Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Baxter hits back at 'jealous' Crusaders critics after Glenavon boss highlighted 'financial advantage'

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has hit out at what he views as 'jealous' onlookers to his side's recent successes.

The north Belfast club have enjoyed their most prolific ever run of form over the past four seasons, winning three Irish League titles and adding two County Antrim Shield crowns.

The opportunity will arrive next month to win the club's fourth Irish Cup title and first in 10 years.

The fact that seems like a long stretch for a club who had previously only won the competition during a purple patch in 1967 and 1968 speaks volumes for their rise.

The Crues were relegated by Glenavon in a promotion/relegation play-off just months into Baxter's reign.

Now 14 years on and the rivalry remains as the clubs' respective managers have overseen rises from the league's lower reaches to seats at the top table.

Perhaps fuelled by Glenavon wins in two Irish Cup semi-finals, it peaked in 2016 when Baxter said his side would refuse to play in another Charity Shield game due to the 'wildness' of some tackles from the Lurgan Blues, who won the game 1-0.

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After another Glenavon victory between the teams last weekend tightened the gap to just a point in the league table, their manager Gary Hamilton claimed that the Crues' monetary muscle should be able to see off his side's challenge for a top three finish.

"You still expect a team like Crusaders to be finishing third at the very least in this league with the financial advantage that they have over the rest of us," he said. "If they don't then there's something wrong there but we've given ourselves a shout of it now."

A week later, the gap remains the same after the Crues drew at Linfield while Glenavon were held by a late Coleraine equaliser.

And Baxter took his opportunity to offer his explanation for any extra pounds in the Crusaders coffers.

"Glenavon like to point out a lot that the bigger teams - so-called bigger teams - have all the money," he said. "We earned every shilling of it. Crusaders don't have any backers, don't have any money coming from any source other that what we've earned on the football pitch over the last 10 years.

"We don't have money to throw around us. Everything we've got, we've earned. The jealousy that comes from certain people is ridiculous. I feel sorry for them that they feel that way.

"You earn the right on a football pitch to do your thing and that's what puts trophies in the cabinet. Don't cry about it - go and do it. Find your own players, spend your money wisely. We try to do the best we can, we look after ourselves, we try to build our football club as best as we can and we've laid strong foundations for our future."

Baxter, too, pointed to a club that he believes has more financial clout, but said that he has no ill-feeling towards the newly-crowned league champions Linfield.

"We're doing it on a shoestring budget against, look at this set-up here," he said from the Windsor Park press conference room. "This is the benchmark for all the clubs. But I don't begrudge them one bit of it.

"All power to them for doing it, I think it's fantastic. That's football.

"For us winning the odd title and the odd trophy means the world to us because we're not a big club. We're a tiny club and we've earned every ounce of it. That's why it's a wee bit special when we win a trophy here and there.

"For all the crying that the others do, they know who they are."

Crusaders have this season missed out on the league title for only the second time in five seasons, but Baxter reiterated the point that a County Antrim Shield and an Irish Cup crown, should they safely see off Ballinamallard the next time they return to Windsor, is no off season.

"If we're successful in (the Irish Cup), we'll take that in any given year," he said.

"What we look for around football clubs is consistency of players that are coming in, who are going to be there for a while and become future stars. We've brought one or two players in who I think will grow into that and you freshen up as you go. You lose a Gavin Whyte and you're looking for the next one. You're looking for that model that will compete.

"People were chasing us for three years, we were a little bit off it this year but on our day, I like to think there's a hair's breadth between the teams.

"Ballymena have joined that party this year in a big way, Coleraine had joined it the year before. That is what teams are looking for. Coleraine fell off it this year and they will want to try and jump back on. Larne will want to say 'can we join the party?' and Glentoran saying the same."

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