Money talks in the little leagues
With the exception of a few, all football clubs have experienced the pinch of the recession in recent times, terms like ‘administration’, ‘liquidation’ and ‘winding-up order’ have now become part of the usual half-time terrace talk. Financial problems have afflicted teams from all divisions, but it is the clubs in the lower echelons of the football league structure that have had to adapt and suffer the most. It is now common place for teams in the Blue Square Leagues and below to put whole squads up for sale, slash wages and run the club with the bare minimum of overheads.
At Broadfield Stadium in Crawley the story is no different and resembles the plight of other high profile clubs such as Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday. In March 2006 the club were forced to cut all staff and player wages by 50%, put the entire squad up for sale and eventually entered administration. With debts totalling £1.4m, HM Revenue and Customs announced in August 2006 that no buyer could be found and the club would fold within days. However, as so often seems to happen, a deadline deal was bashed out which enabled the club to continue to operate. Despite points deductions for financial irregularities and another winding-up order that was later dismissed their on-field performances have remained steady as a top half Blue Square Premier side.
Their plight is no different to most non-league outfits, or at least was, until July of this year when co-owner Bruce Winfield announced a twist in the Crawley Town tale. Backed by a consortium of ‘friends and business acquaintances’ he had raised funds to once and for all clear Crawley’s debts and put money in the bank, manager Steve Evans was ordered to ‘build a squad that could get into the Football League’.
Evans has set about his task in some style, picking up 10 free agents most of whom with higher league experience and capturing Salisbury striker Matt Tubbs for £70,000 – a figure most clubs in the division would struggle to raise. It was however, the signings of Torres (Sergio, not Fernando) from Peteborough and Richard Brodie from York City that really raised eyebrows. Both players were reportedly signed for sums in excess of £100,000 and if manager Evans is to believed then spending wont stop when the transfer window re-opens in January.
It remains a mystery is who exactly is bank-rolling the club, the co-owners ambiguous ‘friends and business acquaintances’ are reported to include businessmen in the Middle East and China but no actual names have come forward. What is clear however, is that the plan is working. Despite dropping points to other big teams in the league – AFC Wimbledon, Grimsby, Cambridge United – and losing to currently this seasons surprise package Newport County they find themselves top of the table after 17 games.
With more money to spend in January and rumours of a certain Robert Pires being linked to the club, it seems there is no stopping the Red Devils march towards the football league.