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CONTENTS: Early Days | Turning Professional | The FA Cup | Building Blocks | Dark Days | A Golden Age | The Football League

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Early Days

Although Crawley Town Football club were formed in 1896 and started to play competitive football from that date, they started playing friendlies some six years earlier in 1890. The first game to be played by the Crawley Football club was on Saturday 22 November 1890 at home to Lingfield FC. Shields was the first player to score for Crawley in a 4-2 win.       

After playing friendlies against teams from across Surrey and West Sussex for six years (including several games against themselves), the club were officially formed at the Railway pub (at the Brighton Road level crossing) in 1896. They had previously played games on fields in and around Crawley including Jordans farm (which later hosted the APV Social club and is now a popular Toby Carvery and a housing estate). They however settled playing on a field in Malthouse Farm which was owned by the Longley family who had a long association with the club.

Crawley started their competitive life in the West Sussex Junior league where they remained until 1901. They then moved to the Mid Sussex league and won their first league title in 1903. However, the cost of running the club proved difficult and the club were re-formed in 1905. Various incarnations of the club including Crawley Rangers and Crawley Athletic played on Malthouse Farm field.

In 1938, the club were re-formed again. The clubs base continued to be at the Railway pub and the team played on the now renamed Malthouse Meadow.      

Eleven years passed until 1948 when a proposal was made to move to a field in West Green known as Town Meadow (later shortened to Town Mead).  

Two years passed before the club decided to enter the Sussex County League in 1951 before changing leagues again in 1956 to the Metropolitan league. The league was a competition for both professional and amateur sides. Crawley retained their amateur status and went on to reach the Sussex Senior Cup final in 1959 losing to Worthing 2-1. The club did however win the Metropolitan League Challenge Cup, two weeks previously. Back to top

Turning Professional

Crawley turned semi-professional in 1962 and the following year they joined the Southern League First Division. They were promoted to Premier Division of the Southern League for the 1969/70 season, but the joy was short lived as this particular stint at the top level of the Non-league game lasted just the one season and they were relegated back to Division One.

The 1969/70 season also saw a run to the 4th Qualifying round of the FA Cup where the Reds lost 2-0 to Wimbledon in a 2nd replay. The 1st replay, at Town Mead, was witnessed by an official record crowd of 3,256 (though those in attendance estimate it was more like 6,000) – a record that stood for 22 years! The club did take home one bit of silverware that season – the Sussex Professional Cup.

This proved a stepping stone to FA Cup success as the following season they reached the first round proper for the first time in their history, losing 6-1 in a replay at Chelmsford City after the first match at Town Mead ended in a 1-1 draw. The Reds again reached the 1st round the following year, this time bowing out with 2-0 defeat at the hands of Exeter City in a replay after the first match at Town Mead ended goalless.

A Barren spell followed and Crawley Town remained in Division One South of the Southern league (and without any notable cup success, aside from the minor Gilbert Rice Floodlight Cup in 1980) until promotion back to the Premier Division (now the 2nd tier of the Non league game following the formation of the Alliance Premier League for the start of the 1979/80 season) was attained in the 1983/84 season as runners up to RS Southampton, under the guidance of John Maggs. This season also saw the Reds win the Gilbert Rice Floodlight Cup for the 2nd time.

The first season back in the Premier was a successful one as the Reds finished the season in third position, just three points behind the Champions, Cheltenham Town, who won 5-1 at Town Mead towards the end of March.

A few more uneventful seasons followed, with a 3rd victory in the now renamed Southern Counties Combination Floodlight Cup in 1986 being the only silverware.  Back to top

The FA Cup

In 1990 a memorable 5 years started with the club winning the Sussex Senior Cup for the first time, and this feat was repeated again the following season, forming a County cup double as the Sussex Floodlight Cup was also brought home (the first of three consecutive victories). However, the Reds should have been relegated at the end of the 1990/91 season, having finished in the final relegation spot, but were reprieved when 14th placed Rushden Town, as they were then known, were relegated instead due to ground grading issues.

