Little Crawley looks to down mighty Man United

Updated: 18 February 2011 11:50 IST

They are both nicknamed "The Red Devils" and both have fiery Scotsmen as their managers. That's where the similarities end between Manchester United and Crawley Town.

Little Crawley looks to down mighty Man United

Crawley:

They are both 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 two clubs could hardly be any bigger ahead of their meeting Saturday in the FA Cup fifth round, a game being billed as one of the biggest mismatches in the history of the famous knockout competition.

United, a world-renowned power which has been European champion three times and has some of the world's great football names like Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, sits four points clear at the top of the Premier League as it marches relentlessly to a record 19th English title.

Crawley has never played above the fifth tier of English football and, until this year, struggled to attract a crowd of more than 500 spectators to its non-league matches.

The tiny southeast club will, however, become a household name if it springs the shock of a lifetime at Old Trafford this weekend, continuing its remarkable giantkilling run this season.

"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 sides Swindon, Derby and Torquay.

The club now stands to receive "in excess of 1 million pounds ($1.6 million)," according to Marley, through gate receipts, TV revenue and other add-ons from the United match.

That's a mind-boggling sum for any non-league team but it will simply swell the overspilling coffers at the modern-day Crawley Town.

The club was about to fold in 2006 under the tenure of brothers Chas and Azwar Majeed when it was rescued by a group of local businessmen.

Debts of more than 1 million pounds were wiped clear and new investors pumped even more cash into Crawley to help build a squad of relative quality and depth, costing a reported sum of 500,000 pounds ($800,000).

From scrambling around in the lower reaches of the non-league, Crawley is now second in the Blue Square Bet Premier Division with games in hand and destined for league status for the first time in its history. It has even earned the moniker "The Manchester City of non-league football," in reference to Man United's big-spending rival.

Gone are the days when non-league giantkillers had a construction worker at left back and a mechanic in central midfield. Crawley - unlike most other clubs at their level - has a squad crammed full of professional footballers, many with extensive league experience.

Does that take some of the romance out of Crawley's stunning run? Not according to Marley, who has been in place through the club's financial transition.

"I can understand that people can be envious or jealous but I'd rather be in our position than in someone else's. Manchester City have had to suffer that problem as well," he said.

"We have new investment in and that's enabled the manager to purchase the players that have pushed us to the forefront. But you can spend money and still not win the league, as has been seen in the past with other clubs."

Crawley's manager is Steve Evans, who hails from Glasgow, Scotland, and is known for having a short temper - just like the coach who will be in the opposition dug-out on Saturday, Alex Ferguson.

"Both are great managers," Marley said. "Fergie's obviously a proven product over 20 years, a marvelous manager, but Steve has achieved nearly everywhere he's been at some level. He's the only manager in this league who's taken a club to the Football League - there's his pedigree."

Players such as Argentine midfielder Sergio Torres, brought in from third-tier side Peterborough, and prolific lower-level strikers Richard Brodie and Matt Tubbs were signed for a combined fee of 270,000 pounds ($434,000) by Evans, helping improve the average gate at the 5,000-capacity Broadfield Stadium by 75 percent to about 2,000 this season.

Those transfer fees fall some way short of the 30.75 million pounds ($50 million) spent by United on record signing Dimitar Berbatov in 2009. While Rooney earns a reported 200,000 pounds ($320,000) a week at United, Crawley has insisted on paying non-league wages to its signings.

But the club is spending enough in transfer fees, in relative terms at least, to make it unpopular in non-league circles, leading to claims it's buying its way to success.

Marley insists Crawley's financial situation is "sustainable" and even says promotion to the English fourth tier would be better received by the club than a shock victory at United.

"You can call the (United) match a welcome distraction, I guess," Marley said.

If the unthinkable does happen on Saturday, he might change his mind on that one.

Topics : Football Wayne Rooney Chelsea Arsenal Alex Ferguson Manchester City Bolton Wanderers Manchester United Crawley Town
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