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Perhaps we should spare a thought for the ordinary supporters of Crawley Town. The thousand or so die-hards that have been going to Broadfield Stadium for a few years have had a tough time of it over the last few seasons and they may well believe that they, if no-one else, have earned their day in the spotlight. It’s also worth pointing out that support for the odious Steve Evans isn’t anything like as unanimously popular as one would expect, considering that this season is by a long way the most successful in the history of their club. Similarly, the players, whilst clearly too good for the level at which they play their trade, are paid to do a job and do it. Whatever may or may not happen at some indeterminate point in the future of Crawley Town Football Club is not their fault.
With a draw against Manchester United in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, most of the concerns over how the club was funding its extravagance have evaporated, as well. The line “it’ll all end in tears” has been said a lot about Crawley over the last few weeks and months, but this FA Cup run will have earned them well over £1m. The costs of the spending spree have more than been met. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still serious questions to be asked about how the largesse that allowed them the FA Cup run that has bailed out their losses came their way, and trite statements making reference to investors wishing to preserve their anonymity simply aren’t good enough, especially should we consider their level of spending to be a form of what has come to be known as “financial doping”.
And then there is Steve Evans. This evening, he cut a faintly ridiculous figure, with his bleached blond hair, a suspicious-looking tan and what some people watching the match on the television identified as eyeliner. He isn’t just a mere “manager”. If he was, why would he have been appointed as a director of Prospect Estate Holdings, the company that formerly owned Crawley Town, not long after the club’s summer take-over was completed? There isn’t anything to suggest that there is anything suspicious about this, but there certainly seems to be more to his involvement in the club than meets the immediate eye. His and his team’s behaviour before and during their Fourth Round win at Torquay United also came in for criticism and there can be little question that this particular FA Cup run has been one of the most divisive ever seen.
Over the last week or so, even their pre-match preparations have been criticised. A video for their FA Cup song had to be pulled (and, to the credit of the club, this happened with considerable speed) after a “supporter” was spotted making visual references to the Munich Air Disaster in it. He, it turned out, was already under a three year banning order by the club which has now been extended to a life ban. A one-off sponsorship deal for the match with The Sun has also caused consternation in some circles. For those of us that have followed the non-league game for a long time, the notion of supporting a Premier League team against a non-league team in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup – and Crawley are the first non-league club to have come this far since Kidderminster Harriers in 1994 – feels counter-intuitive.
And yet, credit has to come where it is due. Crawley Town were well-organised, tight and had Manchester United on the rack for long spells this evening. Wes Brown’s first half goal came against the general run of play, with the best other chance of the half being a twenty-five yard, dipping shot from Ben Smith that dropped not far wide of the Manchester United goalkeeper Lindegaard’s right-hand post. This was, as it was always likely to be, a scratch Manchester United side, and they looked uncertain against an up-tempo Crawley performance that showed little fear and had a plan to arrive at Old Trafford and take the game by the scruff of the neck. The players gave everything, and their support – even if most of the 9,000 travelling Crawley supporters never have or never will set foot in Broadfield Stadium again – was, as perhaps one might have expected, vocal and supportive of its team. Manchester United were lucky to go in at half-time with the lead and were even luckier to still be holding onto it at the full-time whistle.
The introduction of Wayne Rooney at half-time could be interpreted in many different ways, but it was probably a mistake. In the second half, United’s midfield was consistently over-run by Crawley’s and for the last fifteen minutes they were hanging on by their fingernails. Matt Tubbs managed to put an overhead kick over the crossbar from six yards out and, two minutes into stoppage time at the end of the match, Richard Brodie’s looping, slo-mo header dropped over Lindegaard and bounced away off the tops of the crossbar. It was close, very close and at the end of the match Alex Ferguson walked towards the tunnel in the corner of Old Trafford with a look on his place that was almost exactly half-way between grumpily philosophical and downright furious.
Had Crawley managed an equaliser it would have been an embarrassment for Ferguson, certainly, but a home draw against non-league opposition wouldn’t have been completely uncharted territory for Manchester United – Burton Albion and Exeter City both managed this, and on considerably thinner resources than Crawley have at their disposal at the moment. Yet this doesn’t mean that their team doesn’t deserve full credit for its performance. Even the most hard-hearted of us would have to concede that. There remain many serious questions to be asked about Crawley Town and there are still many reasons to despise Steve Evans but tonight will be remembered as the night that they gave Manchester United an almighty fright in the FA Cup. Evans’ continuing involvement at the club and the money spent to get to where they are, however, mean that their achievements will continue to be met with ambivalence by many in the broader public, and this is a trade-off that their supporters have no option but to accept.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Sorry, can’t see beyond the activity funding the club, so no credit from me – they’ve cheated their way there. Let’s hope they cheat their way to avoiding promotion.
