Walsall v Crawley Town
Bescot Stadium / League One / 14th April 2015
So, are Crawley my new Morecambe? For regular readers of this blog, they’ll know how I detest the notion of having ‘a second team’, although I suppose I can’t deny the fact that there are plenty of clubs out there who I have a certain soft spot for (as a certain ‘Twitter troll’ has been happy to point out to the extent of making collages of me in various different club shirts/scarves). I guess that’s just part of the territory of travelling around watching football that doesn’t always feature your team. Over the past few seasons I’ve wrestled against the claims, mainly from Morecambe fans, that the Shrimps are indeed my second team’. However, since 2014 became 2015, I’ve attended 1 Morecambe game compared to 2 Crawley games and today was to see me attend my 3rd Crawley game of the season – 3 in 4 months too. So have they supplanted Morecambe as the team battling to be the ones I one day say “Yes, they are my second team”? Well, a night partying with Morecambe FC once put me in hospital over night the following evening, so that’s a strong bond with a club right there!
So, why Crawley again then? Well, a number of reasons really. The main aim of today was to finally visit the Bescot Stadium – one of the most repeatedly delayed of my ‘doing the 92’ visits; the amount of times I’ve decided I was going for weeks and then switched plans the night before has been unreal. This trip had also been planned weeks before as I knew it fell in my Easter holidays. What I failed to do until a few weeks ago was to check who Walsall were actually playing that evening. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit excited when I saw that it was Crawley. Crawley are the ultimate Lost Boyos ‘entertainers’ this season – something I never saw coming in a million years. Ridiculous defending, ridiculous goals, strikers playing miraculously well in goals, half-naked celebrating, fans falling on the floor in elation, fans throwing coffee over players and generally, especially in the case of my day at Colchester with the club, a lively bunch of fans (yes, I’m being serious there too). Ultimately, when I think of Crawley, I think fun. You don’t need to say it – I think I’ve gone mad too. The away end it would be for me tonight. But would it be worth being stranded in Crewe for 4.5 hours in the early hours of the next morning? Well, more on that part of the tale later.
No work today? Lets make a day of this then is it? Okay. Yes, I still think I’m losing my marbles as not only was I going to watch Walsall v Crawley on a Tuesday night, but I was also heading to the game virtually 10 hours before kick-off. I wasn’t going to camp outside the Bescot Stadium for the day until the game, I was going to make a day of it in Birmingham city centre, before heading over to Walsall for a few drinks. To be honest, nobody had sold Walsall to me as a glamorous town and I was repeatedly told, “There’s nothing there!” – you should know by now that that just gets me more intrigued.
I arrived into a very sunny Brum just after 11.30am and I thought I’d have a bit of a wander first. I had tweeted the night before asking people what I should do in Birmingham and almost immediately Birmingham City fan Lee Hinton recommended giving the Library of Birmingham a visit, its rooftop terrace in particular. So that was where I headed, ignoring the various pubs en route. Great shout from Lee, as I enjoyed some great views of the city from the terrace of this fantastic looking, modern building.
Lee had also suggested that if I wanted to mix ‘culture’ with drinking, then I should head down to the pubs in Brindley Place alongside the canals. Sounded good to me! Once again, my social media Brum tour guide had it spot on again. Soon I was enjoying a pint of beer outside the Malt House in the glorious sunshine alongside one of Birmingham’s canals. This was the perfect start to the day.
I continued my pub crawl into the Brasshouse, also alongside the canal, before visiting the Soloman Cutter Wetherspoons round the corner – a Spoons I had not visited before and also not the most compelling branch of the pub chain.
Of course, a trip to Birmingham is not complete without a visit to the ‘Mecca of real ale’ that is the Wellington pub. What a pub! Whenever Swansea are in the town, we always end up here. I’m no real ale connoisseur , but it has to be drunk here – although when Swansea were at Villa Park a few weeks ago, I did enjoy some lovely German lager in here. Today, I was drinking Pedal Pusher, whilst a comic book fanatic talked incessantly at me about the virtues of the new Daredevil series on Netflix – I was not sure how this conversation started or how he came to think I was some sort of comic book lover too. An excitable guy though – he even out-talked me which is quite tough going at times.
