Crewe Alexandra v AFC Bournemouth
Gresty Road / League One / 12th February 2013
One of the more surreal scenes I’ve seen in my life happened to be when I was riding through the town of Crewe on a train destined for South Wales. As the train was cruising into Crewe (or it may have been going out of Crewe – I can’t remember), I witnessed two middle-aged women having a brew…in the middle of a field…by themselves…on a goal line underneath some lonely looking football posts. The thing that made the scene a brilliant spectacle was that the the two women, who were chatting away with their mugs of hot drinks, were treating the scenario as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This was three years ago, but this picture instantly got me intrigued about the town of Crewe. It is perhaps appropriate that my most memorial image of Crewe relates to a football pitch, since the town has become so entwined in the sport, particularly as a testing ground for young players. Crewe has one of the best and most successful football academies in the country. Rob Jones, Seth Johnson, Dean Ashton, Neil Lennon, Geoff Thomas, David Vaughan, Luke Varney, Robbie Savage, Danny Murphy and David Platt – all their careers were kick-started or revived by early career stints at Crewe Alexandra with the infamous Dario Gradi. This is without mentioning Nick Powell, the precocious talent that signed for Manchester United in the summer and from what I hear of his exploits in United’s U21 team, he should be a thrilling player to watch at the highest level next season.
Originally, I had planned to visit non-league New Mills’ Church Lane ground on the Monday night, but bad weather put an end to that. I now had to decide what to do on the Tuesday night. After browsing the fixture list and spotting Crewe v Bournemouth at Gresty Road, I recalled how good a game I had witnessed between the two clubs at Dean Court less than a month before. I had never really stepped foot in the town of Crewe, apart from the usual chore of changing trains there. I’d planned on visiting Crewe and their football ground for a long time and finally this Tuesday evening I set foot outside the train station and into Crewe itself.
After buying a new cheapy case for my camera from Currys in Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre, I was off to Piccadilly and soon on the 15:55 train to London, calling at Stockport, Wilsmslow and Crewe. Thanks to the lightning quick nature of Branson’s trains, I alighted at Crewe at just around 16:25. I’ve been to Crewe station many a time, so I was more than familiar with the location of the football ground which can easily be seen from the train station (the club’s proximity to the train station and the town’s links to the railway industry is what gives the club it’s nickname: the Railwaymen). However, on exiting the station I was still a little surprised at just how quick it took me to get to the ground and outside the ticket office of Crewe’s Alexandra Stadium (I tried calling the ground by it’s official name, but I don’t like it – I will refer to the ground as it’s proper ‘Gresty Road’ name from here on in). It was less than a 5 minute walk. Perfect for travelling fans!
Like a lot of club these days, Crewe opted to play the “make-a-fan-walk-through-the-club-shop-and-look-at-all-of-the-merchandise-en-route-to-buying-a-match-ticket” trick. Unsurprisingly, I was not interested in the array of Carbrini gear on sale at Crewe’s club shop, but I was more concerned with the ridiculously slow service of selling tickets. It was still three hours before kick off and only a queue of 6 people waiting for a ticket, yet the staff took AGES getting around to serving us, instead they chose to fanny about with a selection of other problems behind the desk. I held my frustration, but I was fairly sure the man behind me was going to headbutt someone if he didn’t get served rapidly – I almost let him ahead of me such was his anger.
Eventually, I left the club shop with ticket in hand for the ground’s Main Stand. I’m going to make it clear now: the club’s Main Stand looked huge! It seemed to tower over most of the town and was clearly visible from the train on arriving into Crewe. When asked by the ticket staff whether I wanted a ticket “Top, middle or bottom” (Michael Barrymore’s ‘Strike it Rich’ style). I went down the middle as I felt a top row seat would just be freezing. Anyway, more on the stands later.
With my ticket purchased, I realised I was starving; conveniently, next door to the ground was the snugly tucked away ‘Fish and Chip Stop’. I walked in, ordered my jumbo sausage and chips (price £2.40), gave the lady a £20 note and then stood there looking stupid as the lady gave me my change, after a long delay, and said goodbye to me. “Oops! I haven’t given you your food.” She certainly hadn’t. Nonetheless, the sausage and chips she eventually served were brilliant with the chips being particularly epic.
