Has the bubble burst at Crawley Town?, after the heady heights of a trip to Old Trafford in the F.A.Cup in 2011 when the Town of Crawley was really thrust into the limelight and then successive promotions from the Conference to League One it seems that not all is well at The Checkatrade.com Stadium
The prospect of relegation looms heavily as the club currently sits in the relegation places of League One. It may not seem like a crisis on the outside but the bigger picture is that it seems as if Crawley’s days of being one of the “money clubs” at the lower levels is now coming to an end.
After being taken over by Bruce Winfield in 2010 after two periods of administration in which they came very close to going to the wall under the previous regime. It seemed as if a new lease of life had been brought into the Sussex club. Winfield showed he meant business by funding 23 purchases for Manager Steve Evans. The purchases helped Crawley win the Conference Title back in 2011 not even the untimely death of Bruce Winfield could stop Crawley getting out of League Two in 2012, but that would prove to be where the progress would grind to a halt
After reaching League One, Crawley are now in their third season at this level but the money has all but dried up. The Club is now up for sale and the owners are cutting corners at every opportunity. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the town doesn’t really have the appetite for League football with average attendances dropping to below 3,000, which for a club of League One stature is a pretty poor return.
The Current manager John Gregory bought in a whole new squad of players in the summer while the last remnants of the recent glory days were shipped out. Now this is pretty understandable for any manager who is in his first full pre-season after taking the job from Richie Barker back in December 2013, but the nature in how this was done was alarming.
A case of replacing the high earners and players that could still command a transfer fee with a collection of lower level journeyman and players that took part in open trials that the club hosted certainly raised alarm with the Crawley fan base and although there was a promising start with a couple of early wins and progression to the second round of the Capital One Cup, the early form has now disappeared, and the club has now slid down the table.
The reason I used term ‘Current’ is that John Gregory only lasted 12 months in the job as he stood down due to needing heart surgery (this is legitimate surgery and not just Harry Redknapp-esque throwing your toys out of the pram after a transfer window). With this the club brought in an interim manager in Dean Saunders which was then followed by a collective sigh of despair. After two relegations with Wolves & Doncaster, he doesn’t seem the kind of man to fight the fires of a relegation battle and the results since taking over have gone some way to proving this.
Ultimately, the club have ‘lived the dream’ of attaining league status but now they are in a somewhat of a nightmare. The club has been up for sale for over a season and although there has been rumoured interest from abroad, the status hasn’t changed since the FOR SALE sign went up.
The situation is clouded in mystery with the actual owners never actually being announced with only Sue Carter as the mouthpiece so dialogue between owners and fans is very limited and isn’t really conducive to a harmonious atmosphere at the club. The owners keep talking about grand plans for a new stadium, but with the current average attendance rarely topping 3,000 (albeit in only a 6,000 capacity stadium) this shows that gate receipts as their main form of revenue isn’t subsidising the running of the club and why build a new stadium when they can hardly fill the small one they have now.
So Crawley are in a position where the current owners are putting in the minimum required to keep the club alive while being up for sale, with the longer this situation continues the ever growing threat of Administration (for their third time in their history) also looms. Although it could be a case of third time unlucky if it happens this time around and they could the go the way of other clubs such as Darlington and Rushden & Diamonds who spent so much so soon by spending far more than a club of their stature can really handle and ultimately proved to be their doing. I would say relegation is a certainty for Crawley this season (although I would like to be proved wrong) the bigger concern for them is will they still be in the Football League in a couple of seasons time, or is this the start of a very slippery slope?