I made a quick stop in the Trocadero pub – a pub I had not visited in Brum city centre before and I’m not in any real rush to revisit – and then it was onwards to Walsall. I was determined to find some sort of joy here after it had been painted to me as some sort of cesspit by others. This was your moment to shine Walsall.
Clear blue skies and the sun shining, this was Walsall’s perfect opportunity to impress and in fairness it wasn’t half as bad as people made it out to be. Okay, it’s not exactly Monte Carlo, but I found little that repulsed me. I ended up at some strange, yet very ‘summery’, bar called The Wharf with it being situated alongside some sort of pool of water (admittedly litter-filled). The doors of the bar were wide open and summer tunes were ‘banging out’ – it was like being in a poor man’s Ibiza. However, no time for partying, I still had more of Walsall to explore.
On the main high street, I found a particularly shady-looking pub and obviously these are the sorts of establishments I love delving into. Into the Red Lion I went. Don’t judge a pub by its cover, as it turned out to be far from shady at all. It was actually fairly pleasant. The barman and the locals were all very friendly and were all curious as to what a Welshman was doing in this neck of the woods; they were a bit bemused when I said that I was in the away end with Crawley Town at Walsall FC tonight, despite being a Swansea fan. I immediately quashed any theories they were trying to conjure up of Crawley being ‘my second team’ again.
Once again, my recent ‘Wetherspoons hunting’ saw me head over to Walsall’s branch of the pub chain, which I found just slightly further down Walsall high street. Not too much to report here, but I was happy to get another fix of Tuborg – slowly becoming the Lost Boyos lager of choice (if you want to sponsor the blog Tuborg, feel free).
It was now gone 5pm and I decided that it was time to hop on the train to the Bescot Stadium, but the question is, did I find joy in Walsall in the end? To be blunt, probably not. It was certainly not a rich tapestry of cultural hotspots or any real sort of finesse, but from what little I explored of the place, it was far from the dive that was pitched to me beforehand. Plus, anyone who had watched Channel 4 documentary Skint about my hometown Merthyr Tydfil the night before, will see where I come from and so I couldn’t say much really (you know I love you really Merthyr).
Within 5 minutes, I arrived at the Bescot Stadium station, which you won’t be surprised to learn is directly behind…the Bescot Stadium – home of Walsall FC. Finally, I get to use this piece of useless trivia! I’ve been waiting to use this in a blog for years! So here it goes: Walsall FC’s Bescot Stadium is the most seen football ground in the UK. Fact. More people drive past Walsall’s ground everyday than any other ground with the M6 sitting right alongside the ground (apparently Brentford’s Griffin Park is a close 2nd with it being visible on entering London from the M4).
Through a sort of pathway through a wasteland and under the motorway I headed and the stadium was directly in front of me. It is literally a 2 minute walk from the station to the stadium – great stuff! From the outside, the stadium definitely has a lopsided look to it with the one stand towering above the smaller box-like stands around it. The ground also seems remarkably isolated with nothing really surrounding it at all, as the ground is situated on some sort of industrial estate. My imagination hadn’t been captured from the ground’s exterior anyway.
In regards of grounds, Walsall began life at The Chuckery and then West Bromwich Road, before moving to Fellows Park in 1896 where they would stay until 1990. That year would see the club move to the newly built Bescot Stadium a quarter of a mile down the road.
Moments after arriving, I was in possession of a match ticket and so I headed into the building just across from the ticket office: The Saddlers’ Club – the club’s own supporters’ bar. As far as club bars go in the Football League, I don’t think you’ll find many better than this. This isn’t your usual bar wedged into a stand, but a full on social club-esque setup with two large rooms to separate the home and away fans. Admittedly, you do have to pay £2 to enter, but I wasn’t too bothered with the away end being just a few yards away. Being hardcore, I was the first Crawley ‘fan’ there and so I had a huge room to myself with even a stage to perform on if I felt the need to (I didn’t).
