If Wimbledon FC were the soap opera of the Premier League back in the 90’s, Crawley Town are surely everyone’s favourite drama in the Conference Premier this decade. Sadly as Wimbledon fans know only too well, the phrase ‘soap opera’ and ‘laughing stock’ are probably interchangeable in the opening sentence. From the Majeed brothers and their views on who could hold a directorship of a company whilst still in bankruptcy (which of course differed from the laws interpretation…), through to a serious financial crisis which threatened to sink the club, seemingly never-ending points deductions, and flirtations with relegation, at least you could feel some sympathy for the club (by which I mean the long suffering supporters). A sympathy that has been severely tested due to the arrival of this gentleman…
Evans is indeed a convicted fraudster (although whether he is clinically obese is a matter between him and his doctor, although its probably fair comment to say he’s really, really fat…). He received a one year suspended jail sentence back in 2006, due to lying about the actual amount players had been paid, cheating the taxman (and therefore every one of us…) and cheating every club Boston faced during this period. The gritty details behind the case are there for all to see, but the truth is even disregarding this matter Evans seems a deeply unpleasant man, due to the sheer number of times he has found himself in trouble for abusing officials and supporters.
Its hard to see a good side to Evans, however with out wanting to stand up for the guy I suppose it makes all the difference if he actually manages your club. Crawley Town are so much more than Steve Evans though (even if sometimes it no longer seems like it is), so let’s take a closer look at the football club itself…
Crawley Town were formed way back in the nineteenth century, and like many clubs they pottered about in county football remaining amateur until the professional revolution that took place in the sixties saw them start paying their players and joining the Southern League back in 1962, the year a still amateur Wimbledon side were beginning a campaign that resulted in our only amateur cup triumph.
After a brief sojourn into the Premier Division in the late sixties, which lasted all of a year, Crawley remained at the lower level until they were promoted again in 1984. This time they stayed there, right up until Francis Vines guided them to promotion in 2004 (I remember Vines as a prolific goalscorer at Kingstonian during his playing days, and he can currently be found plotting Farnborough’s journey back to the Conference). No one can claim Crawleys progress was spectacular, but it was at least steady to the point they have slowly progressed to where they are today, mirroring the growth of Crawley as a town. Population in the 1961 census stood at approximately 25,000, growing to just shy of 100,000 at the 2001 census, meaning Crawley not only is a large enough town to support a catchment footprint required for supporting football at Conference level, its probably big enough to support league football as well.
Dreams of the future are contrasted sharply by the recent problems mentioned in the introduction. Those points deductions in full were as follows; in 2006 they were deducted 3 points for breaching the salary cap, however they were well clear of relegation by that stage, the beginning of the next season (where the club were within hours of being wound up) saw a 10 point deduction for entering administration – this being the season that Ben Judge spent a spell as co-manager, 07/08 saw six points deducted for financial irregularities, and last season they were deducted a point (reduced on appeal from four) due to playing Isiah Rankin when he hadn’t been correctly registered with the league.
Despite the points deduction they looked reasonably comfortable, in fact starting the season very well indeed in Evans second season in charge, topping the table until falling off slightly. Having said that they did manage to remain in the playoff shake-up for most of the season until their appeal against the points deduction seemed to take its toll, and as sides with larger squads strengthened Crawley chose to sell American born striker Jon-Paul Pittman, their top scorers and good enough to earn an England C cap down to his goalscoring prowess (and British citizen status!)
Judging by recent history, Crawley just need to catch a few breaks. Its probably fair to say Crawley hadn’t quite yet managed to establish themselves as a Conference club until last season, if only due to the chaos over the few seasons before. However they find themselves on a much firmer footing now than the likes of rivals like Ebbsfleet, and newer arrivals like Eastbourne or Salisbury. Despite talks of budget cuts I can’t see Crawley being in any kind of relegation difficulty next term, although perhaps a playoff place is beyond them unless they have one hell of a season.
Capable of pulling in over 2,000 when doing well, Crawley suffer on cold nights when they are up against the lure of Champions League on the telly. Only 600 hardy individuals made the effort to turn out for a February night game against Lewes, perhaps more criminally they drew only 737 for a much higher profile fixture with Wrexham a week later. Sprinkle in a few sub 1000 home attendances and you start to see a problem.
The reason Burton went up this season has more to do with slowly generating a loyal fan base in excess of 2000, patiently built up over time, than perhaps a first glance would give credit for. This gave them a strong base to perhaps take a few more financial risks in their push for the Football League. The reason Crawley will remain in the Conference is they have built a fan base of several hundred loyal supporters, its only when they can push this figure over the thousand mark that they can realistically plan for the future, and hope its not another twenty years until Crawley make their next progression up the leagues.
Crawley have existing rivalries with Brighton (a proximity thing…), our pacemakers at Aldershot, and Woking. As you’ll all remember Woking were relegated last year… so with our own local games restricted to Hayes and a cross city trip to Grays, the next closest will be… Crawley. Perhaps a decent regional rivalry will develop over the coming years?
I suppose what we really need is a bad tempered first meeting with them, a couple of sendings off, and some serious organisational mistreatment of whichever of us are the visiting supporters are on the day. Otherwise the whole thing could end up feeling a bit contrived, and we could suffer the problems we had with Chelmsford where it all got a little too matey for my liking!
A few seasons ago I made the foolhardy attempt to attend all our preseason friendlies. After seven games, including trips to places like Bognor, Cobham (3 miles walk from the station for an evening friendly?) and Hanwell, and snooze fests at the Meadow against FC United, Aldershot and Kingstzzzzzzz… I decided enough was enough. I wouldn’t be attending any more fixtures until the season proper, starting from an evening visit to Crawley. So not only did I miss out on nine goals on the night, I also didn’t get the chance to check out the Broadfield Stadium. Obviously I won’t be making the same mistake this time around.
Broadfield is council owned, and looks as though it has plenty of space around it if Crawley continue their slow progress and need to expand. With a large, slightly raised, main stand that seems to dominate the ground, and two fairly spacious end terraces which hold 1600 (one of which is given over to away supporters, so we shouldn’t have any problems getting us all in unless its on a Bank Holiday…), Coupled with a small terrace on the remaining side (presumably the home of their moaning old men?) – a better than decent ground by the look of it.
Last seasons prices were £16/£12/£6 for seats or £13/£9/£4 for terraces. Ill keep my eyes open for any price rises next season but overall, not that much more expensive than us…
AFC Era – The aforementioned 4-5 friendly defeat, but as yet no meaningful action… until now.
All Time Wimbledon –
Our first meeting was a Southern League Division One fixture on 28th November 1964 won by Crawley by 2-0 at their old Town Mead ground.
Wimbledons largest win came at Plough Lane on 13th December 1969, winning 9-0 in the Southern League Premier Division, strangely after our only three cup ties had been played the month before, drawing twice 0-0 before the Dons finally overcame Crawley 2-0 at the third time of asking in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round.