Hopefully most readers will have seen adverts, Facebook posts or even the BBC radio or TV pieces promoting the Crawley Town FC exhibition which is now open at Crawley Museum , on the corner of the Boulevard and High Street in the building known as The Tree. It’s open from now until the end of January, but do check the museum website for opening times, particularly over the holiday period. The main exhibits were curated by Steve Leake and myself, but there are also displays from CTSA, DSA, COGS and GH Coaches, along with loan items from the football club and other parties.
The hundreds of photos and items of football memorabilia date from the 1890s to the present day, with lots to hopefully stir a memory or two in fans (& ex-players) of all ages. There is plenty for local history buffs too. I have included a couple of photos here to give some idea of the scale of the exhibition, but by no means do they show anywhere near all of what is on offer. Within the walls of this ancient building you can also view the museum’s regular galleries, showing the history of Crawley as a town from hundreds of years ago. I believe The Tree gets its name from the fact that there used to be a large tree outside it which had habitable rooms within it!
One of the photos included is of a map I drew showing the locations (approximate in some cases) of grounds played at by the club from the 1890s up until today, along with photos of those locations at various times through that period. This was one of the most enjoyable tasks for me. The whole process of compiling the exhibits took months, and culminated in Steve and I cutting and sticking Velcro pads to what felt like thousands of photos and text exhibits, so if you need anything doing with Velcro, don’t ask us!
One of the themes covered in the exhibition is “giant-killings”, something we have had much success at over the last 13 years. The exhibition includes items from one of the highlights of our giant-killing exploits: the FA Cup third round victory over Championship side Derby County on 10th January 2011, when we were still a Conference side.
I mention this mainly because as many might remember, Derby at the time were managed by Nigel Clough, who arrives at Broadfield this week with his Mansfield Town side.
We had come through from the fourth qualifying round, where we won a tight game at fellow Conference side Newport County with a late Craig McAllister goal to set up an intriguing first round tie at Guiseley, who were unbeaten in the Conference North since the opening day of the season and who we assumed would be a very tough test. However, after an early Matt Tubbs goal settled the nerves, we strolled to an impressive 5-0 victory (Tubbs, Neilson, Hall, Brodie and Torres), making the 500-mile round trip a very worthwhile day out for the many Red Devils fans making the journey.
So on to round two, and a home game against then League One side and current League Two rivals Swindon Town on Friday 26th November 2010 in front of the ESPN TV cameras and a crowd of 3,895. A cagey first half where, in manager Steve Evans’s words, we “showed them too much respect” (unusual for one of Steve’s sides?), ended goalless, although after a Matt Ritchie effort hit the post then hit our keeper Michel Kuipers on the back before hitting the post again and going out of play, we were fortunate to be level at the break. After Charlie Austin (in his first spell with Swindon) opened the scoring on 66 minutes, we looked to be heading out of the cup, but half-time substitute Ben Smith inspired a much more vibrant display and we would equalise through Matt Tubbs (who else!) from a Sergio Torres pass in the 76th minute. We probably deserved to win, but eventually settled for a replay at Swindon on 7th December.
On a bitterly cold night, with the pitch pretty much frozen solid, it was touch and go if the match would take place, but it went ahead, and all was looking good for us as we took the lead through Ben Smith in the 16th minute – only for Swindon to equalise two minutes later and go in at the break 2-1 ahead as Charlie Austin scored in the 41st minute. Perhaps crucially though, Swindon had a man sent off just before half time, and as conditions worsened, further good fortune came our way as we equalised with an own goal. From then on, it was an inspired performance from ex Crawley keeper Phil Smith which prevented us from winning in normal time, and it took a quality move and finish from Ben Smith to win the tie two minutes from the end of extra time in front of 2,955 frozen fans and send us through to an attractive home tie with Derby County.
Championship side Derby County arrived on Monday 10th January 2011, along with the live TV cameras, fully expecting a routine victory with players such as Robbie Savage and Kris Commons in their side. When they were awarded a soft penalty for a “foul” on Commons by our keeper Michel Kuipers, it looked as though they would get the perfect start, but Kuipers made a decent save and on an increasingly greasy pitch in driving rain we took a first-half lead through Craig McAllister.
Despite the difficult conditions, we continued to play the better football (yes, Steve Evans’s side did play decent passing football a lot of the time!), as mentioned several times by the TV commentators, but Derby would equalise midway through the second half and from then it was expected that they would be too strong for us. However, we kept attacking, and in a moment etched on fans’ memories, we scored the winner through Sergio Torres from a Dean Howell corner – one of my all-time favourite moments was standing behind that goal with my sons watching his shot hit the back of the net!
We had already come up against Nigel Clough several times in his previous role as player manager of Burton Albion from 1998-2008, and our paths would cross again in the 2014-15 season when he was manager of then League One Sheffield United.
In August 2014 we would suffer a narrow 1-0 loss at Bramall Lane in front of an impressive crowd of 18,178, and we would meet them again, this time at Broadfield, for the return fixture on 28th February 2015 when a goal from recent loan signing Richard Wood gained us a valuable point from a 1-1 draw in front of 3,323 in our battle against relegation (which sadly we would lose after a 2-1 defeat at home to Coventry City on the last day of the season). Prior to this Sheffield United home game we had gained an astonishing 5-1 home win over Barnsley and then a priceless last-minute victory at Swindon Town, Gavin Tomlin scoring the winner.
Clough would leave Sheffield United that summer and return to Burton Albion, where he amazingly took them up to the Championship (remember, this was a club we had been playing regularly in our Southern League days, starting in our first season in 1963/64!) in the 2015/16 season and kept them there for two seasons before leaving them in 2020 due to the financial impact on the club of the pandemic, and joining Mansfield later that year.
Although I don’t believe we ever came up against Clough’s famous dad Brian, as I mentioned above we did used to play against Burton in our Southern League days and for a time Brian’s future sidekick, Peter Taylor, was manager. Maybe a story for another day?
Finally, if anybody has any queries about the exhibition, has noticed any glaring omissions or has any comments about it, please let me (or Steve Leake) know.
Mick Fox – email@example.com