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Better than Crawley
Better than Crawley

Making Plans for Football

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 16/08/2010

I RECENTLY took my wife Celine to a rugby league match. "It’s more fun than football" was the verdict. I don’t remember claiming that football was fun. Yet I cannot deny that I wasn’t looking forward to today’s visit to Crawley, and the weekly bout, sometimes more, of atrocious suffering.

Last week it was as if there was a void as the Football League kicked off. I’m no longer interested in the doings of Barnet or Cheltenham. After a 100 year break, we’re back where we belong, no longer in that league but in the cosier climate of the Blue Square Premier. Well, it’s a view.

1115, 14th August 2010. A text came in from Jools. "Have u got a plan for football yet?" Jools doesn’t sent texts in Chinese as some do. Yet for so few words, how was I to deal with this one? I’d spent 51 years puzzling over life, football and other important matters and here I was being expected to summarise it all in 150 characters or less. I decided to defer that one for now and concentrate on the here and now: "We’ll be on the 1344 arrival at Three Bridges". Two elderly, u-shaped ladies got off the train. I sensed no seething hotbed of footballing hysteria in these parts. Outside it was grey, overcast and dismal with a propensity to rain. Dave picked us up and took us through the bleak townscape to Broadfield Stadium.

Crawley is a nondescript place, sharing its charisma with Staines and Pontefract. Dave and Jools are Northern exiles who follow Crawley Town. No ray of sunshine has ever affected Dave, a native of Stockport, but he does know his football and helpfully passed on the Non League magazine, in which it told me that Crawley are second favourites for promotion behind Luton this year. It seems that Crawley have a "mystery backer" and the wisdom to sell their injury-prone striker Charles Ademeno to Grimsby while buying the highly rated Matt Tubbs. So it looks like we have a battle on our hands to begin with. Still, Woodsie doesn’t have a mess to sort out this time round. He’s put his squad together and I’m encouraged by the reports so far. Everyone says we played well against Scunny in the Lincolnshire cup, and away from such glamour, we managed to hang on grimly in a more relevant friendly against Halifax. The ever optimistic Andy Humbo was clear in his view: we’re fit, skilful and up for it. "I expect us to win". Uncertainty however will always dominate until 3 o’clock when the truth emerges.

Jools pointed out a chink of blue in the sky. That’s quite a highlight in these monochrome parts. By contrast, the ground was neat looked smart in the bright red colours of the "Red Devils". We joined the supporters mingling the club house. The atmosphere was very friendly - a definite plus point of our new world. Celine described it as "less commercialised". There was a healthy queue for tickets. Dave commented that he hadn’t seen a crowd like this before. The razzle-dazzle, glitzy Grimsby lads were in town. Such is the attraction. The Town fans were raising the roof behind the goal and creating, as Celine put it, "good ambiance" as the sparse Crawley section watched on silently from the other end.

The teams came out. Town were in blue today. After an impeccably observed minute’s silence, the game got under way. Town’s line up was: Arthur, Wood - Kempson - Watt - Ridley, Bore - Leary - Hudson - Coulson, Connell - Peacock.

The game started. Town were awful. The overriding impression was of panic. From the first touch, balls were sliced, passes flew into touch and if one pass found another Town player, it was guaranteed that the next one wouldn’t. Peter Bore looked disinterested, not sure where he was supposed to be standing, denied handling the ball when he had and generally provided a masterclass in ineptitude and inability to keep the ball in play. He was far from being alone in contributing to this horror show. Crawley on the other hand were picking up the ball, passing it around intelligently and being creative. A sublime chip in the first few minutes presented Tubbs with a golden opportunity which he wasted. Crawley continued to get round the back of the Town defence but at least Watt and Kempson, while showing no evidence of finesse, were clearing their lines sensibly and with authority. Coulson crossed for a poor Watt header but otherwise there was nothing resembling a highlight from Town. Where was this team that Humbo told me about?

The rain started hammering down, and conditions became slippery. A bad game got worse. Then on 38 minutes it all changed. A hoof down field by Arthur in Town’s goal went straight to Crawley goalkeeper Kuipers at the other end. Kuipers saw Connell approaching and came out to catch the ball but it bounced higher than expected. Kuipers stretched to take the ball but his forward momentum took him outside the area. Town were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Kuipers was sent off. Crawley replaced an outfield player with the reserve goalkeeper. In the changeover, Crawley didn’t manage to get their wall organised properly, and Peacock neatly slotted the free-kick into the bottom right hand corner. Crawley Town 0, Grimsby Town 1. Two minutes later, Crawley had a great chance after some neat interplay. The ball was switched to the right and crossed for the unmarked Quinn, who headed over. The score remained 1 - 0 to Town after an uninspiring first half.

Town threatened a couple of times in the half but were generally dire. The ball control was shocking, passes were being made in anticipation to empty spaces. Everyone was on a different wavelength. At one point I wondered if there was some new rule where additional points were awarded for putting the ball out of play. The ball was being regarded as a hot potato. Crawley were mopping up well and created a number of chances. Tubbs looked particularly dangerous and it was particularly worrying how easily Crawley were getting round the back of the defence. On the plus side, Arthur looked solid in goal and the two centre backs were defending with determination.

The second half began in similar vein. Eagle came on for the hobbling Wood on 58 minutes. Shortly afterwards Tubbs tried to chip Arthur who was alert and up for it. On 68 minutes, an even better chance fell to the dodgily barneted Torres ("don’t worry, we’ll get the bloke who did it for you", offered the man in front of me, helpfully), but when it seemed easier to score, the ball landed in the side netting. Just when we’d forgotten what we came for, Connell turned on 70 minutes and had a shot from 25 yards but it went miserably wide. Arthur made a rare mistake on 75 minutes and found himself stranded as Crawley put in a header which went over the bar. Town finally put a few passes together on 80 minutes but it all seemed aimless until the ball was switched out to the right. Bore, who was more comfortable in a natural right back position, overlapped and allowed space for Coulson to whip in a cross. Leary threw himself at it but couldn’t connect. This was the first moment of excitement since the goal and nothing had happened before that. On 86 minutes, Peacock worked an excellent one - two with Eagle and put in a good cross but Coulson couldn’t keep his fierce shot down. Connell was replaced by Dixon who tried to fight his way through the Crawley defence but in the spirit of the overall performance, lost control. Fortunately Crawley had little to offer by this stage and the game finished with the final score as Crawley Town 0, Grimsby Town 1.

This game hinged on one moment. Beyond that, Town were shocking. Ball control was for the most part non-existent. In the second half Town improved slightly towards the end, but for most of it, it was hard to tell which team had 10 men. Crawley adapted to the conditions better but were let down by their finishing. At least Town were resilient, and we saw a good goalkeeping performance, and determination from Lee Peacock and the two central defenders. My man of the match was Steven Watt. He gets in where it hurts and defended valiantly throughout. Could he follow in the footsteps of Messrs Futcher, Barker and Rathbone and become a Town folk hero? The other heros are the Town fans, of course. 768 of us out of 2,428 for a game in the south is impressive.

Thanks to a four hour delay in deepest Hertfordshire on the way back due to a failed "Hull Train" in front, I had the chance to reflect on Jools’s question. My plan (in old man’s text speak) for football is thus: "We r rubbish but we go". Judging by this performance, Town’s players could do with a plan. You could argue that this victory was hard-fought and that Town were resolute as they had been against Halifax, or they were just inept and incredibly lucky. I know what I think. I just heard our ex manager Russell Slade describing his team as "work in progress" so I guess we can do the same. We’ll find out more on Tuesday when we play York. The battle is on!

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