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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Red Devils playing with fire

After a summer of ambitious additions and expensive signings, Nobes looks at the risky game being played at Conference Premier side Crawley Town.

Crawley hope to bring Football League football to the Broadfield Stadium

They're not the first, and they won't be the last. Crawley Town's big-spending summer is the kind of action rooted in ambitious dreams of a small club striving to better themselves.

Unfortunately, more often that not, it doesn't work out that way. Instead, those who dared to dream - and spent far too much they couldn't really afford - end up suffering the harsh consequences of their financial profligacy.

Indeed, with both the Red Devils and their manager, Steve Evans, having experienced financial trouble in football in the past, it makes their current summer spending all the more baffling. Once bitten, twice obviously not shy.

Evans, particularly, is a notorious character. At best, his antics can be described as colourful. At worst, illegal. At Boston United, the Scot was initially reviled for leading the Lincolnshire club into the Football League in 2002.

However, a subsequent investigation into contractual irregularities at the club saw Evans banned from the game for 20 months for his part in the affair. He was later given a suspended custodial sentence after being convicted of tax fraud.

His touchline rants and conduct have also seen him sent off, and banned, from the touchline on numerous occasions. One referee even insisted he was ejected from the ground altogether due to his technical area tirade.

He is a man most fans - including some of his own club's - love to hate. However, it is all part of the make-up of a manager who almost revels in his role as the pantomime villain.

His, and Crawley's directors, biggest crime may end up bringing the Sussex club to their knees once more with their outlandish spending. Town have had a history of financial troubles and suffered points deductions accordingly.

However, this latest attempt to chase glory with an open chequebook could be the most costly of all.

Despite their most successful ever season last term - finishing 7th in the Conference - they attracted average crowds of just over 1000 - higher than only four other clubs in the division.

Competing for support from a congested area in the South East - not least from Brighton & Hove Albion - means establishing a fan base capable of sustaining them in the Football League will always be difficult.

Crawley boss Steve Evans - consistently followed by controversy

However, that hasn't deterred Evans, backed by local businessman and the club's co-owner, Bruce Winfield, setting about twice breaking the club's transfer record.

Salisbury striker Matt Tubbs was purchased for £75,000, and now midfielder Sergio Torres has made a move believed to be for around £100,000 from Peterborough.

Much sought after strikers Jamie Cook and Craig McAllister, as well as midfielder Pablo Mills, have also been free transfer captures, with Cook returning to the club from Oxford to link up with Evans again.

Although he spoke of the opportunity to work with his former manager again being a key factor in move back to the Broadfield Stadium, it's fair to assume financial reasons also played an important part.

Like with Torres and Tubbs, Crawley's sudden wealth has allowed them to pay wages to fight off competition from bigger and more established clubs - and ones higher up the pyramid.

While some Red Devils fans might find themselves becoming deliriously excited with the intent and ambition Crawley's recent signings display, they should also reserve some caution.

Such outlays will only prove worth the money - and the gamble - should success on the pitch follow. A place in the end of season play-offs, if not promotion, must now be the minimum requirement.

Easier said than done in an increasingly competitive division littered with a whole host of former Football League clubs.

However, Evans can rightly point to a record in the Conference that has shown he has the ability to mould together a group of players - whether able to be afforded or not - to compete towards the top end.

He is the only manager in this season's Conference who has won the title, albeit dubiously, before. His experience could prove vital should Crawley find themselves in the mix come the business end.

Failure to, though, and the Sussex outfit could soon find themselves in financial difficulty all over again. Crawley are taking their shot at the big time. They must hope it's not simply their own foot they end up shooting.

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