Much is being written and spoken at present about whether or not this season has been a success or not. And while I’ll accept that with six games left such a discussion may be slightly premature, I’m more than confident to say that we’re safe, we won’t get relegated. It’s possible and indeed likely that we’ll only pick up a handful of points between now and the end of the season, but for us to get relegated, Newport and Orient would need to amass 12 and 17 more points than us respectively. I’m happy to bet a sizeable fee that this won’t happen. It’s also worth pointing out that there are four other teams between us and them. Trust me, we’re safe.
My heart really goes out to Leyton Orient. There is a feeling among many fans that there but for the grace of god go I. We at Crawley know as well as any fans how precarious survival at the hands of a less than diligent owner can be. They are now in the unenviable position of facing relegation to the conference firmly in the face whilst simultaneously fighting for the basic survival of their club. There is a very real possibility that they could be starting their season next year in the conference with instability off the pitch and a significant points deduction. It’s hard to see a way back from this position, but I genuinely hope they can find a way.
Whilst talking about Orient I simply can’t carry on without mention of the sad loss last week of Frankie Bish. Frankie was a person that epitomised the football league fandom. His open and welcoming persona netted him a huge reputation throughout the football league fan base that was unsurpassed and he will be missed by fans of Orient and clubs throughout the leagues alike.
Newport on the other hand I’ll be happy to see the back of. Their shocking pitch should be enough to see them banished, but their fans and players make departing so much easier to stomach. Many of us are aware of the “history” with Newport’s less than friendly support and the on-pitch antics that we witnessed earlier in the season under Graham Westley’s stewardship epitomised everything that is bad about lower league football.
So before I descend in to something that can be interpreted as an anti-Welsh xenophobic rant, let me get back to Crawley Town:
At the start of the season we were the bookie’s favourites to go down. It’s worth noting that we were also favourites to go down in the eyes of some of our own support. With only three retained players (one of which we released and one we sold), a new, untested manager, new owners in their first foray in to English football and a setup off the pitch that required significant TLC to bring the club’s infrastructure and fan relationship back to an acceptable level; it’s safe to say that the odds weren’t in our favour.
Off the pitch we’ve seen huge improvements this season. Under the stewardship of Kelly, Selim and Bruce (and a cast of many others, some of whom I’ve written about before) the club has become more stable, professional and open. Fan engagement is at its highest for a number of years and it’s starting to feel like our club again. Gone are the days of throwing money at a problem and the club is carefully attempting to manage within its means. When one looks at the current plight of Leyton Orient we can see yet again how important this factor is. It also however has a bearing on the team.
Our new manager brought in 22 new players this season on a slightly increased (10%) budget than last year. The reality is though that to put a squad together on our budget you’re not going to be buying many players, that money is going on wages. Now in my opinion, most of the players that were brought in have done the job, there are of course a few that haven’t. This is hardly unusual and I’d venture that the success rate that Dermot has had is above average. There are Premiership managers with millions to spend that still can’t get it right 50% of the time.
I still hear some fans harking back to our promotion to League 1 judging Dermot and our players against this benchmark. I find this laughable in the extreme. At the time of our promotion to League 1, Crawley Town Football & Social Club Ltd (I use the full company title so you can check the fact at Companies House for yourself) were losing in excess of £6000 a day (yes, six thousand, that’s not a typo…!!!). Now we were lucky enough during this period to have a benefactor that covered the debt, but clearly this was not a sustainable position. What if our benefactor had simply said no? Who would have picked up the tab?
And that’s where we are now: We have new owners with a position of financial prudence and realism. They have invested in the club and its infrastructure and they continue to commit to do so. Off the pitch we have largely succeeded in our goals. On the pitch, with new staff, players and infrastructure, improving our infrastructure and fan engagement we have maintained our league status. That for me is a successful season.
With respect to the playing staff, I strongly believe that the judgement starts this summer. Whilst a top half finish next season is essential to demonstrate progress I feel that Dermot will be judged this summer. Not by who he brings in, but by who is released. We are not in a position to bring in and marquee signings and I would be extremely concerned if we did. Any players we bring in will have conflicting reports of ability and we will only know whether or not the peg fits when we see them play. The harsh reality of League 2 football is that many of the players on offer are remarkably similar; the challenge is finding the ones that fit.
Which brings me to who has to go! In releasing players Dermot will be making a clear statement that they do not fit or that they are not up to the required standard. It’s on this statement that Dermot will be most critically judged. One of the glories of football is that everybody has an opinion and each is as valid as the next. The challenge for Dermot over the next few months is to manage the opinions of the Crawley Town fans to the extent that he keeps them on-side and ready to return for next season to support the next chapter in our history. Attendances of late have been far from impressive and whilst results have a large part to play in this, so does the standard of the fare on offer. In my opinion, Dermot has one summer to address the understandable shortcomings in his squad. He could never be expected to get it all right first time, but it’s how he deals with the changes needed that will be his toughest test yet.