As the clock ticked over 6pm, I was joined by Crawley fan Stuart who kept me company until we were joined by another two gentlemen, Dave and Brian. I chatted away to them about my other Crawley experiences and soon the smartly dressed gentleman wearing a suit and a club tie, Dave, said “Oh, you’re the guy who went to Colchester and kept getting his hat stolen by Craig.” Spot on mate. With Dave wearing the club badge on his tie, it occurred to me that he might actually work for the club so I thought I’d ask him.
“I’m the chairman.”
This prompted me to laugh before then double-taking, “Oh, are you really?” Yes, he really was club chairman Dave Pottinger. My bad. Of course that meant he needed a photo.
Then the fans on the supporters’ bus arrived, including Ben who had introduced me to plenty of the fans on my arrival at Colchester a few weeks previous. I was quite surprised actually with how many people seemed to know who I was; clearly, Lost Boyos is a big deal in West Sussex. Although they all seem to say the same thing to me: “Craig should be here soon” as if I had travelled to the Midlands solely to see my Crawley pal. Anyway, he was here soon and drinks were enjoyed with still plenty of time to go until kick-off, although there was a lot of Welsh-bashing and impersonating of my accent.
Prematch drinking time also presented me with time to present Craig with the flat cap I owed him. At Colchester a month earlier, I stupidly told him that he could keep the flat cap I was wearing that day (which he had taken a particular shine too) if Crawley won; they duly won, but I just could not part with the particularly fetching flat cap that was given to me by a Gambian man on a bar dancefloor when I visited The Gambia in January. So I did promise him a replacement cap in the near future and here it was today. Now, it was game time.
Through the turnstiles we headed and we were into the Bescot Stadium (Banks’s Stadium if you want to use its sponsorship name, but you probably don’t want to). I have to say that I liked the ground a lot more from the inside – I liked it a surprising amount actually. The stadium is totally enclosed with three sides of the ground being roughly the same height. Down either side of the pitch are the very similar looking Community Stand and the Main Stand, which has a small TV gantry on top of it; both stands have four small floodlight poles, which were dimly lit as we entered the ground on this beautifully clear spring evening. The most imposing structure in the ground is the Tile Choice Stand (formerly known as the Gilbert Alsop Stand) – a big, two-tiered stand behind the far goal with a row of boxes across the middle of it. Interestingly, I noted, that the upper tier is actually a fair bit bigger than the lower – not something you see very often.
As for us away fans, we were placed in the KIA Stand – another all seated stand similar to the two flanking it, although we did have a big screen with the score on next to us (maybe not something Crawley fans wanted near them by the end of the evening). Apart from the odd supporting pillar, all seemed decent enough. The toilets took a bit of time to find hidden down one of the side, but after a cheeky visit in there, I was ready for the kick-off.
I learned at Colchester, that Crawley fans are not ones to sit down, so I had prepared myself for the constant drum banging, singing and jumping about. The Crawley fans began immediately with their ode to their Welsh manager, Dean Saunders:
Saunders, wherever you may be / They shag sheep in your home country /But we don’t give a fuck, as long as we stay up / Just keep Gregory away from our club!
(That last part is in reference to former Crawley manager John Gregory, who the fans clearly still hold responsible for Crawley’s awful start to the season. He stepped down in January for health reasons before Deano took the job). Of course, I wasn’t happy with the stereotyping of my nation as ‘sheep shaggers’, so I launched into a one man rendition of the Swansea favourite of “Oh, fluffy sheep, are wonderful!” chant much to the amusement of the Crawley folk; admittedly, this probably didn’t help combat the stereotype of my supposed sheep-loving home nation – in fact, I probably just enhanced those stereotypes. Oh well.
Crawley are fighting for their lives with several other clubs down in the relegation zone of League One, but the team that walked out on the pitch this evening looked utterly devoid of any fighting spirit. I dubbed Crawley my ‘entertainers’ of the season, yet I was told I had caught them on two good days – tonight was apparently a far more usual Crawley Town showing. Put bluntly, they were woeful. Like really, really woeful.
