Friday, 18 February 2011

There is no magic to be had at Crawley v Man United

As the nation gears up for another FA Cup weekend journalists and TV producers are desperately searching around for the most romantic FA Cup angle to fill their endless coverage.

Non-league Crawley Town, the first side from outside the football league to get to the fifth round for 17 years, is an obvious story given they are heading to Old Trafford to take on the footballing behemoth that is Manchester United.

But ask any fan of non-league football and they will tell you the Crawley story isn’t necessarily the one of ‘plucky underdogs’ you might expect.

In a country obsessed with class and status any football club who flaunts their money round immediately guarantees themselves number one spot in the list of most despised clubs. Chelsea and Man City are recent examples of this while Crawley are the non-league version, albeit on a different scale.

Only four years ago they were on the brink of liquidation with extensive debts and unpaid bills but long-time Crawley fan and joint-owner Bruce Winfield sought investment with a group of mystery investors, principally from the Far East.

Little is known about the people involved in this investment, which only infuriates non-league fans further as that spending, akin with clubs two or even three divisions above them, continues.

They are now known as the ‘Man City’ of non-league, hardly a compliment in City’s Abu Dhabi oil money fuelled era, flying in the face of other non-league side’s recession-driven struggles by flashing the £50 notes around like some ‘80s yuppie.

Their popularity isn’t helped either by their outspoken manager Steve Evans. In 2001 while in charge of Boston United Evans was convicted of fraud after conspiring to cheat the public revenue. Boston were found guilty of avoiding tax by disguising players' wages as expenses allowing them to pay players more, which in turn attracted better players to the club and soon carried Boston into the Football League. They currently reside in the Blue Square North after a turbulent few seasons that included being expelled from the Conference for not exiting administration within a required deadline.

Many feel Evans shouldn’t be allowed to manage a club again while he hasn’t helped himself by a series of run-ins with referees and opponents during his time at Crawley - In 2008 for example he was sent to the stands five times in a season and was banned from the touchline for 13 games.

So while TV commentators while seek to keep you tuned in within sappy romantic tales of FA Cup romance, remember that football’s obsession and drug-like dependence of money is no longer the preserve of the Premier League and has in fact infiltrated the very place where we thought ‘real’ football would continue to exist.

For me that means the romance is well and truly dead.

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