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The rise of Crawley Town

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 21:07 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011


Chris Slegg - LKOLondon & SE reporter

Crawley Town and Manchester United finished last season separated by an entire 92 League places in England’s football pyramid, but they have plenty in common.

The teams – who met in the FA Cup 5th round in February – both finished up as champions of their respective divisions. Both share the same official but little-used nickname, the Red Devils. Both have Scottish managers. And neither club is exactly popular with opposition fans.

If you’re a Twitter user then you can’t have failed to notice some of the insults that were flung Crawley’s way when a 3-0 win at Tamworth in early April saw them clinch promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history.

“Every fan would be envious of a club that has got success by financial means or by any means. We’ve been envious of others in the past,” chairman Vic Marley told me before heading out to this week’s Football League AGM in Cyprus where his club and AFC Wimbledon were officially sworn in as Football League members.

Crawley runs through Marley’s veins. He talks warmly of the days when the team played at the Town Mead ground. “If it had been raining and you walked over that pitch, then you’d be stuck for days. It was a pretty grim ground. But there were good days even then. Now we’re looking forward to local derbies in the League with Aldershot and Gillingham. We’re going to be playing against big names like Bradford City and Bristol Rovers. It’s like a dream.”

He and hundreds of lifelong Crawley fans have waited decades for days like these. The perception from outside though is that Crawley have bought their success. Estimated transfer fees of £600,000 last season saw them outspend every team not just at their own level but also in League Two.

“We spent more in the transfer market, but our wage bill wasn’t even the highest in the Conference,” insists Marley.

Just where has the money come from? The ownership of 40% of the club remains a mystery. All that has been made public is that the investment hails from the Far East. Why won’t Crawley enlighten us further?

“We’re not unique in this respect,” Marley explains. “Various clubs have this set-up whereby some of the shareholders don’t want to be in the limelight. The majority of our shareholders are all named – Susan and Ian Carter and the Winfields. Like many other clubs we also have investors who aren’t in the front row.”

So what attracted those overseas investors who would rather keep their identity secret, to Crawley? “I can’t speak for them. It’s a pure investment for them. They are enjoying the rise of Crawley Town. It’s an exciting town, a prosperous area in the South East and they liked the challenge of trying to take Crawley into the League. They could have invested in York, or Wrexham or Luton but to get Crawley into the 92 was a bigger challenge for them and that’s why they took it on.”

Manager Steve Evans has already been busy in the transfer market this summer. New forward options are in place with John Akinde having arrived from Bristol City and Wesley Thomas from Cheltenham. In midfield Jamie Day, who boasts League experience with Peterborough, has signed from Rushden & Diamonds while Scott Davies has also joined from Reading.

Marley says there are more signings to come, and is confident that Crawley can do a Stevenage and win back-to-back promotions. “Maybe we can do it in better style. What they’ve done is fantastic but - and I don’t want to sound cocky - we don’t like play-offs. I would be an optimist to say we could be in the Championship within five years, but if you aren’t optimistic you won’t get anywhere.”

Crawley have already sold 1,000 season tickets for their debut season in the Football League. They’re hoping for average crowds of over 3,000 in their 5,000 capacity Broadfield Stadium. Should their rise continue, should the Championship one day become a reality, there is scope to expand the stadium to 17,000. Crawley might never win any popularity contests, but then again, that’s never held Manchester United back.

Swansea, Reading and er.... Biscuits..

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 20:44 UK time, Tuesday, 31 May 2011




Chris Slegg, LKO London & SE Reporter -

As the local team of Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Reading's nickname has never been more appropriate than it is right now. Yet until 1976 the Royals were known as the Biscuitmen, and there can't have been a sports reporter in Berkshire who didn't mourn the passing of that pseudonym.

Suddenly leads "crumbling", defences offering "wafer-thin" resistance and strikers "gobbling up" chances were puns which no longer hit the mark. It's particularly galling given the tasty treat of a six-goal thriller Swansea and Reading served up in the Championship play-off final.

Congratulations to Swansea for a masterful display in clinching that 4-2 win at Wembley and of course for a magnificent season, but they have now ascended to the world of Match of the Day. As such, they're beyond our remit here at Late Kick Off. So it falls to us to discuss their vanquished opponents.

If Reading were a biscuit variety box, then Brian McDermott would surely be a custard cream, which according to the BBC website was voted the nation's favourite biscuit in 2007 because of its reputation as a "no-nonsense nibble". McDermott is a no-nonsense manager, and one who has become a favourite with the Reading fans since taking over a team on the slide in December 2009. As well as guiding them to within one match of the Premier League, he's also racked up famous FA Cup wins against Liverpool and Everton. His predecessor was the man who has now transformed Swansea.

