I write this article in muted mood as another FA Cup campaign ends in the first round, albeit with, apparently, an impressive attacking performance. Due to it coinciding with our annual bonfire party, I couldn’t get to the game, but was told we more than matched Notts County. However, as seems to be the way at the moment, we find ways to lose games when our attacking play warrants more.
Maybe this week we can scrap out a scruffy win against Accrington, the team which ended our FA Cup campaign at the first hurdle last season, though in that instance following a very disappointing performance.
Before I get on to this week’s game, I want to feature a programme I have just received from a home game against West Ham United ‘A’ on 20th January 1962, in a Metropolitan League match. Several topics in it have some relevance – for me, at least – to the present day.
Mention was made in the programme of Crawley’s current run of eight league wins in a row, following an ‘inglorious exit’ from that season’s Sussex Senior Cup, which we lost 2-0 at Town Meadow to Lancing Athletic, a parallel with our shocking 6-2 loss this season to Worthing. Hopefully we can mirror that 1961-62 season, and start on a long, unbeaten league run from now on. Sadly, however, the West Ham game saw the end of that successful run, with the Hammers running out winners by a 3-2 scoreline (our goals Roy Drake and a Peter Conroy penalty).
As was often the case in the Met League, our opponents featured young players who would often go on to greater things, and although there was no Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore or Martin Peters in their line-up (they all featured in earlier seasons), it did include several who would go on to make first-team appearances. Perhaps the most famous would be John Sissons and Brian Dear, who would both go on to win trophies with West Ham. Sissons would make over 200 appearances, and also scored the first West Ham goal in the 3-2 FA Cup final win over Preston North End in season 1963-64. Dear would feature in the side that won the European Cup Winners’ Cup final the following season with a 2-0 win over 1860 Munich at a sold-out Wembley Stadium (both Dear and Sissons scored goals in the rounds leading to the final). We would come up against Dear a few years later in our Southern League days, when he would feature for Woodford Town.
There are parallels, I suppose, between the Met League back then and the EFL Trophy today in the way they fielded youth teams from the top division clubs against our “front” sides. And yet it never felt as if the top division then were actually looking to take over lower level football with – as has already happened in the Scottish pyramid structure – the introduction of ‘B’ teams into our pyramid structure. At the same time, the Premier League and the FA are seemingly marginalising the FA Cup through the introduction of midweek rounds and the scrapping of replays. In our Met League days, there wasn’t the hoovering-up of young players by the top clubs and then subsequent flooding of lower level football with loan players; rather, there were more instances of players being developed by lower clubs and then being sold on to the “big” ones, thus bringing more money lower down.
The mere fact that we can go to our stadium during the week and see groups of young lads from my old school (Thomas Bennett) kitted out in Chelsea kits over on the Astro Turf pitch, is maybe another illustration that the quest for global domination by the bigger clubs knows no bounds, all at the expense of a pyramid that is (or was) the envy of the world.
Anyway, rant over. You can probably tell I am no fan of the Premier League or EFL Trophy, so back to talk of “proper” football.
In another parallel with this season, there was a comment in the West Ham programme that our forthcoming match away to St Neots would be likely to be postponed as three of our players had been called up to play for Sussex! Just a few weeks ago, the postponement of the Morecambe game due to international call-ups led to mine and others’ wasted bookings. But it seems the authorities were less sympathetic to our request back then than they were to Morecambe today, as the game went ahead (and we lost 3-0!).
Aside from the fairly limited editorial content in the West Ham programme (something which would improve over the years until the recent sad demise of our matchday programme, ending a longstanding link with collectors and fans), older readers and long-term Crawley residents may be interested in some of the advertisement pages which I reproduce below. Hopefully these might stir a few childhood memories of buying sports gear and toys in Brookes Sports (Trevor Brookes was club chairman at the time), a haircut in Kales, craving a pair of Stanley Matthews football boots in the Co-op, or buying vinyl records in S C Withers? I also see that Crawley Luxury Coaches, which still operate today, were an advertiser, as were Francis Chappell (I went to a funeral last week directed by them!).
I did check and saw that we gained our revenge on West Ham for the 3-2 defeat by beating them 3-0 in the away fixture on 17th March 1962 (Danny O’Shea, Benny Hampton and Gordon Owen) in the midst of a run of wins which also included beating Arsenal ‘A’ 5-0 (Dave Laffar, 2, Robin Kent, Hampton and OG) and Brighton ‘A’ 1-0 (Nobby Clark).
Poignantly, in light of this week’s opponents being Accrington Stanley, that March game against West Ham United was taking place around the time the original Accrington Stanley were resigning from the Football League due to financial problems, with their last match being a 4-0 loss to Crewe on 2nd March 1962 and their resignation being lodged with the Football League a short while later.
When you think of the huge sums in today’s game, the relatively small level of debt (reportedly a few thousand pounds) forcing a club to resign from the Football League mid-season seems almost inconceivable now.
After this resignation, Accrington would struggle on in the Lancashire Combination for a while longer, and even win a promotion to Division One of that league, but would finally fold in 1966, only to reform a couple of years later and start the long journey back to the Football League (EFL). This they achieved in 2006, although not at their old Peel Park ground but at the Crown Ground that is their home today.
I hadn’t realised (or maybe had forgotten) that Accrington FC were a founder member of the Football League in 1888. Apparently they were a rival of the original Accrington Stanley, but didn’t have a long league career, resigning in 1893 after relegation to Division Two and finally being dissolved in 1896, coincidentally, the year Crawley FC would start playing league football (albeit the West Sussex League!).
I will refer back to the West Ham programme to finish, as the editorial mentions that long-time fan Ernie Dennett (it also mentions George Ide) is back watching Crawley after a long illness. This prompted me to dig out an old photo from 1925, which shows the Crawley Wednesday team (lots of local players played in this midweek, maybe as Wednesday was early closing day?) as Redhill League winners. Ernie is in the back row, far left, wearing, I think, his referee’s gear, as I also have a Crawley team line-up from 1947 in which he is featured in a referee’s kit!
A slightly shorter piece this time as I am busy compiling lots of stuff for the forthcoming Crawley Town exhibition at Crawley Museum (opening projected for December 7th), so keep your eye out for that. And, as always, if anybody has anything that might be of interest for these articles, please let me know.
Mick Fox – email@example.com