East Sussex League Division Two
Recreation Ground, Crowhurst
Attendance: 23 (head-count)
Match Rating: 3
Just occasionally on the long and winding road of a groundhopping season, an absolute gem of a club is unexpectedly discovered. One of those days very much took place for me today at a venue hosting a game in third tier of the East Sussex League - or the second tier of junior football, the kind of day that reminds me that watching professional football is an overpriced experience that is losing sight of what football should be about, and even that senior non-league football is heading in that direction too (witness clubs at step four of non league charging as much as £10 for admission, and at step 5, £7), making a dip into intermediate or junior football very worthwhile.
The Recreation Ground is situated in the centre of the very small and peaceful village of Crowhurst - a village well off the beaten track and is only reached by a small country lane. Although there is a train station in Crowhurst about a mile away from the ground, I chose to walk from Battle, following a three and a half mile path along the 1066 country walk and through the RSPB Fore Wood reserve. On arrival at the ground - following a very enjoyable pint of Harvey's in the pleasant village pub - one walks across a cricket field to reach the football pitch. As one would expect at this level, there are no facilities around the pitch, but it does have a lovely rural, beautifully peaceful setting, closely lined by trees along one length, with fields below trees gently going up an incline into the distance behind the other. Behind one goal is a tennis court, whilst behind the other, beyond the cricket field, are the village houses. Between the cricket field and football pitch is an attractive wooden pavilion, from which tea and coffee was offered to all free of charge. Very surprisingly, a full colour programme was issued for this game, and Crowhurst intend to issue for all of their games this season. A fabulous effort by a small club so far down the football pyramid, as far as I am aware, no other club in the entire East Sussex League issues programmes. Special mention must also be made of the pitch, which was in absolutely superb condition, flat and closely cut, and which took recent torrential rain very well and remained in fine condition throughout the game.
Further rain in advance of kick off during the first half made the pitch a little slippery, although happily the grey skies gave way to blue skies and bright sunshine about half an hour into the game. As expected, Eastbourne Rangers started the match very much in the ascendancy as Crowhurst struggled to cope defensively and to mount meaningful attacks. On ten minutes, the visitors almost took the lead. An initial shot was parried by the keeper straight to the feet of a striker eight yards from goal, but the keeper saved well again. On 18 minutes, Eastbourne did take the lead, an unmarked Tony Derese heading home a corner. Rather surprisingly, Crowhurst got back on level terms just after the half hour, when the ball was headed into the roof of the net from close range by Nick Walker following a corner. Eastbourne had plenty of chances to retake the lead, the best of which came just before half-time when a Crowhurst player sloppily gave away possession inside his own penalty area, the ball was passed across the box but a strong goalbound shot was blocked with a desperate flying tackle.
No doubt Crowhurst would have been the happier with the level scoreline at half time, but they came much more into the game as the second half progressed and had several presentable chances to take the lead - which would not have been undeserved. Rangers still looked a real threat though and had the clearer chances - a shot on the run from the edge of the area brought a fine low save low to the keeper's right, whilst a few minutes later, a wonderful low diagonal ball forward dissected the defence to find the striker through on goal, but the eventual shot was well saved by the keeper. Crowhurst had a great chance to win the three points on 82 minutes. Following a fast break down the left, the ball was played across to a striker in a central position on the edge of the area, but his shot was saved. They were left to rue that as, on 87 minutes, they conceded a penalty for a very strong but slightly late tackle. Substitute Jamie Strong struck the ball firmly low into the bottom right hand corner of the net to visibly break Crowhurst's hearts. Eastbourne comfortably saw the game out, and although they probably just about deserved the win as they always looked the classier team, full credit to Crowhurst for putting in a strong second-half performance, and with a little bit of good fortune, could easily have taken a point or even three against a very strong outfit.
Whilst the standard of football may not be the best here, I would strongly recommend a visit to Crowhurst, with an incredibly friendly welcome and atmosphere, the whole club, on and off the pitch, wanting and trying so hard to win without resorting to foul-mouthed verbals or cynical tactics, and a scenic and peaceful setting. With refreshments freely available and even a programme to satisfy the paperchasers, what's not to like? Today was a breath of fresh air, and I wish Crowhurst Football Club all the very best, a club that really deserves to develop as far as it wants to.