To paraphrase the dreadful commentary – “Steve Evans has done a few bad things in the past but he can only be judged on the future”. I’m sorry, we must forget (as ITV did) his conviction for the criminally fraudulent running of a football club?
The next highlight of the commentary – “on comes now the player they reportedly signed for £300,000″ And that was it, taken as read as perfectly normal. Perfectly reasonable, perfectly legit and perfectly acceptable that no-one knows where the money came from.
Commentators are journalists. Like I imagine the Sun have done all week they set about creating a story to fire the interests of the masses. But wouldn’t it have been more interesting if rather than grandly announce that Crawley had millions more fans, the commentators took the time to educate those millions a balanced view of “project promotion” and the laughably painted hero of the hour Steve Evans.
The final nail in the commentary coffin – with Evans accusing Man U of time wasting, the commentator says “that doesn’t happen in the lower leagues”. Anyone care to comment on the antics of Evans’ teams in the lower leagues since the commentator hadn’t bothered to see for himself?!
As a supporter of Kidderminster Harriers I am gutted that our record of being the most recent non-league team to reach the 5th round of the FA Cup has been expunged by this particular side. I am full of admiration for Crawley’s fans of more than 6 months standing, who have suffered a lot over the last ten years or more. Steve Evans however is another matter. Not only his previous well documented fraud problems, but even worse his shouting and bawling at refs, players and opposing supporters, which have led to the huge number of games for which he has been banned from the touchline, and even the ground. One of the most unpopular men in football.
Paul, could you please explain how the club’s funding is ‘criminal’? Is 200% tolerating libellous comments?
Sorry, meant Dermont, not Paul.
Indeed. I have removed the offending word (sorry, have been away from the site all day). Careful with the language you use, there.
I really do hope that when Creepy have bought themselves into the league the so called “fit and proper persons test” is applied publically to their so far anonymous owners, or is it too cynical to think that they will promptly put the club up for sale having extracted as much money as possible?
Nothing like being creative with the facts for a story – I have to disagree that Crawley had United on the rack. They looked pretty comfortable, and the looping header at the end never looked like going in. Crawley looked comfortable in possession I thought, but without every looking that dangerous, and Utd were always going to be able to step up a gear if needed.
Kentrebel, so far they’ve been pumping money in and to be honest I don’t think there is any money to be extracted from this club. Crawley were skimt prior to this investment.
A quick check of the figures shows that Crawley spent more on transfer fees last summer than all the clubs in League 2 (the one above their’s) put together! Football really has gone mad at all levels.
Ian – apologies, don’t want to cause you any problems, especially as I suspect you probably share my suspicions.
I will of course be proved right in time.
Yes Paul, Evans always wasted time when he was managing Boston.
The Notts County in 05/06 (http://www.bufc.drfox.org.uk/N071005.html) was the worst example, but there were plenty of other times too. Pete doesn’t say in the report but I think it we had 5-6 players booked for time wasting that night.
“could you please explain how the club’s funding is ‘criminal’?”
Patryk, we don’t know if it is criminal or not, that’s the point.
If the funders and funds are honest then why still don’t we know who or what they are?
If such a prestige tie doesn’t bring out their funders’ identities and purposes then we never will and their funding can’t really be about sport in that case.
I also expect Steve Evans has learned from his lessons at Boston United, and I don’t mean in a positive way.
The time wasting comment sums up the poor standard of commentary that ITV provides. A total lack of knowledge, or interest, about anything outside their usual area of coverage.
Martin – I suspect you’re probably right. I’m sure he’s much better at covering his own tracks these days
Apologies for nitpicking amongst the rightful condemnation of Evans but can I just point out that only Exeter managed a draw at Old Trafford – Burton’s draw was achieved at their home.
Dermat, these rumours of large up-front payments to players and lower wages would indicate that he has.
You can only hope that the local tax inspectors are all over their paperwork like a rash but I doubt it due to the sheer quantity of work they have to do with decreasing resources.