I recalled many years ago watching a Sky One programme called “Football’s Hardest Away Days” where the Sky cameras would follow a set of travelling fans to an uncompromising football territory somewhere in the UK (a particular highlight of the show was a gang of bumbling Swansea fans making a hash of a trip to Notts County); one section of one particular episode followed a group of Sunderland fans going to Crewe for an away day and the ‘hardest’ part of the programme’s title seemed to refer to the toughing it out in the boredom of the town of Crewe. First impressions were no different for me. With plenty of time to spare, I began a trek down Nantwich Road, but found nothing really of significance or interest apart from the odd pub. Just as I decided to turn back I heard someone call my name. But I did not know anyone in Crewe – who could it be? I turned around to be greeted by Charlie, Aaron’s friend who I had met on my trip to Warrington on the previous Saturday. I had no idea he worked in Crewe so to end up standing outside the estate agents he worked at and then bumping into him was quite a coincidence.
With the clock now past 17:00, I decided to begin my pub crawl down Nantwich Road towards Gresty Road. The first stop was the Brunswick pub. The Brunswick was a very tidy looking pub from the inside and it certainly had a welcoming atmosphere. Whilst standing at the bar, I got speaking to some Bournemouth fans, who were very accommodating towards me. My main topic of conversation was my hope that I’d get to see former Swansea player Shaun MacDonald play for the Cherries tonight; a particular disappointment on my trip to Bournemouth last month was the fact that I did not get to see the Swansea lad play, as he was injured – a really shame as the Bournemouth fans seem to really rate the man the Swansea fans used to call “The Ginger Zidane”. Fortunately, MacDonald had made his comeback in Bournemouth’s previous game and it sounded likely that, despite starting on the bench, that I would get to see MacDonald at some point this evening.
After a few drinks in the Brunswick with the Bournemouth fans, I thought I should carry on my Nantwich Road pub crawl. The group of Bournemouth fans I met in there, who travel home and away supporting the Cherries, said they are going to read this blog, so I will thank them for their company. Top lads!
Next stop on the pub crawl was the ‘Last Orders’ pub. I’ll be honest and say I felt a lot more out of place here, largely because there was so few people in there and the fact that the Adidas track-suited barmaid was discussing ‘Daddy visiting hours’ issues with the locals. The pub also didn’t have the same shine as the Brunswick but no going back now. After a phone call with my Dad, I ploughed on with the Nantwich Road pub crawl.
The final call on the crawl was the Corner Bar, just a minute away from the train station I had dismounted at earlier in the afternoon. The Corner Bar was attached to the Royal Hotel (it may well have been the hotel bar) and was a great place to enjoy one last drink before heading to the ground. Whilst enjoying my pint of San Miguel I got chatting to two Bournemouth fans. “You’re the guy who wrote the blog about about Dean Court wasn’t you?” Guilty. That was me. I was pretty chuffed they knew who I was though. We joked that I was practically the Z-list of the truly Z-list people that are ‘Twitter Famous’. My two fellow pub revellers turned out to be Phil and Matt, who I enjoyed a good chat and drink with less than an hour to go until kick off – cheers lads! After posing for a customary Lost Boyos photo with my new pals, we began the 2 minute walk down the road to the ground.
Unsurprisingly, Gresty Road takes it’s name from the road that the ground sits on, but if you are determined to refer to it by its current alias, the Alexandra Stadium, that name obviously comes from the club’s name. I’m still determined to stick with Gresty Road though – I’m traditional like that. Gresty Road was built in 1906, but like most English grounds it has undergone substantial renovations since the 1990s. As mentioned earlier, the most recognisable development is the new Main Stand. The Main Stand was built in 1999 and it is massive – I can’t recall going to any lower league stand like it. The ground can hold just over 10,000 fans with almost 70% of this being taken up by the Main Stand.
