CRAWLEY, ENGLAND (AP) - They both are nicknamed the Red Devils and both have fiery Scotsmen as their managers. That’s where the similarities end between Manchester United and Crawley Town.
The gulf between the clubs could hardly be bigger ahead of their meeting Saturday in the FA Cup’s fifth round, a game billed as among the biggest mismatches in the competition’s history.
Crawley has never played above the fifth tier of English soccer and, until this year, struggled to attract crowds of more than 500 to its non-league matches.
The tiny southeast club would become a household name if it wins Saturday at Old Trafford.
“It’s a dream come true for the club,” Crawley chairman Victor Marley told The Associated Press. “The opportunity to perform in front of 75,000 people is something that every player, every manager aspires to do. It’s also a fantastic moment for the people of Crawley, to go and see their team play the future champions of England. It’s what any non-league club would ever have wished or hoped for.”
Crawley became only the sixth non-league team since the end of World War II _ and the first in 17 years _ to reach this stage in the FA Cup after beating league clubs Swindon, Derby and Torquay.
It stands to receive “in excess of 1 million pounds ($1.6 million),” according to Marley, in gate receipts, television revenue and other add-ons from the United match.
The club was about to fold in 2006 under the tenure of brothers Chas and Azwar Majeed, then was rescued by a group of local businessmen.
Debts of more than 1 million pounds were wiped clear and new investors pumped more cash into Crawley to help build a squad of relative quality and depth, costing a reported 500,000 pounds ($800,000).
Crawley is now second in its division of the Football Conference, on track for promotion to League 2 next season _ and league status for the first time since it was formed in 1896.
Crawley’s manager is Steve Evans, who hails from Glasgow, Scotland, and is known for having a short temper _ just like Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
Gone are the days when non-league giant killers had a construction worker at left back and a mechanic in central midfield. Unlike most other clubs at its level, Crawley has a roster of professional players, many with extensive league experience.
Players such as Argentine midfielder Sergio Torres, brought in from third-tier side Peterborough, and prolific lower-level forwards Richard Brodie and Matt Tubbs were signed for a combined fee of 270,000 pounds ($434,000) by Evans, helping improve the average attendance at 5,000-capacity Broadfield Stadium by 75 percent to about 2,000 this season.
“We have new investment in and that’s enabled the manager to purchase the players that have pushed us to the forefront,” Marley said. “But you can spend money and still not win the league, as has been seen in the past with other clubs.”
By James A. Lyons
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