Stuart Crawford felt Hadleigh United not applying for promotion in 2013/14 title-winning season was the right decision
A decade on from masterminding Hadleigh United’s first and only Step 5 title success, Stuart Crawford has no regrets about not pushing the case for the club to apply for promotion.
The Brettsiders had finished their 2012/13 Eastern Counties League Premier Division campaign – former player Crawford’s third at the helm – in eighth place, improving on 11th from the previous term.
But heading into December 2013, when the club had to make their decision about whether to apply for promotion to Step 4, the Brettsiders were looking like running away with things at the top of the table.
They decided they were not ready to cope with the additional demands that would bring.
At the start of the following campaign, in 2014/15, it was announced the club would apply if they were in a good position come December.
But by then Crawford had already lost key members of his title-winning team, such as top goalscorers Josh Mayhew (Whitton United) and Ollie Canfer, without being able to replace them.
A second title push never emerged, with the fifth-placed Brettsiders 13 points off leaders Norwich United entering December.
Crawford himself resigned on New Year’s Day due to a new job which left him unable to dedicate the time he had on the phone previously to organise things, as well as needing to concentrate on family commitments. His assistant Allan Dilloway took over and they eventually finished eighth.
“I do not think the club was prepared to have gone up as you need more resources to do that,” he said. “The club did not have a lot of choice really.
“I guess we were victims of our own success as players want to go on and achieve more at higher levels.
“We did lose a lot of players that summer, and that was definitely a frustrating time for me.
“I was not happy with the squad I ended up with at the start of the next season but also I had stopped my business and changed jobs.
“In spite of everything I tried to do it but found out I could no longer do it to the best of my ability.”
He has remained out of the game ever since but has some special memories of what he was able to achieve during his short managerial career.
He took Hadleigh to the last eight of the FA Vase in 2012/13, the last 16 in 2013/14 and then the historic Premier Division title that same season. It was sealed on goal difference on an emotion-filled final day at the Millfield to cap that campaign off.
“It was a good squad and that was built on four years of hard graft, not just put together over night,” he said.
“It was a rebuild from 2010 when I went in and year after year we kept adding and people kept buying in to what we were about.”
While many were worried they had thrown the title away on that final day after Mildenhall equalised and the time was beginning to tick down, their manager never lost his belief in his side.
“It was a mix of emotions but I remember I was always confident we might nick another one,” he said.
Duane Wright’s late goal ensured they broke the hearts of Brightlingsea Regent’s players and followers.
And Crawford believed the experience within his squad had proved key across the course of the season, as well as the aggression within his side.
“A lot of them old heads – people like Goldfinch and Shane Wardley and (Darren) Moysey – were valuable players that year, and the year before as that is when it really started to snowball,” he said.
“We had that good Vase run and I think that had had an affect on where we finished in the league.”
More by this authorRussell Claydon