Retro Red Devils 22 – Bumper Edition for 3rd Visit to Wembley & Our Journey So Far!!

Home | News
16th May 2024

For the last time – honest! It’s my personal opinion that I have just witnessed the best two Red Devils performances I have watched in 65-odd years as a Crawley fan, and to see our team perform like that on live TV as well (how many others, like me, got home on Tuesday night and early Sunday morning and sat and watched it all over again?)! Magical stuff from Scott and his team of ‘no-hopers’ (those football experts really know their stuff).

Anyway, as the heading says, ‘another’ visit to Wembley, although I admit that the other two visits don’t really count as such.

Our first outing to Wembley came on 22nd November 1986, when we visited Wembley FC for an FA Trophy third qualifying round tie. Our FA Trophy record was poor, with just one visit to the second round proper the previous season (a 2-0 loss at home to Conference side Wycombe Wanderers), our best performance thus far. Our status as a Southern League Premier Division side gave us a bye to the third qualifying round, whereas Isthmian League Division One Wembley had fought their way through to this stage. Their usual league opposition at the time included clubs such as Lewes, Southwick, Grays, Billericay and an earlier incarnation of League One Stevenage, Stevenage Borough.

Expectations of us reaching a Wembley final were not that high, but we did manage a 2-2 draw at Wembley FC with two goals from Richard Tiltman, who had just joined us on loan from Conference side Maidstone United.

1986-87 Wembley replay


The replay at Town Meadow was, unusually, on a Monday (1st December), as we also had a home replay against Southwick in the Sussex Senior Cup on the Thursday, which we would win 3-1. We just about managed to beat Wembley 1-0 to set up a tough first round home tie against Conference side Bath City on Saturday 20th December 1986.

Despite having the better of the game against a strong Bath side, we were beaten by a last-minute goal aided by our awful pitch. A long clearance from the Bath keeper was running through to our keeper, Gary Moseley, but stuck in the Town Meadow mud, leaving two Bath forwards to combine for an undeserved winner, with the match ending 2-1 (Gary Julians our scorer). Thoughts of Wembley over for another season, then, with club officials blaming our pitch and vowing to finally cure the problems in the close season. This was partially successful, but I seem to remember we played the first half of the next season on a pitch made up of a mass of sandy strips – though at least it drained better!

We never did get to the “old” Wembley, but we have been represented by our team at the new version. That was at the 2011 FA Cup final when we received the inaugural Ronnie Radford Trophy for the best giant-killing in that season’s FA Cup. This award, voted by the fans, was won for beating Championship side Derby County 2-1 at Broadfield when we were still a Conference side, with that famous late winner from Sergio Torres.

Ronnie Radford Trophy

Ronnie Radford Trophy handout on Cup Final Day


As a result, our squad was paraded on the pitch at half time, when they received their awards (see pics). Sadly, the FA have ditched this award now, another step in what seems to be a campaign to sideline the FA Cup – which is still, in my eyes, the best cup competition bar none.

That Derby victory was probably my all-time match highlight in modern times (before this week!). It took us into the fourth round, where a victory at League Two Torquay set us up with a trip to Old Trafford, certainly the biggest stage we have played on – until now!

Many fans are just starting their Crawley Town supporting journey, but some of us older fans, who have dreamed of this week for many years, can look back on some pretty humbling times over the last 60 or more years, maybe making things that bit sweeter? So I will, without belittling our younger (under 60s!) fanbase at all, dedicate this article to those supporters, volunteers and club officials who started their life sentence maybe over 60 years ago and kept going through the dark days of the 1970s and beyond. Some may not still be with us but I am sure many will be remembered by friends and relatives on our big day?

Looking back at the aforementioned Wembley FA Trophy replay programme from 1986, I saw a page showing our results from season 1954/55, which had been compiled by Jeff Warren, a real old-time fan who accumulated much data throughout the mid 20th century. We were plying our trade back then in the Sussex County league, and finished that campaign bottom of the table, meaning relegation to County League Division Two. 

I am not saying I remember that season, being only two years old, but I would certainly have been taken to matches by my dad, John Fox (ex Crawley goalkeeper), mainly to spend my time playing with the other kids while the dads (and it was almost exclusively dads back then) watched the games.

So while for some of us fans/volunteers – Steve Leake, Alain Harper, Ron Spraget, Ian Ludbrook, all my Town Mead Wanderers team mates from the early 1970s, and plenty more – we may seem to have taken our time, but much progress has been made as a club, and although this upcoming appearance at Wembley is a momentous occasion, it is, hopefully, still only a step (albeit a massive one) in our progress as a professional club representing the town. Hopefully the newer fans will enjoy the journey yet to come as much as we have done, with its many disappointments making weeks like this that much sweeter.

