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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

To set the record straight

Apparently "the magic of the cup" is back alive after non-league Crawley Town were drawn to play Manchester United in the 5th round of the FA Cup. I'll explain why this isn't the case.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Written by Matt Scrafton.

To quote several leading tabloid newspapers in the past few days, Crawley Town drawing global giants Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup "is what dreams are made of" and "proves that the romance of the cup is not dead". Well actually, no it isn't.

It comes as no surprise to me that the mainstream media have once again failed to deliver anything that resembles balanced journalism. They got their Sunday morning back page story when the ironically named "Red Devils" defeated League Two Torquay United 1-0 in the fourth round, and then were drawn to play Manchester United in the next round, and boy they weren't going to let anything get in the way. Not even the truth? Hard line facts? No of course not, this wouldn't be the British media if they did that.

Now let me say this first; Crawley Town getting through to the fifth round of the FA Cup is an extremely impressive achievement and they have obviously done well to get there.They are clearly a very talented side; they've already defeated Championship side Derby County and League 1 outfit Swindon Town on their journey so far, and they also sit in second place in the Blue Square Premier this season. It would be a miraculous achievement if all this had been done by sticking to a shoestring budget and scrambling together a first eleven made from local plumbers and promising 17 year old kids, like other non-league side are forced to do. 

But with Crawley, that isn't the case at all. They are a small club from West Sussex that only managed to muster an average attendance of 1,003 last season, despite finishing in 7th position. Just how do they manage to be so successful with such a small average gate? Well, Crawley's co-owner Bruce Winfield managed to persuade "close friends and business acquaintances" to become shareholders and to pump millions of pounds into the club. Sounds a bit dubious doesn't it? Basically, the club are allowing a crook (am I allowed to say that?) to splash millions of pounds of cash from anonymous sources, who have yet to come out and tell Crawley fans who they are, and just why they have signed up for this 'project'. I wonder why that is? I think we all know the answer to that question.

And what is the reaction from our media? Of course it's to tell us that in fact, Crawley aren't a badly run or badly managed club at all. But in fact they wish to praise them from the high heavens and tell us how they're a club who are leading the way, showing all other football league/non league clubs that throwing millions of someones else money is the best way to go about your business, because you won't be punished and if anything, you'll be rewarded. And even though Crawley spending more than all of League Two put together is a recent development, the club certainly have a questionable past. Firstly, during the 2005-06 season the owners were forced to slash the players/staff wages and place every player on the transfer list, as the club were struggling at the bottom of the Conference table, and as a result attendances and income dropped. This resulted in the club going into administration, and although they finally survived the drop, they were eventually deducted three points at the end of the season for breaching the annual playing budget. All this was overseen by Chairman Chas Majeed, who was announced as bankrupt only a few days after the club were forced to go into administration. Surprisingly enough, Majeed still remains involved with the club and some have suggested he's heavily involved with the current ownership. In May 2007, it was confirmed that all of Crawley Town's debts had been cleared. However complications emerged and as a result the club were given a six-point penalty for the new season, and a transfer embargo was put in place because of financial irregularities. Of course, Crawley Town aren't the first club to go into administration and certainly won't be the last, My own club Lincoln City flirted with such disastrous times when ITV Digital when bust at the start of the new millennium. It's an unwanted yet depressingly familiar part of football nowadays, and of course Crawley should not be punished years in advance due to the actions of extremely suspect businessmen from days gone by. However, what shouldn't be allowed to happen, time and time again, is for the club to continue overspending, when most other football league/non league clubs are forced to live within their means, as of course they should have to.    

So is it fair, that Crawley who continue to spend so grossly, are rewarded for spending money that isn't really theres and punish other BSP sides who continue to run within their budget? Just yesterday as the transfer window closed, Crawley announced the signing of Willie Gibson from Dunfermline for £150,000. This comes after the club splashed £100,000 on striker Matt Tubbs, and £160,000 for ex-York forward Richard Brodie this season, whilst also being linked with ex-Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires prior to his move to Premier League Aston Villa. Crawley's victory over Torquay last weekend was lauded as a surprise victory - but why? With the squad they have assembled and the money they have at their disposal, they should be beating League Two sides with comfortable ease! And is it fair that Crawley will most probably earn a coveted £1 million from their tie at Old Trafford, which will go to covering their debts? Surely that just proves that cheats DO prosper, and sets a negative precedent for other clubs to follow suit?   

The despicable figure of Crawley Town Manager, Steve Evans
And I've got ALL this way without mentioning what is worse about the club. Forget the money, this fella' takes the biscuit. Steve Evans is a vile creature. You might think that just because I'm a Lincoln fan I might be slightly biased against the ex-Boston Manager. But trust me, I have enough reasons to hate him, and the entirety of lower league/non league fans share similar views (Premier League fans seemingly don't acknowledge his existence). During his tenure at Lincolnshire side Boston United, he oversaw three promotions; taking the club from the Southern Football League to League 2 in five seasons. Great achievement, I'm sure you'll agree. Well, actually no. Each of the three promotions were tarred with some kind of accusation(s) in the form of off the field cheating. In 2002, he was suspended from the club and found guilty by the FA as a result of contract irregularities, and then suspended from the sport altogether for 20 months following his involvement in Boston's successful years in non-league football, where the contracts of Boston's players with the FA contained false salary details. The club's cheating was so successful that they gained promotion to the Football League in 2002, with a squad of players they were paying secret contracts to with inflated wages. That season, Boston pipped Dagenham & Redbridge to the title on goal difference, although the FA docked them 4 league points they decided to hold it over for the next season, as opposed to letting Dagenham going up as champions as they would have rightly deserved. What poetic justice it was to see Boston relegated from League Two in 2007, and who were they replaced by? No other than Dagenham & Redbridge. Not content with off the field controversy, Evans is also well known for his confrontational touchline behaviour; which has resulted in him appearing in court yet again, after using abusive language to a match official in 2005. In 2006 in a league fixture versus Grimsby, Evans was escorted from the stadium after berating the fourth official, and in the same season was sent from the dugout after an altercation with a Wycombe player. What a lovable character, I'm sure you'll agree.

And he doesn't stop there, either. Despite seemingly having millions of pounds at his disposal to purchase the best talent available to him; Evans still prefers to use bully boy tactics, encouraging his players to dive, cheat, foul and do whatever they can to overcome their opposition. You could potentially appreciate their success if Evans had managed to assemble a talented team that played football with guile and in an entertaining manner. But assembling the best talent of non-league along with reputable footballers from the football league, just so you can cheat your way out of the league is just a waste. Steve Evans and Crawley Town are clearly a match made in heaven.

So, despite what the media have been telling us; this isn't a dream tie or proof that the magic of this country's beloved cup competition is back. This is the worst tie possible, two despicable teams facing off against one another, to the delight of the ill-informed masses. Is it possible that both teams are knocked out? If not, then I'll settle for a 10-0 win for the "Red Devils" of Manchester. If this is the kind of "romance" the media want in the FA Cup, then we might as well give it all up for good.