13 January ~ Crawley Town made headlines on Monday evening for knocking Championship giants Derby County out of the FA Cup. Yet anyone with knowledge of Conference football will know why there has been a far more muted reaction to the result among fans at that level. Just as Chelsea and Manchester City are widely despised by football fans nationwide for spending their way to the top of the league, so it is with the Sussex side.
Twice in administration in recent times and once on the brink of folding completely, Crawley have received massive investment from fan Bruce Winfield and a collection of businessmen since last summer.
After wiping out the club’s debts, believed to be in the region of a £1 million, money has been provided to buy players for fees that are enormous for the lower leagues. As was pointed out on ESPN during their coverage of Monday’s game, manager Steve Evans spent more money last summer than all of the League Two clubs combined.
Among the 18 summer signings, Matt Tubbs arrived from demoted Salisbury for an estimated £70,000 before being followed by Monday’s matchwinner Sergio Torres from Peterborough and Richard Brodie from York. Both fees were six figures with Brodie’s being a record between clubs outside the Football League.
Broadly speaking, fans of fellow Conference clubs will have wished York City well ahead of their trip to Bolton at the Reebok at the weekend. Likewise for Conference South Dover at Huddersfield. Not so Crawley. Even before the injection of cash Evans was already disliked by many given his colourful history with Boston United’s “contract irregularities” in 2002 and his abrasive way of voicing his opinion on the touchline or to the media.
The recent investment has allowed players to be brought in that can play the attractive passing football seen against Nigel Clough’s Derby but this has not always been the case. Many saw Evans’s past sides as ugly and physical, though still able to gain respectable league finishes.
Crawley currently sit four points behind leaders AFC Wimbledon with four games in hand heading into the final four months of the campaign. It goes without saying that a large proportion of Crawley’s challengers are jealous that it isn’t them who have struck the jackpot. Yet if they achieve their ambitions in May and are promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history there are few at Conference level who would miss them. Matt Ramsay