The 1991/92 season started without fanfare and with normal FA Cup expectations. Long-time Reds fans were used to the crushing disappointment of FA Cup exits to supposedly inferior teams, so after 1st and 2nd qualifying round victories against Molesey and Sheppey respectively, most expected the worst from a tricky trip to Erith & Belvedere in the 3rd qualifying round, but the Reds left with a 2-1 victory and a 4th qualifying round draw away to local rivals Horsham.

Over 2,000 fans saw the teams battle out a 0-0 draw at Queen Street in the 1st match so it was back to a very wet Town Mead the following Tuesday where a record 3,427 saw Crawley take an early lead before eventually running out 3-0 winners to set up a first round tie at home to 4th Division Northampton.

Following incidents at the Horsham game, Town Mead had a new look for the big match, with crush barriers and new fencing installed. An all ticket crowd of over 3,000 squeezed in to watch Crawley complete a famous 4-2 victory and put the club into the 2nd Round for the first time in their history.

For those hoping to draw a big Football League club the draw wasn’t kind, but for those hoping to progress further the away tie at Isthmian Premier Division Hayes presented ample opportunity.

2,000 Reds fans jumped into cars, coaches and minibuses and made the short trip round the M25 and were handsomely rewarded as Tim Hulmes double secured a 2-0 victory, despite a penalty miss from Damien Webber. The day wasn’t over yet though, as the packed pubs of Crawley then witnessed the Saturday night 3rd round draw which pitted their local Non League side against 2nd Division Brighton & Hove Albion at the Goldstone Ground in another Sussex Derby. 6 Months previously Brighton were 90 minutes away from what is now the Premier league, following a play off final defeat at Wembley to Notts County.

Unfortunately for the estimated 7,000 travelling Crawley fans in a gate of over 18,000 (which generated unbeaten record receipts for the Goldstone Ground) the match didn’t live up to all that had come before it as the Reds never really got going against the team from 4 divisions above them, eventually bowing out 5-0.

This record breaking run had given the club and the fans alike a taster for FA Cup success. After defeat to Yeovil at the 4th Qualifying round stage in 1992/93 the team again reached the 2nd round in 1993/94, losing 2-1 to Barnet, then in the third tier of English football, at Town Mead with Carl Hoddle (brother of Glenn) scoring a beauty in front of a record attendance of 4,104. The Reds were also in contention for the league title for much of the season, but fell away and eventually finished in 5th position, 9 points behind the champions, Farnborough. 

The following season Crawley again reached the 1st round proper, losing 1-0 away to Exeter City following a 4th qualifying round replay victory against local rivals, Hastings.

Further FA Cup success, and indeed league success, eluded the Reds and in 1997 the club left Town Mead to move to a purpose built £5 million stadium in Broadfield where they remain to this day.

Success continued to elude the club, the Sussex Floodlight Cup of 1998/99 being the only silverware collected for several years.

In 1999, with the novelty of a new stadium having worn off, but the high costs of it remaining, Crawley Town entered administration. Reds legend Cliff Cant was installed as manager and on a shoestring budget the team found themselves bottom of the league and facing relegation for the first time in 30 years. The club was rescued by local businessman John Duly and the team responded by hauling themselves into mid table.  Back to top

Building Blocks

The arrival of John Duly heralded the start of a new golden age for the club. In 2002/3, following an absence of eight years, the first round proper of the FA Cup was reached. Once again a trip to the West Country beckoned, as the Reds travelled to League rivals Tiverton, returning with a 1-1 draw.

The replay saw a record Broadfield stadium crowd of 3,907 cause the kick off to be delayed for 15 minutes as they filed into the ground, but it looked like they would go home disappointed as Tiverton took a 2 goal lead just after the hour mark. Within 2 minutes though, Nic McDonnell had reduced the deficit and when McDonnell added a second, it was all to play for and play for it they did as Warren Bagnall completed the turn around with just 3 minutes remaining to put Crawley through to the 2nd round for only the third time in their history.

A home tie with Conference side Dagenham And Redbridge awaited and when Nic McDonnell gave the home side an early lead in front of a new club record attendance of 4,516, Reds fans were once again dreaming of the third round, but Ellis Hoopers sending off left the reds clinging on and following a Dagenham equaliser there was once again a late Broadfield Stadium winner, but this time in favour of the visitors.

