‘I have a point to prove but only to myself’, says Crawley Town’s surprise new manager John Gregory

John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)
John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)

It’s fair to say the appointment of John Gregory as Crawley Town’s new manager caught everyone by surprise.

Not seen on these shores since being dismissed by QPR in 2007, the 59-year-old has plied his trade in the far reaches of Israel and Kazakhstan in the six years since before making a sudden return to English management on Tuesday at the Broadfield.

John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)

John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)

And a quick internet search of his management record abroad makes rather grim reading.

December 8, 2009: Appointed manager of Israeli club Maccabi Ahi Nazareth. Led them to relegation.

May 18, 2010: Joined Israeli Premier League club FC Ashdod. Resigned on April 18, 2011 with the club facing relegation.

June 13, 2011: Appointed manager of second division Kazakh club FC Kairat. Survived relegation but had his contract terminated five months later.

John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)

John Gregory is appointed as the new Crawley Town Manager (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Simple facts, however, don’t always tell the whole story, and speaking in the aftermath of a passionate press conference he outlined just some of the obstacles he faced.

The language of course was the first issue, although his Hebrew is now good, as demonstrated.

At Gregory’s first club in Israel neither he nor the players were paid for three months, meaning he had to ask his mum for petrol money to drive two hours to training each day.

Then when half the team refused to play matches, he was forced to field a side full of youth players against full Israeli internationals.

At FC Ashdod, while the club’s finances were secure he faced problems of a different kind.

“We walked out to the training ground and all the fans were stood by the gate saying you’re not training today,” he recalled.

“We’d lost on the Saturday and the leader came up to me and said ‘John, it’s not your fault, it’s this lot. We know them and we see them out in the town partying and then it comes to Saturday and they all play rubbish. They’re not working hard enough and we’re not having it.’”

And in Afghanistan, the ninth biggest country in the world, he found a lack of support and the generally poor standard of football tough, not to mention having to take flights to every game.

Even in England, after leaving Aston Villa following one of the club’s most successful spells in recent years, he faced difficult challenges.

Having taken on the Derby job in January 2002 with them bottom of the Premier League and the promise of £10m to spend, an opening win was quickly followed by news of a transfer embargo, and unable to make signings the club were relegated.

An on-going lawsuit for unfair dismissal, which he eventually won, left Gregory unable to apply for jobs for three years, until he was named QPR’s boss in September 2006.

Again huge financial problems dogged his time there, and he tells of having to hand his own credit card over to hotels so the team weren’t turned away on the eve of matches because the club hadn’t paid the bills.

Having “worked miracles” alongside chairman and friend Gianni Paladini to keep the club afloat and avoid relegation from the Championship, the following season he became the first in a long line of managers to get the boot when wealthy duo Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone took ownership.

So does all that leave him with a bitter taste and a point to prove now finally managing in England again?

“I don’t feel blighted by what’s happened before. I’ve still got lots of ambition and drive left in me,” he said.

“I have got a point to prove I suppose but only really to myself.”

After taking a year out of the game to be with his family it’s clear the former England international has lost none of the enthusiasm which saw him take Aston Villa to the top of the Premier League more than a decade ago and even had him touted as a possible England manager of the future.

Any questions over his dedication to the Crawley cause should be quelled by the fact that he missed his six-monthly doctor’s check-up following his recovery from prostate cancer five years ago to greet the media before taking his first training session with his new players. That after “not sleeping for two days” as he trawled through old Reds match tapes.

And he says the fact that Crawley’s finances are secure and that CEO Michael Dunford, who he met while playing for Derby 30 years ago, will look after “everything else” apart away from the footballing side makes them a “perfect fit” for each other.

With Reds 15th in League One and just five points off the relegation places, eyebrows were raised by his insistence that automatic promotion “is not beyond us”. That for a club who attract average crowds of below 3,500 and have drastically curbed spending since paying more than the whole of League Two to get out of the Conference.

But invoking the “winning mentality” of controversial former manager Steve Evans, Gregory added: “I don’t want everyone associated with this club to think little old Crawley who were in the Conference a few years ago, we’re in League One punching above our weight.

“I want us to have the mentality that we’re here on merit. This club have worked so hard to get where they are and it’s time to look up now.”

In an apparent change of tact from the club while under predecessor Richie Barker, the indication is a month of success will see him backed financially in the January transfer window to start shaping a team capable of doing just that.

But the talking now stops with this weekend’s trip to Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup, before Gregory’s ambitions will be put to the highest test with league games against Preston and away at pacesetters Leyton Orient on successive Saturdays.