Walsall, also needing a win to just ensure they don’t get sucked into a relegation scrap, were not exactly oozing class in the first half, but they were showing a bit of spirit. This was awarded with an opening goal for the home team with a simple pass on the edge of the box playing in Jordan Hiwula – a player I’ve seen play quite a few times for Man City U21s – to tap home past Brian Jensen. 1-0 to Walsall.
From there on in, it was virtually all Walsall with Crawley not being able to string together a few simple passes. I kept reminding everyone around me that last time I was in the away end with Crawley they conceded first too, but it was becoming very clear very quickly to me that it was to be a long night for ‘Dem Reds’ (as Craig always refers to them). Judging from the quieting of the away fans and the look on people’s faces near me, I think everyone else was thinking the same thing.
There was a couple of long-range efforts for the Crawley defence and Brian “Beast” Jensen to deal with, but I think Crawley were probably happy to get in at the interval down by just the one goal.
Half-time: Walsall 1 – 0 Crawley Town.
The queue for food/drink was a bit ridiculous, so I was left to just roam the stand during the interval. It turned out that the stand was even getting a bit too much for Ben, who from nowhere declared, “This stand is giving me epilepsy…oh wait it has stopped now.” A bit random. The performance of his team in the second half was probably enough to give him a fit though.
When the teams came back out, Gwion Edwards was coming out with them as a second half substitute, much to the excitement of Craig who does sort of love him. Of course, I burst into shouts of “YOU JACK BASTARD! YOU JACK BASTARD!” as he jogged on (not that he ever featured competitively for the Swans). Sadly, Gwion would have little impact, just like the other 10 players around him in fairness.
I was surprised it took until the 66th minute for the home team to grab their second and once again it was courtesy of Hiwuka. An excellent curling shot from the edge of the box left Jensen beaten and made it 2-0. Time for the floodgates to open.
2 minutes later, it was 3-0 with probably the best goal of the night. Walsall youngster took aim from 25 yards and fired a ferocious shot, which swerved over Jensen and in off the underside of the bar.
When I wrote about my experiences in the away end with Crawley at Colchester, Craig accused me of presenting him as some sort of mentalist, but today there would be no repeating of that as the poor lad had virtually nothing to celebrate. Things got so bad that he even sat down!
By now the Crawley lot were starting to heckle their own players (poor Gavin Tomlin took a beating) and predictably it was soon 4-0. The fourth goal was easily the most comical. Like Morris before him, Andy Taylor launched a 25 yard rocket goalwards, but his effort was diverted by the head of Crawley’s Sonny Bradley; unfortunately for Crawley, the diversion sent the ball flying into the far corner of the goal with Jensen completely wrong-footed. It definitely wasn’t the away team’s night.
The abuse being directed at the utterly hapless players intensified. Quite simply, this Crawley Town performance was as bad as I’ve seen on my travels this season…actually probably for a long while (in fact, I’ve just stumbled upon a Walsall match report dubbing them ‘the worst team ever to pay at the Bescot’). It was like watching a completely different team to the team I had seen take on MK Dons and Colchester admirably – almost as if the team had conned me on those two previous occasions.
In the 89th minute Walsall made it 5-0, after some truly pathetic defending from Crawley, as Jordan Cook strolled in on goal and with little effort from the Crawley defence simply rolled the ball past Jensen into the bottom corner.
I’ll be honest, I obviously wanted Crawley to win, but I had spent quite a lot of the second half suppressing laughter at how bad they were – I didn’t want to offend the shellshocked fans around me. Craig looked suicidal by the side of me and he’d quite clearly given up a while ago, as he sat there on his phone bashing away in frustration. He’s certainly an emotional football fan.
Full-time: Walsall 5 – 0 Crawley Town.
The Crawley players did come over to clap the travelling support, but the support did not want to know and generally most people blanked them, whilst others shouted more of their very honest thoughts on the team’s performance. Craig took another way to show his anger: launching his new flat cap across the stand – he seemed to believe that it was the cap which caused the heavy loss. Mentalist. In fairness, I once believed I owned lucky sunglasses, after Swansea’s impressive start to the 2012/13 season, which I smashed up in rage at Villa Park following a loss there – I’m as superstitious as anyone when it comes to football. He did immediately go retrieve the cap though.
