Tuesday night (9th January) at the Lane sees a meeting of old friends and adversaries, when Borough welcome Crawley Town in the quarter-final of the Parafix Sussex Senior Cup. The Reds arrive as last year's beaten finalists, and stand second in the County's hierarchy after Brighton and Hove Albion. They have spent most of this season in the lower half of Division Two, although a current run of improved form - three wins in four games - has lifted Crawley's position and given them a quite comfortable buffer above the relegation places.
If Crawley are to progress to this season's Parafix Final, they will certainly be there on merit. After despatching Bognor Regis Town 2-1 at the Checkatrade Stadium, they had to trek to the Pilot Field in the last round, defeating Hastings United 2-0. And now the Reds face another of the County's senior clubs in the shape of Borough. With, essentially, only a first team squad to draw upon, Crawley are sure to bring a fairly strong side to Priory Lane. They were fixture-free on Saturday, and it would be no surprise to see Harry Kewell field close to a full-strength side, although at least one experienced player will be missing as Josh Payne serves out a suspension. The team's last outing was a bizarre affair at Yeovil on New Year's Day, when the home side lost two players to first-half red cards, and play was later stopped, and the teams taken off the pitch because of a low-flying drone! The Gaffer's post-match interview is on this link:
Kewell himself is in his first managerial season at Crawley - and indeed his first in English football - but a man who has represented Australia, and emerged from the legendary 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul with a winner's medal, appears to be adjusting rather nicely to life in the lower leagues.
The fixture might have come along at a kinder moment for the Sports, who are currently in a little rut of poor results, rather like a cyclist who gets his front wheel stuck in a tramline, without actually falling off. (No, that actually happened to this writer, in long-ago student days in deepest Germany. Too much information....) Jamie Howell will no doubt view this one as a tiny respite from the National South treadmill, and a night with nothing to lose. The visitors must be favourites, but the Sports are actually playing a little bit better than results might suggest, and if the bounce of the ball runs their way......
The match kicks off at 7.45pm, with extra time if required. Admission prices have been pegged down to £6 adults, £4 concessions, £1 young shavers. No complaints there, then. Other quarter-final ties - scheduled for next week - include a tasty encounter at the Enclosed Ground, where Whitehawk will entertain Brighton and Hove Albion Under-23s.
And what about the history.....?
We have been here before, of course. During the decade or so of Priory Lane finals in the Sussex Senior Cup, possibly the most dramatic was the Reds' penalty shoot-out victory over the Sports in 2003 – when at least all the drama was on the field of play. Twelve months earlier, Borough had taken the Final 2-1 against Lewes, whose manager Jimmy Quinn was at the centre of some extraordinary scenes where fists were flying in front of the main stand. Errm, moving swiftly on...
Since that 2003 success, Crawley Town have lifted the trophy only once – in 2009, against improbable finalists Ringmer. Their most recent final appearance was more forgettable, losing a dour encounter with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex. It was the sort of match where you reach 89 minutes goalless and you're praying for somebody to score – an own goal, a freak deflection, a three-yarder off somebody's backside. But no, we had to wait for extra time before Albion killed it off.
I'm not knocking the Reds. They have, for absolute decades, consistently led the way among senior Sussex clubs. Worthing, Bognor, Hastings have had great moments. The Borough have risen from the grass roots. But Crawley Town were already there, and they are on merit our County's Second Club.
In league fixtures, our paths crossed for only a few brief seasons. I do recall Borough's last visit to the Broadfield – it must have been in Crawley's promotion season, 2009 or 2010? - and an outstanding goal from Johnno which was not quite enough in a 3-1 defeat for the Sports. Was that also the season when, here at Priory Lane, a red-faced, apoplectic Scottish manager prodded me in the chest, told me to f*** off and said he'd have me banned if I wrote another sh** article like the last one. Baffled and shaken in equal measure, I later discovered the offending piece had been written by Steve Hollis and not by me at all!
I remember first visiting Town Mead with Gloucester City in the 1960s, when the pitch was awful and Johnny Maggs was in goal. But then, Maggsy was always in goal. It's rather like that Dylan Thomas line that "it was always snowing at Christmas". He was simply born in a green goalkeeper's jersey and I expect he went to bed in it. And when Maggsy handed over the gloves, he took on the managership – an enduring character with both critics and advocates – but always a character. I did his scouting and assessing for a few years in the 90s (in fact I scouted every opponent on the famous 91-92 run to the Third Round Proper and the ultimate pasting at the Goldstone, 0-5 to the Albion.) Reds went through a string of managers, including at least one total incompetent – no names – who arrived with a big reputation, spent a lot of money, and disappeared back up the M23. In fairness, the list also included Ted Shepherd, who is one of the three best, most intelligent, non-league managers I've ever worked with.
Actually my maddest memory is the opening of the Broadfield – they'd arranged a grand inaugural friendly with Brighton. It was a smashing new stadium with all sorts of clever touches like the automatic lights in the loos. But administratively, not everything was quite in place, and I finished up selling tickets for literally ten hours of the match day and fending off desperate requests, bribes and offers to exchange a second-hand Cortina for two seats in the main stand. Happy days...
We will be a smaller, altogether more select gathering on this January night at the Lane. But here's to a decent game, and old acquaintances renewed!
Updated 08:32 - 12 Jan 2018 by Lee Peskett