As you may have noticed, yesterday was the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. I almost didn’t, lost in the sheer euphoria of a third Imps league win in a row (last time that happened, October 2008) but, while watching Southampton v Man Utd I heard the commentator (either Clive Tyldesly or Peter Drury, who can tell the difference?) refer to Crawley Town’s win away to Torquay as a giant killing. Something we’d all want to tune into ITV later to see highlights of. Similarly today’s report on the game in the Sunday Telegraph doesn’t quite claim that Crawley are a team of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers but it might as well.
And it’s true, they are only the sixth non league team to reach the last sixteen since the war, they play at a stadium with a capacity of under 5,000 and disposed of the Championship’s Derby County in the third round.
But if people in the national media actually bothered to actually do some research they’d know that Crawley’s is far from the plucky underdog story they want it to be. They are owned by a man called Bruce Winfield, but lavishly funded by two of his “Hong Kong business acquaintances”.
They’re managed by former Boston United manager and convicted fraudster and tax evader Steve Evans, who orchestrated a fake contract scam that saw Boston, a middle ranking non league club, reach the football league, explained in more detail here:
In one case, Ken Charlery was recorded as being paid £120 per week when he was actually being paid £620 per week and had received a £16,000 signing on fee for the club, against which no tax had been paid. In another, the former Liverpool defender Mike Marsh was contracted as being paid £100 per week when he was actually earning £1,000 per week. The difference was paid through “expenses”, against which no tax was payable.
Now, I have to be careful here. I mention this merely to illustrate that when Steve Evans is referred to as “a man opposition fans love to hate” it’s not because he’s a pantomime villan like Robbie Savage. He’s not hated for his success and arrogance, like Jose Mourinho.
He’s hated because he’s a fraudster and a cheat, who dragged a decent football club’s name and reputation through the mud and left them in disarray. (Read a Boston fan’s withering assessment of Evans’ time in charge here) He denied the team who came in second the season Boston got promoted, Dagenham and Redbridge, their legitimately earned place in the Football League. And defrauded the taxman (ie, you and me) of £300,000. People have gone to prison for much less.
Back to Crawley, though. They’re thought to have spent £500,000 on transfers (and who knows how much on wages) this summer, more than the whole of League 2 combined, let alone Torquay United. Within their squad they boast players with league experience who could no doubt play at a higher level (Lincoln fans will remember the promise midfielder Sergio Torres showed in his curtailed loan spell with us). They would be favourites against most teams in League 2.
But this narrative is too complex for the media to deal with in the lower leagues. There’s simply no room for a club like Crawley and their story to be adequately explained, so they settle on the idea of them as plucky underdogs who we should cheer on against the “big boys” like, er, Torquay. We shouldn’t. I’ll be cheering on whoever they draw in the Fifth Round.
Two other incidents that brought to attention the media’s dismissive attitude towards the lower leagues this week:
1. The Sun’s Supergoals supplement on Monday. Ashley Grimes’ winner for Lincoln against Stockport (league positions going into the game, 24th and 21st) was referred to as “a boost for Lincoln’s playoff hopes”. Erm, yeah.
2. The BBC cancelling the Football League Show yesterday. Despite the large amount of Football League action. Seems we only get our highlights if the Premier League plays as well. Cheers guys.