I started this piece away from home, with my programmes and research materialat the other end of the country. We were on a trip to the North West, arranged a couple of months ago to coincide with our Morecambe away match on Saturday 14th October, which, subsequently, the EFL allowed Morecambe to postpone.
I’m not sure I agree with this International call–up rule at our level. I suppose it gives the players a rest, but is not much fun for fans who have arranged in advance for hotels, train tickets, etc. Oh well, a nice 600-mile–return Tuesdaynight trip in the middle of winter beckons for those who can make it!
Rant over, let’s look back to a few of our anniversaries. Sixty years ago, in the 1963/64 season, Crawley Town (by then nicknamed the Red Devils) would start their first season in the Southern League, a new beginning as a semi-professional club. For that one season we would also continue to field a reserve side in the Metropolitan League, although that wouldn’t continue from the next season as the club looked to cut costs.
We had ended the previous 1962/63 season in the Met League with six straight wins, and several of that side would stay with us for our new adventure. Glyn Jones, Dave Cockell, Dave Robertson, Barry Roffman, Robin Kent, Derek Waterman (bizarrely, a programme pen picture of him states “he lives in a caravan near Chilworth, Surrey”), Ken Parsons and Colin Puddephatt are someof those who made the transition to Southern League football and whose names might be familiar to our older fans. We also still retained excellent goalkeepers in Dave Stripp and Eddie Bryant, although the latter would soon lose out to new arrivals, John Maggs (from Herne Bay) and Mick Lowe, giving us arguably the best line–up of goalkeepers in the division. In his programme notes in early December, manager Fred Cook was waxing lyrical about the signing of the 19–year–old Maggs in the face of football league interest apparently from Arsenal and Gillingham!
Some excellent new outfield signings would supplement this core of players,with Ray Carter (local resident, ex APV FC & Exeter City) and Bob Finch probably the pick of the new intake. In fact, Ray Carter would go on to be our leading scorer, with an excellent 20 league goals that season. He would be our leading scorer for the next two seasons as well.
As we embarked on our semi–professional journey, we were also redeveloping the ground with – according to director Trevor Brookes – seating for 2,000 and covered accommodation for 1,000. Not sure what happened to that seating capacity, as we would continue for many years with just our old grandstand,built in the early 1950s, although we would cover the top end terrace, thereafteraffectionately known as “The Shed” by the younger fans. Even in those days we were posting warnings about match behaviour, with Brookes reminding fans in the programme for the first home game, “Win or lose, Crawley supporters are SPORTSMEN.” The capitals were his.
That first home game was against Sittingbourne, and came after a fine 3-2 win at Dover Athletic in our first ever SL game, with goals from Ray Carter (2) and Tony McCall. An excellent weekend was topped off by our reserves beating a youthful but strong Arsenal side, with the winning goal from Dai Davies and sound defending, particularly from John Skinner and Don Acton.
Sadly, we would lose the Sittingbourne game (a Wednesday night 6pm kick–off, pre floodlights at Town Meadow) 1-0, but gained our first home SL points the following Saturday with a thumping 5-1 win over Ashford Town (Robertson, Kent, Parsons and Carter, 2).
By December of that season we had already exited the FA Cup 2-0 at home to Lewes Rangers and shown some alarming inconsistency in the league, summed up by our results that month. After a 6-1 thrashing of Clacton Town (Carter, 3, McCall and Parsons, 2) on 7th December, we lost 4-2 at home to Dover and were thumped 6-1 at Ashford after winning the reverse fixtures earlier in the season. We went to Gravesend and Northfleet on Boxing Day with our confidence low, only to gain an impressive 6-0 victory (Carter, Parsons, 2, Roffman, 2, and an own goal) which we followed up on 28th December by beating Gravesend at home, this time only 5-0 (Parsons, 2, Carter and Roffman,2).
Just to emphasise our inconsistency, we went on to lose the next five league games, not winning again for six weeks, and even that, a 2-0 away to Barry Town, was less than impressive as they would finish bottom of the table at the end of the season, conceding 137 goals! We did, however, finish the season strongly, with eight wins from our final ten games seeing us finish in twelfth place. Fred Cook seemed to be giving youth a chance, with Maggs leading the way, and we even included a 15–year–old Peter Silk in one SL game. Though Cook expressed hope for a successful future career for Silk, he didn’t play for our first team again – maybe he had better luck elsewhere?
