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Tuesday 4th March 2014 ko 19.30

Isthmian League Division One South

CRAWLEY DOWN GATWICK 2 (Sargent 28 Akanbi 42)

THREE BRIDGES 3 (Romain 53 Daniel 68 Rivers 90)

Att 113

Entry £8

Programme (reissue with insert) £2

Badge £4

Tea £1

The Mid-Sussex village is one of those pretty settlements that utterly belies its location close to Gatwick airport, and the M23 and M25 motorways. In fact I’d planned on visiting just before the Maltese tour, details here, but genuinely couldn’t face driving to Gatwick, then driving home, and returning a few hours later!

The Haven Centre sits in amongst the trees, a village centre dedicated to education, recreation and leisure with Social Club, Snooker Club, and many other societies and organisations . It has a large hall and three meeting rooms available for use almost every day of the year. The football club’s pitches are behind, and the “Back of the Village Hall” situation is a pointer to the club’s past and rapid rise up the footballing pyramid.

As late as 1983 Crawley Down United were playing in the Mid-Sussex League Division 6 (!) but a triple merger proved to be the catalyst, and the club rocketed up through the divisions, through 3 divisions of the Sussex County League reaching the Isthmian League in 2011. The name had the Gatwick suffix added in 2012 to try to appeal to a wider catchment area. That speed of success of course has had a massive impact on what the ground looks like today.

The groundhopper will take one look at it, and immediately think all the club has done is look at the “Arena” brochure, and purchase all that’s required to keep the ground graders happy. Yes, compared to, say, March Town United’s ground its dull, but the maintenance costs are low, and the groundhopper only visits once. And to write the club off because of a couple of Meccano stands is to do them a massive disservice, as I have seldom enjoyed myself as much this season.

A local derby, Three Bridges are only around 7 miles distant is always to add spice, but this fixture had the added piquancy of being between two sides in relegation trouble. However what made the game was that at no point did either side look like a side destined for a return to County football. It was one of those committed, yet topsy-turvy games that fans love and managers hate.

Three Bridges made the slightly the stronger start and will no doubt have felt slightly aggrieved when Steve Sargent’s free kick from just outside the box hit both posts but was judged to have crossed the line before his teammates made absolutely sure! The lead was doubled just before half time with a piece of quite outrageous still from Larry Akanbi. He collected the ball along the right channel, beat his full-back before lobbing Martin Grant in the Three Bridges goal from the tightest of angles.

At half time the CDG fans couldn’t believe their luck but sadly for them it wasn’t to last Elliott Romain fired home direct from a corner, then Matt Daniel fired home from 12 yards, taking advantage of some ponderous home defending. The tackles were flying in, 8 were booked, but a draw seemed to be a fair result for me.

But deep into stoppage time a free kick was given away just outside the home box. Three Bridges captain Lee Carney hammered his shot in and the ball struck teammate Tim Rivers. It wasn’t much of a deflection but it was enough to beat Luke Badiali in the home goal and condemn them to a defeat they did not deserve.

Perhaps its fortunate that few clubs get involuntarily relegated from the Isthmian League, and Crawley Down are committed to their continuing development. If nothing else, the new stands and fences prove that point. My evening was so much better than I expected.