In January 2003 Francis Vines was appointed as caretaker manager, before being appointed on a permanent basis in February, and the season ended with Reds being crowned Southern League Cup and Sussex Senior Cup winners, laying the foundations for further success…

The 2003/04 season, Crawley’s 20th consecutive season in the Southern Premier League (and the last season before the regionalised Conference divisions were formed), started poorly as the team crashed to a 2-1 home defeat to Merthyr Tydfil, but the teams form picked up and by November the team were well placed in the League and into the 1st Round of the FA Cup again where an away trip to Telford saw the reds race into a 2 goal lead before half time, only to be pegged back and lose the match in the 6th minute of 3 added on… Reds fans didn’t realise it at the time, but this seasons 4th qualifying round victory at Cirencester would be the last time their team won an FA Cup match for 7 years.

As the new year broke, the title race seemed to be just a two horse race between the Reds and Weymouth, who were ‘living the dream’ under the management of Steve Claridge and the chairmanship of Ian Ridley. The two teams met at the Wessex Stadium 3 days into the new year and things looked like they were going to go wrong when goalkeeper Andy Little was sent off. With no goalkeeper on the bench, left back Ian Payne went between the sticks, with his first job to be facing a penalty from Steve Claridge. Ian saved the penalty and Crawley went on to win the game 1-0.

The two sides remained neck and neck going into March and on the 6th of the month Weymouth were in Town. Another record crowd of 4,522 packed into the Broadfield, 800 of whom had travelled from Dorset, and they saw a classic match as two goals in the space of three minutes shortly after half time from Paul Armstrong and Kevin Hemsley saw the Reds looking comfortable, but Weymouth pulled one back and late on Steve Claridge was allowed a free header from 8 yards, but he failed to hit the target and Crawley were top of the League.

The Reds never looked back and, as Weymouth collapsed, went from strength to strength. Easter Monday saw a trip to Park View Road, home of old rivals Welling United. Over 500 Reds fans made the short trip to South East London and saw their team record a comfortable 3-0 win. As the final whistle went, fans poured onto the pitch. Weymouth were drawing at home to Tiverton with 5 minutes still to play and if things stayed like that, then Crawley Town were Southern League Champions. When the news came through that the final whistle had gone in Dorset and Crawley Town were Southern League Champions the celebrations started - Celebrations that would last long into the night.

The clubs first season in the Conference was an unqualified success. From the opening day victory at Leigh RMI, beating  relegated York and Carlisle at home to a victory against Morecambe in the snow in February as Crawley made their live TV debut on Sky Sports. A very respectable finish of 12th  position was achieved, having been as high as second during the course of the season. The club also won the Sussex Senior Cup for the 2nd time in 3 years.  Back to top

Dark Days

The good times were not to last though. As the season drew to a close, the ever popular John Duly announced that the club had been sold to two local entrepreneurs, the Majeed brothers, who arrived at the club announcing investment of £1.8m to take the club to the next level.

Unfortunately, the investment never materialised and the team did not perform at previous high levels. Vines was sacked and in March 2006, the club announced that the entire squad was up for sale and that players and staff had seen their salaries cut in half. In June 2006, the club entered administration and shortly after it emerged that Chas Majeed was an undischarged bankrupt who should not have been running a Football Club.

A series of points deductions followed and the club hovered around the lower half of the Conference. Shortly after the end of the 2006/7 season, former Boston manager and convicted fraudster Steve Evans was appointed as manager. The following April, a consortium by the name of Prospect Estates led by Evans and including former owner John Duly, who was still owed money from the sale of the club in 2006, took over the club from the Majeeds, but the future still appeared uncertain until it emerged that lifelong fan Bruce Winfield and local businesswoman Susan Carter were also shareholders and by the end of the 2009/10 season, a season in which the reds finished in an incredible 7th position, despite a shoestring budget that saw players driving themselves to away games, the club were finally debt free.  Back to top

A Golden Age

In July 2010 Winfield and Carter announced that they had bought out Prospect and the Reds embarked on a remarkable journey.

