston is a…” (fill in any one of half a dozen adjectives here), “You’re not fit to run a club”, “I don’t care about WAGMI, WAGMI don’t care about me, all I care about is CTFC”, the latter being an earworm grower according to Helen.

We didn’t start badly and have a couple of corners back-to-back, but the second is cleared and Travis Johnson slips, allowing the Stevenage striker to run through and pass the ball into the net past an out of position Ellery Balcombe, and less than ten minutes in it is 0-1.

A couple of minutes later ball one disappears over the East Terrace from a panicked clearance from one of our defenders. The Stevenage ground is unusual. We, in the away end behind one goal are in a fully seated stand (although there wasn’t much sitting going on from the majority of the Crawley support). Behind the other goal, and along the west touchline is all seated as well, but the whole of the east stand is terracing.

Stevenage are having more shots and chances, but the random team we have playing aren’t doing too badly. Until we are. A throw in is hooked into the box and there is no one marking the Stevenage defender who has a free headed which hits the inside of the far post and trickles over the line to make it 0-2.

The chanting goes from “Stand up if you hate WAGMI,” to “Sit down if you hate WAGMI,” to standing again, and then to “Shoes off if you hate WAGMI” and looking sideways there are two hundred fans holding up a shoe or trainer as the chant goes on. Two comments on this, first, my knees can’t take all this stand-up, sit-down nonsense, and it took me five minutes to squeeze my boots on over two pairs of socks, so there isn’t a hope of me getting it back on in the ground if I took it off. And secondly, why didn’t I take a photo of them?

There were two minutes of added time, but no board went up and there was no announcement, we were just suddenly into half time. A half time that came in with no music, just a few announcements. No ‘Chelsea Dagger,’ ‘Seven Nation Army,’ or ‘Bittersweet Symphony.’ All very strange.

Five minutes into the second half and ball two disappears out over the east terrace, this time from a Stevenage clearance. Not long after Ellery Balcombe skins a Stevenage striker, thirty-five yards out and on the touchline. Yes, it was a nice piece of skill, but seriously, what the fuck is he doing out there?

We create a decent change, but Ludwig Francillette puts it just over the bar from outside the box. Not long after Jack Powell, who came on as a second half sub, plays a free kick to Nick Tsaroulla, whose shot was just wide.

There are some chants aimed Caleb Chukwuemeka, who isn’t having the best game. He has power and pace, but doesn’t seem very committed, and who definitely wimps out of a couple of tackles, even more obviously that Jack Powell does. There is no way he is going to live up to Chumbawumba’s chant of “He gets knocked down, but he gets up again,” as he’s unlikely to be in a position to get knocked down.

But with just over ten minutes of normal time left, Stevenage get a corner and the same defender who scored in the first half has another header that goes in, and it is now 0-3. We bring on our fifth and final sub of the game (using all five of the outfield subs named for the game, we didn’t manage to name a full complement of seven subs).

With a couple of minutes to go, Nick Tsaroulla is tripped in the penalty box, and it is given. Dom Telford steps up to take it and puts it in the corner and it is 1-3. Five minutes of added time are announced, and pretty much straight away, Telford charges down a clearance from the Stevenage keeper, only for the ball to spin inches wide. It could have been very interesting if that had gone in.

The chants had changed, and were now veering between, “Preston Johnson, we’re coming for you,” and aimed at the stewards, “I know you won’t believe us; we’re going on the pitch.” To be fair the stewards, and head of security had been looking worried from about the second minute of the game, and well before the final whistle there were a lot of them lined up on the pitch side to prevent a pitch invasion.

The final whistle went, and the result was 1-3, not as bad as some may have feared. And the threatened pitch invasion didn’t take place either. There was an extended period of applause from the fans to the players and vice-versa. Jack Powell came over and shook a few fans hands and chatted to them for a couple of minutes before one of the coaching staff managed to drag him away. Nick Tsaroulla was miming ‘keep your chin up’ to the fans as well.

And we disperse, as usual Helen and I were pretty much last out of the ground, and as we walked around the side we could hear chants of ‘We want WAGMI out’ as some fans surrounded the team coach (and it sounded like they were drumming on the side of it), and then, matching more of the underlying menacing mood of the evening, ‘Preston Johnson, we’re waiting for you.’

As we walked back from the hotel, Helen commented on seeing a police car in the queue for the drive through Maccy D’s ‘Priorities, there’s an American being murdered back at the stadium, and you’re queuing for burgers.’

We stayed twentieth, as thankfully all the teams below us in the league had all lost last night, and Stevenage stayed second, only the point gap went up to twenty-seven.

The soap opera moves on to the away game against Newport County on Monday, and to a new manager at some point next year. You really couldn’t make this shit up.

Come on you reds.

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