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.

The Dark Age

It’s been nearly three weeks since our last home game, the thrilling 3-2 victory over Stockport County on a Tuesday night. It lifted us a few places up the league and it really did look like we were beginning to get it together.

Since then we have lost away at Crewe Alexandra, with their goal being scored by a striker who many thought should have already picked up a second booking and not be on the pitch to score said goal.

Then came the whole Sidemen thing. A big announcement was made about Crawley doing promotional work with the Sidemen (as someone who doesn’t follow YouTubers or Insta posers, I have no idea who any of these people are, but lots do). It’s a non-traditional route that’s for certain, as with a lot of things the new owners are trying. And they are getting a load of flak for it, both from our own fans and certainly from fans of other clubs. Which isn’t surprising when the hook-up with the Sidemen mentioned scouting their charity game for a player / players to play in our 1st round FA Cup game in November.

The day they were off scouting that we were playing away at Doncaster Rovers, 1-1 at half time, it went pear shaped in the second half. A contentious penalty was followed by some capitulation and a 4-1 shellacking. Another away game in the Papa Johns Trophy came on the Tuesday night where an early sending off saw us playing with ten men for an hour of the game, but the team fought well only to end up losing 3-2. Out goals were credited to Jack Powell and Ludwig Francillette, but having seen the clips online, they both look suspiciously like own goals.

Yesterday saw a twitter video from co-chairman Preston outlining what the owners are trying to do, and a message that he’s coming over to England early. It seemed to me (as a person who speaks mainly in quotes from the film Snatch), that it was reminiscent of Cousin Avi’s “Doug, I’m coming to England” quote. I wonder whether his first words when arriving at the club would be similar to Cousin Avi’s “Sit down and shut up you big bald fuck”, with big bald being replaced by incompetent.

Anyway, onto today’s game. We have company for this one as Tom and Terri join us. I’m not very prepared as I’ve been working all morning (and will be after the game as well due to how things have gone). Walking to the ground it seems a bit quiet, and there are plenty of parking spaces down Wakehurst Drive, but getting to the ground there are a lot of people milling around and a decent queue to get through the turnstiles. I see Al on the way in, he was collecting empties off people queuing to get in, so another string added to his bow of stewarding. During the game he was patrolling our stand for the first time this season.

I get myself a programme, since last time out they have got rid of the General Manager’s comments, and the league table has disappeared. And the list of games with the player’s appearances and other stats is still as shambolic as last time out. None of the missing goals have been added back, and the used/unused sub being used twice with no yellow/red card labelling is still the same. I did think there was another typo when it said Stevenage were founded in 1976, but it turns out that’s true.

Oh yes, we’re playing Stevenage today, whereas we sit third from bottom only just above the relegation places, they sit third in an automatic promotion spot. Their manager is Steve Evans (so should they be called Stevevansage instead?), our former manager when we were promoted into the football league. It could be said that this is the New Town derby, or the twin town one, as after a few bevvies it would be forgiven to think you were in the other town if you happened to be around Queen’s Square. As always, I wonder how Steven’s relatives are getting on. It would be nice to know how the other ages are; old, new, golden, bronze, iron, and stone.

Stevenage are playing in all purple strips, as if they’ve escaped from a giant box of Quality Street. There is the shortest knee taken in history, the ref blows the whistle, gets down, and blows again to get up before most of the players had even hit the ground. He appears to like quick concurrent blasts on his whistle as he does the same again when Stevenage kick off, blowing to start and then blowing again straight away to restart.

The first quarter of an hour is quite frenetic, and Tony Craig gives away a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, picking up his traditional yellow card in doing so. We haven’t defended these very well so far this season, so it is a relief to see the kick go straight into the wall, and the rebound sail high and wide.

A Stevenage player falls over comically trying to stop a high ball going out of play. The ball bounces into the west stand and a fan throws it back at the Stevenage player as he lays on the ground. In a bit of a temper he kicks it back out, only for it to hit one of the wheelchair supporters smack in the face. The player does get straight up and over to apologise to the fan. You could bet your bottom dollar if the roles had been reversed and it was one of our players away from home, that would have seen a red card.

