Promotion to League One, and some new faces around the board table, augur well for Crewe’s future. But COVID-19 and the malignant sore of Barry Bennell still pose challenges.
Yesterday, the English Football League decided to end the 2019-20 football season prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic – no matches have been played since early March. Crewe Alexandra were top of the table on goal difference from Swindon Town, but had played a game more, so, on an average points for per game basis, were beaten into second place (only the second time in Crewe’s history that is has been runner-up). Nonetheless, the club will be playing in League One next season.
This confirms some new optimism surrounding the club. My previous post (End of an era at Crewe Alexandra?) described plans to buy-out the shareholding of former director Norman Hassall, with the Railwaymen Supporters’ Society launched to build sufficient funds for it to be represented on the club’s board. Through the efforts of Tim Tantram, Dave Tomlinson, Matt Owens and numerous others, the #Project250 initiative was successful, with over 400 people (including myself) pledging over £250,000, and earning fans’ representative Mark Beavan a seat at the club’s revamped board table.
(With promotion now secured, will this be the year that chairman John Bowler finally stands down after steering the club through many largely successful years?)
Meanwhile, the muted elation I currently feel about Crewe’s promotion and its evolving board membership is tempered by the cold realisation that (a) it will probably be some time before I get to watch the club play live, and (b) that the club – like many others – also faces some major financial hurdles. On-pitch success could yet be undermined by off-the-pitch challenges.
There have been no gate receipts since March; matches behind closed doors are the norm at the moment, and it may be the same when the new season starts. With no gate money coming in, the club’s finances will be severely stretched – like those of most lower league clubs. There is speculation that some clubs may go bust. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bury and Bolton both went into administration (and, having been expelled from the EFL, Bury FC seems destined to go into liquidation). Other clubs – notably Crewe’s Cheshire rivals Macclesfield Town – are teetering on the brink.
At least Crewe has a decent crop of talented young players that may attract interest from other clubs, and provide some much needed transfer fee income. I will be sorry to see some of these players leave, but as a Crewe fan I know this is how the club has managed to survive. There will be announcements over the next few days about which players are retained, and which are released. Fans will then wait to see what happens during the close season transfer window.
Reputational risks remain
Crewe’s football reputation may have been enhanced by these latest developments, but the malignant sore of Barry Bennell is still festering in the background. Bennell faces new sexual abuse charges (potentially delaying the FA’s long-awaited Sheldon report still further), and two victims associated with Crewe (as well as Manchester City) have instigated damages proceedings scheduled to be heard in late 2021.
The club, assuming it survives the COVID-19 crisis, still faces some future PR challenges. Perhaps, with some new faces around the board table, it will respond to these more adroitly than it has in the past.