'There are critical areas that should have been handled differently' - Crawley Town co-owner says he understands the 'gravity and the severity of everything'

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Hunter Orrell has been one of the more public facing-members of the WAGMI United consortium – the much-criticised and controversial owners of Crawley Town Football Club.

WAGMI – which stands for We Are Going to Make It – have made national headlines ever since they took over the club in April. They were immediately met with controversy when John Yems was suspended over discrimination allegations.

Since then the controversy has continued - three managers come and go, a host of experienced and fan favourite players reportedly being forced out of the club, amongst other things.

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And now they are staring relegation in the face after a run of six consecutive defeats has seen them drop to second from bottom in League Two, just one point above bottom-placed Rochdale and three points behind Hartlepool United.

Fans have shown their anger towards the owners throughout the season with ‘WAGMI out’ signs and audible chants through games. In recent weeks it has become more and more toxic.

The Crawley Town Supporters’ Alliance announced yesterday (Wednesday) they are meeting with Eben Smith on Friday (March 10) but also called for Preston Johnson, Smith and director of football Chris Galley to publicly ‘rally the troops’ and galvanise the fans and players.

Smith has left Johnson to be the more public-facing member of WAGMI along with Orrell. Orrell was very visible in the early days, standing in the crowd at home and away and buying pints for fans. But he has been absent for a while now. So we caught up with Orrell to see his thoughts on what has happened over the season, what his message is to the fans who want WAGMI out and what the future holds.

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He wanted to make it clear to us this is his personal opinion and he is not speaking on behalf of WAGMI United.

Hunter Orrell in the stands with the fans earlier in the seasonHunter Orrell in the stands with the fans earlier in the season
Hunter Orrell in the stands with the fans earlier in the season

And he knows it hasn’t gone how he and the consortium imagined it. “Nobody expected things to go this way, my true concern currently is that this team does not deserve to be in the position that it is in, this is a very capable squad,” he said: “This is Crawley Town for the love of God. The players on the field are professionals and this squad has the skill to win games so I know they can find their form again and start adding +3 to the points column. But I do understand the gravity of the situation and the severity of everything.”

Orrell, and the other co-owners, has faced a lot criticism on social media from fans, but one thing has always been clear, he loves this club. He said: “I’ve been very public about how much this team means to me. I've condemned the use of the word ‘experiment’ and said that the most important part of the ownership change was ensuring that there was a positive impact on the club and town.

"I think I am right alongside the fans on their mental exhaustion of this season. How anyone could not feel the sadness watching the thing they love the most struggle is beyond me - and it’s why I get where fans are coming from. This is legacy on the line, you can’t blame bad luck, you cant feel sorry for yourself, you can’t turn to hate, you can’t hide from the reality of what it is only take action. But certainly it pains me and each loss is like a punch to the face.”

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Hunter Orrell with Crawley fans at Carlisle United on the first game of the seasonHunter Orrell with Crawley fans at Carlisle United on the first game of the season
Hunter Orrell with Crawley fans at Carlisle United on the first game of the season

Fans have been supporting the players during games home and away, but after games a lot of fans have directed their anger at the owners with boos. On Tuesday night at Sutton, players were encouraged by some fans not to go near them. Orrell understands the frustration but wants them to direct their energy at other things.

"I have empathy for your feelings,” he said. “Those feelings of anger, frustration, and pain are shared and I won’t/don’t hold it against you for wanting change. My message to fans is this – this is your club. This is your town. You deserve to be proud of the boys in red and proud to tell your friends you’re a Crawley supporter. This is the time for cheering on the lads over anything else, that’s where the energy should be going.”

Does he feel he has let the fans and the club down? “I cant really comment beyond, this is not where the club deserves to be on the table,” he said.

The main comment aimed at WAGMI United on social media is ‘get out of our club’. The consortium has been clear with their intentions from the start, they are here for the long haul and want to make it a success.

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But given how the season has gone, have they discussed selling the club? “Discussions have strictly been in regard to improving results and form and options we have to improve the squad’s chances of winning,” said Orrell.

Fans saw their chances of winning reduced when there was an exodus of experienced players including Tom Nichols, Glenn Morris, Tony Craig and George Francomb and although Orrell said he had nothing to do with these decisions, he said: “I'm sad to see any player leave. I get an incredible opportunity to watch them train, meet their families, eat lunch with them, and build close relationships. I care about every single one of them.”

WAGMI have been seen to make naive decisions which have contributed to the club’s demise on the pitch through the season – the selling of experienced players a case-in-point.

And Orrell said big decisions have backfired. “Large scale changes were made that have not only been unsuccessful but backfired in terms of results and fan relations so there are critical areas that should have been handled differently,” he said. "It all comes down to execution.”

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And as for the positives they can take so far? “I don’t think that's for me to decide. Personally, sure there are things I am proud of but at the end of the day the most important thing right now is winning and avoiding relegation.”

A main point of frustration from the fans is the lack of visibility from anyone from WAGMI once the going got tough. So can we expect to see Orrell and co at the Broadfield Stadium as the Reds face crunch matches in their battle against relegation?

Orrell said: “I’m personally figuring out what my trip back to the UK looks like. I want to be there. I have been staying close to home for personal reasons unrelated to CTFC/WAGMI and it does take some planning and caution to be away for an extended period currently. That being said, being gone from Crawley since the end of the year has been like being away from family. I miss seeing the supporters and training, and gamedays. I miss the entire experience. I miss the away game travel and the chants and just hate not being there. I hope it’s clear how much I love football and CTFC. This matters so much to me outside of an ‘owner’ perspective, I’m just a supporter at the end of the day that wants nothing but the best for the team.”

But he does believe there is hope for the club. “I believe this squad can avoid relegation. This is wartime. The players understand the stakes and are sitting in the locker room before the game with the mentality to go and give it everything they have. Players are keeping each other up and I know Scott [Lindsey] is relentlessly pushing to keep their heads held high and ready to take on each game.”

Reds face Harrogate Town on Saturday – read Elliot Raccio's preview here.

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