We headed out of the ground and there wasn’t must joy amongst the away fans (unsurprisingly), but I had a great day so I was incongruously happy – probably to the annoyance of others. Even the usual Lost Boyos thumbs up tradition was tarnished by Craig refusing to do it with his pals Tom and Ben and instead doing a double…well just see the photo below. Charming.
I said my goodbyes to the Crawley lot again, who, despite enduring such a car crash showing from their team, were as great to me as my other times spent in their company. Undoubtedly, our paths will cross again next season – whether that’s in League One or Two. As they headed back to Sussex, I was heading north to Manchester and home. If only it was as easy at that…
Shortly after 11pm I was on board the train north with my favourite M&S Belgian lager and listening to Elvis Costello. Costello had sort of become the soundtrack to the day after I had a breakdown in the morning when I couldn’t think for the life of me the name of a song/artist playing on the radio in Starbucks; thankfully, when I described the song to my Twitter audience, groundhopping hero Peter Miles came in to save my frustration: “Every Day I Write The Book – Elvis Costello”. Spot on. The power of social media right there. I would have literally gone insane if he had not dived in with that.
I arrived at Crewe before 1am and due to rail works had to change from the train on to a rail replacement bus to Manchester. I’ve been starting to get a bit fed up of these rail replacement buses recently, but fortunately I wouldn’t be catching one this morning; unfortunately, this meant I was stranded in Crewe…until 5.48am and the first train back to Manchester. I looked for the bus, but there was just no sign of it, plus, there was no staff to ask. Not even Elvis Costello could comfort me when the fact that I was going to be in Crewe station for a long time began to dawn on me. Oh well, I took it on the chin and found a lovely spot on the cold floor in the main foyer, before I was joined by another two fellow stranded train passengers. Amazingly, they also had M&S Belgian Lager and so we bonded over that, before I realised that they were a hell of a lot more drunk than me – especially when they asked me “Who do you support in football?” 4 times in the space of about 20 minutes.
After a good two hours or so of drinking beer and talking nonsense with me, they were trying to convince me that it was a good idea to hitchhike to Blackpool – why, I’m not so sure. I had the wherewithal to reject the idea, but my two companions were psyched and off they went, still with beer in hands, into the early morning of Crewe.
The now peace and quiet did give me plenty of time to reflect on my life and to debate whether these outings are worth ending up in these predicaments at times. As always when I have such internal debates with myself, the answer is always a resounding yes. This was a story to tell I kept telling myself and undoubtedly “stranded in Crewe” is this season’s “falling asleep and waking up in Nottingham” – still undoubtedly the most infamous moment of my Lost Boyos travels and the incident people still talk to me most about.
My plight of being stuck in Crewe was worth it as I’d had an excellent day enjoying the sun, beer and Brum – a city I regularly have to remind myself how much I love. Plus, Walsall wasn’t too bad either. The evening’s football was a strange affair with 5 goals, yet some absolutely dire football on show too. However, once again, the company of the Crawley Town fans made up for that. A pleasure as always.
The fact I’m writing this now probably tells you that I made it out of Crewe alive on that 5.48am train and at least I was awarded with a beautiful looking sunrise over the Cheshire countryside from the train. Eventually, I dragged myself through my front door at 7.45am (23 hours after I had set out), still slightly inebriated much to the amusement of my housemate who was getting ready to leave for work. I was straight to bed to dream of my next football adventure. Where am I off? Leicester v Swansea – train home via Crewe…
Highlights: day out in Brum with beer and sunshine, drinking by the canal, Wellington pub (again), Walsall not being ‘that’ bad, drinking outside the Wharf, decent ground, good supporters’ bar, Crawley fans – as welcoming as ever, some good goals.
Low Points: some quite dull Spoons visited, the Crawley performance – beyond shocking, getting abandoned in Crewe for 4.5 hours…
Check out all my photos from my day in Birmingham, Walsall and the Bescot Stadium (and Crewe,,,) here.