Crawley ready for 'dream' Man Utd tie - Mark Stein
Crawley physio Stein (centre) will again face Manchester United in the FA Cup 16 years after Chelsea's final defeat, but this time from the bench
When Crawley Town run out onto the picture-perfect turf at Old Trafford on Saturday evening to face Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup, few of their players will know what to expect.
Even though the minnows of the FA Cup are a big-spending fish in the pond of lower league football, most of those in the Crawley changing room will never have played in such a large arena as the Theatre of Dreams, or against such formidable talents.
But for one Crawley man, the prospect of facing the pomp and skill of a Sir Alex Ferguson side is nothing new.
Former Chelsea striker and current Crawley physio Mark Stein is a man with previous form against United in this particular competition, after enduring a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Brian McClair and co in the FA Cup final in 1994 at Wembley.
Stein is now the physio at Crawley after a 19-year playing career
"I was fortunate enough to play in that final and it was the best day I had in my entire career," Stein told BBC Sussex.
"And now to get a tie like Manchester United is what dreams are made of. We deserve a great tie, and the whole of Crawley - the players, the management and all of the staff - will enjoy the day."
Nowadays, 16 years after that final, Stein can be more often found sitting on the bench alongside Crawley manager Steve Evans, but not with any vain hope of getting onto the field to play.
Following a career that spanned 19 years, 649 appearances and 246 goals, and spells at Luton Town, Oxford United and Stoke City amongst others, Stein re-trained for his life post-football as a physiotherapist, gaining his first job in his new-found field at Barnet in 2007.
"I've always been interested in physiotherapy having had injuries myself, and hopefully the fact I've played can bring an added dimension to it," he added.
"Getting someone back to full fitness is easier when someone has been through it themselves."
The 44-year-old arrived at high-flying Crawley in September last year and watched on as Evans' side stormed up the Blue Square Bet Premier table to become front-runners for promotion to the Football League.
We've beaten three League sides [Swindon, Derby and Torquay] already and the club deserves a great tie
Crawley physio Mark Stein
And while the Manchester based Red Devils currently lie at the head of the Premier League, their Sussex-based namesakes are doing equally well, lying just three points off top-spot in the Blue Square Bet Premier with four games in hand on leaders AFC Wimbledon.
"The management got me in and ever since I've been here everyone has been magnificent," Stein continued.
"It'll be a good marker on Saturday to see how far we've come and how far we have to go to progress.
"It's a massive stage but I guarantee that the whole of Crawley and the 9,000 or so fans will learn a great deal."
But unlike the majority of David versus Goliath FA Cup fixtures, some non-league football fans have mixed feelings about the rise of Crawley.
With the support of co-owner Bruce Winfield and investor Tom Scott, the Reds were able to not only clear debts estimated to be over £1m last year, but also dip a rather large toe into the shallow waters of the lower league transfer market.
Several high-profile signings followed, including striker Richard Brodie from York for an estimated £275,000, Argentine winger Sergio Torres for £100,000 and a £70,000 fee paid for Matt Tubbs from Salisbury.
And while those sorts of figures might be loose change for the adored superstars of the Stretford End, spending on such a level does not go unnoticed in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
But Stein is quick to advocate the manager's role in bringing the non-league side to the fifth round for the first time in their history.
"A lot of credit has to go to Steve and his assistant Paul Raynor and the people who work behind the scenes," he said. "The gaffer has been here three or four years and each year he's taken the club to another level.
"We've beaten three League sides [Swindon, Derby and Torquay] already and the club deserves a great tie.
"To be honest it's unbelievable, it just gets better and better. Hopefully now we can go there and do alright."
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