That Magical Night can be accused of a lot of things. We’re lazy, incompetent, incoherent, inappropriate, emotionally numb, substance-dependent, unambitious…Was lazy in there? But whatever our failings, we are most certainly on the ball. So, over two years after the controversial Azwar Majeed took over at Crawley Town and allegedly caused all sorts of trials and tribulations at the Sussex club, TMN this weekend donned its Investigative Fedora and headed south to RIP THE LID OFF OF IT!
First of all we needed to figure out what ‘it’ was from which the lid would be ripped. After a full 17 minutes of googling and much head scratching, we surmised thusly: the Majeeds (Azwar, a local nightclub and bar mogul, owns the club but his brother Chaz also plays a significant role) took over in 2005 and within a year had run up astronomical debts of over £1 million; the financial troubles and wranglings over payment of players had seen the club’s future threatened and plenty of points deducted; but now the owners are claiming credit for partially clearing a CVA thereby lifting a transfer embargo and allowing Crawley to continue to compete in the BSP, despite the opposition of every man and his angry dog.
A hardcore of Crawley fans, a vanguard if you will, is vehemently opposed to the Majeeds and a supporters’ trust has been set up in direct opposition to the local brothers’ control of the club. The Majeeds feel pretty aggrieved at their treatment by the press, the fans, various ex-Crawley officials, and the league. Plenty of Crawley fans feel disengaged by the whole scenario, and frankly don’t give a damn who’s in charge as long as the club survives in the BSP.
So, who better to sort out this mess than TMN? Don’t answer that. Anyway, here’s what our day of roving uncovered…
1. Beers on the train in the morning allow you to think much more clearly. Chicken Madras pasties also grease the wheels of the cognitive machine.
2. The chilli con carne in the Crawley press room is a taste sensation.
3. The club’s official line is that the opposed fans vanguard consists of just 15 to 25 people, and most of them have been banned.
4. The Trust places the blame for the club’s ongoing financial plight squarely at the feet of the Majeeds, and is also upset by the brothers’ ‘thuggish’ tactics in censoring opposition.
5. The Majeeds feel extremely upset that the club has been docked 6 points before the start of this campaign and they blame a web of administrative hiccups and personal vendettas for the penalty, which they are appealing against.
6. If there is no barman, climbing over the bar to serve yourself is a sure way to get said barkeep’s attention, and almost get thrown out. If you do climb over the bar, ensure that you have a helpful groundsman nearby to vouch for your good character and need for beer.
7. Crawley fans disappear into thin air after home matches. TMN spoke to a few at the final whistle and figured we’d collar more outside or in town. Nope. Where on earth did they go?!
8. The Majeeds are willing to sell, but their reputation means few will want to take this mismanaged club off their hands. They are vehemently, irreconcilably opposed to the Trust, whose members reciprocate twice over.
9. Things are even more complicated than they appear.
Predictably, TMN’s quest for clarity left us more confused than ever. However, in light of our numerous character inadequacies, we have highly developed skills in blagging. This goes some way to explain how TMN was granted a half time interview with the elusive Majeeds. With Crawley clinging to a 2-0 advantage over Stevenage and Steve Evans sweating profusely just below us, TMN gamely posed the questions that mattered.
The duo were forthright in their views of the Trust and the Blue Square Premier League, arguing that both organisations were conspiring against Crawley Town because significant individuals had personal prejudices against the Majeeds. Chaz conceded that he and his brother had made mistakes early on, but naivety and poor advice were to blame. ‘We are not football people!’, the brothers exclaimed, before praising Sky Sports Soccer Saturday stalwart Alan Mullery for helping to sort out the initial mess. (His consultancy fee allegedly ran to £750 a day.)
Chaz did all the talking, insisting that without Azwar’s income stream the club would be dead in the water. He cited monthly operational costs of £60,000 and said that, with attendances as they were, the club only made £20,000 in the same period – someone has to make up the difference. He said that Crawley must be full time to compete at this level (a fair point) and that is a cost that the club on its own cannot sustain. The previous regime’s (unspecified) errors, added to the cost of switching from part time to full time, were seen as the root causes of the spiralling first year debt. Azwar, TMN was told, was paying off the CVA and a number of disaffected former players who were suing the club. The brothers’ opinion was that without Azwar’s personal investment Crawley could not compete in the BSP, and as a result the criticism they consistently received was unfair and misguided.
A couple of things strike TMN as odd. First, Chaz conceded that players had been paid in cash and that the money for these payments came from Azwar’s nightclub and bar incomes. Not only is this iffy from a tax perspective, but the rules concerning salary capping state that the cap is set as a percentage of the football club’s annual turnover; paying players from Azwar’s other businesses isn’t permitted.
