There is, perhaps, little to surprised about regarding the decision of Steve Evans to leave promotion-chasing Crawley Town for Rotherham United this morning. Rumours had been circulating for the last few days that Rotherham were interested in taking him and his baggage on and even the timing – with six games of the season left to play and Crawley Town two points off an automatic promotion place – isn’t a major shock. The Steve Evans show, from his crocodile tears in court when it looked as if he might be sent to prison over tax offences committed whilst at Boston United through to his heavy-handed gamesmanship of the last couple of years or so, has always been entirely about Steve Evans.
Any discussion of the “Crawley miracle” was always tempered by amount of money that seemed to be flowing through the club and the tainting of the clubs name that came with his association with it. There was a suggestion of everything not quite being as it seemed at Broadfield Stadium as long ago as January, with the sales of Matthew Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett to AFC Bournemouth and Peterborough United respectively. Crawley Town had remained solvent throughout their Blue Square Bet Premier promotion season thanks in no small part to the money raised as a result of an FA Cup run which saw the club bow out at Old Trafford. A similar run this season saw no single pay-day of this magnitude, and the extra costs of being members of the Football League may have put a little more strain on the clubs finances. To merely suggest that Evans is leaving Crawley Town “because the money has run out” may, in other words, be a little premature.
Supporters of Crawley Town could broadly be divided into three categories when it came to their attitude towards their manager. The first group cared little for the morals of having him at their club and were his dedicated followers for as long as the team was successful on the pitch. The second group swallowed hard and put up with the inevitable circus that followed him around. The third group, in spite of the unprecedented success that the team had on the pitch, could never quite reconcile themselves with the moral aspect of his employment at the club and were unhappy at the negative portrayals of their club that they had to put up with as a result of him being involved there. Such divisions can be easily papered over while the team is winning, but at least the successor will have one thing going for him upon his appointment – he won’t be Steve Evans. Last weekend, Crawley Town were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Crewe Alexandra in front of a record crowd of 4,723 people. The day before, Evans had spoken to the press about Rotherham’s interest in him and had expressed little sign that his departure from Broadfield Stadium was imminent:
It’s not the first club which has sought permission to speak to me, the owners have always been very good and shared that with me, they have made me aware that Rotherham have made an approach. We need to get Easter out of the way and see where it goes.
Attention, then, now falls upon Rotherham United and their chairman, Tony Stewart. Rotherham sit in tenth place in the League Two table at present, six points off the play-off places and with five matches left to play. This season, however, has been more important in terms of what is happening to the club off the pitch. Having left Millmoor in May 2008, the club has played the last four seasons at The Don Valley Stadium in nearby Sheffield, but they are set to move into a new home, the £25m, 12,000-seater New York Stadium, in time for the start of next season. Considering this, the decision to bring in such a potentially divisive figure seems like an odd one and there may be parallels to be drawn in this respect with the departure of Graham Westley from Stevenage to Preston North End earlier this season, in that managers that carry this sort of reputation get very short shrift if things start going wrong. The reaction of Rotherham United supporters this morning covers the full spectrum of opinions, but there seems to be a proportion – at least – that are extremely unhappy with this appointment.
As such, Stewart – who has done a fine job of getting the club into its new stadium just four years after leaving Millmoor for good – might even have made his own job more difficult in hiring Steve Evans. There is no great moral defence for appointing him as manager of the club. The defence is a pragmatic one, which looks at the progress made by Crawley over the last couple of years and hoping that Evans can repeat that sort of success in South Yorkshire. If the clubs supporters do end up as divided as they might with the new season and a new ground looming, the inaugural fixture at the New York Stadium could prove to be an interesting fixture in ways that the club hadn’t previously considered thus far. If Rotherham United are successful, perhaps many of these reservations will be set to one side. It seems unlikely that Evans will have the financial steroids that he was given at Crawley to hand at Rotherham United in order to buy such success again, though.
Crawley Town, meanwhile, travel to Barnet this afternoon for a League One match, and perhaps the immediate legacy of Steve Evans’ departure from the club will turn out to be that he couldn’t even “get Easter out of the way and see where it goes”. Should Crawley Town yet manage to battle their way to one of the automatic promotion places in League Two this season, they will at least do so without – presuming that the club doesn’t rescue Graham Westley from what is turning into his Preston nightmare – the gurning of one of British footballs most disagreeable characters as its centre-piece. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, and perhaps in such matters as the possible rehabilitation of their clubs reputation will supporters of Crawley Town find their solace in his departure.
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