Brendan Rodgers was very much a Garibaldi as far as Reading fans were concerned. A biscuit that's not everyone's cup of tea, or at least a biscuit that not everyone would consider dunking in their cup of tea. While Rodgers becomes the first manager to lead a Welsh team into the top-flight since John Toshack took Swansea up 30 years ago, Reading and McDermott are condemned to another season in the Championship.

The oldest Football League team in the south of England have spent only two of their 140 years in the top division. Another year outside the elite could be a particularly difficult one though. A group of Reading fans I spoke to outside the Madejski Stadium before they set off for the semi-final 2nd leg against Cardiff told me they were worried that it was now or never. They were particularly worried that a failure to reach the Premier League would see the likes of Jimmy Kebe, Shane Long and Noel Hunt leave for pastures new.

It's to be hoped that McDermott is able to keep his squad together and have another go at the promotion that was so nearly theirs. "When it got to 3-2 our fans nearly pulled us over the line," McDermott told BBC Radio Berkshire. Indeed they did. Reading were a post's width away from equalising. What might have happened then? As it is, it's Swansea who can look forward to hob-nobbing with the elite at football's top table while Reading must search for some crumbs of comfort from what's been an otherwise promising season.

AFC Wimbledon

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 11:57 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

LKO Reporter Chris Slegg on AFC Wimbledons story

 AFC Wimbledon provide the answer to one of football’s most philosophical questions. What is it that gives each club its own unique identity? What is it that makes Whoever FC of 1911 essentially the same entity as Whoever FC of 2011?

Nearly everything in football is transient: managers, players and owners come and go. Teams move to new stadiums and even change their name. In the end it all comes down to the supporters. It is the fans that define a club. The memories and experiences handed down through the generations are the glue that binds those discrete chapters into a single narrative.


AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League



That’s why the story of AFC Wimbledon strikes a chord with every football fan. To many neutral observers the ruling of the FA commission in 2002 to allow the original Wimbledon’s owners to move to Milton Keynes effectively meant the Dons’ League position was sold off to a different club.

Well nine years later the fans that refused to let their club die by setting up AFC Wimbledon have their Football League place back. And it was won back in thrilling style on Saturday courtesy of a dramatic penalty shootout with Luton Town after a goalless draw at Eastlands.


AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League



It’s been fascinating to follow the story of the club that selected its first team via trials on Wimbledon Common and has now completed five promotions in the last eight seasons. It will be more fascinating still for those of us who work at the Football League Show and Late Kick Off to follow how they adapt to life among the elite 92.

Can they do what the original Wimbledon did and continue to climb through the divisions?  Three promotions in four seasons took the Dons from Division Four to the top-flight in 1986. Two years later they were cementing their place in FA Cup folklore with one of the biggest Cup final upsets of all time as Lawrie Sanchez’s header saw them beat a magnificent Liverpool side 1-0.


AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League



It was fitting that Saturday’s Blue Square Premier play-off final win against Luton had something in common with that Wembley triumph. Dave Beasant was a penalty-saving hero beneath the Twin Towers 23 years ago, and Seb Brown pulled off the same feat not once, but twice, in Manchester. The AFC Wimbledon keeper grew up supporting Wimbledon and was among those who protested against the move to Milton Keynes. Now he’ll go down in Dons history, as will captain and leading goalscorer Danny Kedwell who thumped home the decisive penalty to lift his team into the League.

Chief executive Erik Samuelson has been at pains to point out that AFC Wimbledon are nothing like the original Crazy Gang. When I spoke to him before the team set off for Manchester he expressed his anger at a piece broadcast on another channel which had applied this moniker to the current crop, stressing that Vinnie Jones et al would never have won the Fair Play League as AFC Wimbledon have done twice.


AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League



Kedwell and manager Terry Brown though insisted they do find inspiration in what the Crazy Gang did, and said that the Wimbledon of today benefit from the same strength of character, camaraderie and team spirit as their forerunners. Brown also put down the club’s success to it being owned by the fans, but did express scepticism as to whether fan power alone could ever carry AFC Wimbledon all the way to the Premier League.

Such a dream may seem far-fetched right now, but another promotion certainly seems achievable. That could mean an intriguing League One fixture the season after next – AFC Wimbledon versus Milton Keynes Dons. Many AFC Wimbledon fans say they do not recognise the existence of MK Dons and would refuse to attend any such fixture. For the rest of us though, it would represent football’s ultimate grudge match.

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