Entering the stadium was an old school affair, as instead of the electronic ticket scanner or man/woman in a booth you find at most grounds, on entering Gresty Road you are just greeted by a steward behind a table who peels off the stub of your ticket. Despite this outdated process, one thing that was not outdated in the Main Stand was the concourse. Similar to the stand it was under, the concourse was massive and one of the most spacious I’ve been on in any league; no tight squeezes will be occurring here. The toilets were also huge. There was a running theme to the Main Stand here. The theme carried on with the HUGE fault at Gresty Road – on ordering a pie I was informed that there were NO FORKS! WHAT!? The pie was decent but it was bloody hard work devouring it fork-less. For ‘fork’ sake Crewe – sort it out!
I walked up into the stand and I have to say straight away I was impressed by the place. The Main Stand of Gresty Road is superb. Only halfway up, my view of the action below was superb, so with most of the top section free I decided to venture further up for photos and also for a more birds eye view of the action. In a weird sort of way, the stand reminded me of the crazily high stand we frequented at St James Park in November. Obviously, we were not as high up or in such a grand stadium but the Main Stand of Gresty Road did provide that amazing panoramic view of the town below which you also get at St James Park. I loved it!
In the distance below the heady heights of the Main Stand were the three other stands which were incongruous with the towering g Main Stand. Opposite the Main Stand is the away end, originally name Popular Stand, but now named “The Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Vans Stand” – even the most sinister of travelling fans must look nonthreatening with the words ‘Ice Cream Stand’ brandished above their heads. To the right of the Main Stand, behind one of the goals, is the Railway End (now known as the ‘The Wulvern Housing Stand’) which was practically empty for tonight’s game. The stand also houses the club’s executive boxes. A unique touch to the ground is the large clock that sits in the corner between the Railway End and the Ice Cream Stand. And finally, to the left of the Main Stand is the Gresty Road End (now known as the “The Mark Price Stand”) which houses the most vocal Crewe fans, who for tonight’s game included a drummer.
When I had visited Bournemouth less than a month before for the reverse fixture, the standard of football had been brilliant with both teams determined to play the ball on the floor – early signs were that we were in for the same for this evening’s game. Crewe almost took the lead instantly when Luke Murphy connected with a Matias Pogba cross to force Shwan Jalal into an excellent save.
As the half developed, similar to the game down at Dean Court, both teams stubbornly stuck to playing neat passing football which was great to see. Both teams seemed to be lacking a bit of cutting edge, but this was also down to the solid defensive performances from both teams. Particularly impressive was Crewe centre back Mark Ellis who contained everything Bournemouth threw at him, so much so that Eddie Howe opted to move Brett Pitman from the main striker role to the left wing and place the pacier Lewis Grabban at the focal point of the Cherries’ attack.
Crewe had a good chance to score when right back Kelvin Mellor burst into the box and set up Chuks Aneke who could only hit his tame short range effort straight at Jalal. He should have really done much better.
Despite Crewe having the better of the chances, Bournemouth were holding their own and got better as the half went on. I was particularly impressed with Harry Arter again, who was very tidy and assured in midfield and kept Bournemouth ticking over nicely. 0-0 at half time, but there was certainly signs that there were goals to be had in the game.
I decided to have a beer at half time and was happy to see that Gresty Road served bottles of Budweiser, as well as football ground favourite Carlsberg. I purchased my Bud for £3 and went to scan the half time scores on one of the many TV screens scattered around the concourse. It was whilst checking the half time scores that I bumped into Scott Morris, the Crewe fan I had been discussing my visit to Gresty Road with on Twitter the night before. After a chat about the game and my impressions of the ground, I went and sat with Scott and his mates for the second half.
The second half continued in a similar fashion to the first, but now there was a more apparent desire to attack from both teams. Crewe came inches away from taking the lead as Murphy hit the underside of the crossbar from a 20 yard free kick, before a penalty box scramble led to the ball eventually being cleared by the Bournemouth defence.
The game had become an exciting end-to-end affair. It was Bournemouth’s turn to the hit the woodwork as the excellent Arter hit the bottom of the post from just outside the box, which was shortly followed by Pogba smashing a shot into the side netting from an acute angle.
