TMN goes to Crawley and RIPS THE LID OFF OF IT!

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.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “TMN goes to Crawley and RIPS THE LID OFF OF IT!

  1. Richard Simpson

    There are a few points i would agree with but quite a few i wouldnt. You seem only to have spoken to the devils trust, who were set up because they didnt feel they got there own way with supporters club. Why have you not spoke to the supporters club?

  2. thatmagicalnight

    Tried to email you, Richard, but the address bounced. Drop us a line at thatmagicalnight@googlemail.com

  3. AMC

    A further unmentioned point is that time may be running out fast – the League have demanded a £100,000 Bank bond within 21 days to guarantee the club can continue and complete its fixtures. In view of the length of time it took to settle the CVA and the fact that the Club does not actually have its own bank account it has to be problematicial that they will manage that.

  4. Ant

    It’s not true to say that the Trust was only set up because we didn’t get our own way with the Supporters Club. Some of us badgered the SC to get involved, their own inertia stopped anything positive happening, so those that had asked offered to do it for them. That said, some constructive dialogue between the two has taken place, some of us remain members of both. All members on both sides love the club, an accusation you can’t level at the Majeeds who don’t give two hoots about damaging indiviuals reputations.

    Now some are anti-confrontational. I understand that. But that lack of ability to seek the right answers, or ask the right questions has meant the Majeeds have ridden rough shod over everything that has ever happened to the club. What was the SC response when they threw the history of the club into a bin – they were upset. What happened when Az was found guilty of assault, it wasn’t football related. What happened when the club went into admin, they were disappointed. Oh and then they decided to try and bribe a creditor so that he voted the “right” way when an offer was made.

    The inertia continues, the Supporters Club Committee have meekly applauded the Majeeds. the Trust have challeneged, been threatened and continue to challenge every thing the Majeeds do with one important element and word that is missing from their dictionary – The Truth.

    Too often the bully boys have won because no one can stand up to them. If they say something, then there are those that believe them and disbelieve any of us who try and say differently. And then the Truth comes out and what happens – oh yeah, the Trust is on the button with what’s happening and exposes the lies and mistruths that our owners say with such regularity that I’m not sure they even know when they are telling the truth.

    They’ve even lied in this article. They have had offers to sell and then backed out later on. Why?

    Just quote me one accusation that anyone connected with the Trust has made publically and it has not been proven true and I’ll donate £100 to a charity of your choice.

    It seems everything that has gone wrong with the club is down to someone else. The Players, the previous owners and managers, the Trust, everybody. But rememebr who teh incompetent making all the goings on – and who received mighty support when he first promised to invest £2m in three years – £2m that has never even reached one tenth of that in real terms (look at the CVA)

    The club’s future is bright. Just as long as the head in sand merchants don’t help the Majeeds retain control of a once proud football club.

  5. Ginster

    The Majeeds continue to lie and blame others. To blame the previous regime is laughable. They have blamed the previous owners for agreeing extortionate contracts (when they themselves took the club full time and agreed the contracts), they’ve blamed the fans for the clubs hardships whilst blowing thousands on a News Year Eve party. They even blamed ex staff who took them to tribunal and won for causing financial pain.

    When the Majeeds bought the club they did so with their eyes wide open, the accounts showed the previous owner subsidised the club by up to £250k per year. They were told not to go full time and they decided to ignore good advice.

    The brothers will never get any sympathy from a vast number of the loyal fans that follow Crawley. The pride of promotion and the excitement of our first season in the conference are but a distant memory.

  6. Chris Wright

    “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? ”

    Of course it’s worth a try. But the Majeeds’ position is one of “it’s my ball and I’m not playing any more”. That and the fact that with the CVA owing most of its debt to Majeed-owned organisations, there’s no level playing field for anyone other than the Majeeds taking the club on. Until the CVA is paid – and that means cleared cheques in the accounts of the creditors, not empty announcements in the press – there is no way any sane person would try to take the club over. If we ever reach such a point, I doubt the Majeeds would let go that easily anyway.

    I believe that this club has survived not because of the Majeeds, but in spite of them. It’s all well and good stating that they’ve put their hands in their pockets to a great extent, but these are the people who arrived promising to invest £2m over three years, but who instead have run up debts of almost that amount in less than two.

    Before that, the club was both successful and community-based – and without the sorts of debts the Majeeds have managed to accrue “sorting out the mess of the previous regime”. The Majeeds live in a blame culture – blame anyone, everyone but themselves.

    We are now in our third season with the Majeeds at the helm, yet we are still apparently still paying for the mistakes of the previous owners. How long should it take to sort out that “mess”? Why are we paying the players in cash from bar takings? Why does the board not understand why the Conference might be a bit concerned at that? Oh, and where did Azwar find the money for the Porsche that he wrote off, at the moment that players were turning out for CTFC unpaid?

    Incidentally, the highlight of the very successful tenure of Alan Mullery was the recommendation that we sign a goalkeeper that we’d actually released only a few weeks previously…

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