Anyway, enough of the sentimental tosh . . . I have special dispensation from Reuben of the Supporters Alliance for a specially extended RRD and thought a random selection of photos might just give a better view of how the club has suffered some ups and downs since its humble beginnings, through to this season’s magnificent achievement from Scott and his team.

Firstly, a picture from the 1890s of a very early Crawley FC team, humble beginnings indeed, with the tall figure of G. F. H. Banks back row centre with the ball, a constant presence at the club right through to the 1950s. 

Four 1890s Crawley FC


Moving on to the Montgomery Cup in 1925-26 season, an early trophy success with G.F.H.Banks in back row.

1925-26 Montgomery Cup Winners


Next, and an early match at Town Meadow against Portslade (won 1-0). Note the very rudimentary ground facilities, with little or no fencing and a boggy pitch.

1950-51 Early Town Meadow match


Moving on a couple of years, and a new grandstand is taking shape along with new Town Mead housing over the road. Norman Longley is the tall chap supervising the build.

1953 Ground Improvements a new grandstand.


Then moving into the more modern era, 1964, with us taking a sizeable contingent of young fans to an away FA Cup tie at Canterbury, forerunners of today’s South Stand crowd.

1964 FA Cup following away to Canterbury.


Then onto 1968-69, and finally a promotion to celebrate as our manager, Roy Jennings, built a team on a small budget (sound familiar?) and led them to promotion to the Southern League Premier Division the top non-league level at the time.

1968-69 Promotion Celebrations Roy Jennings and his team.


Moving into the 1970s, and that success was soon overtaken by relegation, financial woes and an extended period of decline both on and off the pitch, as illustrated by the run-down state of the ground and club legend Stan Markham with his ‘basic’ tools. Survival was the name of the game, with just a small bunch of us volunteers, and crowds of 200 or so, leaving us as far from thoughts of Wembley as the club has ever had in the past 70 years.

Run down Town Meadow & Stan Markham and “basic” tools – pt 1

Run down Town Meadow & Stan Markham and “basic” tools – pt 2


Amazingly, though, with much help from people such as Les Turnbull and Bruce Winfield, we survived the 1970s, and in 1983-84, under manager John Maggs, we achieved a surprise promotion back to the SL Premier Division.

1983-84 Promotion back to SL Premier Division


Towards the end of John Maggs long managerial reign we did finally win the Sussex Senior Cup at the Goldstone in 1990, with Tony Vessey our captain, and would go on to retain the trophy the following year also the next season 1991/2 reaching the FA Cup third round for the first time, that with Brian Sparrow as manager

1991 Sussex Senior Cup Winners.


The nineties would see us move out of Town Meadow, our home since 1949, with our last home Southern League game also ensuring our survival from relegation, in a match sponsored by the supporters’ social club known as the Broken Flag Club. One final game, a testimonial for the long-serving Tony Vessey (he’s still here!), brought down the curtain on Town Meadow and heralded a new era at Broadfield Stadium.

Final SL Game “Broken Flag” Sponsors & Broadfield build picture. – pt 1

Final SL Game “Broken Flag” Sponsors & Broadfield build picture – pt 2

A small jump to the next major success when, under the Dulys’ ownership, our team, managed by Francis Vines, achieved a magnificent Southern League and Cup double in season 2003-04 to take us into the Conference for the first time.

2003-04 SL League and League Cup Double


There then followed a troubled few years off the pitch, including points deductions, before the momentous season 2010-11 saw us romp home as Conference winners under Steve Evans as well as reaching the FA Cup fifth round, narrowly losing 1-0 at Old Trafford.

Conference Champions & FA Cup Glory at Manchester United

Sadly, that season saw the main architect of our success, Bruce Winfield (and his investment partners including HKP), pass away just days after watching us secure promotion by beating AFC Wimbledon at Broadfield. Bruce, along with many other departed Red Devils, will, I am sure, be with us in spirit on our big day.

Bruce Winfield, Town Mead Wanderers & Crawley Town Legend


Many big days have followed in our EFL journey so far: famous FA Cup runs (FA Cup fifth round again in 2011-12); Wolves and Sheffield United victories in League One; League Cup successes such as Fulham; but probably the biggest was thrashing Premier League Leeds United 3-0 in January 2021. 

Leeds United 3-0 January 2021


Through all this, our small but dedicated – and growing – fan base has stuck with the club and now been rewarded with the ultimate away trip – a fine reward for the Accrington, Morecambe and Carlisle marathons.

Freezing at Accrington Stanley December 2017


A subjective group of pictures, not showing all our past heroes but hopefully giving a flavour of our journey as well as perhaps an education for any new fans in the delights of ‘proper’ football.

Enjoy the day! Come on, you Red Devils!

Mick Fox – 


Reuben Watt

Reuben Watt

Reuben has been a Crawley supporter since 2011 and has been on the CTSA board since 2022. He is currently the chair of the CTSA. When he is not travelling home and away, he is working in Nuclear Security.