Adventures in Football #92: Gresty Road (Crewe Alexandra FC)
September 2, 2023
CREWE ALEXANDRA vs. MK DONS (League 2)
Crewe Alexandra, the only football league club named after a monarch (Queen Alexandra of Denmark 1844-1925), were founded in 1877. Traditionally the club has existed as a football league team but rarely above the lowest tier. For example, they were initially a second division team way back in 1892, a founder member of division 3 (N) in 1921 and a founding member of division four in 1958. Crewe’s glory years came in the 80s under Dario Gradi, who took over in 1983. In 1997 Gradi’s Crewe were promoted to the Championship (as it is now called) and spent eight seasons there. Gradi’s Crewe produced a string of talented youngsters including David Platt, Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton. Gradi’s time at the club has since come under scrutiny for sexual abuse scandals and coach Barry Bennell has been twice jailed for sexual abuse of children. Gradi lost his MBE this year for his part in the scandal.
Recently Crewe have been in League 2 although they did go up to League 1 in Covid times when the season finished early, only to go back down in 2022. They’ve made the FA Cup semi-finals, although that was in 1887-88. They lost 4-0 to Preston at Anfield. Their recent FA Cup successes are two fifth round defeats to top tier sides. West Ham in 1991 and Everton, on a replay, in 2002. They’ve won two Welsh Cups (1936, 1937) and a Football League Trophy, beating Southend in the final in 2013.
Gresty Road has been Crewe’s home since it opened in 1906. In years gone by the main stand has been the only seating area, with three terraces on the other sides. The ground was once big enough to accommodate 20,000 fans for a 1960 cup tie with Tottenham. During Crewe’s successful spell in the 90s, the money was put into the ground, turning it into an all-seater arena, housing 10,153.
Game day and Crewe is a simple ground for me to get to. Either by rail, the station is right next to the stadium, or by car, about an hour’s drive. On the way up we had to drop my daughter into Birmingham, and by the time we did…we hit some pretty horrendous traffic around Walsall. The result was arriving into Crewe at 14:30. Crewe is a small town, housing around 75,000 people in total. We drove straight into B&Q, where a friendly steward advised us to buy something from the shop to avoid a fine. That had always been my plan, to be honest, as B&Q offer three hours of free parking. As long as you actually use the shop. There are other parking options but this way we came home with some gaffer tape and toilet rolls to show for it.
We got actual physical tickets for this game in this big unit; the South Stand. Confusingly the ticket reads “South Stand” but all the entrances read “Boughey Stand”. The vast bulk of the fans in the ground are in this stand. It seats 6,809. If you’re going to a Crewe game, you’re probably in here. This is also the site of the club shop, which looked empty enough to browse around but by the time we were at the ground it was 14:45 and needed to find our seats.
And here we are! As you can see the other three stands are far smaller than the main stand, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue as there are empty seats everywhere. If you ever fancy getting a game in around this part of the world, this is an easy one to tick off. No bullshit on the website. Just click where you want to sit and buy the tickets. There are big blocks of flats and terraced housing around the ground, but it never felt like the kind of inner city horror you get in big cities (London, Birmingham etc) where the sight of tower blocks looming over the ground means you’re probably in a shitty part of town.
A quick futbology aside. Today’s check-in takes us to “100 matches”. I have actually seen far more than 100 but putting historical Bromsgrove Rovers games into the system is quite time consuming. You’ll also notice the ground is currently called the “Mornflake Stadium”, named after the breakfast cereal who sponsor the club. I believe this is their final season sponsoring the stadium, it could be something completely different next year. Mornflake popped American Bryan when he visited. It’s one of the bigger local employers in Crewe and one of the oldest companies in the UK. The oat milling company dates back to 1675, although the Mornflake brand has only been around since World War II.
As you can see from this angle, this stand is way bigger. Maria is sporting a red and white top in support of Crewe. She always asks me what colours the home team play in, so she can colour co-ordinate. We have about 10 minutes to kick off, which is just enough time for me to have a quick stroll around the concourse. They do tasty looking pies here, although I’d already had lunch, but the beer selection wasn’t great. One thing I was particularly impressed with though; the toilets.
Look at the branding on the soap dispensers! The whole toilet area has a great flow. A natural one-way system, which most clubs struggled with during Covid. There’s one natural entrance and one natural exit. It’s a well designed stand.
The opponents today are the McDons Soccer Franchise. Based in Milton Keynes, a town with no history, they’re a club with no history, who pretend they once won the FA Cup, but they didn’t. That was Wimbledon, a club that no longer exists. MK Dons are irritatingly well run and are currently top of League 2. They’ve brought about 500 away supporters, so basically the entire fanbase. To my surprise, they’re consistently loud and chant for most of the game…until it stops going their way. They’ve been housed in the former Pop Side, now dubbed the Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Van Stand. Haha. You can fit around three times the fans in here that MK Dons have brought with them. It’s a huge away facility.
Behind the goal to our right is the Bluebell Family Stand. It feels like no one uses this stand at all. Like, it’s an in-joke at the club. There are about a dozen people in here and, thanks to the nature of the game, they see no action at all.
We have a mascot! This is Gresty. I wasn’t sure if he was a monkey or a lion. I’ve googled it and he’s a lion. HE SEES ALL. I watched him work and he was great with the kids. I like it when the mascots work that extra bit hard. He put in a good performance.
