What a difference a cracking away win makes to your weekend and the start of the new week! Unfortunately I chose to go to Grimsby last season when, in the final game of Kevin Betsy’s ill–starred reign, we lost 3-0 to go bottom of the league and concentrate our minds that relegation was a real possibility.
Due to train strikes, our supporter numbers last October were quite small, but as mentioned in a previous article, they were swollen (by two!) with ex Red Devils player Viv Jeffrey and his son cheering us on (see photo from 2022 match). Viv lives in the area and works as a teacher, but still follows our fortunes and gets to games when he can. He and his son were at this season’s match too (with club colours again in evidence!).
Viv (also pictured in his playing days in his usual combative mood) chatted with Steve Leake at last weeks game and is hoping to get down to Crawley for the opening of the Crawley Town FC exhibition at the Crawley Museum in December.
Viv joined us from Banstead in 1993 and would make around 200 appearances for the Red Devils in our midfield. He was a very popular player, winning both “Players’ Player” and “Supporters’ Player” of the year during his time with the club, before he left at the end of the 1996/97 season (he won another “Supporters’ Player of the Year” award that season!). That season would be our last at Town Meadow, and Viv would play in the final league game there against Atherstone United, when we needed a win to guarantee we would still be playing Southern League Premier Division football at our new home.
That game was sponsored by the supporters’ social club known as the Broken Flag Club, which was housed in a portacabin behind the top terrace at Town Meadow and was a very popular matchday watering hole, formed with the help of club legend Les Turnbull when our main social club’s committee started to make it difficult for the club to use that social club on matchdays.
While researching this piece, I found a nice picture taken after the Atherstone game, when assembled members of the Broken Flag Club came together in the goal mouth at the Shed End for one last photo. The photo includes the late Ian Hands – club shop supremo, programme editor and a friend of mine. He’s third on the left, holding a pint and ignoring the camera. The assembled rabble look to have had an enjoyable afternoon, made more so as we won 2-0 (Jon Warden and Craig Whitington) to ensure survival in the SL Premier Division with a game to spare.
There would still be one last game played at Town Meadow, when our long–serving centre back Tony Vessey (currently matchday expert summariser as well) received a well–deserved testimonial against Leyton Orient the following Wednesday, with snooker star Steve Davis saving a Vessey penalty (nobody told him it was “bad form” to deny the star of the show a goal!).
Moving on from that season and focusing on Sutton, despite fairly close proximity, our matches against them in the 20th century were few and far between. Our first encounter was an FA Cup second qualifying round tie at Gander Green Lane on 18th September 1965, when we came away with an excellent 1-0 win courtesy of a David Heard goal against a very strong Sutton side.
We would then play pre–season friendlies against Sutton, firstly in 1982, with Sutton winning that one 2-1 (Gary Grabban our scorer), then again 10 years later, on 11th August 1992, when we came out on top at Town Meadow by 3-2(Paul Fishenden, 2, and David Thompson). That match was at the start of Steve Wicks’s (ex Chelsea and QPR star) much–hyped but short–lived reign as manager, which saw him – despite some relatively large investment in the squad and reasonable results – leave the club before that season’s Christmas.
Our next meeting with Sutton would be an FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at Gander Green Lane on 21st October 1995. There was added spice to this game with Ted Shepherd, our ex manager, in charge of a Sutton side which included ex Red Devils Joff Vansittart, Jimmy Dack and Steve Payne, while we had ex Sutton players Mark Ford and Paul Adam in our side.
It turned into an embarrassing afternoon for the Red Devils, with the game pretty much all over after less than half an hour when we went 3-0 down. A wretched afternoon yielded just one late goal for us as player-manager Colin Pates headed home after a flick on by David Speedie in the 84th minute, only for Sutton to score again 90 seconds later, resulting in a 4-1 thrashing. From memory, only Ford, Raphael Meade and Jeffrey came out of the game with much credit, watched by a crowd of 1,637 including a magnificent turn–out of around 700 Red Devils fans.
The aforementioned 1996/97 season would feature another of our pre–season friendlies against Sutton, when we entertained them at Town Meadow on 6th August 1996, with Viv Jeffery in the side and starting what would be his final season with the Red Devils. Unfortunately it was pretty much a repeat of the previous season’s FA Cup thrashing, as we again found ourselves 3-0 down at half time, finally succumbing 4-1, an indication maybe of the struggles to come in our final season at Town Meadow.
As well as the players already mentioned who featured for both clubs in the 1990s, there were quite a few others (Mark Hynes, Mark Jenkins, Dave Shepherd to name a few) over this period, in part due to managers such as Shepherd and later Billy Smith and Francis Vines having strong connections in South London Isthmian League football.
But thanks to our club historian Tony Pope, I will go back to many year when there is a much earlier player link between both clubs.
The player in question was Alec Begbie, who started his Crawley goal–scoring career in the 1920/21 season and would be a prolific scorer throughout. In fact,Alec had the previous season scored one of our goals when we won the Montgomery Cup, beating Haywards Heath 3-2 at Ardingly in front of a crowd of over 1,000 (many arriving in charabancs, according to contemporary reports!). The Montgomery Cup had apparently been donated by a Crawley person in the early 1900s – I shall be doing more research on that information!
That cup win was only our third trophy since we started playing West Sussex League football in 1896, and all were achieved against Haywards Heath! The first had been in 1903, when we came to the final game of the Mid Sussex Senior League season at home to Haywards Heath. They arrived only needing one point to secure the league title, but a last–minute goal from Walter Denman gave us victory and the league shield. I have included a photo of the victorious team, with Denman bottom right. The tall chap with moustache at the back isG.F.H. Banks, who played for the club in the 1890s and was still club President 50 years later!
We would win our second trophy on 14th April 1923, with our reserves beating Haywards Heath Reserves 4-1 at Victoria Hall Meadow (roughly where Dyers Almshouses, Northgate Road, are now) to win the Mowatt Cup – as well as two league points, as it was a joint game!
Anyway, back to 1926, when Begbie’s goal–scoring exploits and that Montgomery cup win the previous season had obviously alerted other clubs. At the start of the 1926/27 season, he would sign forms to play for Sutton United,then playing a higher level in the Athenian League. Although he did play and score goals for Sutton that season, he continued on dual registration, playing games for Crawley, and over the next few seasons he continued to be a prolific goal scorer for us.
In fact, he would feature in our fourth and most prestigious trophy win, on 21stApril 1928, when we would win the Sussex Intermediate Cup 6-1 over not Haywards Heath but Hailsham, although the game was played (in front of a large crowd of over 1,000) at the St Francis Hospital ground in Haywards Heath. To cap this victory, Begbie scored our final goal, and along with the rest of the team would enjoy a large–scale victory celebration when the special train arrival back at Crawley station. They were met at the station by the Town Band(pictured in 1920s) and paraded down the High Street to the White Hart, our club HQ at the time, where they celebrated into the night led by GFH Banks (by this time club Chairman).
Alec Begbie, I believe, lived on Malthouse Road, and would go on to play into the 1930s for Crawley, an early club superstar as was GFH Banks (another Malthouse Road resident whose grave you can find just outside the entrance to St Johns Church in the High Street)!
Any items – including photos, programmes, or other information I can use for these articles – gratefully received!
Mick Fox – firstname.lastname@example.org