Retro Red Devils 12 – Various Dons, What are the Laws?!!, 60 years of Inconsistency

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1st January 2024

It doesn’t seem to matter which “Dons” we play at the moment, we can’t get a result. After a very poor first half against the AFC version, we did the opposite in the first half of the MK version, but just cannot convert the chances we make. It’s a story told often this season, where we have failed to gain reward for some excellent football. Hopefully we can start to change this inconsistency against the Swin-don version!

I must admit to some frustration lately on witnessing seemingly differing interpretation of the rules, in particular some of the “new” directives imposed by the powers that be that then have to be applied by long suffering referees (I am being kind here!). Earlier in the season I was relieved and impressed to see some instances of what I think is termed the “lighter touch”, where a foul or card were not the result every time a player plunged to the ground. However lately a raft of early cards means we are all on a tightrope, with a “cheap” card leading to another and then one team down to ten – and we fans short-changed by a completely altered game. In one instance of inconsistency, Will Wright was booked for scoring a brilliant free kick at Gillingham and standing with arms outstretched in front of the Gills fans, whereas in the previous game, multiple AFC players had gone unpunished after gesturing and dancing in front of our fans when they scored (as seems to happens on almost every televised game). Could somebody please explain to us fans: is it a card or isn’t it?  Dissent in the Premier League – with crowding of referees a common sight – certainly seems to be tolerated more than at “proper” football level. I am not sure the poor referees know whether they are coming or going, either, with some of the “new” (flavour of the month?) crackdowns initiated by the authorities, which never seem to last very long? And as for VAR, that’s inconsistency in a nutshell!

I may be a footballing dinosaur – my definition being somebody who doesn’t see all the developments in football as improvements – who looks back fondly on seasons in the 1970s when we had five bookings all season (one of which was reversed on appeal!), but I would rather see an 11 v 11 game. Even if we often felt a sense of grievance at some perceived leniency by the ref, surely it all added to the “atmosphere”?

Staying on the subject of inconsistency, that was very much to the fore in our first season in the Southern League Division One in 1963/64, a division which would roughly equate to the current National League South. 

1963/64 A new beginning in the Southern League

We started fairly well, and highlights of our first few months were a 3-2 win at Dover in our first ever SL game (Ray Carter, 2, Tony McCall), 5-1 at home to Ashford (Dave Robertson, Robin Kent, Ken Parsons, Carter, 2) and 7-4 at home to Deal Town (Barry Roffman, 4, Tony Armstrong, Carter, 2 again!). We suffered a 5-1 loss at Corby but moved strongly into December 1963 with a 6-1 home win over Clacton (McCall, Parsons, 2, Carter, 3 this time!). Just as we were starting to look upwards in the league table, though, we would lose the return match to Dover 4-2 at Town Meadow (Armstrong, McCall) and follow it with a 6-1 loss (Kent) in the return match at Ashford on 21st December. 

But before we had chance to feel too sorry for ourselves, we would visit Gravesend and Northfleet on Boxing Day and come away with a 6-0 victory (Parsons, 2, Carter, Roffman, 2, OG) then in the return match two days later at Town Meadow, score another five without reply (Parsons, 2, Carter, Roffman, 2). 

Xmas 1963 Gravesend & Northfleet Double

To emphasise our inconsistency at the time, we would then start the New Year on 4th January 1964 with a 2-0 loss at Tonbridge and lose the next four as well, including a terrible 4-1 home loss (McCall) in the return match with Tonbridge, another 4-1 defeat (Carter), this time at Yiewsley (soon renamed Hillingdon Borough), as well as a home loss to current fellow EFL club Cheltenham Town by 3-2 (Kent, Parsons).

In some ways our results that season mirror our current season’s form, with us either winning or losing most matches, and draws in short supply. In fact we didn’t draw a single match in our last 31 and ended that season with 20 wins, 2 draws and 20 defeats, with our record from January to the end of the season being 11 wins (including in our penultimate game a 2-0 home victory over top of the table Kings Lynn which denied them the title) and 11 defeats (consistently inconsistent?). Our goals for and against (81 for, 71 against) reflected fairly closely this even spread of wins and losses as did our mid-table finish (table shown).

1963/64 Southern League Div.1 table

Of course in those days it was still just two points for a win so the differential between that and a draw had less impact, although judging by some of his programme notes, I am not sure Fred Cook was planning for that win or lose method, he took defeats very hard!

In fact Fred and his team did improve somewhat in the 1964/65 season, with a record of 22 wins, 5 draws and 15 losses. For a time they looked likely contenders for promotion to the Premier Division as, after a tight 2-1 loss in our first game, we won four in a row including a 9-0 away win at Barry Town (Parsons, 4, Robertson, 3, Carter, Ray Buckley), and up to Christmas would also beat Ashford 8-0 at Town Meadow (Buckley, Eddie Newton, 2, Kent, 2, John Skinner, Robertson, OG) as well as enjoy a fine 6-2 win at promotion rivals Hillingdon Borough (Robertson, Parsons, Kent, 2, OG 2). 

Sadly, though, the second half of the season would be increasingly inconsistent and we would fall short of the promotion places, with Hereford United winning the division ahead of Wimbledon and us in seventh place. Incredibly, three teams scored over 100 goals (Hereford scored 124!) in the season, with Hillingdon scoring 105 but only finishing in sixth place.

Southern League Div. 1 Table 1964/65

At the other end of the table, six teams conceded more than 100 goals, with Deal Town winning the prize (127 conceded) but still managing to finish fourth from bottom. For the record, our leading scorer those two seasons was Ray Carter, and he would finish joint top scorer again in 1965/66, albeit with our 72 league goals shared around much more evenly.

Ray Carter Ace Goalscorer

While we are in the 1960s I will jump forward to 26th November 1966 when an away game at Dunstable Town started a four-game winning run with a narrow 1-0 win, courtesy of a goal from player/coach Roy McCrohan. Sadly, another season which promised much (and a side which had cost much to assemble) was undermined by inconsistent form after Christmas, before a run of seven straight wins to finish the season saw us fall just short of promotion again, this time in sixth place, with Dover finishing as champions.

I didn’t choose that 26th November 1966 date completely at random, as it neatly rounds off this article by giving me the opportunity to mention this week’s opponents, Swindon Town. On that date they were just up the road facing Horsham in an FA Cup first round tie at Queen Street.

Horsham v Swindon 1966 FA Cup

Not being able to go to Dunstable, I had tried to get a ticket for the Horsham game, but with players such as Don Rogers and Mel Nurse in the Swindon side, demand was high and a record crowd of 7,134 crammed into Queen Street (it must have been fun getting down the alleyway into the ground?) to see Swindon run out comfortable 3-0 winners through goals from Rogers, Nurse and Brown. I did get a programme from the game, though, courtesy of my uncle (pictured).

Anyway, enough of Dons! A Happy New Year to all Red Devils fans, and if you haven’t been already, don’t forget to get along to Crawley Museum for the Crawley Town exhibition which re-opens on Thursday and runs throughout January.

Oh and these views are all my own, not necessarily shared by the CTSA or other “dinosaurs”!

Mick Fox –


Mick Fox

Mick Fox

Mick has been a lifelong fan since being taken to games as a young boy by his Dad (an ex Crawley keeper) in the 1950s and today is a season ticket holder in the East Stand. Over that time Mick have been involved in the Supporters Club, Social Clubs (including the Broken Flag Club) and also sat on the Football Club board. He has seen many regimes and fans come and go but never been able to shake the bug. Big fan of "proper" football - definitely not the Premier League!