As featured in The Argus (p21) and the West Sussex County Times (p47) on 18.02.11. Picked up by the Daily Mirror on 19.02.11
While Manchester United are used to catering for fans travelling from far and wide, it’s not every day that Crawley Town see their supporters flying in from the far-flung reaches of the globe. However, a fifth-round FA Cup tie away to Manchester United at Old Trafford is no ordinary game, and Steve Hitchcock is no ordinary fan.While many Crawley fans will be heading up by coach or by car, Hitchcock is planning to fly from New Zealand tomorrow for the biggest match in his club’s history. He’ll arrive at Heathrow on Friday before flying up to Manchester on Saturday morning, watch Crawley (hopefully) progress to the FA Cup quarter finals, and then return to New Zealand on Sunday. In total, Steve (or “Stitch” to his friends) will be travelling around 30 hours on each leg of the trip – a total distance of over 21,000 miles – but he insists it’s a small price to pay for a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”.
Steve, 41, has lived in Auckland, New Zealand for the past eight years, and works at ‘Real Groovy’, one of the few remaining independent record stores in Auckland. He was born at Crawley Hospital, attended Thomas Bennett School, and his dad took him to see his first Crawley game in the 1979-80 season against Bognor Regis Town. He says: “I remember that we lost 2-1, but I was hooked on my home-town club. I guess that means I’ve been a supporter for 32 years!” Steve was a regular in the Shed at the old Town Mead ground, and also at Broadfield Stadium before the lure of New Zealand took hold. He was here to see the pre-season game against Millwall this season, where he suggests that there was already a sense of anticipation around the club: “Project Promotion had just been announced, and the team looked good even then.” Like many other fans, Steve is still in shock about the tie: “I don’t think I ever thought I’d see the day that we’d play at Old Trafford, but this season just gets better and better – the next thing you know, we”ll be playing them in the league!”
Steve managed to watch the third-round game against Derby despite the time difference, and says he’s always planned on going to Wembley if Crawley ever made it that far: “I’d have to go, just for the sense of occasion and atmosphere. And this is basically the equivalent – our cup final, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So I told myself, if I could get a ticket to the game I’d get a flight over. And then my mate Wardy told me he’d got me a ticket, and the rest fell into place!”
By a stroke of luck he’d already planned to have the week off on holiday anyway, and had decided to visit Australia and catch a few bands. However, when one of the bands cancelled for this weekend’s gig (leaving his weekend enticingly free), Steve reckons that “…this had to be more than coincidence.” Strangely enough, relaxing in the New Zealand sun with a beer is a slightly different kind of holiday to spending over 60 hours travelling to see your favourite team, but Steve insists that it will be worth it, regardless of the scoreline: “As for predictions for the result, I really don’t care. As I said before, I’ll just be there for the atmosphere and sense of occasion; anything more than that in a football sense would be a bonus.” He’ll be wearing one of his three Crawley tops for the journey, and like every other Crawley fan, would love at least one goal (“preferably the first!”).
So while Crawley may need a minor miracle to stand any chance against the might of Manchester United, Steve Hitchcock will be supporting them all the long, long way.