What it’s all about (an explanation by Tony)
Drew and I are season ticket holders at the Ems and travel together to home games from Northants. During our many hours of discussion and debate we’ve often talked about the other teams we’ve watched during times of our lives when we were unable to make it to Arsenal matches. We’ve both had periods of watching lower league and non-league teams, and I think it is fair to say we both appreciate and understand life in the lower leagues.
I remember once mentioning this, and my affection to Torquay United, to which one reader replied (and I quote in full) “Torquay? Snort”. Another, with that brevity of explanation that so delights some commentators on football blogs, wrote, “You can’t support more than one team”.
Well, Drew and I disagree, and so we decided last season that this time around we would record some of our visits together and separately to non-league and lower league grounds. I reported before the start of this season a match at Corby Town (of the Southern League). Here Drew reports on this last weekend’s game between Crawley Down Gatwick and Guernsey FC.
By chance I’m flying to Guernsey after the Tottenham game, so hope to learn a little more about the island club while I am there. And this I think summarises our attitude, and indeed my thought when I first wrote “Football news from an Arsenal perspective” on the Untold masthead. Being Arsenal supporters does not shut out the rest of football. To everyone who for whatever reason can’t watch Arsenal in the flesh, I’d always say, “go and see your local team”.
And if you do, how about writing a report for Untold about the experience? If you would like to do that, or indeed write about any other issue, please do read our notes on writing for Untold.
So here’s Drew’s piece on football this weekend.
Untold Non-league: Green Lions hammer out a point against the Anvils
Crawley Down Gatwick 1-1 Guernsey FC
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Excitement mounts in the main stand at Crawley Down just before KO
With an away day for Arsenal and only the prospect of watching it on BT Sprout (which I don’t have) I chose instead to take myself down to East Grinstead and a short taxi ride to the Haven Centre, home to Crawley Down Gatwick – currently sitting top of the Ryman Isthmian League South.
They were at home to Guernsey FC, who are the first ever club from the Channel Islands to be admitted to the mainland football league pyramid. They have won promotion twice on the bounce and are now mixing it with the likes of Crawley, Hastings, the Corinthian Casuals and Herne Bay – heady stuff indeed.
The Haven is a small ground with a clubhouse, seated stand and a tiny terrace at one end. It was £8 to get in, plus £2 for the programme (a pretty good one, but with a lingerie ad that seemed a little out of place…) and the gate was just 149 (many of whom were Geurns).
The very friendly atmosphere extended to the clubhouse at HT where I enjoyed a beer and was able to see Podolski’s second goal on the big screen. Inside was a bar and plenty of food and friendly faces happy to chat and give up their seats. It’s a real leveller non-league football.
To give you some idea of the ground if you haven’t been to a non-league match, when the ball went out for goal kick the keeper had to hop over the fence and retrieve it from the bushes – no ball boys for premiership players to kick here! There are dugouts, someone to announce goals and subs, and even an electronic board to indicate how much stoppage time the ref has allowed.
(Guernsey’s Gus Mackay charges forward)
The first thing you notice is the noise of the players – calling for the ball, encouraging each other, shouting abuse, arguing with the ref – all the stuff that is usually lost in the crowd noise.
The Crawley captain Steve Robinson (who started his career with the Totts but has been luckier since then) spent much of game swearing like a trooper. He obviously hadn’t read the programme this week, which clearly asked the crowd to ‘mind your language and bite your lips instead’ the club having signed up to something called ‘the good language initiative’. There wasn’t much singing but then there weren’t many people there and it was pouring with rain for most of the second half which rather damned spirits.
The football was pretty good – I used to watch Cambridge United in the Conference Premier and both teams here were easily up to that standard in parts. Guernsey took the game to their hosts from the start and played a fast passing game backed up by a very solid and well-organized defence. The away team scored first (in 11 minutes), through Dominic Heaume, a midfielder playing like a sort of deep lying forward.
Another star in the making in the Channel Islanders ranks is Matt Loaring who played really well throughout and had a ripping shot that just flew over the cross bar in the second half. Their right back (Gus Mackay?) put in a tireless shift and really impressed me too. Crawley had won their first 4 games so to nick a point away from home was a great result and well deserved.
Heaume puts the visitors one up
The home side has some useful players too. Jordan Johnson looked at times like he thought he was a few levels above the Isthmian but proved a tidy midfielder. Up front the powerhouse of Ashley Robinson (once a youth player with Palace – and an Arsenal fan as well!) gave Guernsey problems all afternoon. He eventually got the home side’s equalizer (on 61 mins) and probably could have had another. He is built, as they say, like the proverbial brick out house and was very hard to stop once he got going on a run.
Ashley Robinson – built to last
Crawley really should have bagged a second when Wright (Liam not Ian) beat the offside trap and was through on gaol. But he over-elaborated instead of shooting (when have we seen that recently folks?) and allowed the Guernsey defence time to get a tackle in – his frustration was evident (as was his captain’s!)
Wrighty knows he should have done better
Overall this was a keenly fought out draw in the rain in a quiet backwater near Gatwick airport. The travelling fans and their directors (who were pretty vocal in advising the referee that not all of his decisions were accurate!) will have gone home happy and they can do it all again next Saturday when the two sides meet in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.
I got a bit wet but enjoyed it; this is football at the roots, good honest competitive sport with no frills. We can’t all get to see premier league football live – I’m very privileged to have a ST at the Arsenal – but there are hundreds of non-league clubs up and down the country that are very pleased to see new faces on the gate. So grab a map, satnav or whatever, pack a thermos, mac and a sense of adventure and go see a game sometime soon. It won’t be like watching Brazil but you might just meet some interesting people and be entertained.