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Tuesday 18th January 2022 ko 19:45

EFL League 2

STEVENAGE 2 (Taylor 29 Norris 73)

CRAWLEY TOWN 1 (Nichols 45)

Att 1,942 (210 away)

Entry (seat- West Stand- in advance) £22

Programme online only, downloadable

Teamsheet- FREE

Roughly 75 years ago the “New Towns Act” saw Stevenage built, with chief architect Lewis Siskin originally envisaging it as a “gay and bright” place. His utopian idea was see the neighbourly “spirit of the slums” combined with easy access to the countryside, sports and leisure facilities in a self-contained community. Back in the early 1990’s I studied places like this at University and even then there was a slightly snobby attitude to the New Towns. Thirty years later I watch the little “Starship” robots run on the dedicated cycle routes in Milton Keynes delivering people’s groceries and wonder whether Siskin was in fact just ahead of his time.

Once you leave the A1(M) it is obvious you are in a New Town, the ring road with its succession of roundabouts is a dead giveaway, but there’s real benefit if you’re visiting Stevenage FC. How many grounds make driving there as easy as a free car park, with an underpass through to the turnstiles?

I first visited here back in 2004 for a Conference (now National League Premier) and since those times the changes to Broadhall Way have been mainfest. The South Stand now matches the North Stand behind each goal seating 1,800 apiece leaving just the East Stand as a terrace. Now perhaps someone  can set me straight, but these days you enter the West Stand from either end, but I remember entry from the rear, or are my memories playing up? Certainly the vomitories that now lead only to toilets would suggest my mind isn’t playing tricks on me!

Another change since 2004 is the introduction of the online-only programme. Now I do think some groundhoppers massively overplay the importance of a printed matchday-magazine for me the programme is a “Good to have” and not a prerequisite. But I do hesitate (and no more than that) in the case of the EFL, if only for the thought that higher attendances and profile ought to make the magazine viable? I wonder if Stevenage have any regrets on their decision? The teamsheets do have suggested folds marked so you can make them look like a very rudimentary programme. But my general comment on programmes is still the same, I’m there to watch a football match, not build up a magazine collection. 

But the evening will be remembered by Robyn and I for just how friendly the staff were. From the turnstile steward who solved the “Two ticketing QR codes for two people on one sheet of A4” conundrum, to the chief steward who was happy to wait at the end of the game for Robyn to use the loo. It made what could have been a fairly mundane trip into an enjoyable one. 

I was very aware of when Stevenage Borough won their place in the EFL in 2010, mainly because my team Oxford United followed them up via the playoffs! I did wonder why on gaining promotion they immediately dropped the “Borough” suffix? After all the club’s nickname is still “Boro” and that is also the title of the programme?

We caught them rather glancing over their shoulders at the wrong end of League 2. Other than the obvious, I’m not sure why- manager Paul Tisdale’s record at Exeter City was exemplary and despite two failures at Bristol Rovers and MK Dons he remains of the better managers at this level and this game proved the point.

Stevenage had taken the lead through their one player at the time that could change the game, Jake Taylor, but Crawley had equalised in spectacular fashion through Tom Nichols just before half time. So with an hour gone, put yourself in Tisdale’s position. Do you settle for a point and bring on Bristol Rovers legend Chris Lines to shore up your defence, or do you chase the win and bring on forward Luke Norris?

Tisdale took the gamble, brought on Norris who was at the end of an errudite Taylor cross to nod home. That allowed Taylor his curtain call as Lines came on to see the game out somewhat later than could have been the case. I wonder how many fans inwardly thanked Tisdale for what was both a brave and well thought out decision. 

Watching it all was Peter Francis, chairman of the Bedfordshire County League. He’s one of football’s good guys and did have an interesting stake in the game- referee Will Finnie started his officiating career in his league! What neither he, groundhopping legend Brian Buck or I could remember was whether he’d ever officiated in a Beds Hop game? I’ll leave those with better records than me to work that one out!