Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crewe Alexandra

Crewe Alexandra FC is a professional football club from the railway town of the same name in Cheshire, around thirty miles south of Manchester. The club were formed in 1877 as Crewe FC, originally starting out competitive life in the Football Alliance, changing their title to include Alexandra while playing at Earl Street Cricket Ground.

Before long the club had moved to a new ground in Nantwich Road, which hosted an England v Wales international in 1880 and then an FA Cup semi final between Aston Villa and Rangers in 1887. 

The following year 'The Alex' reached the semi final of the FA Cup where they were defeated 4-0 at Anfield by double winners Preston North End. In 1892 the club became founder members of the Football League Division Two, but they lost their place after just four seasons.

The Alex competed in The Combination at a new ground at Edleston Road, before joining the Lancashire League in 1898. After just three years they moved to the Birmingham & District League and then the Central League as founder members in 1911 as the team had spells playing at Old Sheds Field and then Earl Street once more, before moving to Gresty Road in 1908. In 1921 Crewe were accepted into the newly formed Division Three North.

The clubs first major honours came in 1936 and 1937 as they lifted the Welsh Cup with Herbert Swindells scoring plenty of goals at the time. The team struggled in many seasons and were placed in Division Four upon League re-organisation in 1958. 

The 1959-60 season saw Alexandra reach the fourth round of the FA Cup which drew a crowd of 20,000 to Gresty Road to see a 2-2 draw. However, Alex lost the replay 13-2 at White Hart Lane.

Not to be put off Crewe beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup the following season, before going down 5-1 to Spurs at the fourth round stage once again. In 1963 the club were promoted for the first time as Frank Lord's goals saw the team reach Division Three. Unfortunately their spell lasted just the one season, although they went back up in 1968. Alas, once again they lasted just one season at the higher level.

The club entered many years of struggle and had to apply for re-election on several occasions. Bruce Grobbelaar did his best to keep out the goals for a while in the late 70's, before the club changed forever when the former Wimbledon and Crystal Palace boss Dario Gradi was appointed as manager in June 1983.

Gradi quickly put emphasis on developing youth players and those who had been released by bigger clubs. Two of whom was David Platt who quickly impressed and earned a move to Aston Villa and future international Geoff Thomas, before the club won promotion in 1989 with full back Rob Jones starring. 

After two years they were relegated, but they returned to the third tier in 1994. By now the team included Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy who went on to excellent careers.

In 1997 the team reached Wembley and beat Brentford in the Play Off Final to reach Division One at the time (the League's second tier). Despite having the lowest budget in the division Gradi managed to keep Alex up there for five seasons. 

Miraculously the club returned after just one season in the third tier with Dean Ashton leading the line. Eventually they were relegated once more at the end of the 2005-06 season.

The monies raised from all the sales of players allowed the building of a new training ground and the club were awarded FA youth academy status. Gradi missed the start of the 2007-08 season to undergo heart surgery, but returned in October until the end of the season before handing on the reigns to first team coach Steve Holland.

Holland lasted around fifteen months in the role before he was sacked as fans became disenchanted with results. Gradi stood in as caretaker boss, from his new role as Technical Director until former Stoke City boss Gudjon Thordarson took over. 

His time at the club ended in relegation and the following October he was dismissed to be replaced by Gradi once again. The stalwart steadied the ship and brought more money in by selling players on before his assistant Steve Davis took over in November 2011 to allow Gradi to concentrate on his previous role. 

Davis had a good record as boss of nearby Nantwich Town after playing for Alex among others at centre back. He inspired the team to put in a tremendous late run to reach the Play Off Final, where a Nick Powell goal helped see off Cheltenham Town at Wembley to clinch promotion. Powell was sold to Manchester United soon after.

Alex lifted the Football League Trophy in 2012-13 with a 2-0 victory over Southend United at Wembley. as Max Clayton and Luke Murphy netted the goals. The team retained their third tier status when they were relegated to League Two.

A major controversy surrounding the club came to the attention of the public in November 2016 after former defender Andy Woodward revealed that he had been the victim of child sexual abuse by former coach Barry Bennell.

Further allegations were made against Bennell and the club by several former players who had come through the Alex youth system. Gradi was also suspended from football by the FA. Meanwhile Davis was sacked and replaced as manager by former Crewe defender David Artell in January 2017.

Alex finished the 2016-17 campaign in seventeenth position. The rumours and investigations into the club continued as Alex promised but then deferred an internal inquiry to much criticism.

Crewe Alexandra will play in the EFL League Two in the 2017-18 season.

My visits

Crewe Alexandra Reserves v Opponents Unknown (Saturday 26th October 1985)

I was travelling to watch Hull City play at Shrewsbury Town and after managing to get on the wrong train from Stockport and ending up in Stoke, I took the train to Crewe where I was to change for my final destination. As I had a fair bit of time to wait I decided to have a wander down to Gresty Road to see if I could catch a look inside.

The gates were open and a game was in progress with maybe a hundred fans in attendance. I wandered in and surveyed the scene. I remember Alex played in their kit of the time of red shirts and black shorts and they had a forward at the time trying to impress called Vernon Allott. 

The ground was a bit of a mess to be honest. The Gresty Road End had an old cover in the middle towards the rear with a few steps of wooden terracing. The Railway End was open and both areas had shale banking behind a few steps of terrace. The relatively small Main Stand ran along the right hand side with a small terraced paddock in front. Opposite was the Popular Side, which was a covered terracing.

I departed to try a couple of pints in The Royal Hotel, whose car park was the site of Alex's former Old Sheds Field ground. I enjoyed the pub and left in good form for the train ride to Shropshire.

