Due to the joys of work and rail strikes I wasn’t able to get to Wolves for our first away game of the season. I was however able to make the journey to Doncaster on Saturday for our first away foray in our League campaign.
It’s been a while since I’ve managed to do an away trip on the coach and I can honestly say I’ve missed it. There’s something special about the journey as much as the destination on an away day that makes it such a different experience. I’m always reminded of Shakespeare’s St Crispin’s Day Speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”. (And I’ll venture that it’s not often there’s a Shakespeare reference in a report of a Crawley town game). People that I know in passing and through online chats suddenly become real and present. You get to dig a little deeper, find out a bit more about the personalities, what they think and what makes them tick.
I don’t doubt that we all have a view on many people formed in part on fleeting interactions, but to have the time to travel together and celebrate and suffer en-masse give you such a deeper perspective on the psyche of the average football supporter that you can honestly say the “average” supporter doesn’t exist. We all have a common bond, that for some bizarre and inexplicable reason we follow Crawley Town home and away, but away from that we all lead such different lives. Whatever brings us to this focal point may differ person by person, but we all have the connection that we want, (and in some cases need) our club to provide for us. Sometimes we crave a win, but sometimes we simply crave the passion and commitment that we too would willingly give to our club. Whilst many of us hoped for the former on Saturday, the performances against Wycombe and Wolves almost made the latter a given.
After a painless and swift journey to the Keepmoat (with a brief interlude at Peterborough Services playing ex-CTFC watch as the Sutton Squad dawdled in on their trip to Lincoln) we naturally made our way straight to the bar. The Keepmoat is another one of those god-awful, personality-devoid, faceless, out-of-town, new stadiums that I utterly despise. I know it’s the way forwards, I know that the access is easier, the facilities better and the views unobstructed. But it’s like choosing Ikea over a village antiques dealer. It does the job and delivers the basic functional requirements, but it’s devoid of character and charm (not too dissimilar to the travelling faithful some might say!). Thankfully though, the Doncaster fans in the bar bucked this trend. They were friendly, welcoming and funny. Supported happily by South Yorkshire beer prices. It was refreshing to have a bar open and welcoming to the away support. Too many grounds these days are moving away from allowing the fans to mix for a beer before the game. When I see that level of segregation my heart always drops. One of the greatest things about football in the lower leagues is the interaction and self-effacing humour that you can experience over a beer. I fear that one day this will disappear altogether, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy days like Saturday.
And on to the game: We started strongly, Doncaster didn’t. For a team that many expected to be near the top of the league this season, Doncaster were very disappointing. Having said that though, Crawley came out and played with a passion and confidence that belied both their tender years and their time together as a squad. The very recent addition of Alex Davey at the back (I don’t know if he’d even had the opportunity to train with the team yet) was seamless and he’s clearly a quality addition to the squad. We got the ball down and we played football. Lewis Young again looked composed and comfortable, Josh Payne looked again like a man in control, Jimmy Smith looked like a captain and every time we got the ball down the wings we looked dangerous.
It was good to see James Collins score, but I’m yet to be convinced that he’s the answer to our challenges up front. He’s undoubtedly got the ability to score and he’s not lazy, but he seems to want the ball over the top too often and with the wingers we’re playing with I don’t think that’s going to come. For me he’d benefit more playing alongside Matt Harrold. Matt is perfectly capable of scoring as we well know from last season and with two fast wide men I’d expect him to get a few more, but with Collins there to feed off him I genuinely feel that Matt has a role to play as provider as much as goal scorer at the moment.
So minor centre-forward grumblings aside we went in at half time a goal to the good and with momentum in our favour. I’m surprised that we couldn’t hear the Doncaster team talk from the stands during the break as one can only assume that it would have been quite vocal. They came out in the second half with an energy and purpose that simply wasn’t there in the first 45 minutes. It made for a nervy second spell and the equaliser always looked likely. The goal frustrated me personally. I fully understand why some sides chose not to put men on the posts at corners: The theory being that putting two players on the posts loses the ability to mark to players in the box. But this only works if you mark properly. For a brief moment we didn’t and we paid a heavy price for it. I’ll put this down to a relatively new squad and minor bit of confusion at times, but I don’t want to be seeing these mistakes in a month’s time please.
In the past, with a lead scrubbed out and a resurgent opposition Crawley would have crumbled. But we didn’t. We showed grit, determination and passion and although on the back foot for far too much of the second half, we got the point our efforts truly deserved. At the end of the match every player came over and acknowledged the away support (over 130 of us apparently!) and the acknowledgement was happily reciprocated.
The journey home was a much happier one given the spectacle we’d just witnessed. I don’t think there are many that think we’re going to win the league this year, and possible only a few that think we’ll reach the playoffs, but this has been a good, positive start to the season and it’s great to see smiles back on the faces of the fans.