The number one change Richard Low said he was determined to make when he took over as Crawley Town CEO was to improve the match-day experience for Reds fans.
Five months down the line is Broadfield Stadium a better place to watch football? We sent long-term Reds fan and budding sports reporter Warren Lucy to Coventry on Saturday to investigate.
Agree with Warren? Share your Broadfield experiences by signing in and commenting below.
As a supporter of Crawley Town for the past 15 years I’ve always been interested in what brings new fans, like I was in 1999, to my club.
Obviously, with the Reds nicely perched just outside the play-offs in League 1, there will always be an increase on the support from when I started watching, in the Dr Martens League, three divisions lower than we are now.
We always managed to have decent attendances for the level at that time. But since the Majeed brothers’ infamous ownership back in 2005 we’ve never recovered, with some fans staying away and the floating fan preferring to support the bigger sides like Crystal Palace or Brighton.
The financial troubles under Chas and Azwar will always be a blot on our history but the club have moved miles forward since then.
So watching one of our biggest home games of the season against Coventry I want to find out why, almost a decade on, the crowds still aren’t what they should be.
Since Richard Low’s appointment as chief executive, changes have been promised, particularly to the refreshments on offer to the supporters.
Some fans noted the stale buns and the tasteless burgers, but Rob Lowndes, 46, from Bletchingly, disagrees, after purchasing his first burger of the season.
“It’s very tasty,” said Rob, after the first bite of his bacon burger. “The texture’s nice, it tastes good and I’m pleasantly surprised with it. For £3.50, it seems a reasonable price and probably on a par with the majority of clubs in the division. 8/10 from me.”
The reviews were good from 21 year-old Krunaal Patel, too: “Although it’s a plain burger, it tastes nice. I haven’t had to queue for it and I have no qualms whatsoever.”
I didn’t try the food, and haven’t eaten in the Broadfield for a good number of years because the queues have always been something that deterred me.
Moving from burgers to buying tickets, obviously in such a short space of time the club has made the journey from non-league to League 1. With that, demand for tickets has increased and the Crawley have had to find different methods to supply that demand.
The ticket cabin has been in place for almost two seasons now with the option of buying in advance and online also available.
“All of the fans have choices,” said Rob, “They have the chance to purchase tickets for games whenever they want. I’ve queued up today, it hasn’t taken long and they’ve been very helpful and very friendly.”
Rob’s right, and this has been a great improvement on recent seasons when it was just pay on the gate.
One improvement I would make would be to build another office for visiting fans outside the away turnstiles, thus freeing up another window for home supporters and reducing queues.
With regards to the club shop, long-term Reds fan Paul Clark, 46, has his own thoughts: “The club shop needs to be bigger as we are missing out on making a lot of money. We could sell much more Reds items and should flog the whole kit, home and away in kids and adults sizes.”
The next thing I want to address is the big talking point - the atmosphere around the Broadfield.
Back in the days when we were flying towards a Southern League Championship, the noise, particularly behind the goal in the Bruce Winfield Stand was terrific.
Nowadays, the life seems to have been sucked out for one reason or another and I believe that adding a bit of colour would definitely improve things.
It was only a few years back that flags on the walls and what seemed the size of red and white duvet covers were waved by supporters were brightening up the Broadfield. Unfortunately this is no longer done but is something that I’d be keen to see return.
Overall the atmosphere against Coventry and generally is very flat, and improving this is one of the biggest challenges Mr Low faces.
When it comes to the ease of access to the ground, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t happy.
For sure, departing the stadium is sometimes a little problematic but on the whole, it’s not as bad as it could be - as anyone who’s been to Oxford will testify.
Fastway buses come regular enough from the station, every seven minutes. Funnily enough I met Mark Connolly’s sister at the station before the Stevenage game. She had no idea how to get to the stadium and asked me the best route, so perhaps a sign or two around the station would have helped her.
While the club are at it, a ‘next fixture is...’ board in or around the train station wouldn’t cost the earth and may generate some new faces.
Finally, what’s the stadium like for younger supporters? I know behind the scenes there’s a team that are working very hard to bring the young supporters and families to the Broadfield.
The Junior Reds scheme has always been a success - with me when I was a youngster, and looking around the stadium a number of people my age were similarly brought in that way.
The club’s ‘Fun Zone’ has been up and running for a couple of months now and from what I hear has been successful so far.
Added to the fact that there is an evening at the Smith & Western for kids to come and have photos/autographs with the players shows the club is definitely moving forward in this area. These youngsters will hopefully be the fans of the future.
SCORES ON THE DOORS:
REFRESHMENTS 7/10 – Improvements still need to be made but the food seems to be getting better.
TICKETING 8/10 – Much better than it was, especially with the advanced purchasing option. Another hut for away fans is a must though.
ATMOSPHERE 6/10 – Not as great as it once was. A bit of colour to spruce the place up a bit will help.
EASE OF ACCESS 9/10 – Surprisingly good considering the amount of Fastway buses flying through the stadium entrance. Added signs could draw more in though.
FAMILIES/YOUNGSTERS 9/10 – Improved drastically since Low and Ryan Murrant have come to the club. These boys/girls will hopefully be Reds fans for years to come. I know Ryan is keen on fan engagement judging by his Twitter updates!