What happened last season?
For many Alex fans, 2002-2003 was one of the best, breaking all sorts of
records - most points, most away wins, and our highest ever finish in a
division table (yes, it was the first time we've ever got promoted as
runners-up; still no silverware) - and getting promoted with a game to spare
meant two celebration parties: one at Loftus Road after the all-important
draw against QPR and another a week later after the final, and now
meaningless, match against Cardiff.
What a pleasure it was to go to games pretty confident of victory and come
away with all three points week in, week out. OK, it didn't always happen -
particularly at Gresty Road where the pitch posed huge problems for a side
reknowned for its passing football - but highlights include bagging five
goals at Mansfield, and four at both Luton and Cheltenham, and an 8-0
tonking of Doncaster in the LDV Vans trophy (though the 4-2 mauling we got
later at Shrewsbury perhaps makes me glad we're not in that competition this
What's going to happen next season?
This will be Dario Gradi's 20th season in charge. Yes, 20! There is a whole
generation of Alex fans who have grown up knowing no other manager at Gresty
Road but Dario, and who regard reminiscences about the old Fourth Division
days as the demented ravings of senile old tweedies. What a long way we have
... But what a long way we still have to go if we are to survive our second
spell in the First Division. Selling last season's highest scorer Rob Hulse
was perhaps to be expected (only a year left on his contract), but we also
released Rodney Jack (perhaps not the force he once was, but still likely to
cause defences problems), fellow forward Colin Little and tall defender Dave
Walton, and there doesn't seem the strength in depth up front that we used
However, Hulse's departure opens up opportunities for others to show what
they can do. In attack, we hope that Dean Ashton can fulfil the promise he
has shown occasionally (or is he the new Mark Rivers?); tricky Steve Jones
(picked up from non-League a couple of seasons ago, and now a full Northern
Ireland international) can continue his massive improvement and fill the
place vacated by Rodders; and there should (at last) be a chance for Paul
Edwards (confusingly, the third Alex player to bear that name in recent
memory, but the first striker) to stake a claim to a regular first team
Midfield, there won't be too many changes, apart from those resulting from
the inevitable injuries we seem to be prone to. On their day, playmaker
Kenny Lunt, captain Dave Brammer and Neil 'Sideways' Sorvel can be brilliant
(but on their off-days, can be pants!). Great things are expected of Welsh
cap David Vaughan, and Lee Bell and Ben Rix will be pushing their claims.
In defence, however, we struggle to find a capable left-back. Man Utd loanee
Paul Tierney initially did well last season, but the position has seen a
string of players trying to be adequate - filling this gap is apparently a
Dario priority. Centre-half Steve Foster is getting better and better, and
Richard Walker is also improving, but David Wright has not really fulfilled
the potential of a couple of season ago. Expect occasional outings (usually
incident-filled) also from Nigerian bandana-wearing Efe Sodje who is keen to
prove his worth to Dario.
When first choice keeper Clayton Ince is fit we all breathe a huge sigh of
relief. If he isn't then we have real problems as Ademole 'George' Bankole
does not inspire the same confidence and Dario is reluctant to use the
home-grown third-string Stuart Tomlinson. Again, this is an area where Dario
hopes to find a new addition.
In short, we have a squad that's a bit threadbare in places, but a season in
which to develop some of the latest talent to roll off the Dario Gradi
conveyor belt (I haven't mentiond some of the youngsters who already have
England caps at various youth levels). Given that Hulse's sale will, at a
stroke, remove most if not all of the club's modest debt and return it to
profitability, there should be few off-pitch problems to worry us (shame we
don't have the same confidence about the new pitch surface!).
However, I reckon there will be more than a few First Division clubs with
financial worries making an impact on the pitch. It will be a very different
First Division to the one we last played in 12 months ago, and although we
will struggle against the best teams, I think there is less of a gulf
between the Alex and the middle-ranking teams. OK, maybe we won't race into
the play-offs, and perhaps we will repeat previous dalliances with
relegation, but I reckon we are good enough to finish just above the bottom
three come next May.
Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
A lot of visiting supporters seem to go to the Brocklebank pub on Weston
Road - a relatively new place which is family-friendly, and has its own
carpark. Otherwise, among the more established pubs, you could try the
Brunswick, the Bank (doormen on matchdays) or the Barrel, both on Nantwich
Road less than two hundred yards from the top of Gresty Road. The British Lion used to be a home fans pub, but the front door is now opened to away fans on many Saturdays and is
a cheerful little boozer, often crowded on match-days.
What's the nearest railway station?
For a club nicknamed the Railwaymen, it is not surprising that the nearest
station is ...er... Crewe station. Gresty Road is about 150 yards from the
station (turn left out of the station, take first left - opposite Royal
Hotel), and the ground is less than 200 yards walk down. Five minutes
maximum, even if you walk veeeeerrrryyyy sloooooowly.
Where is the best place to park?
As a regular long distance traveller to GR, I now park in the main club
car-park (pay-and-display £1.60), though there can be the usual delays in
leaving after the game (turning left and working your way back to the
motorway via Shavington can save time, and you pass the Alex Soccer Centre
on the way). The main car-park can be full if the ground is near full
capacity and there are the usual selection of cub scouts' carparks down
Gresty Road. Best bet on busy days - particularly for those heading back to
the M6 - could be the industrial estate off Weston Road (opposite the
Brocklebank pub), just south of the roundabout near Crewe station.
||Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone.... Dario Gradi,
longest-serving manager in the football league... endless associations and
puns to do with railways...
||Irrelevant to us. Absolutely no value as a role model - unless you
rate crass exploitation of his image and skills (certainly not his
personality) for commercial gain
||Nice place (too many roundabouts) but should grow its own
footy team, not rely on a bunch of arrogant south London businessmen
foisting a franchise on it
||Some Alex fans (wacky-backy suspected) reckon Dario might
one day get Crewe there. In the meantime, a potential source of cash as we
sell yet more young Alex starlets
||Great Division to be in last year and it's definitely not the
end of the world if we go back there
||thick neck ... scored a hat-trick in a pre-season friendly
for us a few years ago ... unfortunately, this was the height of his
goal-scoring powers. He failed to net even one more and deservedly joined a
long line of ex-Alex strikers in the lower leagues
||Easy trip for the London-based Alex fans (especially enjoyed our
last trip there - my daughter's first ever Alex match and 1-0 to the
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"I like pie..."
"When taking part in sport, its not winning or losing that's important. Its how drunk you get afterwards"
"I work in student accommodation hence I know the spelling"
"When are Watford going to build a decent 4th stand? Red shorts definately. Steve Sherwood wasn't fouled"