I blink as I jot the above down and the throw in ends up in our penalty box and a shot sees it in the back of the net and we are 0-1 down, and I’m not sure how it happened. The goal prompts a red smoke flare to be released by the visiting fans in the away terrace. The game hardly restarts before Corey Addai is down and getting treatment.

A few minutes later we have a penalty shout as James Tilley’s shot is blocked by a sliding defender’s arm (above his head). It isn’t given, unlike the soft one the week before away at Doncaster.

The half hour mark sees ball one gone from the ground as a miscued hoof from one of our lot disappears out over the East Stand. This is followed by a couple of decent Crawley attacks and quite a few more blocked shots. Only for Stevenage to work it down to the other end of the pitch, get a player free in the area and their shot to come back off the angle of post and bar when it looked easier to score. A bit of a let off that one.

Not long before half time a blatant push in the back on Tom Nichols in the penalty area. It beggars belief how these things keep getting missed. Just after four minutes of first half injury time is shown there is another penalty shout as James Tilley gets upended in the box whilst attempting a shot. Nothing doing again, and the subsequent clearance disappears out over the East Stand, for ball number two of the day.

The half time whistle is blown with it 0-1. Yes, half time was the same as it ever was. Well, apart from there being no need for the sprinklers. The pitch is showing signs of being soft with all the recent rain before any more water is added to it.

Within two minutes of the restart we have an equaliser. There are a couple of shots in the box and the keeper fails to hold onto the ball and Ashley Nadesan is there to prod the ball home from about three yards and it just about trickles in to the goal to make it 1-1.

There is a lot of back and forth, and it appears that the whistle can only be blown if it appears to be a foul be Crawley. The same thing is ignored if it is instigated by Stevenage. Their players don’t need any excuse to fall over either. Half a dozen have fallen over when not within yards of a Crawley player, and others are halfway down before they instigate contact with a Crawley player, and each time they fall, the ref falls for it. It is well beyond a joke now.

Oh, and what’s this? Handball apparently by one of our players. It’s impossible to say who as there didn’t appear to be a handball there at all, and half a dozen of the team were in the general vicinity. The Stevenage penalty taker tucks it away as the Crawley players make their displeasure well know to the referee. Tom Nichols going for it big time. It’s 1-2, the only surprise is there is no yellow card for dissent. It seemed less of a handball than the one given the previous week at Doncaster, or the one not given in the first half for us.

Five minutes of injury time are put up, and the crowd is announced as being 2,732 with 319 of them being away fans. Stevenage time waste most of that five minutes without any fear they might be told to hurry up or get a yellow card for it. A joke when you count up the number of yellows given to us so far this season for less blatant time wasting. Absolutely no fucking consistency. The final whistle goes and it’s another defeat. 1-2. We stay third from bottom, now only on goal difference, and Stevenage stay third. There is no way the gap between the two teams is that much.

Looking at the match stats after the game tells a bit of a story. Apparently, the foul count was Crawley 16 – Stevenage 4. In what was an even game. It just shows what a shit show it was from the officials. Again.

Back to work for me now. Next week we are away against Grimsby Town in Cleethorpes. I wouldn’t have minded going to that to get some photos for some pieces I want to write, but it’s not practical this year. Perhaps next year.

Injured In Injury Time

It’s bright sunshine for game day. The first of six home games in thirty-two days for Crawley (with only two away fixtures in that time); there is going to be quite the little furrow tracked to the stadium from home in the next month or so.

Since our last home game – the disappointing (in lots of ways) defeat to Tranmere – we’ve had two away games. A come from behind victory against Bradford City with the winning goal coming in the ninety fifth minute; and a draw at Swindon Town, where they equalised in the ninety second minute. Anyone heading for the exits when the injury time board goes up would be a fool.

My confusion as to why there was scaffolding in the four corners of the ground for the Tranmere match was cleared up when I turned the TV on Sunday lunchtime, and it was already on BBC2 where Brighton Ladies were playing. So, it wasn’t us being televised from the People’s Pension Stadium. They must have been busy little bastards overnight as most of the hoardings had been changed.

We are playing Stevenage, less than three weeks after the rearranged away game where we had lost to them. We start the day leading the bottom half of the table, four places and five points above our opponents, who’ve played two games more than us.

