"Never you mind how much we're on a week"
With all the batshit mentalism flying around in the Premier League on transfer deadline day, I’ve decided not to dignify it with a response. Aside from an unintelligible ‘URGH?!?!’. No doubt the Sky Sports Newsroom resembled some sort of binge-driven party aftermath this morning, as Jim White stumbled around mumbling something about helicopters and Iain Dowie’s face, and Bryan Swanson beats the shit out of what was LITERALLY his transfer window, screaming something about being a proper journalist and not a glorified gameshow assistant.
It’s never hard to poke fun at Sky’s Transfer Deadline (Please Let Us Create Hype Where There Really Isn’t Any) Day coverage, but so obsessed were they with Premier League big boys chucking megabucks at the most ridiculous transfers since I ironed B*Witched onto a t-shirt, they forgot about reporting anything else. One particular story to receive little to no air time was Crawley Town’s purchase of Willie Gibson from Dunfermline. Having had a £150,000 bid for the winger turned down in the summer, Steve Evans returned with what is believed to be another six-figure offer, which was accepted.
Crawley, as you probably know, are now a bit loaded even though they nearly went bust in 2006. They’re also on a bit of a cup run and will visit Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup. They might even be the only non-league club in the history of the universe for whom the phrase ‘money-spinning tie’ is not the be-all and end-all of their breaking even this season. And this combination of financial clout and success – particularly when it seems so scarcely deserved – is what makes the rest of the Conference really hope Crawley don’t get promoted this year.
And let’s be honest, it does make them bloody hard to like. You wouldn’t begrudge someone recently fallen on hard times coming into a bit of money of course, but if it was so much they just went out and bought a personalised cape, dolphin crumpets and a volcano carved into an image of their own face, you’d feel a bit miffed at their totally undeserved affluence. Moreover, that list actually sounds a lot like things FIFA would buy, and we all know what they’re like.
Crawley maintain that their recruitment is responsible and their wages sustainable (although I would love to know how a total bill of £85,000 a week in the Conference is sustainable). It’s not even like they’re brashly linking themselves to Premier League or Championship players – they’re only second in the Conference, after all. But the disparity is so massive between them and the clubs around them in their league, and of course in League Two (Crawley outspent the entire fourth tier in the summer transfer window, while only eight League Two clubs signed players for a fee in January), it makes it difficult to wish them well and mean it.
Sour grapes abound in the lower leagues due in part to jealousy of course, but also at the sheer bloody unfairness of competing with a club who can pay significant transfer fees. It is like (gear up for tedious apple/onion analogy) saving all year to buy the shiniest apple in the local market only to find that Crawley have got there first and have not only bought that apple, but ALL the apples. Within a five-mile radius. Leaving just a shitty little stall loaded with average-looking onions.
Taking the plummiest of plum FA Cup ties out the equation, part of the animosity towards Crawley, ironically, stems from the increasing competitiveness of the Conference. It’s been this way for a few years now, with only one automatic promotion place available, that the league is ever-more keenly contested. For so long the domain of part-timers, the Conference is full to the brim with either relegated Football League clubs, still fully professional, or upwardly mobile clubs with investment. Crawley’s bank balance is just the biggest the division has seen for a while – remember Rushden & Diamonds anyone? Always a Championship Manager favourite due to their (relatively) massive budget in the Conference.
The objections of the most dubious are over the identity of the individual to whom such a bank balance has been entrusted. Steve Evans doesn’t have a squeaky clean reputation, as we know, but also seems to have that miraculous ability to rub everyone up the wrong way. And not in the way Jose Mourinho does, either. Evans was convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue (doctoring accounts of players’ salaries and bonuses), through which he took Boston United into the Football League and ultimately caused them to plummet out of it.
By contrast, Crawley’s dealings thus far are all above board. All transfer fees have been paid up front to avoid debts. How much those fees are, and the standard of player involved is somewhat immaterial. There is certainly a grudging admiration for the achievement of players, who may or may not be Football League standard, beating three professional clubs in succession and getting a trip to Old Trafford out of it. This, surely, is deserved success. At least it was earned on the pitch.
No football fan is ever going to really like a club that is in direct competition with theirs, and also richer, better and more likely to consolidate promotion. There they are, gleefully shellacking the spirit of the game by spraffing money on shiny apples, while the rest of us furiously polish onions in a bid to compete that will be ultimately fruitless. Crawley now have the means to compete at a higher level, which is difficult to swallow when they started last season with a 10-point deduction. Perhaps the biggest shame is that at a level where football felt insulated from clubs buying success (and therefore more in keeping with, for want of a better phrase, ‘proper, old-fashioned, level playing field-style football’), Crawley’s current unabashed business plan is to do just that.