Sunday, February 18, 2018

Crawley Town 3-1 Lincoln City

I'm traipsing down the steps of Nottingham Forest's Peter Taylor Stand (best ever talent spotter) with Tricky Tree diehard fan Sticky junior (my lad) after another depressing performance against fellow relegation strugglers Hull City. I've been to three games recently, five goals conceded and not one strike with a banjo at a cow's arse. Another change of manager and playing personnel hasn't made an iota of difference. I leave the 'Keyworth Georgie Best' to drown his sorrows and head off down Fox Road at the back of England's finest Test ground - Trent Bridge - with Lord's the only exception.

I don't have to stress about how 'The Lincoln' have gone on, as we picked up a useful point in a dull as dishwater 0-0 at Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium on Friday evening. I missed most of the game due to being on a five-hour flight back from Tenerife. I caught the closing moments on Twitter following a desperate closing-time shop at Tesco in Carlton. A confused and bemused cashier on the till looks on in disbelief at a fist-pumping Sticky Palms as the full-time score is confirmed on the Live Scores app, as I clock up the points on my Tesco Clubcard.

I swing onto 'The Avenue' in West Bridgford, the most overrated street in our county. It could be the hive of all activity with bustling pubs, sun-drenched back gardens and bars packed to the rafters. West Bridgford Town Council (probably freemasons) and their doddering, dithering, dinosaur culture refuse to give the thumbs up to new licensees. Palms are greased by brands such as Pizza Express, Gusto and Marks and Spencer. One of the best real ale pubs, the Stratford Haven, previously a pet shop, took a painstaking five years to be granted a pub license. They'll be no Ashes Test in 2019 or 2023 to get the tills singing and ringing.

I have eyes only for one pub this evening. I enter the revolving door (not to be confused with the Nottingham Forest manager's hot seat). I adore the Test Match Hotel and its art deco interior. The place is stacked out with cheery England rugby fans and Forest supporters drowning their sorrows.

I sink a couple of pints and catch up with an old boss from Ergo Computing who I have a lot of time for. Blimey Charlie, I've had three missed calls from the birthday girl, Ms Moon, who's on The Avenue and stamping her feet outside The Parlour (how did they get a license?) waiting for me. A few drinks later with a celebratory meal at Gusto, followed by drinky-poos at The Botanist (yes, I know, both chains, my point entirely) the 'Princess' is happy once again.

My football fix on Tuesday evening is back at Sincil Bank in Lincoln. I've never seen the Red Imps lose in over ten years when I've sat in the Selenity Stand. I ring up the ticket office in a flap on Tuesday lunchtime. They've only got restricted view tickets. I'm superstitious and daren't move.

I always get knots and butterflies in my stomach when I watch 'The Lincoln.' I'm not a diehard since I lost my Dad, but still enjoy an outing, particularly since the Cowleys arrived on the scene and re-built the club and ethos. I'm hovering outside the ticket office at 6:30pm; even the Cheltenham Town team bus has only just rocked up.

The game's hard work. The pitch isn't conducive or good for playing ball to feet. The visitors are organised and well-drilled, as you would expect from a side managed by Gary Johnson. Lincoln's Neal Eardley scores a pile-driver on the stroke of half-time. We're in debt to on-loan Bournemouth 'keeper Ryan Allsop who sees us over the line with some fine saves and blocks.

I got the green light for Crawley away from Trumpy Bolton (and Ms Moon) a few weeks' back) I collected terrace tickets the other evening at £16 each. Trumpy has been on the sauce in Leicester the previous evening when he saw the Foxes beat the Blades of Sheffield 1-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter-final - ooh the irony that Owls' fan Jamie Vardy has scored the winner.

I pick up the legend in the village of Keyworth just before 9am. He's halfway down a bottle of Hopping Hare ('breakfast' as he calls it). I've not seen him since bumping into one another at the Trent Bridge Inn on Christmas Eve.

We're both excited as it's ground 84/92 for Sticky and 85/92 for Bolton. He's immediately fiddling with the DAB radio as he's not having Graham Norton on Radio 2. Ironically, 'Just Like Heaven' by The Cure, formed in Crawley, is blaring out of the car speaker on Radio X. Back in the day they were one of my favourites. I saw them with my brother at York University on the 'Three Imaginary Boys' tour back in November 1980. I used to worship the ground that lead singer Robert Smith walked on.

