Crawley Town – The Manchester City Of The Non-League
Ever think it was just at the top level of English football that clubs were spending their way to oblivion and splashing millions of pounds to try and gain some success? Well, such is the million-pound business of football that this excessive money expenditure has now transcended all the way down to the non-league.
Take Crawley Town. The Blue Square Premier’s version of Manchester City. Financed by owner Bruce Winfield and some of his un-named “friends” Crawley are currently spending money like it is going out of fashion. No fewer than 15 players joined “project promotion” during the summer and most were relatively big names for non-league level. Sergio Torres, Richard Brodie and Matt Tubbs were amongst the highest profile players with many arriving for relatively big fees.
So, who better to be in charge of this project than Steve Evans? Already prosecuted for tax-evasion at previous club Boston United – who are now recovering after financial problems sent them travelling down to footballing oblivion. A controversial figure, Steve Evans is now spear-heading a club who are fast turning into the team that every non-league side wants to beat.
But, with all the news being about Wayne Rooney, another astonishing story is developing in English football. Robert Pires, yes the right winger who used to play for Arsenal, is rumoured to be joining the Red-Devils. No, not Manchester United. Crawley Town, who also share the nickname.
For someone who has had such a glistening career to join the English non-league at the age of 36 – not young but far from past-it, it was only last season he was playing for Villarreal – is nothing short of remarkable. Pires will probably demand a weekly wage that is more than an entire team’s weekly, perhaps even monthly, expenditure at that level. Let’s not forget the fact that there are a number of players in the division playing part-time football.
It’s madness to think that Crawley could even contemplate luring the former Arsenal player to their club. It would be a huge statement to the rest of the division and would show Crawley’s obvious ambition to achieve promotion. Attendances would increase – Histon might even take some fans to an away game – with Pires obviously being the star attraction and the Conference would gain some much needed publicity.
Plenty of envious managers, even in higher tiers of English football, will look on in awe of Crawley’s spending power. However, and I’m no business expert, this cannot be the way to run a football club for the long-term. After spending more than any other club in the division Crawley, with or without the addition of Pires, will have the largest wage budget in the division, perhaps rivalled by only Luton – who’s average attendance is far higher – and must be running at a huge loss. Granted, if you are looking for promotion to the Football League it should be achieved, with the sort of talent Crawley posses, especially with their attacking players, they will be near the top of the division at the end of the season. Anything less than promotion will be considered a failure. However, how many times have teams spent their way to success only to suffer because of it? Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth have all felt the effects of spending money that the club simply doesn’t have.
These are bigger football clubs than Crawley Town. A club that has never reached the Football League before. A club with just over 1,000 seats in a stadium that holds less than 5,000 people. The consequences of a football team the size of Crawley Town slipping into financial problems are far more severe than those of Leeds’ ilk. Ask Boston United fans what happened to them. Chester City fans will tell you a sorry story as well. Any right-minded football fan would take having their team to support over a short taste of the big-time.
Crawley Town will get promoted soon, with or without Robert Pires, they are spending too much and have too much quality not to. But what happens to Crawley if this investment runs stale? They don’t have the fan-base to raise the funds to keep the club running. A French magician on the wing will improve things but for how long? Soon a division perceived, perhaps harshly, as one that encourages physicality over quality, where some teams can’t attract an attendance of four figures and where fans are just happy with an F.A Cup run, may have a player of true class playing in it. How long, however, will Pires enjoy playing against full-time postmen, builders and engineers, who will probably try and kick him out of the ground, and how long can a club continue to run itself at a loss? We will soon find out.