Now, I have been to the Checkatrade.com Stadium on numerous occasions, mostly in the days when it was the far more humble Broadfield Stadium. I’ve seen some incredible moments here, I’ve invaded the pitch, and I’ve seen some of the very worst football to ever scorch my retinas.
Best of all, however, this hallowed stadium is the place where I heard the most moronic fan comment ever. Allow me to set the scene: I forget who the opposition were now (possibly Bradford or Accrington), but Crawley were 2-1 up going in to the final ten minutes. They were dropping deeper and deeper, encouraging pressure. The fans were getting restless. Then it came – a man in the row in front of me said I hope they [the opposition] score, then we might actually start attacking again.
Any visit to this stadium is always under pressure to match such stupidity, but this particular game had an entirely different dimension. For this glamour fixture on a snowy Saturday in January fans could pay whatever they wanted for their ticket to a minimum of £1.
This initiative brought a couple of friends down from London, so I met them in the town centre, mostly because I was keen to pick up a coffee. It was a flat white from Affogato. Decent enough, a deviation from Costa and Starbucks, at least.
The three of us decided to walk to the stadium through the bitterly cold streets. I pointed out my old primary school, but kept the sudden flashback of dad starting a fight at the gates with a man who was giving it to myself. Every man he’s ever fought was giving it. He’s yet to find the ability to articulate to me or any of his doctors what exactly giving it is, but we remain hopeful.
As it seemed to be a day of firsts, I decided to opt for a bovril to warm me up. That bastion of sepia stained football, of flat claps and rattles, of huge, rolling banks of packed terracing. One friend warned me not to sip too soon as I’d burn my tongue and ruin the rest of the drink.
A decent sized crowd was already filling the three home stands to a decent capacity, and the dyed in the wool regulars were already tutting at imagined slights against the usual etiquette. There’s a vibrant, young(ish) core of fans here who keep the songs flowing. There’s even a drum, but don’t let that put you off.
The stadium itself is basic. As far as defining features go, only the temporary ‘gazebo’ stand (The Checkatrade.com East Stand) stands out with its red fabric roof. Behind the goals are two identical small covered terraces, with the large West Stand looming over all.
I took my first sip of bovril. It didn’t burn my tongue, but I was confident that it had ruined the next week. Still, in the frigid cold, the warmth was welcome. Even a beef flavoured drink can be polished off in those circumstances.
Hartlepool offered very little in the game, so Crawley had most of the opportunities. It was 0-0 at the break, though despite the best efforts of fans who seemingly had somewhere else to be; faster, faster! Attack! Quickly, come on! It’s not real football if it isn’t frantic and entirely without technique. It’s the British way.
During half-time the Crawley mascot, Reggie the Red, was actively trying to save the penalties of small children. He often succeeded, too, which seemed to raise spirits and enliven cold, grey faces.
A headed goal from James Collins mid-way through the second half sealed a 1-0 win for Crawley.
The attendance of 4,266 was Crawley’s highest of the season so far. It likely won’t be beaten, either.
It’s almost as if, in a game of rampant business models, up to three new kits a season, with shit stadium names, extortionately priced tickets, paying though the nose for indigestible food and granulated drinks (both non-organic), that fans want to have a fairer crack at ticket prices. Who’d have thought?
Well done, Crawley Town Football Club.