FA Cup minnows Crawley Town are preparing themselves for a humiliating experience this weekend. Yet it is not the prospect of facing Rooney, Nani et al that is concerning the small West Sussex outfit, nor the very real danger of being trounced by a heavy margin.
What is bothering the 25/1 outsiders is that the game is being screened live on ITV, which means that the full-time professional footballers will be patronised as if they are special needs competition winners meeting Simon Cowell and all the X-Factor judges. And they are not too happy about it.
‘Its par for the course I know’, Town boss Steve Evans told us. ‘We are a non-league side heading up to Old Trafford to face the mighty Man U. The Theatre of Dreams. David versus Goliath. All those clichés will be repeated ad nauseam and perhaps rightly so. But the players are steeling themselves for far worse than that. We’re talking about proud, intelligent guys here who will have all their family and friends tuning in to watch. They’re really not looking forward to being demeaned, condescended and belittled throughout by a commentator not fit to ties their bootlaces’.
Right-back Gary Hollings elaborates further. ‘Calling us ‘plucky’, well that’s a given. But if that twat Tyldesley calls me a butcher, baker or candlestick maker I’ll be livid. I earn decent wedge playing football for a living. It’s going to be hard enough marking Ryan Giggs as it is without knowing that every time I nick the ball off him it will be compared to the moon landing. I was quite looking forward to swapping shirts with him after the game as well – my little lad’s a red – but then I imagined Tyldesley saying something like ‘Hollings receives a very special souvenir from a very special day’. Bollocks to that.’
It is not just the players who are dreading ITV’s hyperbole and fairytale analogies. Crawley in general is bracing itself for an avalanche of cliché.
Mayor Simon Bedford sadly lamented ‘We will be termed ‘little’ Crawley all day long as if we’re some small hokey village with Fred the butcher churning out special FA Cup sausages for the occasion. But we have a population of 100,000 with our own international airport!’
The airport in question is Gatwick but the players will not be flying up to Manchester for the match. Instead they will travel on one of the many hundreds of United coaches heading up the M1.
‘They’re gutted that it’s essentially an away game for them’, Steve Evans confided to us. ‘If it was staged at the Broadwood Stadium all the United supporters would be home in time for TV Burp.’
We passed on Crawley’s concerns to ITV and chief-executive David Frinton-Smith was sympathetic but unmoved.
‘This is Clive Tyldelsey’s dream fixture. Every cliché and glib term-of-phrase he has ever uttered in his entire career has been building up to this point and we simply cannot deprive him of it. He’s even found out that on that ‘balmy’ night in Barcelona in 1999 Crawley were playing Barrow and came back from a goal down with two late strikes of their own. He actually punched the air when he Googled that’.
‘Our only worry is that he may become too excitable for his own good. We’ve discovered that Crawley’s centre forward is a keen amateur magician. If he scores – and admittedly it’s a big if – and Clive manages to combine the player’s hobby with the ‘magic of the cup’ he may well internally implode as he finally attains the perfect soundbite’.