Then, the game changing moment came. Bournemouth recently pulled off the impressive capture of left winger Matt Ritchie from Swindon for £500k, a sign of the club’s intentions this season, but as in their previous fixture, Ritchie was deployed as an attacking left back for tonight’s game. One of his forward runs took him into the box, where he had to try get past the powerful Pogba. Just as Ritchie tried to hit the ball across the box, he lost his balance and fell to the floor. Amazingly the referee blew for a penalty much to the disgust of the home fans and the Crewe players (I think even the away team and their fans were bemused by it). I assume that the penalty was given against Pogba with the ref (somehow) believing Pogba had bowled over Ritchie. On my visit to Dean Court, I witnessed Brett Pitman score 2 penalties against Crewe and tonight he would carry on the trend by comfortably slotting home from the spot once again.
A fine save from Steve Phillips to deny a Grabban header kept Crewe in the game with the rebound being cleared by the imperious Ellis.
Soon Crewe would get their equaliser which was deserved for their efforts on the night. Ellis was brilliant yet again, but this time with his forward play, as he played a superb through ball to Mellor out wide, who’s accurate cross was met by a towering header from Pogba to make it 1-1 with just over ten minutes left.
In the 83rd minute my moment of delight came, as ex-Swansea winger (now playing a more defensive midfield role for Bournemouth I’m told) Shaun MacDonald entered the fray to my shouts of “You Jack Bastard! You Jack Bastard!” ‘The Ginger Zidane’ had very little to do in his cameo on the pitch, but nonetheless, everything he did was neatly done and he did nothing to jeopardise the team.
In the same minute that MacDonald joined the action, Bournemouth retook the lead. Unsurprisingly, it was that man Pitman again. A ball across across the box found Pitman unmarked 10 yards out from goal and the striker somehow curled a first time right foot volley into the far corner with the ball trickling into the net and leaving Phillips with no chance. It really was a superb finish.
Bournemouth held on to secure a big victory in their season, as the 3 points took the club to the top of League One for the first time this season and the first time they had been top of the third tier since August 1997. Eddie Howe really has done an amazing job at Bournemouth since he took over the club (for a second spell) in October with the Cherries then languishing in 21st place. Even better is the fact that he’s led Bournemouth up the table with the same players, apart from the addition of Pitman and Ritchie, that were struggling at the start. I really do think they’ll go up this year.
It was also funny to reflect on the fact that I have now seen Pitman play twice in a month and on both occasions he has been anonymous in his play, yet I’ve seen him score 5 goals. Clinical.
I said my goodbyes to Scott, wandered down to pitchside to take some photos and then exited the ground via a large gate that led back onto Gresty Road itself. Immediately, I was greeted by Phil and Matt who were predictably chuffed with the result. I told them of how much I liked their midfielder Harry Arter from the two games I had seen him play and they told me that tonight’s game was not even Arter at his best. I said goodbye and wished them a safe journey home, a long journey that was surely much easier after 3 points. Phil had also videoed the Bournemouth players and fans celebrating their ascent to the league summit which he kindly passed on to me.
As I carried on walking down Gresty Road I heard shouts “OI! Swansea! Swansea City boy!” I assumed the shouts were aimed at me and I turned around to see the gang of Cherries fans I had met in the Brunswick earlier celebrating in the car park by the away end. They were buzzing off the result, so much so instead of saying goodbye to them I signed off with “See you in the Premier League in 2 years”.
With 30 minutes until the train back to Manchester, I headed into Corner Bar for one last drink and to catch up on the midweek final scores, before making the two minute walk back to the train station.
Since the turn of the year, I’ve seen very few good games of football with perhaps the highlight being Bournemouth v Crewe down at Dean Court in January. Once again, the two teams delivered an excellent game and I really hope both teams go on to do well until the end of the season. Cheers Crewe and Bournemouth – thanks for the good football!
Highlights: the ground being so close to the train station, The Fish and Chip Stop, the Brunswick, the Corner Bar, the Bournemouth fans I met, The Main Stand, another great game between Crewe and Bournemouth.
Low Points: not that much around the ground, Last Orders pub, no forks for pies!