A rough guide to... Crawley Town

Cod Almighty | Article

by Peter Anderson

1 August 2016

Crawley have a long-term plan to blood young players in a passing side. How long can they afford to be patient?

How are you?
Saddlesore and soggy, that's Crawley. Their match at Yeovil may have been called off on Tuesday due to Storm Angus but they had already travelled to the West Country on Monday. They're on a bad run of results, without a league win in the last six, and they've lost the last three of these by a 3-1 margin. The latest of these came at the weekend and carried the extra sting of being at the greasy hands of ex-boss Steve Evans.

Urrgh, Steve Evans among their old boys? Don't forget Richard Brodie. Crawley's shirt sponsors are Football League Trophy ne'er-do-wells Checkatrade and they play in the Checkatrade.com Stadium. The shame. Don't forget the trouble with HMRC and the club's financial mess before 2010. Is there anything to like about Crawley?

A visit to the club forum is an essential part of a rough guider's research. Not this time. The forum is members only and the registration was knackered. An email to the admin went unanswered. An independent fan site? Nope. Not so much as a rubbish Twitter parody account. It's like firing up Netscape and Altavista and trying to find something in 1994. Throw me a rope here, lads.

Short time, no see?
Mark Stilton had the painful job of trying to unravel that financial mess in our last Crawley rough guide. His thorough job brought us up to 2010. That season they were one of those annoyingly good non-League pains in the arse with more money than fans or perceived history. And a convicted crook in charge. You may remember they broke records that season when they visited Old Trafford in the fifth round of the cup and converted millions of neutrals to Manchester United fans for the day.

Crawley were Town's first opponents in the Conference that season but we were ships that passed in the night. The £275,000 signing of Brodie set the tone, and by the end of 2011, not only had they won the Conference: they had gone on to lead the fourth division.

After that, momentum slowed. Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett were sold for a combined £2million. Steve Evans left to take up a post at Rotherham. The Red Devils staggered to a second consecutive promotion, finally finishing third. Two mid-table seasons followed, before relegation back to the fourth flight in 2014-15.

Meantime, managers came and went. Fourth division promotion had been achieved under the caretakership of Craig Brewster. He was replaced by Sean O'Driscoll but by July, without having taken charge of a single match, he had left for Doncaster. Richie Barker lasted a season and a bit. His replacement John Gregory stepped down after a year to undergo heart surgery. Dean Saunders was appointed interim manager, but could not prevent relegation. Back in the fourth division, Mark Yates took over charge of the team.

In April this year, ownership of the club was transferred to Turkish businessman Ziya Eren, and Dermot Drummy, previously responsible for youth development at Arsenal and Chelsea, became the Red Devils manager.

A new foreign owner. Woohoo. Eren is targeting the Championship in eight to ten years. He sang a familiar tune when he took over in April. "Over the past year, I have actively sought the right club. When we heard of the prospect of Crawley, I knew immediately it was the right choice." He might be a good guy with noble interests but he sure sounds like every other foreign investor. Crawley fans are relieved to start him with a clean slate. The previous owners took three years to sell and the boardroom actions were getting a little murky again (as detailed by WSC).

Town won that opening game in 2010 by a 1-0 scoreline, briefly tricking me into thinking we'd throw a couple of double sixes and shoot back up in the game of snakes and ladders. With hindsight, Marianthi Makra's superb report was the best thing to come out of Crawley that day. We drew the return at BP 0-0, leaving the Red Devils yet to score against us.

How are you feeling?
Some Town fans ignored the success of Hurst and Buckley and the near-success of Slade and got a little antsy the other week about appointing a non-League manager. At least Marcus Bignot has managed in competitive football. Maybe Eren was dazzled by the sight of Arsenal and Chelsea on Dermot Drummy's CV. Drummy had a successful 20 years in academy and reserve football but this is the 55-year-old's first 'real' job.

His position as Chelsea youth team boss will certainly have taught him patience – it might just be one of the most frustrating jobs in football. Years of talented FA Youth Cup-winning graduates overlooked for the first team by whoever the manager is that month.

