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Crawley Town – The Manchester City Of The Non-League

21 October 2010 by

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.

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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.


8 Comments »

  • oldposhpete

    “those of Leeds’ elk” – I didn’t know they had large North American deer in Yorkshire John. (I presume you to use ‘ilk’). :>)

  • John Verrall (author)

    Presumed right! Whoops.

  • Johnson

    exactly what i was thinking jv.

    as a follower of a conference club myself, it is truly astounding how crawley have found all this money in such a short period of time. my team struggles to find ten grand to finance what is considered to be a large sum of money to spend as a conference club, and they are splashing it around as if its common in this day and age. clearly the recession is just a myth to them. steve evans has always badgered on about how his team do well to get near the playoffs due to his previously ‘restricted budget compared to most’, which he seemed to manage to squeeze in at any opportunity during an interview, and now he has the money, he appears to be pulling it off, but how long can this bubble last? its all very well doing this, but i would love to see them crumble and go back to their non league anonymous status, where a club of their size truly remains. you see so many of these non league teams rise to success by having a well knit team, and a good manager, so why do they need to throw money at it? just look at burton albion, exeter, dagenham, even the likes of yeovil and doncaster who have done well for themselves. those teams didn’t throw money at it, but bided their time and earned their promotion. you look at teams that have fallen into non league and struggled to get out of it like luton, oxford (to some extent), york, mansfield, and cambridge, and it’s heartbreaking to see your club fall so far from what it used to be and see others leapfrog you into the football league.

    Crawley may throw money at it, but as you say, do they have the foundations to stay up there? the simple answer is no.

  • fozzy

    With Evans there there is only one way this will end-in tears.

  • George Welch

    Compelling evidence there Foz

  • rushden-till-i-die

    The thing is though, I would hardly say that Crawley have massively improved since last season. They still struggle against the lower sides, and when the visited us I thought they were abysmal. It’s just a shame we were twice as bad, or we would’ve beaten them!

  • nathan

    Your article was very interesting, if Crawley were to fail then they would have massive problems- financially and with the currently improving attendance/interest.
    Personnally i am surprised by the negative reaction crawley new found success are getting, lets use the FA cup for example- I believe the FA cup is looked at as the best domestic cup worldwide mainly because of the cinderella stories. (underdogs, etc….)
    I look at Crawley as a bit of a cinderella story, this is a club that in recent years have been in adminastration twice, 1 hour away from having to permanently close its door to a team which is taking giant leaps forward, and good luck to them.
    Its not like this team had much chance of achieving this success without clearing the debts and taking a risk with spending large amounts of money on players is it!?
    One of the big difference here from the other cases you have mentioned is that Crawley are not just sitting back now and expecting the money they have to last forever, if you do a bit more deeper research you will see that the club are on a constant search for new investors, been talking to a middle east consortium and other wealthy individuals worldwide.
    If you look at the attendance records this year it is greatly improved, 3rd highest improvement nationally, they are also investing into the community and building youth teams to improve the clubs structure.
    But even if i looked at the Crawley situation negatively and expect them to fail like you – then at least there giving it a go, what would you prefer they stay as they were and most likelly head down the administration road again?????
    I hint a bit of jealousy from this article because would you be saying this if peterborough got this kind of investment????? NO im sure you would be very happy.
    the fact that you have wrote a article of this size and depth about a team 2 leagues lower than you that have been established since 1896, not done anything that special in there history (defo more bad things than good, who have recently had an englishman buy them out, clear there debts and willing to invest money to take them up the levels(cinderella story,
    yet not even wishing them luck or even saying that it would be great to see them achieve the success there looking for, instead you wish for them to fail! Football teams suppoerters should support football too!
    Using Man City as example, success will not come straight away just by heavily investing, it also takes team chemistry, belief and players who want to succeed (improve), by the way Crawley went to Swindon (a team in your league) and lets be fair deservedlly beat them, and also gained the excitment and support of the town, says there doing good so far! (dont forget league position)

    Johnson – “Crawley may throw money at it, but as you say, do they have the foundations to stay up there? the simple answer is no”.

    – you should give something a chance before righting it off!
    what fails for some, may succeed for others!
    Im guessing none of you own businesses, sometimes you need to give
    a helping hand/push for it to succeed.
    A tree starts as a seed, with help it grows!

    _ by the way your right evans is dodgy but what about your owner????
    its not like his property business is 100% – i suggest you do some
    digging if you dont understand!

    On the Pires story, you actually thought that was true! even Pires and his agent have already stated that there has been no contact and they found out through the papers like everyone else!
    Did wonders for interest levels in CTFC though in there town and also nationwide… (possibly very good move by CTFC????)

    As for Rushden-till-i-die, did you not buy yourself out the doc martins premier??????? (“The thing is though, I would hardly say that Crawley have massively improved since last season”)- I think anyone being honest would disagree with you there! (eat your own words!)

    I hope both teams get through next FA Cup round and meet!

    Good Luck Crawley Town

  • George Welch

    “As for Rushden-till-i-die, did you not buy yourself out the doc martins premier???????”

    Why does that matter? You said yourself “I hint a bit of jealousy from this article because would you be saying this if peterborough got this kind of investment????? NO im sure you would be very happy” so you are kind of contradicting yourself here.

    As it is, The Posh were accused of ‘buying promotion’ to league 1 after spending large amounts for a league 2 side, Mclean Boyd and Mackail-Smith costing over £700k between them in addition to goalkeeper Lewis joining for £400k – a club record at the time.

    I feel the negatve press Crawley are recieving isnt because of the money they are spending (although teams are jealous) but because of Evans’ actions in the past as already mentioned.

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