League Cup 1st round.
Before I start, I’m going to state here and now, I’m not a fan of advertising. It’s a necessary evil in the game. I say necessary because it brings money into the game. Money that doesn’t come from the fans pocket. I honestly couldn’t give a monkey’s who or what the sponsorship is, advertising won’t make me buy or subscribe. Milk cup, Carabao and everything in between, doesn’t matter. The competition is the League Cup. Fans of a certain age will always call it by its proper name. I’m of a certain age. Arsenal play at Ashburton Grove, Manchester City play at Eastlands. Sponsorship like players, managers and kit makers, comes and goes.
No disrespect to Crawley Town but I was disappointed with the draw when it was originally made. I was hoping for a ground I hadn’t been to before. I’ve only got 11 more for the ever changing 92 so I was probably asking a lot. It was also at home too. A small crowd was on the cards. There’s many reasons why. Lets be honest, it’s never really been a well loved competition. Except for a brief period, it’s never really been taken seriously. It’s a shame because it is a good competition. It comes at the start of the season so it’s light relief from the league. It’s under lights which is always special although these days I much prefer a 3 o’clock Saturday kick off. First weekend of the Premier league, 10 matches, only 5 were played at the proper traditional time!!! It’s a competition that has been tweaked and messed about with. It’s shunned by all the Premier league clubs and any Championship club that has Premier league aspirations. I’m bored of the Premier league now. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be in it but it’s lost that appeal to me. It’s not the be all and end all that it thinks it is. The more proper fans I talk to the more I get the impression I’m not the only one who feels this way. The galling thing for me is that the greatest football competition in the world is fast going the same way. I still get goosebumps and butterflies when I’m watching the F.A. Cup draw.
So what would I do? Not that the privileged Premier league clubs would ever agree to this but I would regionalise the first 2 rounds. There would be a points fine for clubs fielding weaker teams against clubs from a lower league than themselves. No exemption for clubs who have qualified for Europe. All 92 clubs in the hat, the 1st 7 clubs get a bye to the 3rd round. The next 15 get a bye to the 2nd round and the ticket allocation should be the same as the F.A.Cup. Would it work? Well like I said, the greed of the Premier league Status quo would mean it would never happen anyway but everything else has been tried so it would be worth giving it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?
It’s always nice to have a half day off from work, you feel like you’ve been let out of school early. Not even rain dampens this feeling and yes, it was raining. I dislike rain with a passion but with a half day and a game to go to, it wasn’t going to wash off the stupid grin i was sporting. Home night games are not easy to gauge timing wise. You can find yourself coming out too early, drinking too much and paying for it the next day at work, especially if your brain decides to go awol and you drink till closing time or worse still, when the owner decides to go to bed. Some people will have the afternoon off and enjoy the midweek afternoon quiet. Some will have the morning off the day after so they don’t have to rush home. Some will come straight from work. For some, it’s a snatched couple of pints and not too much because they’re driving early the next morning. Some will drive to a night game where they’d be on the train or bus on a Saturday. I used to love night games as a kid. There was more anticipation and excitement in the crowd. Well that’s what it seemed to me. Maybe it was just because I was a kid and I was mesmerized by the floodlights. These days I prefer the more sedentary pace of a Saturday game.
I got the bus into town and for the 2nd time that day, a team of ticket inspectors got on the bus I was on. That was a first for me. I headed via the speed bank towards the Post Office Vaults. Coming the other way was Pete from Worcester. Since we both gave up going to the Anchor, (It WAS the best pub in Birmingham. Not anymore.) we’d moved in different circles. He joined me to the Vaults. J.K. was already in there. He was with Dingle Dave and Dave’s mate. It was the first time I’d really had a chat with Dave. He’s a Wolves supporting, Hibs fan. Hearts is my Scottish club. We’d known about each other for a couple of years but not actually met. Until recently, he’d lived and worked in Edinburgh hence the Hibs connection but as a Brummy would come back home every now and then. How we didn’t get to meet, I don’t know but meet, we didn’t. Jinksy joined us from work and the conversation flowed between us all. 4 Blues fans and 2 Wolves fans. We support our clubs through thick and mainly thin but when you meet someone who supports theirs in the same way you, it makes for great conversations. The Mickey taking is respectful with a lot of self effacing humour. The level of knowledge of each others clubs as well as our own is always at the forefront. With Jinksy having a Rangers season ticket, Dave a Hibs one and my love of Hearts, It was inevitable that the trials and tribulations of our respective clubs was talked about as well as Up coming games and getting tickets. Arriving late to a game and leaving early cropped up too. We’d all got to a game late because the pub was either too good or you were trying to squeeze another pub in. We’d all left a game ridiculously early because the game was absolute garbage and carrying on drinking was ultimately more appealing. The amount of games we go to affords us that privilege. We don’t pretend to support a club by parading around in the latest replica shirt without actually knowing how to get to that particular clubs home ground. We do the hard yards.
Then J.K. dropped the bombshell. Churchend, and more importantly Spoons, had won the beer of the year award. This is no mean feat. It’s the equivalent of winning the Premier league, Wimbledon, The Grand National, Master chef, Playing the Pyramid stage, winning the Turner prize, Booker prize, an Oscar. I could imagine his shoulders drooping at hearing the news as it would mean more work. He works damned hard as it is, this next year will be mental. For at least a year, the winner becomes the must have beer. The rock star of ale. They won’t be able to brew and get it in the pubs quick enough. We parted company with Dingle Dave and his mate and decamped to the Clink in the Custard Factory. I like the Clink. It’s expensive but the beer is quality. You don’t mind paying a little extra for quality. It does mean that you invariably only ever have one in there. Pete went out for a fag and got talking to a girl about shoes, strange but true. He motioned to me and exclaimed that I’d got about a million pairs of trainers and Spoons had got 1 pair of boots for everything. Too late, I was drawn into explaining my collection of 20 pairs of Adidas Originals. I was dragged away by Jinksy and Pete to the Spotted Dog. Said hello to Damian and his missus who informed us of Spoons whereabouts. We joined him outside. Offered our congratulations on winning with such crap beer. Men never really grow up. Laddish humour is permanently entrenched in our psyche. I did congratulate him properly though. Spoons is top drawer. Spend a day out with him and count the amount of people who know him. He’s well known, well liked, well respected.
We meandered up to the ground. Both the Main stand and Tilton were shut for this game. This always leads to confusion as to where your ticket is for. What entrance and what not. The Kop car park is awash with fans in the right queue, wrong queue, queue with a ticket, queue without a ticket thinking you don’t need one and you can pay on the gate and then you have the longest queue for the ticket office. All this going on passed the kick off. A huge chunk of the attendance miss at least the first 10 minutes getting in. The smallest attendance of the season seems to always create the worst problems. One of the many things that puts off people attending a league cup game. Leads me to Crawleys support, or lack of. Yes it was a midweek evening kick off, yes it’s a fair mission from West Sussex, yes I know we aren’t what would call a fashionable club but Crawley have never played us and how many opportunities do Crawley have to play in a 30,000 ish ground? I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed at their turn out. I’m not going to dwell on the game. You’ll have seen the highlights and the goals. The best goal was scored by Crawley and the best thing about the game was the hattrick by Che Adams. So safely through to await the draw. On the way out I said a quick hello to Ian Allen and his missus as they were coming out at the same time. I sensibly gave the pub a miss, and got myself off home.
Aww bless em.