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Seldom has there been a less savoury title for a specific football match than The Split Testicle Match, but this is the name that has been given to the Boxing Day League Two match between Crawley Town and Gillingham, in which the visiting side’s Chris Whelpdale suffered an injury, of which only the most cursory of descriptions may have sent many males wincing and clutching their groins. Even this most unfortunate of injuries, however, seems likely to be overshadowed by a story concerning the events of the match and, most specifically, the managers of the two sides, Gillingham’s Andy Hessenthaler and the Crawley Town manager – and an old bête noire of this site – Steve Evans.
This bad-tempered match saw Gillingham surprise the League Two leaders with a win by two goals to one, and Crawley’s disappointment was compounded by the first half dismissal of Claude Davis. In spite of this, they took the lead before half-time before two goals in three minutes at the start of the second half from Jo Kuffour sent all three points back to Kent. Three supporters – two from Gillingham and one from Crawley – were also ejected from the ground, but the bad temper, which was exacerbated by Crawley turning the floodlights off while the visiting side were still completing their post-match warm-down, spilled over after the match with a row between the two managers that led to the police being called and an allegation of racism being made by Evans against Hessenthaler.
The defeat was Crawley’s first in the league since the thirteenth of September but it has often felt, since the club unexpectedly came into money a couple of years ago, as if Crawley haven’t deserved to lose a match since then, at least in the mind’s eye of Steve Evans. His gamesmanship and lack of good grace have become legendary in lower division and non-league circles in recent times, but on Boxing Day it seems that a rival manager lost his temper with one of the game’s more abrasive personalities. We know that Sussex Police looked into the matter and advised Gillingham that they had closed their investigation and would be taking it no further, and that the comment made may have been with regard to Evans being Scottish.
As such, the only reasonable conclusion to reach with regard to the allegations made against Andy Hessenthaler is that there wasn’t enough to satisfy the police that an offence had been committed and that, as such, the Gillingham manager doesn’t have questions to answer. It is also worth considering that there is, regardless of the rights or wrongs of whatever was said by anybody on Boxing Day, there is a certain irony to Evans, who has served a one-year suspended jail sentence for tax evasion, and was banned from the touchline for twelve matches during the 2008/09 season for improper conduct and thirteen during the 2009/10 season (including three for which he was not even allowed in the ground) claiming to be the aggrieved party in any situation concerning behaviour at a football match.
Yet Crawley’s owners may wish to consider, in a general sense, what effect Evans has upon outside perception of their club. It was only last week that, in an interview with The Crawley News, the club’s co-owner Susan Carter stated that Crawley Town may need to start cutting their financial cloth accordingly if crowds at Broadfield Stadium didn’t start to increase. The club has been averaging just over 3,000 people to home matches this season, but Carter stated that “if we are to sustain and build on what we have achieved we need to be getting it up to 4,500 as a minimum”. There is little to indicate that this will happen with an regularity. During their days as a non-league club, crowds were seldom particularly impressive – a very quick look shows that they averaged a home crowd of 1,042 during the 2007/08 season, when the club finished in fifteenth place in the Blue Square Premier.
On top of this, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to argue that Bank Holiday crowds are usually a good indicator of what the maximum that a successful team can expect to turn out and watch it. There was a crowd of 4,255 at Broadfield Stadium on Boxing Day, and this included a sizeable travelling contingent from Gillingham. If Crawley cannot hit their target crowd of “4,500 as a minimum” for a fixture such as this, on a Bank Holiday and with the team sitting at the top of the table, what hope do they realistically have of achieving more than that as a minimum in anything like the near future? The club has a decent catchment area, not only from its own town but also other nearby towns such as Horsham, Redhill, Reigate, Haywards Heath and East Grinstead, but football supporters can require some persuading to change clubs and, whilst he has been successful on the pitch and calculating how many potential new supporters might be discouraged by his antics, the old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity is demonstrably not true.
Those amongst us wondering when Evans’ time at the club will be up may be waiting a long time, though. Prospect Estate Holdings was the name of the company that previously owned Crawley Town FC, and Steve Evans was appointed as a director of this company in July 2010, as ownership of it moved out of its hands. This directorship ended on the 25th of October 2011, but on the same day another was registered at Companies House in the name of a John Evans. John happens to be Steve Evans’ middle name, which may be a coincidence, but does mean that we can say with any degree of certainty that Evans seems more closely related to actual management of Crawley Town FC than no more than merely being the man that picks the Crawley team each week. Beyond that, however, we do not know, although speculation – in spite of the enormous amount of money that the club’s FA Cup run last year brought in – about its ongoing financial viability continues from several different sources.
It is worth remembering, when we consider the words and behaviour of Steve Evans as Crawley Town continues its ascent through the lower divisions, the words of Jim Sturman QC, who defended Evans at his trial for tax offences during his involvement at Boston United:
If your honour sends Steve Evans to prison today he will lose his job again. It has already cost him £140,000 in legal fees, fines from the FA and loss of income. I ask for tempering justice with mercy. Is it worth sending Steve Evans to overcrowded prisons? He is terrified of spending one day in prison… There has been the stress and anxiety over four years. He has not slept. His family have not slept. He is terrified.
There are plenty of people who would continue to argue that Evans should have received a custodial sentence for his crimes, and that others that would argue that he should not have been allowed anywhere near a football club for the rest of his life. The pity in all of this is that Crawley Town supporters have to live with his behaviour, every single day. He continues to put Crawley Town in the headlines but, other than the team’s performance on the pitch, it is very seldom that coverage of them is particularly positive. Crawley supporters – and, indeed, Evans himself – may well not care about this, but they will be limited to a wage cap of 55% of their annual turnover and the best way to increase turn-over is by getting more people through the gate on a weekly basis.
There is no suggestion that the club is in any financial difficulty at present. Crawley Town have a new stand going up soon that will increase the capacity of Broadfield Stadium to just under 6,000 people, so continued growth is possible from a logistical perspective and, as mentioned above, the catchment area is a good one. The question for Crawley Town Football Club over the next few months, is, therefore, perhaps one of whether it can continue to increase their crowds at the rate that it has over the last three seasons. It’s not certain at present that it will, though, and having Steve Evans as its public face doesn’t seem likely to make their club much popular at than it already is.
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