Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Despite all signs to the contrary, the town and the team of Crawley are long rooted in the past. A post-war New Town built beside its modern-day major employer, Gatwick Airport, Crawley was a coaching post on the London-to-Brighton road. Churches still have medieval remains.
Crawley Town were founded in 1896, five years before the nearest main club of Brighton & Hove Albion. Two promotions in two years, prefaced by a heart-stopping FA Cup tie at Manchester United, changed the game in this once modest market town.
The club’s rise, from Southern League to Old Trafford and League Two in 2011, is reflected in their change of grounds. From 1901 onwards, Crawley Town played on park pitches in the lowly Mid Sussex League, whose many divisions currently stretch to very bottom of the 22-tier English football league system.
At the time, football wasn’t the main sporting pastime in this semi-rural and railway community. In the 1890s, the local de Gatwick family sold land to be developed as a racecourse easily accessible from both London and Brighton. With a railway station built alongside, Gatwick Racecourse proved a popular attraction – the Grand National was even held there for three years during World War I.
It was demolished in the late 1950s with the creation of Gatwick as London’s second airport – its train station today serving hordes of international travellers.
In Crawley, football came to the fore.
In 1949, the Reds switched to Town Mead, previously known as Town Meadow, in West Green. This was the first of the 13 colour-coded residential neighbourhoods of the New Town that spiralled out from the original community.
With the rapid development of air travel, and thus Gatwick, Crawley began to outgrow its original size. West Green being the closest district to Crawley town centre, its real estate was the most sought-after.
In 1997, with the club long established in the Southern League, Crawley Town sold Town Mead and moved to Broadfield, colour-coded sky blue in Crawley’s far south-west. A newer district within a New Town, densely populated Broadfield was the perfect site for the council-owned Broadfield Stadium as Crawley Town gathered pace and a broader fan base.
Shortly after Crawley’s debut campaign in League One, reaching a highest-ever tenth in the third tier in 2012-13, Broadfield became the Checkatrade.com Stadium, the sponsors agreeing a five-year deal with a burgeoning club in a booming area.
With Crawley’s relegation back to League Two, average gates then hit new lows of just over 2,000 – the Reds bereft of nearest rivals AFC Wimbledon since they were promoted in 2016. Playing at renamed The People’s Pension Stadium, Crawley seem a long way off the pace in the race to join them.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Gatwick Airport is literally on Crawley’s doorstep, just past the town’s northern outskirts. From the centre, it’s 8km (five miles).
Metrobus fastway bus 10 runs every 8-15mins from both Gatwick North and South terminals to Crawley bus station (20min journey time, £2.60 contactless, no change given if cash), then calls at the football stadium 5mins later. The Metrobus 20 (every 20mins) runs between Gatwick South and the football ground, via Three Bridges station and the Arora Hotel near Crawley station. The stadium is still referred to as ‘Broadfield’ on timetables.
From London, regular train services to Crawley run from Blackfriars and Victoria (cheapest advance singles £10, journey time 45mins-1hr). A more frequent option is Three Bridges alongside Crawley, with regular local bus links. Note that lines here are often closed at weekends and rail replacement buses put into service. From Birmingham or Manchester, change in London, overall journey 3hrs-4hrs including crossing the capital, cheapest online singles £45/£60.
Crawley station is just south of the town centre, the stadium immediately south of the station a 20min walk away. Alongside the train station is the terminus for buses, mainly served by Metrobus (singles £2.60 single, short hops £1.70, Metrorider day pass £5.20). There are contactless payments on board – cash also possible but no change given. Train passengers can add a Crawley/Gatwick PlusBus (£3.70) to their fare and use all local bus services for the rest of the day.
Based in town, United Cars (01293 429 429) provide airport transfers to Gatwick (£9-£11 to North-South terminals), and quote for all major transport hubs in the South East.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Pubs and bars line Crawley High Street, some with a longer history than the surrounding New Town. The friendly, traditional White Hart was once the town’s first post office in 1810, and still displays the traditional local architecture of the day. It’s run by Harvey’s, the traditional brewers based in Lewes, near Brighton.
The Brewery Shades was a debtors’ prison in medieval times – a tunnel once led to the George Hotel, now the Ramada, where the gallows stood. Today, the pub shows football on big screens. Its terrace sits in the shade of a famous local tree, the Jubilee Oak, which gives the nearby Wetherspoon its name.
The Old Punch Bowl is in another historic building, with a large sunny garden area, opposite the Travelodge.
A little beyond the High Street, towards both station and stadium, The Railway goes big on live sport and puts on DJs at weekends.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
With the closest lodging to the stadium, the Barrington Lodge, now up for sale, the nearest accommodation is also on Brighton Road, closer to the town centre – the Grange Hotel, set in its own grounds, has 40 rooms at very reasonable rates.
On the High Street, the Ramada by Wyndham Crawley Gatwick matches its convenient location with historic atmosphere, the former George Hotel a coaching inn with a 400-year tradition. Further up, near the Crawley Museum, the Travelodge Crawley is the main chain option in the town centre, with free parking.
The Arora is the key business hotel, its 400-plus rooms complemented by a restaurant, bar and pub, a gym, massage treatments and conference facilities. It’s close to major bus routes (including to and from Gatwick and the football stadium) and a short walk from Crawley station.
Visiting football teams often stay at the Crowne Plaza London-Gatwick Airport, at the northern edge of town nearest Gatwick. A well equipped gym, renovated restaurant and the Bar 92 all come into play – the hotel also usually offers an airport shuttle service.