Second, the brothers are clearly a PR disaster. There is an outright refusal to take on board fans’ disgruntlement and criticism, and they do not seem willing to accept any blame for the dire straits the club has found itself in since they took over the reigns. Banning individuals for ‘creating a bad atmosphere’ – presumably by opposing the Majeeds – is a dangerous and pig-headed move. And then they appoint Steve Evans as manager.
The atmosphere between the club and its fans is one of mistrust and resentment. Battle lines have been drawn. People in the town roll their eyes at the mention of the Majeeds. The club is increasingly being seen as a projection of the brothers’ egos and mismanagement, and the connection between Crawley Town and Crawley the community is eroding fast.
Former manager Francis Vines, now in charge at Basingstoke Town, told TMN on Sunday that he still doesn’t understand why the Majeeds took over.
‘I don’t know what the objective was. Perhaps it was a fashion accessory for them. They had some good ideas but they weren’t right for a football club,’ he said. ‘When they took over, Crawley stopped being a family football club. You’ll never make money at this level.’
And yet, and yet…perhaps the Majeeds have a point. Somewhere. Who will bridge that monthly £40,000 discrepancy between costs and income? Perhaps the fans face a choice: a community-run club at BSP South (or lower) level, or one that’s dependent on a financially benevolent but personally offensive owner who treats the club as his plaything but sustains the highest level of football possible?
The magnificently monikered Jeff Thaddeus, who is keenly involved in the Devil’s Trust (which claims a paying membership approaching 100) argues that what matters is that Crawley Town stay a community football club, at whatever level.
‘I wouldn’t care if we won the Champions League in six seasons if the club’s still run by these guys. Yes, they’ve made some investment but they’ve also lost the support of the majority of fans. They are incompetent thugs.’
He also criticized other Crawley fans for turning a blind eye to the Majeed’s reputation: ‘The Supporters’ Club have just put their head in the sand and dropped their trousers. Nineteen deducted points later, after two CVA’s, the Majeeds are still making excuses. It’s not good enough.’
Well, without coming over all Tony B, surely there’s a third way. As one fan noted to us, there’s no chance of any other local investment while the Majeeds are in charge, such is their notoreity. Equally, despite the brothers’ insistence that most fans still support them and only a minority are in opposition, attendances have plummeted since the club’s triumphant first Conference season under Francis Vines. A well run club supported by the entire community has in the past drawn in over 2,000 fans. As chairman Victor Marley pointed out to us, the only other rival in Sussex is Brighton (incidentally, Marley returned as Chairman after Azwar was declared to have failed the FA’s ‘fit and proper person’ test for chairmanship of a club due to his past criminal convictions. An indictment of both Azwar’s past and the FA’s toothlessness, because the Majeeds are still very much in control). Anyway, if there were attendances of 2,000 upwards, combined with a well run public relations campaign and considerable investment from local businesses, Crawley Town could potentially sustain itself at BSP level or higher, without the need for the Majeeds, CVAs, disharmony or points deductions.
Surely it’s worth a try? And even if it didn’t work, and we return to the choice of community-run-but-unsuccessful versus Majeed-owned-and-in-the-BSP, TMN suspects plenty of fans would opt for the former. Excuse the cliché, but sometimes it needs a step back to take two forward.
Obviously, this isn’t a cut and dried case. The intensity of the hatred between the Majeeds and the Trust precludes constructive co-operation and misleadingly implies that one must choose one side or the other. But the Majeeds have made a serious financial commitment to the club (they are not like the Kholsas at Kingstonian, for instance, who bought the club only to sell the ground for profit) and for that they feel they should be thanked. The Trust, of course, will not see past the disastrous finances, dodgy dealings, sullied reputations, fan mistreatment and points deductions – all legitimate gripes.
In the spirit of Jerry Springer-inspired conflict resolution, here comes TMN’s Final Thought:
Whatever money the Majeeds have ploughed in to partially clear this CVA, it isn’t enough to alleviate them of responsibility for the downward spiral the club is on. They must engage with the Trust and find a way to sever their connection with the club without simultaneously letting it go to the wall. The Trust must drop the personal vendetta against the Majeeds and engage with the entire fan base to find a viable new ownership. Crawley Town is in danger of becoming Majeed FC: it must reconnect with its fan base and the community if it is do anything more than face an ultimately doomed struggle for BSP survival – if not this season, then soon – and a monumental rebuilding task once the Majeeds do finally depart.
Investigative reporting is hard. TMN needs a lie down. And remember: take care of yourselves – and each other.