Several new players arrived at the club during the summer months, including the joint leading Conference scorers from the previous season (Matt Tubbs from Salisbury and Richard Brodie from York City, for a combined fee reported to be in excess of £300,000), but just like the Southern league winning season 7 years beforehand, the opening day was something of a disappointment as the new team went down 1-0 at home to newly relegated Grimsby Town.

The club would go on to lose just two more league games that season, away to AFC Wimbledon in September and at home to Newport County in October, before embarking on a record breaking 30 match unbeaten run whilst racking up a Conference record haul of 105 points. The league was won at Tamworth on 9 April 2011, with 5 games to spare, eventually finishing 15 points ahead of 2nd place AFC Wimbledon.

But it was once again the FA Cup which would give Crawley national headlines.

The club attained their first cup victory for 7 years with a 1-0 victory away to Newport County (the week after the same team inflicted the final league defeat of the season) and followed this up with a comfortable 5-0 win away to Conference North side Guiseley.

The 2nd round draw saw a home tie against League One Swindon Town which was selected for a Friday night live TV slot by ESPN. A Matt Tubbs equaliser earned the Reds a replay in Wiltshire and a place in third round draw for the first time in 19 years.

In the replay, the Reds started brightly on a bitterly cold night and were rewarded when Ben Smith gave them the lead after only 14 minutes. The lead was short lived though and by half time Swindon led 2-1, though the Reds fans were warmed when the hosts had a man sent off just before Half time.

Crawley dominated the 2nd half and were rewarded after 70 minutes with an equaliser, officially credited as an own goal by Swindon goalkeeper and former Reds player Phil Smith. Despite continued domination, the game went into extra time and looked to be heading for penalties until Ben Smith popped up in the dying minutes of extra time with a well deserved winner to send Crawley into the 3rd round proper (for only the 2nd time in their history) and a home tie with Championship Derby County.

ESPN again saw fit to televise and the Monday night scheduling meant that the club entered the 4th round draw for the first time ever and knew that a trip to League Two Torquay awaited the winners.

Things started badly as Derby were (wrongly) awarded a penalty, but Michel Kuipers saved the spot kick and shortly afterwards Craig McAllister gave the hosts the lead, but Derby County equalised on the hour. As the clock ticked into injury time and Reds fans were planning their route to Derby, a Dean Howell corner found Sergio Torres on the edge of the box and he unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner to send the Broadfield crowd into raptures and write himself into club history.

The club were allocated 1,100 tickets for the trip to Torquay and all were sold within hours of going on general sale as hotels were booked and transport planned. Crawley turned the Devon resort red for a weekend that will live long in the memory of all who attended.

Matt Tubbs gave Crawley the lead shortly before half time and in the 2nd half blew a great chance to ensure his teams progress as his spot kick was well saved by Torquay goalkeeper Scott Bevan. When a 2nd penalty was awarded, Craig McAllister wrestled the ball from Jamie Cook, only to see Bevan save his penalty too. The late sending off of Dean Howell made for a nervy final few minutes but the Reds held out for a famous victory and progress into the 5th round for the first time ever and became only the 6th Non-League side to reach that stage since the 2nd World War. The celebrations went on into the early hours and the pubs, clubs and streets of Torquay echoed to the sound of Crawley Town all night.

Then Sunday came, hangovers and journeys home. The draw for the 5th round took place in the middle of the afternoon. 8 ties in all and 6 had been drawn already. 4 balls were left – those representing Crawley Town, Manchester United, Fulham and Bolton or Wigan. The 4th to last ball was drawn. “Manchester United. Will play… Number one, CRAWLEY TOWN”.

The club went into overdrive. Season ticket and merchandise sales went through the roof and on the day of the game, 11,000 Crawley fans travelled to Manchester by train, by plane, by car and by coach to out sing the most famous Red Army of all on their own patch.

When Wes Brown gave Manchester United the lead in the 28th minute of a first half dominated by the hosts it seemed only a matter of time before the floodgates opened, but Crawley emerged for the 2nd half a fired up and motivated team and dominated possession without really creating any clear cut chances, but in the 93rd minute 74,778 fans inside Old Trafford and the millions watching around the world on prime time Saturday evening TV held their breath as Richard Brodie’s header looped over the goalkeeper and clipped the top of the crossbar. Crawley were out, but they were by no means disgraced.

