League 2’s Crawley Town will tonight play Championship side Bournemouth in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup. An away fifth round tie against premier league side Burnley in early February beckons the winner.
After beating premiership side Leeds 3-0 in the previous round, FA Cup giant killers Crawley Town will be hoping to take another major scalp and continue their fairy tale run.
Beating Leeds 3-0 in the FA Cup a “beautiful, perfect day”
The club’s Director of Football Erdem Konyar spoke to T-VINE on the eve of their big game. We start by revisiting their epic win against Leeds, which Konyar describes as a “beautiful, perfect day.”
Konyar said the club, owned by Turkish businessman Ziya Eren and managed by John Yems, had gone into the Leeds game thinking they had “half a chance”. Never did they expect to win so handsomely against a team 62 places higher than them.
The euphoric scenes on the pitch after the final whistle and in the dressing room said it all.
“It was the best moment in my football life” said 36-year-old Konyar. The football agent turned executive has enjoyed a fair number of highs in his 13-year football career helping upcoming talent transfer to big clubs in Turkey and elsewhere, including overseeing Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike’s move from Karabükspor to Fenerbahçe in 2011. But by Konyar’s own admission, “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Despite the absence of fans to see the home side’s epic victory over Leeds on 10 January due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, it was a day to savour for all at the club.
Left back Nick Tsaroulla opened the scoring against the premier league side on the 50thminute with a magnificent solo effort.
Tsaroulla, 21, from Enfield, North London, and a product of the Tottenham Hotspur Academy, joined Crawley in October and his appearance against Leeds was only his seventh game for the club.
Three minutes later his teammate, striker Ashley Nadesan had doubled the lead after beating Leeds goalie Kiko Casilla at the near post, before defender Jordan Tunnicliffe – in the box for a free kick – put the game beyond doubt in the 70th minute, smashing in the rebound from a saved Nadesan shot.
Crawley could even afford to throw on a touch of celebrity when substitute and former reality TV star Mark Wright came off the bench in the closing minutes of the game to play alongside his younger brother Josh, who also plays for the club.
FA Cup giant-killers celebrating 125th year
The sweet victory meant Crawley progressed into the fourth round of the FA Cup for the third time in their 125 year history.
In 2011, the club had their best FA Cup run reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history. They put on a brilliant performance at Old Trafford, losing just 1-0 to Manchester United in front of a crowd of 74,778. That season, they were also promoted as Conference League champions to League 2 of the English Football League.
The club matched their FA Cup milestone the following season, beating Championship sides Bristol City and Hull City on their way to a fifth round tie against Stoke City, which they lost 2-0.
It’s not just the prestige of beating top sides, a long FA Cup run generate significant extra income for a lower league club like Crawley.
The League 2 side has significant overheads covering the wages of their full-time professional players, club staff, their stadium and training ground facilities.
The club has come close to going out of business several times in its history, including twice in the last twenty years.
Current chairman Ziya Eren has helped bring much-needed stability to the club he bought in March 2016. He has invested in the club’s infrastructure and is creating a good name for Crawley as a development club that takes in young talent, including those rejected by the bigger clubs, and nurturing them into future footballing stars.
Eren’s board include several others of Turkish origin, including Konyar (half Turkish Cypriot) and managing director Selim Gaygusuz.
A good FA Cup run is a financial lifeline this season
The challenges for a small club to survive in a normal season are considerable, but in this coronavirus pandemic era they are incredibly daunting, with clubs starved of vital income from ticket sales, sponsorship and corporate events.
A good FA Cup run in these circumstances is not only the chance for a major cash injection for lower league clubs, but a financial lifeline.
Konyar is frank about the difference reaching the fourth round of the cup will make for Crawley: “It’s a massive boost to the club’s chances of survival and to reach the promised land of self-sustainability.”
He explained that, ‘of the 92 [professional] clubs in the [four English] Leagues, we are the second smallest.”
“No fans at games have cost us around £700,000 in match day sales and commercials. Each club gets £1 million from the FA and that’s what we’re surviving on this season,” Konyar continued.
“This FA Cup run will bring Crawley an extra £250,000 – a top-up of 30% to our income this season. If fans had attended the [Leeds and Bournemouth] games too, that figure would be closer to £500,000,” he added.
Crawley Town FC recovering from coronavirus
So what are Crawley’s chances of beating Bournemouth? Crawley are currently in 12th position in League 2, having won or drawn their last five games.
Their opponents are two leagues higher in sixth position in the Championship, but Bournemouth have experienced a slight dip in form, losing three of their last five games, including their last two. They will, however, be boosted by new signing and former Arsenal star Jack Wilshere.
The task before Crawley is even taller though as they are only just returning to training after nearly a fortnight off due to a major outbreak of coronavirus at the club.
“We haven’t played since the Leeds game, as unfortunately we had an outbreak of covid at the club, and most of the staff and players had to self-isolate,” said Konyar.
The West Sussex club’s training ground and its People’s Pension Stadium have been deep cleaned and sanitised, and players and staff continue to follow strict guidelines at both locations.
Five Crawley players and a staff member are still suffering from the virus, but after over 200 PCR tests since last week the rest of the squad have been cleared to play Bournemouth on 26 January – the game was postponed from its scheduled Saturday slot to allow Crawley more time to recover.
Despite the Covid setback, Crawley remain upbeat: “We may not be quite at full strength, but we are confident, and we will definitely put on a good showing against Bournemouth,” Konyar says emphatically.
You can watch the game as it’s streamed live on BT Sport, with highlights on the BBC. Kick-off is 7pm UK time.
Separately, you can also catch behind-the-scenes filming at Crawley Town as the BBC charts the experiences of new signing Mark Wright (pictured below) in Mark Wright: The Last Chance about the 33-year-old former Tottenham player, who was dropped by the club as a schoolboy, but still yearns to make it as a professional player.
Main picture, top, players in the Crawley dressing room after beating Leeds in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, 10 Jan. 2021. Photo © Crawley Town