Let’s try and avoid any clichés and talk of it being straight from “a Hollywood blockbuster”; Crawley Town have drawn Man United in the FA cup. But will everyone be rooting for the underdog?
Being a neutral football fan and watching the FA Cup can bring out a natural instinct, something that fans across the country share; a desire to see the underdog triumph. This is particularly relevant to the FA Cup as we’re constantly reminded of how “special the occasion is” and how managers, players and fans should be respect the competition (in 2005 Rafael Benitez was berated by many for not “realising what the FA Cup meant” after playing a weakened side and getting knocked out by Burnley).
So Crawley Town drawing Manchester United in the fifth round means that the whole of the neutral footballing world will behind the minnows…doesn’t it? No.
Around the Blue Square Premier the name Crawley Town isn’t greeted with warmth and fondness, many in that division have accused the Sussex team of trying to buy their way out of the division. This accusation isn’t without its own merit as only 4 out of the 21 player squad were there before the summer. It’s also estimated that Crawley’s expenditure on transfers and wages has neared the million pound mark; they spent more in the summer on transfer fees alone than every team combined in League Two. In addition there still remains a big question about who is putting up the money; a shroud of secrecy surrounds the Hong Kong business group who finance the team. Many other Conference team’s fans have made the comparisons with that of Boston United and Rushden and Diamonds, claiming that the high spending for quick gain could end in disaster in the long run.
The issues with spending can all change with a cup a run though; the Red Devils’ chairman Vic Marley last week claimed that through prize money and TV rights they have recouped much of the cost of their player investment. Furthermore it’s estimated that the trip away to Man United could bring Crawley as much as one million pounds, that alone seems to justify the policy of speculating to accumulate. In addition to the money the cup run has bought, Crawley claim to have no outstanding debt at all, every transfer made has been done so with the money upfront. As well as this, Footballeconomy.com contends that behind the scenes the spending is much more frugal with the players being on fairly modest wages in relation to others in the division. On top of what’s saved on wages, there is not often overnight stays for the team and any pre match meals are often provided by the players themselves.
During ITV’s highlights coverage of the game with Torquay, pundit Chris Coleman appeared to take exception to certain goings on from the Crawley players. He had two complaints, the first concerned the players during the warm up and in particular where the goalkeeper was practising. He claimed that it was unsportsman-like for Crawley to be warming up their Goalkeeper in the Torquay goals as the practising would damage the ground for the game. Coleman said it was generally an unwritten rule that goalies warm up to the right or left of the penalty area as any intense training would ruin the ground for the game. He did have a point as Torquay’s groundsman had an altercation with Crawley’s assistant, Paul Raynor, about that very issue.
Secondly Coleman had a complaint about the lack of respect and sportsman-like behaviour from the outfield players. He pointed to the argument between the Tubbs and McAllister over who would take Crawley’s second penalty and the fracas that went on between both teams over the non-foul on Kyle McFadzean.
This section alone could fill an entirely blog itself, for that reason I’ll be brief. Crawley Town’s manager Steve Evans was convicted for conspiracy to evade tax in 2006 and given a £1000 fine along with a year suspended sentence. This all came about after whilst Evans was manager of Boston United and lodged false details with the FA over player salaries. In 2003 the FA suspended him for these “contract irregularities” and gave him a 20 month ban. If that wasn’t enough his was also given an £8000 fine and accused of impeding the enquiry. On top of those punishments Evans has been given other bans and fines for his actions during games, including most recently a ten game touchline ban after being sent from the dugout so many times at Crawley Town.
It would not be right to say that the entire reason why Boston United were relegated and bankrupt from the Football League was down to the actions of Steve Evans. But some supporters have pointed to his off field activities and the fact he was in charge when they were relegated as a sign that he affected the club.
And so when Crawley Town head to Old Trafford on February 19th it will be for the neutrals to decide whether this underdog deserves their support. Having said all this; Crawley are up against a team with massive monetary debts and whose financial status is also questionable, whose players have been involved in altercations over the years and whose manager has also been fined and banned by the FA for his actions during games.
In that case, is rooting for this underdog that bad?