Retro Red Devils 20 – Memories, “Too Much Soccer” and Scuppered by the Mariners!

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25th April 2024

The end of another season . . . or maybe not? Lots of memories from our most successful season for several years, especially for the regular away fans who have finally been rewarded for their dedication with some brilliant away performances. Let’s just hope we can come up with something special at home this one last time, despite our destiny no longer being in our own hands.

I would also like to remember my uncle, Rob Hollamby, a long-time Red Devils fan and West Stand season ticket holder (from the 1960s on) who died on 14th April and was still asking for updates on our scores right until the end. Rest in peace, Rob, and any other Red Devils fans we have lost this season.

“Too Much Soccer” Headline & Packed End of Season Do

While researching the previous article, I came across an old local newspaper headline which resonated with me, bearing in mind the appalling decision by the FA and Premier League to further sideline the FA Cup (by ditching replays from the 1st round onwards), the best club cup competition in the world. With PL managers today obsessed with ‘protecting’ their players (Really? – in these days of pampered pros, squad rotation and needless foreign mid-season friendlies as well as meaningless cups), the headline from May 1958 at the Crawley FC end-of-season supporters’ dance appeared to back up those fixations, albeit 66 years earlier.

However, the speech by club president Bob May in front of a packed room at the Railway Hotel (these end-of-season supporters’ events were hugely popular, with many players also attending), was actually aimed more at the continuing struggle to attract supporters in the numbers the club felt they deserved than concern over player “welfare”.

Bob May seemed to be suggesting that the growth of local football leagues (the Crawley Football League had been formed in recent years) was taking potential supporters away from Town Meadow. He probably had a case, but I am sure the lack of support was as much to do with family allegiances of ‘new towners’ to their London Football League clubs, rooted long before moving to the town.

Though the new town was still growing then (something that still seems to be happening!), I am not sure if the club’s wish for crowds of 2,000 from a population of 46,000 was realistic bearing in mind the above allegiances, which is a problem we still seem to be suffering from.

We did occasionally see gates of over 1,000, but usually in Metropolitan League games against youthful Football League sides from London such as West Ham, Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal. In fact, just a few weeks previously, we had beaten a young West Ham side 4-2 at Town Meadow, taking the lead with a penalty after only 30 seconds (scored by Don Rose, with further goals from Len Donald, Derek Holden and Reg Hutchinson). We had also scored four with no reply shortly after, on 26th April 1958, against Brighton ‘A’ (Hutchinson, Holden and Ernie Randall, 2), but as the picture featuring one of Randall’s goals at the fire station end shows, we certainly weren’t packing them in down the far side of the pitch.

Randall scores v BHA April 1958

Returning to events at the end-of-season dance, aside from the appeal for more support, May also outlined plans for ground and pitch improvements (they didn’t work!), and a potential full-time secretary/manager role. He also hinted at some underlying friction between the football and supporters’ clubs, as in praising supporters’ secretary Fred Cunnell, May suggested that Fred was ‘not everybody’s cup of tea’!

One final item I picked up from May’s speech was his bemoaning the fact we had missed 12 penalties that 1957/58 season!

I am not sure how much actual dancing took place at the event, as the press report lists at least another six speakers, including club patron Norman Longley and supporters’ club chairman George Humm.

As well as meeting Arsenal in the Metropolitan League, we also met them in the 1955/56 season, just prior to leaving the Sussex County League for the Metropolitan League. This friendly against an Arsenal XI took place on 21st January 1956, and we would suffer a 7-0 defeat. Unfortunately I have no details of the Arsenal team or scorers. Just prior to this heavy defeat, we had inflicted two of our own on Chichester City, with a 10-0 victory at Town Meadow on 17th December 1955 (Peter Maynard, 6, Ernie Parker, Donald, John Clements and Ray Carter) followed by a 9-1 win in the game at Chichester on 31st December (Maynard, 3, Clements, 3, Donald, 1 OG, Danny Pepperell). We then warmed up for the Arsenal match by beating Goldstone of Brighton by 5-2 (Maynard, 3, Carter, John Waldheim) at their ground. We had played another Football League side, Crystal Palace XI, early that season and beaten them by an impressive 6-2 (Carter, 3, Waldheim 2, Donald).

I believe Peter Maynard netted eight league hat-tricks that 1955/56 season (including that double hat-trick against Chichester in the 10-0 win), a feat made more incredible due to his playing only 12 league games. He then seemed to disappear from the scene. I know it’s unlikely, but does anybody know what became of him?

1995-96 Southern League Attendances

I found the reference to the 1956 Arsenal friendly in a Crawley programme for the match against Worcester City on 31st August 1996, edited by the late Ian Hands. (I also spotted in the programme a ‘Retro’ article I had written, entitled ‘Ah! Nostalgia’, which I had completely forgotten about.) At the time, we were embarking on our last season at Town Meadow and still playing in the Southern League Premier Division along with several clubs now with us in the EFL. I thought that the table in the programme showing the attendance figures for the previous season, 1995/96, was worth sharing. Our average of 748 per game wasn’t anything to get too excited about, but was higher, as you can see, than the figures for both Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town, currently members of EFL League 1.

1957-58 Football League tables

As I started by looking back to season 1957-58, I thought I would briefly look back at how this week’s opponents, Grimsby Town, were faring at the time. As can be seen from the Football League tables for that season, they were in Division Two (now the Championship), and finished the season in 13th place, with West Ham United winning the division. Grimsby had won promotion into Division Two in 1955/56, our last in the Sussex County League Division Two prior to joining the Metropolitan League.

2010 Our first meeting with Grimsby pt 1

2010 Our first meeting with Grimsby pt 2

We would not come across Grimsby on the pitch until 14th August 2010 at Broadfield Stadium at the start of probably the most momentous season in our history. Under manager Steve Evans and with lifelong fan Bruce Winfield guiding us off the field, we had assembled a squad capable, we thought, of challenging at the top of the Conference. Little did we know then just how successfully we would be challenging, but we got off to the worst possible start in what was the first league game of the season and Grimsby’s first-ever Conference game following their relegation from the EFL.

In front of 2,428 fans, we started well. New signing Matt Tubbs had a couple of good chances which he failed to take (rare for Matt that season) before disaster struck. On 37 minutes, our keeper Michel Kuipers was adjudged to have handled the ball outside the box and was sent off, to be replaced by Nick Jordan. Jordan’s first task would be to pick the resultant Lee Peacock free kick from the back of the net. We failed to find an equaliser, losing 1-0. The return game at Blundell Park finished a very tight 0-0 draw, although by then most of us fans had FA Cup glory on our minds as we were shortly to meet Torquay in the fourth round. As many will know, we would win this 1-0 (two missed penalties as well – shades of 1957/58?) and carry on to reach Old Trafford in the fifth round.

As I have said on many occasions, I love the FA Cup and can’t forgive the Premier League (or the FA) for their role in sidelining what fans of ‘proper’ football look forward to so much every season. Yes, Sky and armchair fans may love the glamour of the Premier League, but to me, one of their main contributions to the football pyramid is in the picture I have included here.

Table Football Premier League Style

Back to Grimsby briefly, and we would have to wait until 2016 to meet again, with more 0-0 draws the result, something we cannot afford this time. Let’s finish off the season in style. Even if other results don’t work for us, it’s still been a season to remember. Come on, you Red Devils!

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!