Crewe Alexandra 1 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 17th October 1987) Division Four (att: 2,723)

I travelled to this game in a car with my postie colleague Pete Trapps, getting there in time to go to The Royal for a couple of pints before the game. Boro played reasonably well but couldn't score an equaliser after David Platt had put Alex ahead. Not long after he moved on to Aston Villa. Dario Gradi infuriated us as he made his subs in injury time, in a tactic that was relatively new at the time.

Gresty Road had been tidied up, at least at the away end where the old roof and terrace had gone. There was a few steps at the front and then some flat standing backed by a wall.

Crewe Alexandra 1 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 8th April 1989) Division Four (att: 3,423)

Boro were chasing promotion and took a decent following over to Cheshire. I travelled on a mini bus from the Gas Club/Post Office. High fences had been added to the away end meaning a poor view. Many lads stood on a railing and rested against the wall at the back so that they could see a little better.

Paul Dobson scored the goal to secure a point for The Seadogs.

Crewe Alexandra 1 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 15th January 1994) Division Three (att: 3,594)

Alex were top of the league as we headed off to this encounter on a mini bus that I had booked. We stopped for beers in Castleford and then later we tried out the several pubs in Sandbach market square, arriving in good form.

Gresty Road had at last seen some improvements with The Railway End now having a cover, seats and some corporate hospitality.

Steve Wick's side played some good football and were pulling away from the bottom of the table. Boro had more than their fair share of the game with Jason White scoring and generally terrifying the home defence but were let down by some debatable refereeing and the actions of some of the home players. Neil Lennon was most prominent in raising our ire. We left the ground singing "You're only top cos you're cheating."

I can't remember where we stopped off on the way home, but it's fair to say that we did.

Tuesday 2nd December 2014

As I was heading to watch the Wrexham v Bristol Rovers match and staying overnight in Chester, I thought it a good idea to stop off and take some photos at the re-christened Alexandra Stadium.

My luck was in as a workers access gate was open at the far end of the stand. In I went to have a look.

The huge Main Stand dominated the scene. You could see the top dozen or so rows from the railway station, but at ground level it looked really big as it held close on 7,000 seats. The far end now had a covered seated stand for home fans where the old little away terrace once stood. The Popular Side was also all seated. The whole ground looked very neat and certainly light years from my first visits.

I wandered off happy with the effort to catch a train onto Chester for some much needed shut eye before the match.

Crewe Alexandra u23 0 Crystal Palace u23 4 (Monday 16th April 2018) Professional Development League (att: c120)

It’s sometimes strange how things fall into place when you’re travelling, even if you don’t intend the plans before setting out. When I awoke in Leeds early on Monday morning I didn’t even know there was a game at Gresty Road; let alone planning to visit.

The rain had scuppered the third day of the Yorkshire v Essex game at Headingley. I’d filled that in by taking in the Rugby League Super League encounter between Wakefield Trinity and St Helens. My original plan was to take in day four.

However, my instinct was that play would be unlikely. Instead I took the 8.20 train across to Manchester so that I could take in the conclusion of what looked like an intriguing clash between Lancashire and Nottinghamshire.

I arrived at Old Trafford armed with sandwiches and drinks and trying to anticipate if there would be enough time for the game to reach a natural conclusion. I’d even gained access to the members area and planned which real ales to sample.

What I hadn’t accounted for was a Lancashire batting collapse of seismic proportions. They lost 8 wickets for 15 runs in 50 minutes. I sat there stunned, like many other spectators and wondering what to do.

It was just gone midday and I certainly didn’t want to start drinking as I was to attend the 7.45 match between Atherton Collieries and Hyde United. The wonders of modern technology and the Soccerway site on my mobile phone came to the rescue.

It revealed that the Alex under 23’s were playing at 2pm and admission was free. Having checked the train times I decided not to hang around to see Notts collect the 10 runs needed for victory and headed back to the tram for the service to Piccadilly.

The action continued back at Old Trafford as the visitors somehow managed to lost 4 wickets to round off an incredible day’s play, and one that I’d certainly be able to bring up in conversation with “And I was there”.

My train ticket cost £10.50 return and I was soon on a service heading south. I’d got on one not valid for my ticket, but the guard took pity on me. By 1.40 I was sat high in the Main Stand at Gresty Road with a free teamsheet and a decent pie for £2.50.

Palace’s youngsters were led by former defender Richard Shaw. Both sides started off playing good quality football on the deck. I’d made a decent choice. Crewe were in the ascendancy early in the piece and came close on a couple of occasions.

Tommy Lowery fired just over from twenty yards before a fine move saw  Oli Finney fire a shot against the post after being set up by Lewis Reilly. However, it would be the visiting Eagles who took the lead just after the half hour mark.

Nya Kirby finished a fine low cross from Levi Lumeka. Six minutes later it was 2-0 as a Kirby free kick from out on the left was headed home by James Daly. I was really enjoying my choice and the stand offered a great view.

Five minutes after the break Palace further extended their lead after Daly was fouled despite strong protests from the home defenders. Dave Richards in the Alex net got a strong hand to the spot kick, but the ball went into the top corner from the boot of Jason Lokilo.

Crewe continued to play plenty of fine football but the scoring was rounded off when Kian Flanagan shot into the bottom corner from outside the box with six minutes left on the clock. Alex were denied a late consolation when Palace keeper Joe Tupper somehow extended himself to push a Reilly free kick onto the crossbar.

At full time I strolled back round to the station before taking the 4.15 train back to Piccadilly, where I took the courtesy bus to Victoria in search of a pint before my next exploration.

The old black and white shots have been scanned from Simon Inglis' excellent 'Football Grounds of England and Wales'

No comments:

Post a Comment