Trumpy relaxes as he begins swigging from his litre bottle of pear cider as we get strapped in for the 350 mile round trip to Sussex. The M25 never fails to surprise me; even at a weekend. We're still parked up opposite Crawley Town Hall before twelve bells.

For the benefit of Crawley and Lincoln fans my mate Trumpy has pretty much drank in every city, town and village in the United Kingdom - and I'm not overegging that. He sniffs out a Wetherspoons in the old town on the High Street. It's a relief as the new town is a 1960s architectural disaster. We're approached by a lady who offers Bolton a card. She whispers "God can help you." "Any chance of three points for Lincoln", quips Trumpy. Car enthusiast Trumpy eulogises over a yellow Ford Escort MK1 parked up in the square.

Bolton beats me 3-1 on pints as we head towards the ground. The club car park is full. An unhelpful, shoulder-shrugging steward sends us in the wrong direction. We finally rock up at the New Moon pub, just a five minute walk away. 'The Lincoln' have taken it over and have draped their flag over the front entrance. The old bill come waltzing in to check us over.

Crawley is a town and borough in West Sussex.  It's 28 miles south of London and 18 miles north of Brighton. Notable people from the vicinity include: travel journalist Simon Calder, boxer Alan Minter, footballer Kevin Muscat (mad as a box of frogs) and sports presenter Dan Walker.

Crawley Town, nicknamed the Red Devils (or Reds), were founded in 1896. They are managed by former Leeds and Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell, who is married to ex 'Emmerdale Farm' actress Sheree Murphy.

Trumpy sidles into the Redz Bar as I opt to bask in the late winter sunshine in the away end. The DJ's set ain't bad, but not up there with the Northern Non-League scene. The Killers, Hard-Fi and Oasis are the pick of the bunch.

The Red Imps have lost one game in the last seventeen. The Red Devils are in a rich vein of form too. Trumpy comes ambling across the terrace, muttering under his breath about the closure of the food bar. He returns from the snack counter with a Cornish pasty. I like the ground, it reminds me of Stevenage Town. Two seated stands run along the touchline, with terraces behind both goals.

Crawley are all over Lincoln like a rash from the off. The pace of Lewis Young (brother of Manchester United's Ashley) and Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn is killing the Lincoln left, who aren't tracking back. We've had a few let-offs before the inevitable happens. Young has the freedom of Crawley as the goal opens up. His shot cannons off the underside of the bar before falling somewhat fortuitously to Smith, who taps home the rebound.

Lincoln are way off the pace and can't get a sniff of the ball. There's wave after wave of attack. How we aren't three or four down I'll never know. The game gets niggly. Green is a lucky lad not to see two yellow cards. Referee, Mr Kettle, is at boiling point as he blows for half-time. A seething Danny Cowley, clearly frustrated by an inept Imps display, is sent to the stands as he tries to defend skipper Luke Waterfall.

Harry Kewell will be chilling out, sinking a few cans of Fosters and watching his missus pulling pints in the Woolpack on UK Gold at the break, as his team have played 'The Lincoln' off the park. Another Killers track is the highlight of the interval. Trumpy is unimpressed with what he's seen. He asks if we can sneak off and watch the second half at Horsham FC in the Isthmian League.

A fired-up Lincoln, clearly hoofed up the backside by the Management, begin to turn on the style. Woodyard is pressing and ratting, Bostwick gets his foot on the ball, Anderson terrorises the left back and Green works the channels. Pett clips the crossbar before Green latches onto a Matt Rhead flick before lifting the ball over the 'keeper with the outside of his boot and into the back of the net.

Lincoln are rampant now as they search for a winner that some would say they little deserve. Kamikaze defending sees them concede a penalty, before Crawley seal victory from a set-piece that is once again poorly defended.

I feel sorry for the lad next to me. He's travelled up from Salford, near Manchester and follows the Imps home and away. Both he and I had expected much more but will travel home empty-handed and angry after a poor first half showing.

I'm seething on the long journey home. I won't be playing The Cure You Tube playlist when I finally return to Nottingham.

Attendance: 2,809 (702 Imps)

Man of the Match: Salford Imp

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