East Grinstead Town v Crawley Town
East Court / Preseason Friendly / 8th July 2017
My Lost Boyos adventures are back! A grand total of 21 days after I was watching FC Nitra B lift a 6th tier Slovak trophy at Slovan Levice, I was back watching football. The Central European lower leagues seem to go on way into late June, so my last game was the 17th June, but a range of factors would deny me going to a game in the first week of July. So here I was, as week 2 of July was underway, on the 8th July, back at ground watching football. Not only that – I was also back watching football on UK soil.
I have another year of Slovak living ahead of me, but having finished my teaching year at the end of June (sorry to make you jealous UK teachers) I decided a holiday and a trip home was needed. Home is confusing these days: the South Wales valleys will always be home, but my parents have left there this year and moved to Brittany, France. Trips to Brittany and Wales were obviously pencilled in for my first few weeks off, but with me and Craig flying to France together from Stansted, my first port of call on my holidays was southern England and more specifically Craig’s West Sussex home in Cowfold. I’d made it back from Slovakia and arrived into Cowfold close to midnight on the Friday night. Hours later, we were off to game 1 of the season: East Grinstead v Crawley Town awaited.
Robyn Hitchcock once sung in his song Listening to Higsons, “The Higsons come from Norwich / and they eat a lot of porridge / but I prefer East Grinstead.” The town is located about 10 miles from Crawley and Gatwick, although admittedly I’d never be able to make a real opinion as to whether, like Robyn Hitchcock, I’d prefer East Grinstead to Norwich; we drove straight through the town and headed straight for the ground in the early afternoon, after an errand-running trip into Craig’s local town, Horsham.
When you’ve been living abroad for a year, you do find yourself missing some of the Great British institutions. So, on arriving into Horsham and having visited high-street stalwart Greggs for some breakfast, it was onwards to everyone’s favourite British institution: Wetherspoons. 11am beer was needed after a debacle with Vodafone about my broken (yet insured) phone: Lost Boyos is no longer an advocate for Vodafone to say the least and we’ll just leave it at that. But with some ale from Spoons in me, we were ready to head off to East Grinstead.
With Craig on driving duties, we headed to Crawley to pick up Laura and then it was a quick whizz up the road to East Grinstead. East Grinstead appears to be a remarkably bland, non-descript satellite town in Sussex; however, the internet throws up some old facts about the place. For example: Jimmy Page lives there; Peter Andre owns a coffee shop there; apparently, you can be in two hemispheres at the same time as the Greenwich Meridian line runs through the town hall. If you want something a bit less random and for those architecture-lovers, the town also has one of the longest row of 14th century timber buildings in the UK. But, we flew past all of that headed straight for the town’s home of football, East Court (or the GAC Stadium for any weirdo who is a fan of sponsorship-named stadiums).
East Grinstead Town FC is located at the end of a narrow country lane, but as we headed down it to find a few Crawley fans being turned around in their cars. So, as we approached the hi-vis-ed guy at the gate, we expected the same. However, we were ushered into the car park and told take a spot behind a cone. Craig’s brother had been working for Crawley and Craig had borrowed one of his training tops to wear to the game, so we decided that we’d been let in thanks to either 1) Craig being mistaken for a young Crawley player or 2) the car park attendant at East Grinstead was a massive Lost Boyos fanboy, had recognised me and thus giving me VIP treatment (strangely, I think option 1 may have actually happened).
It was easy to see why the club are called the Wasps with the yellow and black stripes making up the outside of the ground. East Grinstead have called East Court home since 1967 with the club forming in 1890. East Grinstead can now be found playing in the Isthimian League Division One South – the 4th step of non-league football – and so were several levels below their Football League neighbours visiting this afternoon.
After paying our £6 entry we were into East Court and a fine non-league ground it is too. On entering you are immediately met with the sight of the two stands down the one side of the pitch: one a sort of small sheltered, standing pen; the other a longer narrower, sheltered seating area atop a banking (which had apparently been christened ‘Harrold Hill’ on Craig’s visit to the ground to watch the same fixture last summer; ‘Harrold’ a tribute to Crawley striker, and Lost Boyos favourite, Matt Harrold). Nothing sits on the other side aside from a narrow-ish walkway shielded by forestry. However, as per usual, the first port of call was the bar behind the goal – another structure covered in the Wasps symbol of East Grinstead. Beer was purchased and I had to reacclimitise myself with the price of stuff at British football grounds having enjoyed the dirt cheap prices of Slovak football for the past year.
There was still plenty of time until kick-off, but there was still a fairly respectable gathering in the ground already – largely in Crawley colours. Most of the prematch buildup consisted of Crawley fans saying their hellos after the two months without football. It was good for me to catch up with some of the folk I’ve befriended at Crawley over the years too. However, me and Craig also got to acquaint ourselves with a new face in the prematch buildup.
The new star name at Crawley Town this summer is the manager: the Premier League’s former favourite Aussie, Harry Kewell. In fact, this would be Kewell’s first game in the dugout for Crawley and as far as I’m aware, his first time in a dugout as a fully certified manager. The Kewell fever around the place has dimmed since his appointment a few weeks ago though and everyone before the game seemed to be talking about one man: Thomas Verheydt. Verhedyt had signed earlier in the week from MVV in Holland, where he had been somewhat of a cult hero. The main talk amongst Crawley fans seemed to centre around how frightening and tough the new Dutch striker looked and as he warmed up with the team we noted that he did look like a mighty specimen. So, as he wandered past us at the front of the stand, Craig braved asking him for a photo and he happily obliged. As he put his hand on my shoulder, he felt like he could break it easy and once our photo was taken Craig said he felt the same too. Sadly, we’d not get to see his strength on display on this Saturday afternoon, as it was decided that having only just joined the club he’d sit this game out.
