A rough guide to... Crewe Alexandra

Cod Almighty | Article

by Mike Worden

1 August 2016

2015-16 saw Crewe relegated by their local rivals with five games of the season still to play. Can they bounce back? 

How are you?

Crewe are a club for whom the word 'struggle' could have been invented. But somehow they are a club who have managed to avoid dropping out of the Football League, unlike us and a number of others with a long League history. Between 1894 and 1982 Crewe finished in last place in the Football League eight times, more than any other club.

In recent times the survival has been aided by a successful and high-profile academy and a stable and well-managed set-up. Crewe are never going to set the football world alight, but somehow just get on with it. A club who people will not speak ill of (except people from the Potteries).

What have you been up to?

For much of their history Crewe have bounced between the bottom two divisions, save a brief flirtation with the second tier between 1997 and 2001 and a quick return from 2003 to 2006. Crewe fans look back fondly on their Wembley play-off wins as some of the club's greatest days. The 2012 fourth division win and a brilliant solo goal by Nick Powell are still reasonably fresh in the memory.

Crewe's oldest ever player was one Kenny Swain. He turned out on the Gresty Road turf at the ripe old age of 39 before trying his luck in management at Blundell Park.

What kind of season did you have?

Terrible. Crewe were thrashed and sent down by local rivals Port Vale with five games of the season left. It could not have been any worse. Dumped out of the FA Cup by Eastleigh and humiliated a number of times in the league – including a 5-0 hammering at home by Coventry on 2 January – the Railwaymen will not remember 2015-16 fondly.

Many fans put the side's troubles down to a lack of experience in the ranks. Results through the winter seemed to validate their position, with only one win from December to February. By April it was all too late. Being beaten and relegated by their near rivals – in a fixture where there is often a tense atmosphere at the best of times – just topped it all.

How are you feeling?

The Alex are seemingly adjusting well to life in the fourth flight. An opening-day win at Stevenage was followed by three draws and a defeat, but September has seen home wins against co-relegatees Doncaster and Exeter. Much-travelled striker Ryan Lowe and young Chelsea loanee Alex Kiwomya lead the goalscoring charts with four each.

Heart may have ruled head in chairman John Bowler's decision to not sack manager Steve Davis after last season. But despite a quiet time in the transfer market over the summer, the signs look reasonably encouraging. The quality of Davis' signings and the new fitness regime he has introduced seem to be reaping rewards on the pitch, though with just seven games played any optimism will be tempered with caution.

Where are you from?

Crewe Alexandra were formed in 1877. Named after Princess Alexandra, the team played their first matches at Alexandra Park in Crewe. After a brief relocation to Sandbach, the club returned to Crewe and set up home at Gresty Road in 1897.

The ground has been rebuilt but its history is evident. Gresty Road is located right next to the town's railway station, so close that a defender's hoofed clearance at the station end might result in the ball ending up in a passing coal wagon.

Unfortunately for the visitor, the station is a fair walk from the town centre and the pubs and eating places around Gresty Road are limited. The government has already announced that the new London-Birmingham HS2 line is to be extended northwards to a brand new transport hub at Crewe, which will transform the immediate area tremendously.

You must be so loyal

Crewe don't like sacking managers.

Any other club suffering the humiliations experienced by Crewe last season would have packed their manager off on the nearest fast train out of town, but not Crewe. Steve Davis kept the job he has held since 2011.

More famous is the relationship between the club and Dario Gradi, who managed the Railwaymen for 24 years between 1983 and 2007 and returned for a second spell in 2009, staying in charge for two more years. Gradi is Crewe's Alan Buckley, except they couldn't sack him. They just moved him upstairs. Gradi is most associated with the highly successful academy he set up which produced players such as Dean Ashton, Seth Johnson, Danny Murphy and Rob Jones.

Gradi's legacy lives on. The Crewe Alex Academy based at nearby Reaseheath Agricultural College is still very successful and is highly regarded for its emphasis on technical excellence.

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Front page image: Crewe station 1962, cc-by-sa 2.0 Ben Brooksbank [view the original]