What happened last season?
Bouncing straight back into Division 1 in 2003-2004 was always going to be a struggle, especially with losing the likes of Rob Hulse, Rodney Jack and Dave Walton. But as we entered the New Year Crewe fans were walking around the Alexandra Stadium pinching themselves, as we found ourselves in the dizzy high position of ninth. After some great home performances, notably the home victories against ex-Premiership boys Sunderland, Forest and Derby whispers of the play-offs could be heard.
But after the shock giantkilling by Telford in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, things took a turn for the worse. Injuries piled up, the goals dryed up and more importantly so did the points. Relegation was now being talked about, but as normal with a few games to spare Dario's Railwaymen stopped the rot in time for the last day of the season, when we entertained the Premiership-bound Canaries. Despite a final day defeat, what a party atmosphere, with both sets of fans on the pitch at the end of the game joining in a game of footy that had resembled the recent Carling advert on TV. The Norwich fans celebrating promotion and the Crewe fans just celebrating First Division survival was just a joy to watch!!
What's going to happen next season?
As another season starts lots of changes have taken place, players change, managers change, even the name of the division changes to "The Championship". But one thing never changes and that is the fact that Crewe are every football pundits and bookies favourite for the drop. But will Dario Gradi, the Man from Milan, use his football genius tactic tinkering to lead Crewe to safety and beyond?
At first it doesn't look good; in losing captain Dave Brammer to local rivals (and apparently more ambitious) Stoke City, and also vice-captain David Wright to Wigan, Crewe have lost two of their most experienced campaigners. But as normal there are youngsters coming through and Dario has done some wheeling and dealing in the free transfer market.
For the first season in living memory we will start the season with two decent keepers. Ben Williams joins us after his release from Manchester United and a highly succesful loan period towards the back end of last season. Challenging him for the place between the Crewe sticks, will be the Trinidad & Tobago number one, Clayton Ince. As long as Clayton stops getting beat from 35 yards the spot is very much up for grabs.
In front of them there is a question to ask. Do we play with a flat back four, or do we operate with wing-backs? At centre back we have the ever-improving Steve Foster, and if he stays fit, the ever-dependable Adie Moses. There is also Richard "The Doorman" Walker and Chris McCready to call upon. At full/wing back, on the left we have our Welsh international David Vaughan, and Anthony Tonkin, who I think will improve given time. But down the right we have two players who I think are in for a big season, seventeen year old Billy Jones has been a revelation since his introduction and is definitely a future England player. And there is also Luke Varney; spotted playing non-league football in the Midlands he was hitting a decent run of form until injury cut short his season. If he can recapture it, Dario will have worked his magic yet again!
The midfield is where I have my concerns, in my opinion new captain Kenny Lunt is due a big season, he needs to become a man and a leader. Alongside him will be another non-league find, the tigerish Justin Cochrane. We have the experience of Neil Sorvel, but possibly more importantly we have a whole bunch of youngsters waiting to stake a claim for first-team football such as Ben Rix, Lee Bell, and James Robinson to name but a few.
The forward line is one which is going to thrive off decent through balls, and balls over the top. If Dean Ashton can start hitting the net a lot earlier this season I don't think it'll be long before another player off Dario's conveyor belt arrives in the Premiership. Alongside him his our Northern Irish whippet, and no its not Chesney from Corrie, our very own Steve Jones. With his electric pace and clinical finishing I think he has taken many Crewe fans by surprise, but we are all glad to see all his hard work being a success out on the pitch. In reserve there is the latest comeback kid, this time Mark Rivers; on his day brilliant, but will he hit a better consistency than his first spell here? Only time will tell. Then there's Andy White, released by Mansfield in close season, Dario has obviously seen something in him as he has been tracking him for a while, so again only time will tell. Its also going to make or break time for another of our youngsters, Paul Edwards.
In summary most realistic Crewe fans, me included, would settle for finishing fourth from bottom, and anything higher would be a bonus. We are not a club that's going to break the bank just to buy success, we are a small club that promotes from within and works with the best of what we've got. Three big clubs have come down from the Premiership and the clubs that have come up from Division Two, are not exactly small. So I think its going to be a long hard season, and I just hope it doesn't all end in tears. This club deserves to be where it is now, due to all the hard work that Dario Gradi and all his backroom staff have done over the past 21 years. The finger crossing starts from the Saturday the 7th August!!!
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"Stoke City Football Club is scum and therefore David Brammer will fit in well there" (but like the Murphy's... - ed)
"I first started this survey needing a cack and a bath, and by the time I was half way I simply couldn't wait. I complete this box in complete relief."
"Alex results are directly linked to the number of Gregory Distribution Lorries we spy on the M5."
"Les is afeared of the chives."
"I've just been to Aberystwyth. It's rubbish, and I can't spell it."
"My boss is stood behind me now, wondering what i am doing. The form he holds is entitled P45!!."
"Crewe are staying up along with the Glory Hornet Boys. Oh and 4pts off the clayheads would do please."
"I feel cheated"
"Dario Grado is a legend. Needs to spend some money though."