Drummy took over with two games of last season remaining. Both were lost, meaning Crawley ended the campaign with eight straight defeats. The new boss had a clear-out. A host of players left Crawley, including fan favourite and trickster Gwion Edwards, who joined Peterborough for an undisclosed fee. One thing Drummy should have is that old chestnut, 'contacts'. He brought in 17 new players including goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney and defender Alex Davey on loan from Chelsea. Brief Mariner Matt 'Prince Harry' Harrold returned to Crawley after a long loan at Cambridge.

Drummy's rebuild places emphasis on an attractive passing style. This laudable approach has, in the main, the support of the fans. Injuries have contributed to the current poor run but it has sparked concerns that Crawley can be bullied by physically stronger teams. Drummy has yet to unveil a plan B when this happens.

Injuries have been a factor in the winless run. A gruelling 4-2 AET cup replay defeat at Bristol Rovers last week didn't help either. Long drive aside, Drummy referred to the Yeovil postponement as a "blessing in disguise" as he has a number of players back available. The fitness of Mark Connolly in defence is important to their chances of containing Omar & co. He was replaced against Mansfield last Saturday by Davey. Chelsea also farmed Davey out to Scunny and Peterborough over the past two seasons but he has struggled of late for Crawley.      

James Collins is top scorer with eight and has a handy-looking one-in-three strike rate at this level. Midfielder Bobson Bawling will hopefully also feature for his name alone.

Conor Henderson is known to Drummy from their Arsenal days and signed on a short-term deal earlier this month. He played in the defeat at Bristol Rovers, conceding a penalty as an emergency left-back. From what we can gather he has now left the club again.

Where are you from?
"Crawley is grey and uninspiring with an undercurrent of violence. It's right on the edge of a green belt, next to Gatwick Airport. It's a dreadful place. There's nothing there... It's like a pimple on the side of Croydon."

The words of Robert Smith, not me. Smith moved to the town as a child and would go on to form The Cure with a few of his pimple-inhabiting mates. They're a band I didn't listen to until I was about 30. Up to that point their fans' dress code and face-painted glares scared the shit out of me.

Smith provides some hope: "There is loads to do in Crawley provided you only want to get drunk or fit, both at considerable expense." Sounds like an average away day for some. His cribbing makes you thankful for loyals like Thomas Turgoose, Guy Martin and Lloyd Griffith who give their town a bit of love. Anyway, this solves the mystery of Steve Evans' eyeliner – it's obviously a subtle Cure tribute.

There have been settlements in Crawley since the Stone Age but the current town owes its shape to the post-war New Town Act. So that means roundabouts and industrial estates.

As for the ground itself, Town fans will shake the covered terrace at the south end of the ground. There's free parking near the ground and Town fans are welcome in the the Redz bar at the home end of the ground. If you have kids and you get there early, there's a 3G pitch that we are welcome to muck about on without getting mucky. You will be picking those little rubber beads out of clothing, shoes and ears for a week though.

Crawley have spruced things up since 2010 with a new east stand. Modest of build, it has more pillars than our Main Stand and a tarpaulin roof, but at least they didn't go into hock to pay for it. Probably quite sensible given that crowds have been averaging around 2,500. That's worryingly low.

This is an important time for the club. With a catchment area similar to NE Lincs, the average attendance suggests that the double promotion and two bumper cup runs didn't hook enough locals. Their reference point is the 10,000 fans that went to Old Trafford in 2011. From our experience of keeping the Wembley bums on BP seats, this may present false hope.

The obvious question: if that success didn't swell the core support, what will? How much cash Erin has available to invest isn't clear. Drummy is keen to play entertaining and attractive football. He's on a two-year contract and has been given time to build a team. This admirable long-termism will be tested if their current form continues and relegation becomes a prospect. 

You must be so embarrassed to have Checkatrade on your shirt?
In Crawley's defence, their Checkatrade sponsorship came first. I'd hoped to find a delicious irony like they'd actually voted against B team inclusion in the EFL Trophy. However, they fall into the 'damned by their silence' category by not revealing their vote. They've a foreign owner and a manager that was the Arsenal and Chelsea academy manager. That's basically the two beneficiaries of the EFL Trophy right there.

Addendum: Hold everything. Crawley may have turned it all around with an announcement deep into Rough Guide injury time. This is a fantastic gesture and one which will be remembered by all Mariners fans. Thank you.

The cover image is © copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. It has been cropped.

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