As opined eloquently by @Therealfacup, last night’s victory by Blue Square Premier side over Crawley in the FA Cup third round was possible the country’s least favourite giant killing ever. Even @Nonleagueshow was torn between supporting the non leaguers and lambasting their new-found wealth. Others, less eloquently just hoped for Crawley to go bust. Some said this wasn’t a giant killing due to the money Crawley had spent, with some journalists stating that Crawley were a League One side in all but name.
But this was, frankly nonsense, and a look at the two team’s starting XI reveals all:
Crawley Starting XI: Of the 11 who started for Crawley, only 4 commanded a fee. Depending on reports, the total transfer fees spent on Crawley’s starting XI was between £270K and £320K. Huge money for Conference sides, but not huge compared to Derby. Of the starting XI, only two players played at a higer level than League Two last season: Sergio Torres who played 9 games in the Championship before being loaned out to League Two Lincoln, and Michel Kuipers who started as first choice for League One Brighton, before being dropped around February. Five of the starting XI played at Conference level or lower and the rest of the league two players who were picked up on free transfers were released by their clubs following contract expiry.
We can imagine that Crawley are probably paying their players a decent wage, but it would be mere speculation to try to compare wages. The player’s car park generally consists of Ford Focuses and the likes, with the exception of Pablo Mills who I’m informed drives a rather flash motor.
Derby Starting XI: Four of Derby’s starting XI were free transfers and one, goalscorer Miles Addison, came through the youth ranks. Of the six who commanded fees, Savage was the highest at £1.5m, and the combined transfer fee total of Derby’s players was £4.125m. Only two players played at a lower level than the Championship last season: John Brayford and James Bailey, each player signed from Crewe for more than double Crawley’s record transfer fee.
Make no mistake: this was a giant killing, pure and simple, and that is before we consider the fact that three divisions and 63 places separate the two sides.
Crawley, a League One Side in Name: To say that Crawley are a League One side in all but name is baffling. Top scorer Matt Tubbs has only ever scored one goal in the football league, during a loan spell at Bournemouth. Rock at the back Kyle McFadzean was playing for Blue Square North side Alfreton Town last season. Right winger Scott Nielson has been successful at Hertford Town, Ware and Cambridge City, but most Bradford fans would agree he wasn’t a success for them. Craig McAllister can best be described as a non-league journeymen, having taken in a host of clubs from Eastleigh to Stevenage, Woking to Grays. Right back Glenn Wilson doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! If that isn’t an indication of the paucity of a player, I don’t know what is.
Of course this is sprinkled with seasoned football league campaigners; Sergio Torres was a coup for the club and Pablo Mills is well recognised through spells at Derby and Rotherham. And it would be remiss of me not to mention record signing Richard Brodie. Costing an alleged £250,000 to £275,000 (a figure the club deny, but were not allowed to quote the exact figure by York), Brodie hasn’t had the most successful season to date and is far from automatic choice. He came off the bench against Altrincham to score two wonderful goals, one of which was Messi-esque as he danced through three defenders, put the keeper on his arse before nonchenantly knocking the ball in. Luton fans hate him for an alleged incident with a ball boy and overuse of his elbows in the play off match against York. But he’s not started regularly, which is startling for a player commanding such a high fee in the Premier League.
Crawley Fans: There have been lots of sneering comments about Crawley’s attendances and away fans. Comments like “money can’t buy you fans” and “top of the league and they still can’t sell out” rankle slightly, because there are obvious answers here. Unlike Luton Town, Darlington and York City, Crawley have never been in the football league. And on fan base, AFC Wimbledon might as well have been. Crawley have always been a non-league side, have seen their side decimated by financial mismanagement over the years (oh the irony) and the disastrous era of the crooked Majeed era which nearly spelt the end of Crawley.
No, money doesn’t buy you fans, but I wouldn’t want it to either. And as for comments from one Luton fan asking where the fans at last night’s game were every week, every club gets a bumper attendance for big games, Luton are no different. Just over 10,000 turned up to watch their game against Liverpool in the cup a few years ago. Their average attendance this season has been around 6,000 – a very good attendance for this division, but you see my point. Similarly, York don’t take the away following that went to Bolton every week. For the big games, everyone makes the effort, and this is true of all clubs.
Financial Injection: Yes Crawley have had a massive financial injection and have spent sums beyond what any other Conference club could do. Even more than most League Two clubs. And probably even more than a fair few League One clubs.
But they are owned by local businessman Bruce Winfield along with Sue Carter. Winfield, a Crawley local and Crawley fan, has procured investment from other parties who are not, we are told, looking for a return on their money, at least not through football ventures. It’s likely that, as Crawley’s success continues, so too does their off-the field commercial revenue, and it is likely that it is here that investors will look to claw back any money. Besides, with TV money from two televised games, coupled with bumper attendences from those games, Crawley’s coffers have already recouped a decent chunk of money from their outlays this season, with the FA Cup money being somewhere between £500K and £750K. Wishing a club bust (always a sign of terrible bitterness) is not going to make a club fall down the drain.
Steve Evans: I think this is the reason most people hate Crawley. The man is an odious toad, a repulsive twat, a crook, a fraudster and the man who is largely responsible for Boston’s stunning demise. With over 20 matches worth of touchline bans, he’s an outspoken tool. The thing is, most Crawley fans recognise this. He’s an embarassment to the club and frequently causes fans to cringe. E.g. his comments about Man City and the resulting grovelling apology from the Crawley board. Or his comments about Nigel Clough slating Crawley (which he didn’t) which ended with him labelling Cambridge and Forest Green Rovers as average Conference clubs, whilst Crawley were something special.
Trust me, Crawley fans recognise that the man is toe-curlingly embarassing. You won’t find many Conference managers who are second in the league with games in hand and into the fourth round of the FA Cup that don’t have the full backing of the fans, but then Steve Evans isn’t most managers. And every time he mentions “project promotion” a little piece of me dies.
The Non League Show, the Real FA Cup and other purveyors of FA Cup romance, magic, cliches and dramas should be under no doubts that this was a giant killing worthy of the name. Having a twat as a manager doesn’t change that, having a small hard core fan base doesn’t change that, spending more than your league rivals doesn’t change that and, after Crawley’s history, they should have their moment of glory while it lasts.