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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 22/09/01
Crewe Alexandra
Klik Klik Whirly Beep Beep
By Matt Rowson

Okay, bands with good names. Half Man Half Biscuit. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Destroy All Monsters. Thin Lizzy.

Shops with good names. "Abrakebabra". "Ka-Bloom". "Klik Klik Whirly Beep Beep".

Footballers with good names. Danny Invincible. Sharp and Speedie up front for Scotland. Robbie Savage. Rudi Bommer.

Football teams with good names.

Crewe Alexandra.

Magic. Now it's conceivable that there's a Austrian village team called FC Auermob ("Auermob are gonna give you a hiding this weekend"), or a Belgian lower division side called De Boysse ("I'm going to watch De Boysse on Saturday"). Maybe. Failing either of these two possibilities, the attractiveness of being able to say that you're hitting the road with the Crewe is undeniable.

Then there's the unique suffix, which always broke the monotony of James Alexander Gordon's Saturday evening monologue. "Football League Division 4... Aldershot 1.... Crewe Alexandra 1". Crewe what ?

The official site reports some disagreement regarding how the club came to adopt its name. Personally I'd prefer to take the view that it was taken from a local pub (surely the best chronicled example of a club getting close to its community) rather than being named after Princess Alexandra. Given a hundred-odd years of history, Watford Red Lion or even Watford Estcourt might have caught on as well. We dropped the "West Herts" moniker, you'll notice...

In fact, given the club's wonderful name, and the persistently attractive football dished out by the team under the inspired guidance of Dario Gradi, who takes charge of his thousandth Alex game this season, it's a little surprising that the Railwaymen's support is so modest in number. Until you consider that Crewe is a completely unremarkable place in the middle of nowhere in particular, somewhere you'd never need to go unless you actually lived there. And that Crewe have never actually won anything. And that yellow and red is flowing through your veins (what, you have black blood ?). Still, Crewe Alexandra...

As last season, Alex have begun this campaign slowly, most recently an unconvincing extra-time disposal of Rushden in the Worthington Cup and a limp defeat to Barnsley at the weekend. Gradi's sides have always been teams in the truest sense, rather than collections of stars or individuals, and as such a loss in form is more likely to be unanimous.

In goal for the Railwaymen will probably be Ademola "George" Bankole, a large Nigerian unsympathetically rechristened "Badgoalie" by a section of the support. Lack of command of his area seems to be a chief criticism. His cover is Trinidadian Clayton Ince, whose career at Gresty Road has stalled due to repeated international interruptions; Ince is currently on the transfer list.

At the back, popular captain Steve Macauley is the motivator and voice of the team. His first-choice partner has generally been relatively big-money signing Dave Walton, but the injury-prone centrehalf was responsible for a soft goal at Oakwell and is reputed to have had a set-to with his manager this week. Alternatives would be the tough-tackling but random Efe Sodje, or highly-rated youngster Stephen Foster who is beginning to establish himself.

Left-back is player-of-the-year Shaun Smith, who seems to have shaken off the stick he was getting in our promotion season. On the right, David Wright's foot injury has created an opening for Liverpool loanee Alan Navarro, who does not seem to be regarded with the same respect.

In midfield, summer signing Dave Brammer fulfils the same workhorse role that he did for Wrexham in our Division Two days. Wayne Collins is one of three midfielders in his second spell at Gresty Road, the others being 37-year-old Geoff Thomas, whose long-term fitness is still a major doubt, and fringe player Neil Sorvel. Lilleshall graduate Kenny Lunt will probably also feature, whilst Colin Little, whose preferred forward berth is probably forbidden by his modest goalscoring record, is filling in on the flank. Other midfield possibilities include the left-sided Phil Charnock, pressing for a regular place after two years limited by injury, and industrious nearly-man Kevin Street. Summer signing from non-league Steve Jones can also operate on either wing.

Up front, the already talismanic Dean Ashton is being missed. Remarkably well-developed for a seventeen year old, Ashton hit eight in thirteen at the end of last season but injured knee ligaments during Crewe's summer tour and is still a couple of weeks away from fitness. We will hear more of him, but he made a massive impression in our capitulation at Gresty Road last season.

In his absence Rob Hulse should start; another youngster slightly eclipsed by Ashton's emergence who needs to add consistency to a tidy all-round game. Rodney Jack has pace and good control but is another whose disappointing scoring record lets him down. Paul Tait is a lanky target man with a good scoring record in non-league but fewer strikes at Nationwide level. Graham Barrett was added to the group this week, the aggressive young Irish striker joining on loan from Arsenal.

We were disappointing at Gresty Road last season, but this one might have fallen nicely for us; Alex are too good a side to play poorly all season, and this could be a chance to damage their good name and pick up some much-needed away points.