Outside the Box: Crawley to pay the penalty after fourth points deduction

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The Independent Football

Having points deducted by the authorities once may be considered a misfortune, but suffering that fate for four seasons running must surely constitute a record. Crawley Town of the Blue Square Premier have just achieved it and this latest punishment may prove the worst yet, ultimately costing them a place in the Football League: until last week, the Sussex club were in the play-off places, but losing four points dropped them to sixth. The whole sad saga, involving an exceedingly colourful cast, began in 2005 with the takeover by the SA Group, owned by the Majeed brothers Chas and Azwar. Chas was initially chairman but failed the Football Association's fit and proper person test when it was revealed that he was an undischarged bankrupt. In their first season, the club breached the competition's agreed wage cap, which brought a £10,000 fine and a deduction of three points. Come June 2006 and, with the finances suddenly dire, the brothers took Crawley into administration, leading to an automatic deduction of 10 points, before selling the club. A year on, and more "financial irregularities" led to a three-point deduction. And before the start of last season, the Conference imposed a six-point punishment for "bringing the league into disrepute". On each occasion, Crawley managed to avoid relegation, finishing 17th, 18th and 15th. This season, with a new consortium having taken over, they were challenging Burton and Histon at the top of the table but have now lost four more points for playing an ineligible player, the former Arsenal striker Isaiah Rankin. Rankin was signed last summer amid much fanfare by Crawley's manager, Steve Evans, whom Boston United fans will remember as having been suspended from football for 20 months after an FA inquiry into contract irregularities at the club in 2002. Meanwhile, Azwar Majeed will next month stand trial on eight charges including allegedly stealing more than £1.4 million, evading tax and perverting the course of justice; he denies all the charges. Last year he received a jail sentence for sending someone else to do his community service after he was found guilty of assault.

Hatters needing peak form

In the circumstances, it would be ironic if Crawley still made it to the Football League and replaced Luton Town, who have been firm favourites for relegation since receiving a 30-point deduction this season. Luton last week finally knocked off those points, but statistics from the past 10 seasons suggest that to finish out of the bottom two places they will need to take 45 points from 23 games in the second half of the season, which is promotion form; only the leaders, Wycombe, managed it in the first half of the campaign.

No sign of wobbly finances

And finally... the credit crunch does not appear to be bothering Crystal Palace supporters. The club have shifted more than 200 tickets at £80 a head to hear Bruce Grobbelaar address a Sportsman's Dinner at the Croydon Hilton later this month. Expect questions on failed allegations of match-fixing, the wobbly-legs routine in the European Cup final and a less successful FA Cup semi-final which ended Liverpool 3, Crystal Palace 4.