Crawley Town’s crypto bro owners arrived making some very bold claims, but after less than half this season, it feels as though they’re messing up too much.
It’s fair to say that 2022 hasn’t been a terribly successful year for cryptocurrency. Sales of NFTs have been reported as being 80% down on this time last year, while the value of many of these ‘assets’ has dropped precipitously and the collapse of the crypto currency exchange FTX amid widespread rumours of colossal fraud has opened many eyes to the nature of these many of these highly speculative forms of ‘investment’.
It might be considered that this year wasn’t a particularly good year for a group of crypto bros with no previous experience of how to run a football club to buy one, and a small, struggling one at that, and it certainly feels as though the chaotic end to the year being endured by Crawley Town is both a cautionary tale and an entirely appropriate end to a year which has seen some of the most apocalyptic predictions for this whole sphere come to pass.
When WAGMI United – ‘WAGMI’ is an acronym for ‘We’re All Gonna Make It’, a meme-phrase popularised as a slogan by crypto enthusiasts – bought Crawley Town earlier this year, they were full of the sort of wild claims that have come to characterise this particular world. ‘Together’, reads the message on their homepage with the sort of blind optimism that only ever comes from people who don’t understand the scale of what they’re trying to achieve, ‘we’re going to take Crawley Town to the Premier League’.
Well, as we approach the halfway point in their first season of running Crawley Town they’re in 19th place in League Two, just three points above the relegation places. WAGMI United are also on their fourth manager since taking ownership of the club. The incumbent upon their arrival, John Yems, was suspended in April after the Daily Mail published allegations from an unnamed player that Yems had used racial slurs towards black and Asian players, and that changing rooms in the training ground had been racially segregated. He left by mutual consent a couple of weeks later and has since been charged by the FA with racial discrimination, accused of making sixteen comments that had a reference to either ethnic origin, race, nationality, gender or colour between 2019 and 2022.
Yems was replaced by former England youth and Arsenal U23 coach Kevin Betsy, but Betsy he only lasted until the second week in October, leaving after a 3-0 defeat at Grimsby Town left them at the bottom of the League Two table. The next person in was Lewis Young, a former assistant manager who made more than 200 appearances for Crawley between 2015 and 2020. Form began to improve. A team that had only picked up six points prior to Young’s appointment picked up twelve points from seven games during his time in charge.
But on the 27th November Young also abruptly left, to be replaced by the former West Ham and Spurs winger Matthew Etherington, with another former winger, Simon Davies, as his assistant. Etherington’s previous coaching career consisted of three and half years coaching Peterborough United’s under-18 team and three and half months as their assistant manager.
To appoint someone with so little experience would have been unusual at the best of times, but this was nowhere near as strange as the comments from the club which accompanied his appointment at Crawley. When Crawley announced Etherington as their new manager, they highlighted his historic gambling addiction as evidence he shared the owners ‘appetite for risk’. Etherington, it has been reported, ran up debts of £1.5m as a result of his addiction.
December has seen this very peculiar sequence of events continue. Striker Tom Nichols was sold to Gillingham, who currently occupy bottom place in the same division as them. It was a decision which angered supporters and which prompted Kwesi Appiah, another Crawley striker who’s currently on loan at Colchester, to tweet his presumption that the club account had ‘surely been hacked’ shortly after the announcement of the sale was made, while Etherington himself described the sale as ‘a decision that was taken out of my hands’. Etherington and Davies were relieved of their duties 32 days after having been appointed.
At the same time that Nichols was sold, it was also suggested that the entire first team squad had been put up for sale. Director of Football and interim CEO Chris Galley reportedly insisted he ‘would never transfer list a whole squad’ and blamed the club ‘trialling some new software surrounding transfers’. Even the new arrival that raised impressed eyebrows during the summer has fallen flat. Dom Telford was League Two’s top scorer last season, with 25 goals for Newport County. He’s scored five so far this season, and only two of those have come in the league.
The club’s own scouting has been… unusual. In September, Crawley sent scouts to a charity match between YouTube influencers played at The Valley, and subsequently announced that three of the players in that match would be training with them, with the possibility of them playing in their FA Cup First Round match against Accrington Stanley. A statement issued by the club said: ‘All three players will be further evaluated by coaches and staff during the session for possible inclusion in the team for the Red Devils’ upcoming FA Cup match against Accrington Stanley on 5 November.’ This didn’t end up amounting to anything, but Crawley were beaten 4-1 at home by the League One team regardless.
None of this feels very much like anyone ‘making it’, and it’s the accumulation of different issues and the evident unhappiness they are causing the supporters of the club that is most concerning. Any one of them in isolation could be forgiven as learning on the job, as a misjudgement, or even for being beyond their control, but when all of this happens within a year of someone taking control of a football club in the first place it feels like a pattern forming. This tweet was sent by a podcast that is sponsored by WAGMI United. The Crawley Town Supporters Alliance has demanded a meeting with the club ‘to discuss the serious issues going on at the club. We will continue to push for answers and transparency from the club on behalf of the fans’. Silence is not an option.
These new owners arrived at this football club making big claims, and it’s no good issuing the occasional formal statement as though this is all just business as normal, when it definitely isn’t. Even stripping away all of the issues relating to their dencentralised, unregulated, brave new financial world that they advocate, WAGMI United have owned this football club for less than a year and have already burned through four managers, while the team is three points above the relegation places and players are being offloaded. It doesn’t look much as though anyone is going to ‘make it’ at the moment at Crawley. If anything, quite the opposite.