Steve Evans: 'I apologised. Now I'm just judged on my results'

Guilty of fraud at Boston, Crawley manager Steve Evans tells Richard Rae he's changed as his side prepare to face Hull in the FA Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Football

For many football fans, giving Crawley Town manager Steve Evans credit for anything other than being lucky not to have spent time behind bars doesn't so much stick in the craw as make them want to throw up.

For them, the Glaswegian can only ever be the man who took Boston United into the Football League by systematic fraud, while behaving so obnoxiously in the dugout he should have been sent for therapy rather than repeatedly to the stands.

That being so, they may not be surprised to learn that Evans, who takes the club he has steered from the bottom of the Conference to the top of League Two to face Hull City in the FA Cup today, believes contrition and the passage of time mean that these days he deserves to be judged purely as a manager.

Nor, perhaps, that he should refer to five years of fraudulently disguising wages and bonuses as expenses, a scam that resulted in £323,000 in taxes being withheld and him receiving a one-year suspended jail sentence, as "mistakes".

"The mistakes at Boston, I've put my hands up and apologised many times, but it's a decade ago now, or close on," said Evans, after his pre-match press conference on Thursday.

"I think people recognise that wrong things were done but also that they were punished, and in coming down here, getting a result on the last day of the season to survive in the Conference, then winning promotion and kicking on from that, I've proved something."

So much so, in fact, that he says he has turned down a number of offers from bigger clubs.

"I've had [Arsenal head of youth development] Liam Brady ring me and ask me about a player, and tell me it'll only be a matter of time before someone snatches me out of here, and I've had opportunities to go to higher levels, but I gave my word to the owners that I would give this project two years' focus with the aim of trying to get to League One. And we're in good shape. So regarding your original question: yeah, I think I'm judged purely on football now."

Having interviewed Evans before his misdeeds at Boston were exposed, it is remarkable how little he seems to have changed. Always garrulous, he appears to be as cheerfully self-regarding as ever, though he insists his improved behaviour on the touchline is evidence he is a very different person to the man whom his trial counsel described as "terrified at the prospect of even a day in prison".

He said: "It's been the best part of three years since I've been sent to the stands by a match official or reported, so from that point of view, that tells you there has been a dramatic change. I had to change for the sake of myself and my career, but more importantly for the club. An awful lot of good work is done here by everyone connected to Crawley Town, the reputation of the club is very important, and we all work hard to preserve and improve that while also working damn hard to take the club forward on the field.

"When [owner] Bruce Winfield took over this club in 2009 he told me he didn't want me to lose my passion, and that's all it is, for football, but on match days to channel it better, direct it into analysis and tactics, getting the players to perform and deal with situations. I think I do that now."

Winfield, a successful and well-respected local businessman, organised the gradual clearing of Crawley's £1m-plus debts after previous owner Azwar Majeed was jailed for three and a half years for, by coincidence, a five-year tax fraud. However, Winfield died last March.

"I hope Bruce looks down and thinks I've kept my word, I hope he thinks everything he asked me to do I've done and will continue to do," says Evans.

"That means working long hours, working hard and smart. I know a lot of league managers who are playing golf at 2pm, but I've never done that, and again the results speak for themselves. Ultimately, it comes down to player recruitment and player analysis – we watch players many, many times before bringing them on board."

In that respect, Evans' record with Crawley, on which the rehabilitation of his managerial reputation depends, bears analysis. Accused of spending their way to success in the Conference, in terms of the money devoted to wages if not necessarily on transfer fees, Evans insists he brought in players not only with a view to Conference success but to winning promotion from League Two.

"People claim we have spent a fortune, but if I look at the team which beat Bristol City in the third round, we had [goalkeeper] Scott Shearer, who was freed out of Wrexham; [midfielder] David Hunt, freed out of Brentford; [captain and defender] Pablo Mills, freed out of Rotherham; [central defender] Claude Davis, didn't have a club; [left-back] Dean Howell, came on trial; [winger] Sergio Torres, cheap buy from Peterborough; [midfielder] Josh Simpson, cheap buy from Peterborough; [midfielder] Dannie Bulman, freed out of Oxford; [striker] Tyrone Barnett, who cost £150,000 [from Macclesfield] and for who earlier this week we accepted an offer of £900,000 from Blackpool only for him to turn them down; [striker] Matt Tubbs, 50K out of Salisbury.

"So it's hardly been big money, and other than Barnett, they all came when we were in the Conference. The simple truth is we started from a very low base, Bruce came in and put in hundreds of thousands of pounds, he convinced the Carter family, Ian and Susan, to come in as directors [and co-owners] and they've carried it on. The way it works here is the board are fully aware of players I'm looking at, and I get a yes or no."

Last year's FA Cup run, in which Crawley won through to a lucrative fifth-round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford, has added considerably to the club's spending power – as will Barnett's likely departure – and while recent offers for strikers Ryan Stevenson and James Constable have been rejected by Hearts and Oxford respectively, this week Evans has brought in midfielders Sanchez Watt from Arsenal and Adam Drury from Ipswich, both on loan. More are likely to follow, but Watt, impressive for Leeds last season, will be in the squad for the trip to East Yorkshire, and for Evans, the 20-year-old's signing represents another statement of intent.

"It's exciting that he should have agreed to come here and a reflection on the quality of players we already have in our squad," Evans said. "Bruce once told me I could work in the Premier League. I don't think I will, but that's because if you're British you probably have to take a club up. There are some great British managers in the Championship and Leagues One and Two, but they will never get a chance because Premier League clubs look abroad. I'm no different to them."

Well, perhaps a bit different.