Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town – 24 March 2018

I decided this weekend it was time to get back into some ‘92’ Football League action. It seemed like poor decision as, due to the international break, only two of the four leagues were on. I found an interesting game to visit, however, at Crawley Town. They have seen an upturn in form recently under Harry Kewell and were hosting Cheltenham Town. Cheltenham were a local club for me growing up and I saw them a few times, including the 2002 League Two play-off final.

I originally intended to get tickets in the Cheltenham end for the game. Unfortunately, the visitors were only selling tickets via phone from the ticket office. Matching my free time with the availability of the ticket office staff ultimately proved unsuccessful, so I gave up and bought tickets online from Crawley Town's website.

Score: 3-5
Competition: League Two
Attendance: 2,172
Ticket: £22 (£18 concessions)
Programme: £3
Refreshments: N/A
Star man: Mohamed Eisa

Who are ya, Crawley Town?

Crawley, or the Red Devils, as they are known are one of few genuine non-league success stories from my time watching football. The club was formed in 1896 and began life playing in local county leagues. They briefly disbanded in the 1930s, but re-formed and returned to the local scene. In 1956 they eventually joined the Metropolitan League.

In the early 1960s Crawley became semi-professional and joined the Southern League. They remained in the Southern League until 2004 when they celebrated their 20th successive season in the Southern Premier Division by winning the championship in convincing style. The Red Devils then played in the National Conference for seven eventful seasons. Financial troubles hit the club shortly after joining to top tier on non-league football. The club survived three separate points deductions and were within minutes of being liquidated. Fortunately a rescue bid saved the club and they remained one step away from the promised land of the Football League.

Crawley enjoyed a memorable season in 2010-11 after recovering from nearly going out of business. They reached the FA Cup Fifth Round, where they lost to Manchester United, and won promotion to the Football League for the first time. The good times continued as Crawley were then promoted from League Two in their first season in the league after finishing third. They spent three seasons in League One, but were eventually relegated back into the fourth tier where we find them today.

Interesting facts

  • Crawley Town reached the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in two successive seasons in 2011 and 2012. They lost to Manchester United in 2011 and Stoke City in 2012.
  • Crawley won the National Conference in 2011 ahead of AFC Wimbledon. The Dons are now considered Crawley’s biggest rivals, as indicated in a 2012 fans survey.
Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town
A view of Crawley Town's ground

Match preview

Crawley were in twelfth position going into the game. They were three places and eight points better off than their visitors. The Red Devils had won only one of their last five games with two draws and two defeats. They had been narrowly beaten by Wycombe Wanderers, 3-2 in midweek.

Cheltenham had won one and lost won of their last five games with three draws. Their only win had come against local-ish rivals Swindon Town. Cheltenham had won the first meeting between the two sides. They defeated Crawley 1-0 at Whaddon Road in August thanks to a goal by their striker Mohamed Eisa

Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town
The visitor's coach arrives at Crawley Town

The Crawley Town experience

Train: The Broadfield Stadium is a 20 minute walk from Crawley Station. The number 10 bus, £2.50 per journey, runs from the town centre, next to the station, to the ground and takes around 10 mins.

Car:  The ground is just off the Southgate Roundabout on the A23, a short trip from the M23. There is some parking available at the club and plenty of streets off the Brighton Road if the car park is full

The journey from the centre of town to the Broadfield Stadium is fairly easy on the number 10 bus. You alight right at the main entrance to the ground near the main stand and ticket collection point. Entrance is via some ‘high-security’ looking turnstiles, but the feeling inside the ground is much more relaxed. In fact the ground retains a non-league feel even though the club has been in the Football League for the best part of a decade. Fans were enjoying their hot drinks and a pre-game chat by the side of the pitch as the players warmed up a few feet away.

I was sat in the main stand, which is one of two seated stands on either side, having had difficulties getting hold of a ticket in the Cheltenham end. Both ends of the ground are terraces which provide good options for supporters that want to stand, and the livelier home fans huddled at the end to the right of the main stand. The atmosphere took a little bit of time to get going but an entertaining game provided lots for the locals to discuss. The non-league feel meant the crowd were very welcoming, knowledgeable and appreciative of good football. So appreciative in fact they gave glowing feedback on Cheltenham’s attacking approach to the game.

My visit to Crawley coincided with rumours of manager Harry Kewell being courted by Charlton beginning to gather pace. The Addicks look set to be taken over by an Australian consortium, and they’re reportedly keen to bring in the Australian manager. Kewell had overseen a significant improvement in Crawley who were looking like they would be in a relegation battle earlier on in the season.

There was plenty of discussion of the manager’s move in the stands, but most fans seemed pleased with Kewell’s progress as well as his chastising of the officials from his technical area. Cheltenham’s prolific striker, Mohamed Eisa also provoked plenty of debate. The forward had played non-league football for Dartford and Greenwich Borough, prompting questions of ‘why hadn’t we looked at him if he was playing locally?’

Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town
Crawley Town fans prepare for the game

Eisa banks a few more goals as Cheltenham batter Crawley

It took the visitors just seven minutes to break the deadlock. Cheltenham’s giant midfielder, Harry Pell, dispossessed a Crawley player, floated in from the left and while avoiding banging his head on the floodlights curled in a stunning finish. Pell then added his second four minutes later. A cross field pass was dubiously intercepted by Eisa, who appeared to have handled the ball. The striker raced through and was bundled over while rounding the keeper. Pell stepped up to take the spot kick and scored with the rebound after Morris saved the penalty.

Crawley improved slightly after the blow of conceding two early goals. Ahearne-Grant and Camara both had opportunities to get them back into the game. Eisa added a third, however, with 10 mins to go until half time. He once again outpaced the defence, collected the ball again after Morris had tapped it away from him and curled home a cool finish. It was a big blow for the home side but they were surprisingly still in the game at 3-0.

Eisa extinguished any further embers of hope just after the break as he got on the end of a poor back pass to add his second. It felt like Crawley could collapse at this point but they rallied and Ahearne-Grant kept up his goal scoring form with a consolation a few minutes later. Boyle then restored the four goal advantage with a free header from a corner. Again the home side could have capitulated, but again they regrouped.

Lewis Young, younger brother of Ashley, was looking dangerous down the right and his cross was headed home by Camara. Young then scored the final goal of the game as Flinders couldn’t hold on to shot inside the box. Faint glimmers of hope had now returned for the final five minutes, but Cheltenham held on for a well deserved win.

Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town
Players at kick-off at Crawley Town

Final thoughts

Crawley was a refreshing lower league ground to visit, although it was helped by the festival of goals and attacking football put on by the two sides. There is a very relaxed and friendly feel to the ground and the club that’s still relatively new to the Football League retains a non-league culture.The future of Harry Kewell could ensure that the Red Devils are in the news over the final part of the season, and he’s clearly doing a good job with the West Sussex club. Broadfield Stadium is well worth a visit if you want a mix of entertaining football in a relaxed and welcoming setting.