The last twelve months have demonstrated that there is never a good time for a Crawley Town supporter to write a season preview. Around this time last year I wrote a piece filled with optimism about our first ever season in League One, and with confidence in our new and highly prized manager, Sean O’Driscoll. Two days later – and luckily before the article had been published – the aforementioned S’OD had left us for Nottingham Forest without managing a single competitive game. This year? Well, we’ve lost a Chief Executive and a Marketing Manager amongst others; and once again I’ve had to work on a rewrite. Perhaps I’m the problem? I’m starting to think I should hold off from writing season previews until it has actually started.
Last season, despite the optimism, I pointed out that I would be happy with finishing 18th. I was criticised by some for being short on confidence, but I retorted that I was simply a realist. We’re a small club and shouldn’t be afraid to admit that; average crowds just above three and a half thousand shouldn’t allow us to compete with the likes of Doncaster, Preston and Sheffield United. Well we beat each of these on their own patch, played some scintillating football at times, and finished tenth. It may have been higher still had we not sold our best player, Hope Akpan, to Reading in January, and had our top performing Centre Back, Kyle McFadzean, been fit for the second part of the campaign (mind you, had he been fit we’d probably have lost him to Bristol City, so small mercies should be mentioned here). Add to all of that the thrills of knocking Millwall and Bolton out of the League Cup before losing to the odd goal in five to eventual winners Swansea City, and another good FA Cup run, we had much to be happy about.
This season? It’s difficult to tell. I’m still a realist and I think, yet again, that most Crawley Town fans would be happy with 18th. But we have a manager in Richie Barker who has proved himself very good at picking up young players from higher leagues and getting them to play to their potential, and we’re probably only a couple of signings away from an improvement on last years finish. The problem is, can we afford those couple of signings?
That shouldn’t be interpreted as a snipe at the board. The sensible (though sometimes not particularly vocal) majority of our supporters have nothing but appreciation for our owners. We remember vividly what it felt like to be ten minutes from oblivion- we’ve no doubt we’d have ended up there without the largess of the Carter’s and the Winfield’s- and whilst the recent departure of a Chief Executive who had only been in situ for six months has caused some disquiet, in the main we have confidence in the decision making abilities of the people who get to make the decisions; they’ve earned that confidence. If there’s a snipe to be made, it’s probably at the football watching public of our area.
Growth on the field has not been matched by growth off it – whilst our attendances are substantially larger than they were two years ago they aren’t, as mentioned, large enough to underwrite enormous amounts of investment. Stand on the platform at Three Bridges Station on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll see swathes of Chelsea, West Ham, Spurs, Arsenal and even Brighton shirts- we need to be persuading more of these people to visit the Broadfield, even if only when their own teams are away. We’re on your doorstep, the football is (usually) good, we’re a darn site cheaper than your top league tarts and we will make you very welcome! Until we can do that, it’s far more important that we balance the books rather than sign expensive players.
So, what do we expect from the next nine months? The defence looks strong. With Kyle fit again, Walsh, Connolly and Sadler still here from last season, and young Essam looking better every game, we’ve reason to be satisfied. We’ll miss Mustapha Dumbuya at right back (and his understudy from last season David Hunt, a great chap who will do well at Oxford), but we’ve a good unit and a great keeper in Paul Jones. Our Midfield has been strengthened by the signing of Andy Drury following his spell at Ipswich, to great public acclaim as we loved him when he was with us on loan two seasons ago.
Up front, however, we have a few worries. Jamie Proctor looks a great prospect, and hopefully the idiots shouting abuse at him at Leyton Orient last season have learned from their stupidity – but he needs some support. Billy Clarke knows where the goal is and is by far our most creative player, but regulars would probably agree that he isn’t an archetypal centre forward and is better with a free role or perhaps behind a front two. We’re not sure where the other one of that front two is coming from, however. Gary Alexander was so far off the pace for much of last season that we loaned him to AFC Kingston, and apart from that our options are very young and untried. In short, Proctor could do with a little help. Rumours about the return of Matt Tubbs from the seaside abound, and that would indeed create an enormous swathe of optimism around the place, but can we afford him given he allegedly quadrupled his wages when leaving us? Only time will tell. But what is certain is that, whatever the season holds, following Crawley Town is never boring. In fact, a season of boredom might just do us the world of good!
Written by Ian Townsend, from the Crawley Town Supporters Alliance
Ian and the CTSA tweet at @ctsalliance