Underdogs show the only way is Sussex
County's two sides plotting upsets against Stoke and Liverpool
Sussex has more clubs in this weekend's FA Cup fifth round than the traditional football hotbeds of Manchester and the North-East put together.
The odds may be against either Brighton & Hove Albion or Crawley Town progressing any further against Premier League opposition tomorrow, but their presence indicates that they are moving forward in other ways.
Both are eyeing second successive promotions. Crawley, near the top of League Two, welcome Stoke City to the Broadfield Stadium, having lost only 1-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford in last year's fifth round. Brighton, who play Liverpool at Anfield, fill their new 22,500-seater Amex Stadium most weeks as Gus Poyet's passing side, unbeaten in 2012, hover just below the Championship play-off places.
"It is a great opportunity for us, a great moment for the players," Poyet said. "We're going to be ourselves, trying to play our football, and see what happens."
The man who appointed Poyet, Brighton chairman Tony Bloom, has shown a sure touch since taking over in May 2009 in return for financing the building of the new ground. The 41-year-old maths graduate, whose fortune was made in property and private investments, was first taken to see Brighton by his late grandfather Harry, the club's vice-chairman when they entered the top flight back in 1979.
"The draw brings back great memories from 1983, when we won at Anfield on the way to the final," he said. "A few people around the country will remember that we were in the old first division, but not the younger generation. People in Brighton and Sussex have been waiting for those days to come back, so we are slowly getting there."
Brighton broke their transfer record twice last summer, on Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith, but Bloom will not sanction potentially ruinous speculation. "While I'm at the club it will be run within our means," he said.
"When you come from where we have, nearly losing our league status, losing our ground, being homeless for two years, having a temporary ground at Withdean, our fans really appreciate the good times so much more."
According to the office for national statistics, the Brighton urban area is the 10th most populous in England, ahead of Stoke, Sunderland or Swansea. The same source shows that Crawley is bigger than Wigan or Blackburn, although its origins as a London overspill town means that the club is competing with established allegiances in the capital. "We've come from a low base, but we've tripled our attendances and we're looking to increase them," Susan Carter, the joint major shareholder with her husband Ian, said.
Crawley's rise from non-league began in summer 2010 when Bruce Winfield, a long-time fan, was persuaded to join the board. He and Carter paid off debts of £400,000 and made employees account for every penny, and although he succumbed to cancer soon after the match at Old Trafford, the club is still run along the lines he imposed.
Winfield brought in investors from Hong Kong, but although their desire to remain anonymous has led to mutterings from rivals about Crawley's mysterious benefactors, Carter said: "They are still there, but we have made almost £2m from the FA Cup, so we haven't needed them. We put money in 18 months ago to earn promotion but we have bought only one player this season."
That was Tyrone Barnett, "the best striker outside the Premier League", Steve Evans, the manager, said, "and we sold our top scorer [Matt Tubbs, to Bournemouth for £800,000] because the bid met the club's valuation. But it's not about money on Sunday, it's about us trying to win an FA Cup tie."
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