Finally, we have the KPI Stand, known locally as the Gresty Road End, which fits just under a thousand rabid home fans. It has it’s own bar and it’s where the ultras go. They’ve all clustered together just behind the goal, leaving the sides relatively clear. It looks sparsely populated but it didn’t stop that end producing a cracking atmosphere. It’s not quantity, it’s quality.
The game gets underway and it’s immediately clear that MK Dons are a quality team. They decimate Crewe for 45 minutes. They’re all over the backline. Johnathan Leko is a menace. Every time he gets the ball, home hearts sink. The visiting fans are given plenty to cheer for and it looks like it’s going to be a long afternoon. Leko fires the visitors in front on 8’. He beats a couple of players on the edge of the box before the ball breaks to a teammate. The shot is blocked but Leko follows in. 0-1.
The rest of the first half is much the same. Pressure from the visitors. Lots of quality in possession. Crewe try to play out from the back but it always goes to the right side and Crewe’s right back/RM is having a shocker. Every pass seems to go astray. Whether it’s long into the channels or short into midfield. His confidence goes and they should just stop passing it to him. Up front Crewe look toothless and lacking creativity. I figure the second half is going to be more of the same and we can probably leave early with MK Dons having comfortably wrapped it up before the hour mark.
At half time Crewe boss Lee Bell rings the changes. The right back is hooked and the team goes on the front foot. It’s a ballsy move but one that is immediately rewarded. Crewe look completely different second half. They press higher, they pass better, and they turn the MK Dons defence almost at will. On 55’ they’re rewarded for their efforts. They carve MK Dons open, the keeper saves the initial shot but Crewe’s #5 Mickey Demetriou follows in…and hits the side netting. How did that not go in? Crewe follow up with three more good chances. MK Dons under enormous pressure. Crewe build again down the right side, it’s cut back to Conor Thomas on the edge of the box and he fires home into the bottom corner. 1-1. 62’. Crewe back in business! The crowd react in a big way. The atmosphere completely changes.
The football is so good from Crewe in the second half. The 15 minutes of attacks have come in wave after wave. They keep cutting off MK Dons in midfield, winning the ball high up the pitch and getting in behind. Another chance is saved from the angle but it breaks for Courtney Baker-Richardson who volleys it into the net. 2-1 Crewe. They deserve it for a great second half performance. The tannoy announces the attendance is 3297. It’s a shame the ground wasn’t packed out for this because what a game it’s been.
Crewe create more chances after taking the lead but it becomes a more tentative performance. They’ve got something to lose now. However, they keep at it and stay on the front foot. It would have been easy to sit back on the lead and invite pressure. They do have speed on the counter but they keep on playing positive. They bring on a young winger called Aaron Rowe, who is sensational. He’s got great feet, isn’t afraid of running at people and tracks back. He’s really good. With the game heading towards stoppage time he wins it high on the left wing and unselfishly feeds Christopher Long who fires home. 3-1 Crewe. Long was great all game and deserved the goal. The second half was brilliant here. People were jumping for joy. I love football.
FINAL SCORE: CREWE ALEX 3 MCDONS 1
I know the pictures I took didn’t do justice how many people were in our stand, so I tried to get a shot on the way out.
The halfway line part of this stand was rammed. This is after the final whistle and loads of people have left. I didn’t want to create the idea that the ground was empty, because it wasn’t. Let’s hop onto the ratings then. Let’s see how Crewe did!
I’m not going to lie here, I thought this would be shit. When I saw how sparse the crowd was behind the goal, I was worried we’d have nothing at all. Then MK Dons started strong and their fans dominated the first half. But, second half, the team gave the crowd something to cheer and it was electric. The atmosphere was buzzing all the second half. I was fired up! I was joining in! ****
We paid £27 per ticket for League 2, which I think is a bit steep. I think League 2 prices should be around the £20-24 mark. Sure, it’s not massively overpriced but I paid £24 for Plymouth last season and that was a division higher. I paid £22 at Cambridge, again in League 1. So, I think this is a bit high. **½
Oh brother, I can’t argue with this one. A fantastic game of football. Both teams went for it. Both had plenty of attacking endeavour. Crewe weren’t great in the first half and MK Dons got blown away in the second but it never stopped being fun. The guy in front of me said it was the best game he’d seen at Gresty Road in 5 years. ****
EASE OF ACCESS:
It’s so close to the train station that I’m tempted to go full boat here. The parking was easy too. There were accessible car parks closer than the one I chose. I only chose B&Q because I thought it would be easier to get in and out of. You can go even closer to the ground and exit strategy seems ok. *****
The club has a tidy set up. The shop looked decent. The stewards were good. The concourse was a bit crowded, but most clubs have the same issues. I was impressed with the toilet standards. For a lower league club, they have to be close to an award for facilities. ***½
A whopping score for Crewe. What a splendid day out this was! Sometimes you need a day of great football like this to recover from a shitty day at the football (Redditch). Get back on that horse and enjoy the beautiful game. Crewe is an easy day out at the football. It’s easy to get tickets, it’s easy to get to the ground. What more do you want? Oh, a cracking game of football? Well, we had that too. Thumbs way up!