Nuts, Crawley trip ends in disappointment
I'm feeling a little bit sorry for myself as I write this. A sore throat has developed into some sort of "man cold" and I am struggling with phlegm.
My grub of choice reflects my current predicament. I have here two pieces of toast and a cup of tea. The toast is white. Piece 1 is accompanied by shredless marmalade while Piece 2 is covered in the classic combo of honey and marmite. If you are reading this and screaming "what are you doing you idiot?", then I suggest you try the second combination and tell me I'm an idiot. Prepare to have your culinary eyes opened wide.
About two months ago, I received an invitation from Crawley Town Football Club. If you don't know much about the team, they are currently somewhere in the middle of the Blue Square Premier still living on the glories of an FA Cup run that took them to the third round in the 1991-92 season.
My night at the Broadfield Stadium was to end in disappointment
Anyway, the invitation was to attend a game of my choice as part of the club's "Local Heroes" programme. Although technically I was once "local" - I spent the first 18 years of my life in Crawley - I explained I wasn't really a hero. I had never saved anyone from a burning building and I once hit an old man in the leg with a golf ball - by accident. The man was fine but his dog ran off in the melee! Yet despite my past failures, the invitation was not rescinded and I was asked to bring some guests.
I opted for Mark 'Coledog' Cole, editor of Football Focus, and Paul 'Armo' Armstrong, editor of Match Of The Day. These two footballing luminaries accompanied me to a recent midweek game against league leaders Oxford United.
We arrived at the impressive Broadfield Stadium about an hour before kick-off and were ushered into the Executive Suite where chairman Vic Marley gave us a warm welcome and pointed us in the direction of the hot buffet. "Two sausages or three, sir?" asked the man in the impeccable waistcoat. "Load me up with three," I replied. As I strolled off with my plateful, the woman behind me was asked if she wanted one sausage or two. Further investigation revealed that women are never offered the full three-sausage-deal.
Over at Table 7, we were joined by some interesting people. Silent John had precious little to say, while talkative young chap in a scarf more than made up for John's lack of conversation. Shelley was a part-time journalist from Crawley Happy Times. Fed up with bad news always making the headlines, she had decided to set up her own uber-positive website and had come to interview the BBC trio.
I talked about how much Crawley has changed since I left as a fresh-faced teenager, while Armo launched into a Churchillian address about the invigorating nature of non-league football. Silent John nodded in agreement as I wolfed down my third sausage. Chairman Vic came over for a vigorous pre-match handshake and we all headed out to our seats right behind the dugout.
There is something else you should know about Crawley Town. In match reports, the name of our Scottish manager Steve Evans is almost always preceded by one of the following words: "Colourful", "Fiery" or "Controversial". Evans was successfully prosecuted for tax evasion at a former club, was handed a lengthy ban last season and is currently serving a separate 13-match touchline suspension. So improper was his conduct at a game against Salisbury City back in February that the first three of those 13 games saw him not only banned from the dugout but from the stadium!
"Fiery" Steve was sitting three rows behind us and barked inaudible instructions throughout the 90 minutes. Five seats to his right was broadcasting legend and celebrity Oxford United fan Jim Rosenthal. The game immediately took on an extra dimension. Not only was it Crawley against the league leaders, this was the BBC against arch rivals ITV!
I expected a mauling but Crawley started rather impressively. After about 10 minutes, Armo offered a heart-warming "they're not bad, your boys" while Coledog was checking his phone for news on Bristol Rovers at home to Exeter. We returned to the sanctity of the Executive Suite at half-time with Crawley in complete control and a goal ahead thanks to Thomas Pinault.
The highlight of the interval was a speech from chairman Vic. He thanked everyone for turning up and mentioned Coledog, Armo and I by name. We got a round of applause! It was slightly embarrassing, a little surprising but a very touching gesture.
I skipped out for the second half full of optimism and enthusiasm, thinking that Crawley were going to become only the third team to beat Oxford all season. Sadly, as "colourful" Steve's language got worse, Oxford got better and equalised a painful seven minutes from the end. Madness ensued and within seconds Crawley had given away a penalty, only for Simon 'Pepe' Raynor to pull off a miraculous save.
My boys even had a chance to win it when Michael Malcolm went wandering through the Oxford defence, but he poked agonisingly wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. To make matters worse, just when I had settled for a draw, James Constable popped up in what felt like the 107th minute to give Oxford a thoroughly undeserved win.
"That's harsh," offered Armo, while Coledog produced a face similar to Gary Lineker after Gazza had been shown a yellow card in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against Germany.
The final whistle went and I turned round to see Steve Evans eating his own arm and Rosenthal celebrating wildly. After a post-match Ribena, we said our farewells to chairman Vic. As for Shelley, I couldn't help thinking how on earth she was going to put a positive spin on that.
My mood was lifted slightly by the appearance of fellow Crawley boy Gareth Southgate in Saturday's programme, but I've still not fully recovered so - as promised last week - let's get to grips with the top 5 Christmas nuts.
Me and Gareth Southgate, another Crawley boy
I should point out that the humble Cashew will take some beating and that I have little time for the Brazil or Walnut. I don't see the point of eating something that makes you feel like you've put a hair-dryer in your mouth for 10 minutes. A definitive list will follow next week.
You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/danwalkerbbc