The idea was to have an occasional, amusing and pithy cod-soccer travelogue detailing the best and worst towns, cities, and villages have to offer for the Blue Square Premier supporter. I’d love to do the same for Crawley last night but, unfortunately (or otherwise, depending on your point of view) such an exercise would be limited this time around because:
1. We caught a taxi from the station to the ground.
2. It was dark.
3. I was a bit pissed.
I could, however, tell you of some lovely little back street pubs around Green Park, where I had a few pints before heading Crawley-direction. I could also tell you that the staff at Gatwick Airport, where we stopped off en route for some strange reason, are very helpful, even to a group of somewhat bewildered and internally-lubricated football fans. But such observations would merely be an alcohol-related prefix and, as is likely, uninteresting. Football fan goes drinking; visits some nice pubs, none of which are particularly near the ground he’s visiting. Not much you can say about that, which hasn’t been said before.
But what observations I can gather about Crawley are thus:
The town itself seems to exist solely as an afterthought to Gatwick Airport.
It has a lot of dual carriageways.
These are offset by a friendly bunch of cab drivers. The one we had was a rare breed who could talk without launching into a spiel about all that is wrong with the world, and struck just the right balance between banter and chatter.
The club bar at Crawley is one of the most friendly, welcoming in the league, and actually feels like a proper bar that I’d like to drink in outside of football. Another rare beast.
Banana Bread beer is foul. On no account take the advice of an inebriated Conservative-voting telecommunications worker, who happens to be one of your companions for the trip down, when ordering this drink.
The above drink is, according to the lovely barmaid who served us, surprisingly popular in the Crawley Town club bar. Quite what this says about the supporters is anybody’s guess. Either they’re born with no tastebuds, or there’s an unending stream of already-tipsy fans who’ve not experienced the horrors of the beer and are willingly sucked in.
Clearly the bar staff are good as salespeople as well. Given the crowds Crawley are getting, this is probably a good thing. They need all the cash they can get.
So, from this we can conclude that, despite probably massive overhead pollution from the building they were created to serve, and many quick, straight routes away from the conurbation (which may or may not be a necessity – it’s hard to tell), the good folk of Crawley are a chipper and welcoming bunch, making it a pleasanter-than-expected place to spend a few hours.
Although it’s difficult to love any club with Steve Evans in charge.
The Broadfields, as a stadium, is one of the better grounds at non-league level. It has proper stands (albeit offset with one uncovered terrace that is about three deep, has a small concrete wall behind it, and is entirely populated by feral youth), a covered away terrace, is well built, has good catering, and, most important, spacious toilets. Anybody who’s experienced the horrors of the facilities at Hereford’s Edgar Street knows how vital these are.
Crawley’s financial situation is less secure, with the owners, the Majeed brothers, not exactly loved or trusted around the town. The Red Devils get a points penalty for financial problems on an annual basis, that the Blue Square Premier would be better off starting them at -6 each season and be done with it. With a home crowd close to being outnumber by the Exeter away support, Crawley do not appear to be a sustainable club at this level at present.
But full credit for the matchday experience, which is as good as I’ve experienced recently. Better than the match on offer that evening, that much is for sure.
Strangely, Crawley play a better brand of football than Grays and Ebbsfleet, but they’re not as clinical as the Kent side in front of goal. The Red Devils are a good counter-attacking side and on more than one occasion could, and should, have hurt Exeter on the break.
But the attacking intentions of both sides got oddly negated in the middle of the park and there were few clear-cut chances. Somewhere, you felt, there was a decent football match just waiting to burst through.
There were moments of class. Exeter are a dangerous side from set pieces and Rob Edwards’ opening goal was as good a free-kick as you’ll see, curling over the wall into the top-corner of the goal. Dean Moxey’s late equaliser was also the result of a well-worked free kick, and inbetween centre-half Matt Taylor headed wide from another set piece with the goal at his mercy.
Crawley rallied well after Edwards’ 13th minute strike and their equaliser was the result of a slick passing move out to the wings, a cross, nod-down and a simple poke-home for Ollie “son of Clive” Allen. Exeter didn’t defend it as well as they should have, but this shouldn’t take anything away from the move.
As for Crawley’s second, a penalty, in Arsene Wenger style, I did not have a good view of the incident. I thought Danny Seaborne got the ball – a friend in a different part of the ground differed.
Exeter put together a neat passing move of their own in the second half, when substitute Steve Basham fired narrowly wide following a six or seven pass move.
What City were really lacking though, was pace up front – something injured striker Adam Stansfield and the recently-sold Jamie Mackie have provided in other games. Winger Lee Elam was moved up front and did his best before being substituted while Basham and fellow striker Richard Logan are similar players who aren’t blessed with great accleration, so Exeter had to adapt their style.
What Crawley were lacking was a clinical centre forward and a creative midfielder, but were still well-organised. Both sides will feel they could have won the game and a point was probably a fair reflection of a match that flickered sporadically.
Rob Edwards’ free-kick aside, the best moment of the night was a chant from the City crowd towards Crawley’s loanee keeper, wearing number 22. The familiar ‘You’re not number one’ chant started up. Two minutes and 39 seconds later, the crowd finally reached ‘You’re not number 21, you’re not number 21’ and the keeper clapped them for their efforts.
We were offered a lift by to Gatwick by a friend, and despite going a completely different route, all that was visible was yet more dual carriageways. Like the game, it somewhat felt like a road to nowhere.