On a sad note Bruce Winfield, the clubs saviour and a lifelong fan passed away shortly after watching the team beat nearest rivals AFC Wimbledon in March. Gone, but never forgotten by the Reds faithful.  Back to top

The Football League

The club adapted well to life in the Football League and finished 2011 top of the table. The clubs League Cup debut saw a pre season Preliminary round match against AFC Wimbledon, caused by Birmingham City’s victory and subsequent Europa League qualification and bye to the third round. A 3-2 home win presented the club with a chance of another Championship scalp in the form of a trip up the road to Crystal Palace, but following a weeks delay due to the summer riots and a dominant first half display, the Reds were unable to press home the advantage, eventually bowing out 2-0 in front of 1,900 travelling fans.

Following 1st and 2nd round victories away to League One Bury and at home to Ryman League Redbridge respectively, January was broken up by another FA cup run as Championship side Bristol City, complete with former England goalkeeper David James, visited the Broadfield. They were no match for Crawley, who duly dispatched them thanks to a 2nd half goal from Matt Tubbs.

A disappointing 4th round draw saw almost 2,000 fans travel to the North East for a match with Hull City at the KC stadium and a brilliant team performance saw Matt Tubbs once again see off a Championship side with a 2nd half goal. A world class save from Scott Shearer near the end saw Crawley into the 5th round for the 2nd season running.

A Sunday lunchtime home tie with the previous seasons Runners up, Stoke City, once again in front of the ESPN cameras, was the reward and the early sending off of Rory Delap had the home fans dreaming of a first ever top flight scalp, but a soft penalty award and a Peter Crouch header saw the Premier League opposition ease through.

The season wasn’t over though and, despite a drop in form, a second successive promotion was still very much on the cards.

Off the pitch, significant development was taking place to ensure that the club could retain its Football league status and on 6th April the new 2,200 seater East Stand was opened for the visit of Crewe, attracting a new record attendance of 4,723.

On 9th April, a year to the day after the Conference was won, Steve Evans announced his resignation to take up a role at Rotherham and first team coach Craig Brewster was installed as caretaker manager with Steve Coppell helping out.

Results remained patchy and a 3-0 defeat to Hereford in the penultimate match of the season looked to have ended hopes of automatic promotion, but a late goal for Crewe against Torquay meant that the clubs fate was still in its own hands on the final day of the season when they would travel to Accrington Stanley.

Over 700 reds fans made their way to Lancashire and were rewarded when Scott Neilson scored the only goal of the game to take the team into League One.

The team started their debut League One season well with a 3-0 thumping of Scunthorpe, and by the end of October found themselves in 2nd place. In September, recent Premier League side Portsmouth were the first big name visitors of the season, though in a match ruined by the referee, Darren Deadman, the visitors ran out 3-0 winners in front of another record crowd of 5,058.

Further cup success was enjoyed in the League Cup as the Reds beat Championship Millwall at the Den on penalties following a 2-2 draw and then beat another Championship side in Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at the Broadfield Stadium. Premier League side and eventual winners Swansea City were the visitors in the 3rd round and they triumphed by 3 goals to 2, scoring their winner just as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes.

By the end of November, Crawley were out of the Play Off places and didn’t return to them.

The club enjoyed another FA Cup run and after victories against Ryman League Metropolitan Police and Conference South side Chelmsford City, Reading became the clubs 4th top flight opposition within the space of two years when they visited the Broadfield in the 3rd round. Yet another record crowd of 5,880 saw Nicky Adams give the home side the lead after just 14 seconds, but the Premier League side turned the screw and, with the help of a very soft penalty, ran out 3-1 winners.

The clubs first season in League One can be seen as a success, though having been so high for much of the first half of the season many fans were disappointed with the final position of 10th. For those of us who were watching the Reds in front of crowds of 300 in the lower reaches of the Southern league at Town Mead, victories against teams such as Sheffield United, Portsmouth, Coventry & Preston North End in the 3rd tier of English football were certainly not disappointments.

To be continued…  Back to top