I suppose it could be called the new town derby, or even twin town with their town centre shopping area looking very much like our own. Built in the same era and same style.

I’ve had a stinking cold all week (not Covid according to the lateral flow tests) and so was playing the game of “how many layers” am I wearing? Back to resembling the Michelin Man for me today.

We are in plenty of time and getting a programme was easy, they even had some inside the turnstiles this week. We were sat in our seat by two forty-two, a new record for us. And that was even after we had to ask people to move out of our seats. They hadn’t looked at the seat numbers on their tickets and should have been the other side of the rest of their family. A family which was massive and resembled the Clampetts. I’d need to look out for their charabanc on the way out.

Despite being in plenty of time I managed to forget to bring my glasses again, only remembering when in sight of the ground.

Stevenage kicked off in an ugly yellow and black kit on and within a minute there was an early attempt to lose the first ball of the game over the People’s Pension Stand, but it eventually rolled back down onto the pitch.

The first half of the first half was as non-descript as the two towns playing have been called many a time. Then in the twenty eighth minute we break from a Stevenage corner and the resulting shot is well saved by their keeper and flies out over the KRL Logistics stand.

Eight minutes later and we’re ahead after some pressure, and a second corner pings around in the box before falling to Tom Nicholls to poke into the net. A couple of minutes later a miscued clearance at halfway sails over the Mayo Wynne Baxter stand to lose the second (and final) ball of the day.

The first booking of the game comes not long after for Stevenage. The only surprise is it took so long. To say they were a bit agricultural in their challenges would be an understatement. They made Sutton and Port Vale look like pussies.

The half ends and we take a deserved lead into the break. We’ve played some good football, made some really good chances, and even got a number of them on target, and we’ve defended well.

The second half kicks off and it becomes even better. Within thirty seconds there is a bad back pass and Tom Nicholls is on it like a shot and his shot ripples the back of the net to double his goal tally and double our lead. We follow this up by nearly ten minutes of sustained pressure without really getting another clear-cut chance.

Both sides make a couple of substitutions before we get the chance to put the game out of sight, Nadesan breaks away and rolls the ball across to Nicholls, only for the shot to be a foot too high.

The crowd is announced as being 2,240 with 261 away fans. And not long after a stream of about a dozen Stevenage fans can be seen leaving, cueing up a chant of “we can see you sneaking out.”

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when the wheels started to come off. Was it the unnecessary substitutions of our two debutants, or the missed chance by Nicholls, or when the gloating chants came out (“2-0 on your big day out”, “Can we play you every week?”, “We can see you sneaking out”, “Cheerio”, “We forgot that you were here”). But if anyone finds a wheel rolling down the A23 by itself, can they return it to Crawley Town as soon as possible please.

With a little over ten minutes to go Stevenage get a goal back. There is a lack of pressing and an invitation to shoot from at least twenty-five yards out sees the ball fly into the net. Which sets up the last ten minutes of the game for the usual nervousness. And it is nervous. The players suddenly act as if they are, and the fans can feel it.

The little board goes up to say there are four minutes of injury time to play, and the fans are streaming out. Have they not been watching the results and times of goals recently? And there it is, the ninety second minute for the second game on the trot sees an equalising goal for Stevenage. It also sees a booking for the manager, obviously not happy at the award of the free kick, or the melee in the box leading to the goal. It also sees the fans in the terraces being frustrated after our next attack ends with a goal kick and in their wisdom, they decide to throw things at the Stevenage keeper. We really do have some fans with shit for brains.

And then it is full time, and it’s another two points dropped in injury time from a winning position. For the second time in a week and the third time this calendar year. Six points thrown away. Six points that could have had us on the verge on the playoff places. And not encouraging remarks as I heard from one muppet as we were leaving of “it’s another point towards avoiding relegation.” Stop being so fucking negative. It’s frustrating as hell as we could so easily be in the playoff places.

In the end, the point sees us slip a place in the league to fourteenth. We’re on the same number of points as eleventh, only we are bottom of a four-team run on the same points by virtue of our poor goal difference.

There’s a mid-week game against Harrogate Town (the team on the same points as us in eleventh) before we do it all again next Saturday. (Only hopefully without the late collapse and injury time give away.)