By the time my second beer was finished and thought I may as well get a third, the teams were ready to come out. Crawley were yet to launch their new kits, so they came wearing training tops, while East Grinstead were wearing their blue away shirts. We took our place at the front of the stand to watch the opening minutes of my 2016/17 season.
The game started with Crawley dominating, as you’d expect, but they were creating very little and preseason sloppiness was very evident. It took until the tenth minute for Crawley take the lead, courtesy of a fine finish from Enzio Boldewijn. Boldewijn converted from just inside the box with a powerful side-footed shot that bounced in off the under side of the bar.
In goals for Crawley was Yusuf Mersin, apparently their usual second choice goalie and a goalie I hadn’t heard exactly spoken about glowingly by the Crawley fans around me. As he came out to stop an East Grinstead attack, the ball bounced out again and with Mersin away from his line, the East Grinstead attacker just simply rolled the ball into an empty net from outside the box. 1-1.
That second goal was the cue to go exploring the ground and me, Craig and Laura set off on a lap around the perimeter of the ground. It was only on beginning our conquest around the ground that I realised quite how many people had turned up at East Grinstead – it seemed a lot of people had been missing live football over the summer.
Eventually we made it around to the far goals and the goals which Crawley were attacking. It was here that it became clear quite how much of a monster presence East Grinstead’s goalie, Oshane Brown, actually was. However, our presence behind his goal suddenly seemed to bring the home goalie bad luck. About a minute after taking our place, Crawley captain Jimmy Smith fired in from close range from a Dean Cox cross. The keeper screamed out in frustration, but there wasn’t much he could do it about it really – unlike the goal that was coming seconds later.
A slightly under hit back pass was played to Brown and as he went to fire the ball to the left, Cox got in the way of it and it hit and flew in the net. This time instead of expressing rage at himself, Brown just turned to the goal and chuckled at his cock-up.
Half-time: East Grinstead 1 – 3 Crawley Town.
During the prematch warm-up, we had noticed Kewell taking away individual players away from the warm-up and having rather intense, one-on-one, hand gesture heavy chats with them. The same procedure unfolded during half-time; it seems Kewell is going to be a very thorough soul when it comes to management.
We bought drinks and watched the second half from Harrold Hill. Fittingly, Matt Harrold was now on the pitch for the second half too. Harrold is a Lost Boyos cult hero after his heroics as a makeshift goalie against MK Dons back in January 2015. He even has a Lost Boyos award named after him: the Matt Harrold Hero of the Year award. Not bad for Harrold – an award on a shitty groundhopping blog and a small banking at a non-league ground named after him, all before his career is at an end.
Shortly after the break, good pressure from Harrold led to the passing move that setup the new signing from Dulwich Hamlet, Panutche Camara, to score from close range. And from then on it was all about Harrold.
Despite being celebrated on this blog several times, I’ve never seen Harrold score live. That changed in the 61st minute when Harrold poked him from close range from a cross from the left. He wasn’t done though, as it’d be Harrold who would finish off the scoring with a close range headed in the dying minutes.
6 of the best from Crawley and a good run out for both teams.
Full-time: East Grinstead 1 – 6 Crawley Town.
An expected result for the Football League team, despite some plucky endeavor from the home team at times.
With the car park congested and with just the one narrow lane leading out of East Court, we opted to hang back as the crowd poured out. Then, whilst waiting, I found myself outside the clubhouse and next to new Crawley assistant manager, Warren Feeney. I had a lot to say Feeney. I had a season ticket at my beloved Swansea City when we were in League One under Roberto Martinez; the team assembled that season still rates as one of my favourite Swans teams. That season, short of strikers, Swansea took Feeney on loan from the scum (Cardiff City) and he became a bit of favourite for his work rate up front for the Swans. Sadly, we were left gutted when Martinez went to sign him permanently, but Feeney broke his leg before a deal could happen. Of course, I had to go speak to him, so I told him to ignore the Crawley shirt I was wearing and made it clear I was a Jack Bastard really. His eyes lit up and he spoke with genuine warmth about his brief time with Swansea, declaring Roberto Martinez ‘the best’.
The best in that Swans team at the time though – and genuinely my favourite footballer of all time – was cultured Dutch midfielder Ferrie Bodde. Unfortunately, a freak knee injury, which then repeated several times, led to Bodde retiring shortly after he was 30, having not played for the best pasty of 4 years. He’s been doing some coaching back in his native Den Haag, but it also seems that my hero Ferrie is having an influence down at Crawley. Feeney, after talking glowingly about Ferrie, went on to say that Crawley’s new towering Dutch striker Verheydt was actually a recommendation from Ferrie. Also, Ferrie would be over to Crawley for the friendly v Chelsea XI. I’ve met many of my favourite Swans players over the years, but never Ferrie. Heart wrenchingly for me, I wouldn’t be in West Sussex when Ferrie was in town, but instead I’d be in Brittany. ‘Never meet your heroes’ I told myself as an act of consolation.
We did consider hanging around for a photo with Harry Kewell, but he was busy talking to his players some more and a line of media folk, all wanting a piece of the Aussie after his managerial debut. It’d proved an uncomplicated debut and there is undoubtedly a more difficult tests to come for the rookie manager. It’d be great to see him do well at Crawley.
A pleasant way to start the season with everything you could want from a preseason day out: plenty of goals, a very decent non-league venue and beers pitchside in the sun. Perfect. Onwards we delve into 2017/18.
Highlights: good non-league ground, perfect preseason weather, beers pitchside, plenty of goals, Matt Harrold goals, meeting Warren Feeney.
Low Points: not seeing more of East Grinstead, Vodafone being pricks (nothing to do with the football outing I know).
Whole Flickr album of photos coming soon…