Also in our division that season were current EFL clubs Cheltenham Town and Burton Albion (as well as a previous incarnation of Stevenage, this one named Stevenage Town), with Burton having Peter Taylor as player/manager, just prior to his stellar managerial partnership with Brian Clough.
Seasons ending 3/4 definitely provided highlights for Crawley, as 1983/84 saw us promoted to the Southern League Premier Division under manager John Maggs (see pic of celebrations after promotion), 20 years after he joined as a young goalkeeper. As in the 1963/64 season, another strong finish, with eight wins and a draw, saw us promoted in second place behind RS Southampton, with Brian Gregory scoring an outstanding 31 league goals.
Twenty years later, in the 2003/04 season, we were promoted again, winning a season-long battle with Steve Claridge’s Weymouth to gain a place in the Conference under manager Francis Vines.
I will leave those seasons for another day, though, and go back 30 years to 1993/94 (guess players in the picture?), more specifically, our matches in that season’s FA Cup. Still in my eyes the best cup competition in the world, it is unfortunately now in danger of being destroyed by the FA and Premier League in their pursuit of more money and global domination. Hopefully our players give it their full attention this current season as it is amazing what a lift a cup run can give to a club (and town).
Twenty-third October 1993 saw an FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at Town Meadow against mid–table Conference side Merthyr Tydfil. Apart from a Wednesday night Sussex Floodlight Cup 2-0 win over East Grinstead (Craig Whitington and Matt Pearson, attendance 148!), this would be our first home game since September, and we would go into the game full of confidence, sitting top of the Southern League Premier Division.
We had met Merthyr just five seasons previously at the same stage of the competition on 29th October 1988. Merthyr at that time could field nine of the players who had featured for them in the previous season’s European Cup Winners Cup tie against Italian side Atalanta, only losing 3-2 over two legs, and with us 3-1 up with eight minutes left (Tony Vessey, Richard Tiltman and Grant Gallagher), an upset looked likely. Unfortunately, two late goals from Merthyr meant a replay and a long trip to the Welsh Valleys on the following Tuesday. With a minibus hastily arranged, a group of us fans set off, still hoping for a win against the odds. In a feisty game, Merthyr had a player sent off but were still too good for us and won 3-1, making for a very subdued journey home, arriving back in Crawley in time for just a couple of hours’ sleep before getting up for work the next day!
Thankfully we would gain our revenge five years later when, in front of a crowd of 1,623, we would run out deserved 2-1 winners, with goals from Craig Whitington and Joff Vansittart and stout defending led by Tony Vessey, our one remaining player from the 1988 defeat. Incidentally, it was good to see Joff in the crowd at the Broadfield for the recent Sutton match, though perhaps he has divided loyalties, having moved to Sutton after a successful time at Crawley.
That fine win over Merthyr would send us into the first round proper, continuing a run of appearances in the competition proper after reaching the third round in 1991/92 before losing to that lot from Falmer at the Goldstone (in front of 18,031), and reaching the first round the following season, losing at home to Yeovil 2-1 (in front of 1,383), with Micky Turner scoring our goal.
Our first round reward in 1993/94 was an underwhelming away tie at Metropolitan Police of the Isthmian (Diadora at the time) League, which we came through with a 2-0 win (Whitington and Vansittart, attendance 1,561, the majority from Crawley), although not without some alarms.
This win set up a home second round tie at Town Meadow against League Two strugglers Barnet, which would attract the Match of the Day cameras and a crowd of 4,104 on 4th December 1993 (see pic of Joff Vansittart and Viv Jeffrey in game). In the lead–up to the game, we were suffering an injury crisis, with only 13 fit outfield players, but managed to cobble together a team, albeit without Whitington, who had been sold to League Two Scarborough for a reported £50,000. His firepower was missed as we lost a tight game 2-1 with our goal from Mark Ford in the 87th minute setting up a frantic finale when Dave Shepherd was denied an equaliser by a brave stop from Barnet keeper Gary Philips.
Barnet’s second goal, a 20–yard curling shot, was scored in typical Hoddle fashion, although this came from Glenn’s brother Carl. It would set up a third round tie between the Hoddle brothers, with Barnet drawn at home to Chelsea. Oh, if only we had equalised! Maybe this year?
To get a mention of Crewe into the piece, we did stay there on the way up north, that’s it!
Mick Fox – email@example.com