My third visit to my favourite football league club (bar Bolton!) and again, it was another fantastic experience. Great fans, great ground, great setup and a great game of football. It was my first ever play-off match, and I was really looking forward to it.
I thought I had seen the last of Joe and Aaron for the season, but no. I was subjected to one final match with them, before we went our separate ways for a summer of peace and quiet.
I caught the train from sunny Atherton at 12:45 and arrived in Ashton at 13:40. Joe was late, so I had to sit on a wall outside the station “milling about” as he instructed me to. We then went to pick Aaron up from Warrington Town FC where he had been at a football tournament. Joe and I decided to pass the time by listening to Max & Paddys Road To Nowhere. It was the episode where they run over the cow. Hopefully there would be no reoccurrence of that famous event today!
Joe and I had been planning the match for about a week, and we calculated we would arrive in Crewe at around 15:05 – so it was very pleasing when we arrived at 15:07, not bad seeing as though it was a bit of a guessing game! We parked Oliver the car on Gateway. This was after Joe asked numerous times whether he’d get a parking ticket or not. We assured him he wouldn’t and walked up to the ground to buy our tickets.
There was no queue at the ticket office due to the fact we had arrived very early. After messing about with various amounts of money outside, we were then served by a helpful girl who gave us tickets in the Main Stand. I also purchased a programme for £3. This really annoyed me, as programmes at Crewe have always been £2.50, and I always praised them for this.
After finally sorting out the tickets, I rang up Crewe fan – Scott to ask him where McDonald’s was. Strangely enough he was already in McDonald’s so we agreed to meet him and Sam outside. McDonald’s isn’t too far from the ground, so Joe decided it was time to walk through Crewe in a very camp manner. The Monty Python sketch “Ministry of Silly Walks” springs to mind.
We had a nice chat over a few burgers for around an hour before we decided to walk up to the bookies near the ground. Joe put money on a draw, and a 2-1 win to Crewe. Aaron had a penalty to be scored within the 90 minutes. I, on the other hand, placed my remaining funds on a 1-0 win to Crewe at 6/1.
Heading to the ground, there were quite a few people knocking about. The Southend fans arrived in Crewe at the same time we had, so they had already made themselves comfortable in the away end. Southend supporters had been tweeting manically about ticket availability for their section throughout the week, and they needn’t worry as they brought 800 – which meant the stand was nowhere near full.
After much confusion, and Scott having brief heart failure as he thought he had left his ticket at home, we approached the turnstile. The turnstiles at Crewe are like no other. They are more like tables, with a wide open space behind them. I love them. Once past the turnstiles, we noticed one of the stewards. It was a far cry from Rochdale where they try confiscating mobile phones; just look at her! Bless her! Why can’t they all be like that?
The Main Stand offers a fantastic view of the action… and the local area. We could see Jodrell Bank in Macclesfield very clearly. We could also see the trains coming in and out of the train station, so Gresty Road seems to cater for all tastes; whether you’re a football fan, a trainspotter or a stargazer. The Main Stand is however, very out of place at Gresty Road, with it dwarfing the other stands. Built in 2000 it has an extensive and well ventilated concourse which is ideal for eating your Pukka Pies on. WITH NO FORK! (If travelling to Gresty Road, take a fork).
To the right was The Railway End, it has a capacity of 682 spectators. On my previous visits to Gresty Road, nobody has ever sat in this stand, so it was nice to see it full on this visit. The spectators were basking in the South Cheshire sunshine.
On my left stood the Gresty Road End. Holding 982 spectators this is where the more vocal, and mainly younger Alex supporters stand and cheer on their team. Obviously there were far more youngsters attending due to the size of the match, and they created an atmosphere which has been missing since the clubs demise into League 2.
The Southend fans were put in The Blue Bell BMW Stand which runs the length of the pitch and can hold up to 1,680 away supporters. This stand has the gantry mounted on top of it, meaning that when you watch Crewe on the television, you can just see the large Main Stand.
The atmosphere was electric, and it certainly helped the Crewe players settle into their usual pattern of possession. Offer me Crewe or Barcelona, and I’ll take Crewe any day of the week. Not one player seemed nervous whilst in possession, and this really helped the team.
Crewe had the first chance of the match when Byron Moore crossed well into the box. Matt Tootle tried his best to get on to the cross, and came very close to getting what surely would have been a goalscoring touch. Southend full-back Sean Clohessy cleared the ball from danger.
Another Crewe attack came just minutes later when the lively Ajay Leitch-Smith was narrowly beaten to a great through ball from Tootle. It was goalkeeper Belford who denied Leitch-Smith what looked to be a goalscoring opportunity. However, as is so often the case with Belford, he failed to clear his lines. This allowed Nick Powell to work an opening, but the Southend defence smothered him just in time.
Nick Powell launched a thunderous effort towards goal on 23 minutes, but again, Belford did well to keep out the shot. Despite all of the talk about Powell leading up to the match, he looked just as good as all of the other players in a very young, and well organised Alex squad.
Southend had their first attempt of the match on 41 minutes when Kane Ferdinand headed just over the bar from a corner. It was only then that I realised he is the cousin of Rio and Anton. What are the odds on having three defenders in a family? I mean, me and my Dad were both defenders, but that’s different.
Half time arrived, and it allowed Paul Sturrock AKA Biggins to stock up on his Powerade stash. How many Powerades can a man get through in one match? Well, I won’t reveal the answer to you, but next time Biggins visits your town, go and have a look for yourself. I was beginning to wonder whether Powerade paid Sturrock to drink their products, but then I thought, why Sturrock? Why?!
Joe, Aaron, Scott and myself decided to venture down to the bottom of the stand for half time. It took quite a while to get down there, but we did in the end. Whilst down there, we had our usual group photo, before Scott then revealed the bloke who runs the Roy Cropper Twitter account. It is in fact Crewe youth team player George Ray who runs the account. There you have it. If you ever wondered who was responsible for #CropperLikesCleavage, then here’s a photo of him that I took.
Shortly after we saw Cropper, Joe and Aaron managed to get themselves on TV. Well, sort of anyway. You could see from their waist downwards. Joe thought this meant he was now famous.
The second half began, and so far all three of our betting slips were still in with a chance of winning money! I did however think I stood far more of a chance than the other two donkeys.
Southends Ryan Hall had the first shot of the second half following a fantastic outside-of-the-foot pass from Bilel Mohsni. Mohsni has been getting abuse from the Alex faithful after an incident which had happened earlier on in the season. I’d only seen this bloke play twice, but I already hated him. He was even labeled the “League 2 Balotelli” on Sky Sports that afternoon. All he did was moan, and walk around the pitch looking sorry for himself.
Ironically, Crewe finally scored in a period of the match when they hadn’t seen a lot of the ball. A free kick was floated into the area from Ashley Westwood, and there was Adam Dugdale on hand to head the ball past Cameron Belford. Gresty Road erupted. Scott grabbed hold of me and started bouncing up and down. I’d have joined in, but I was trying to keep my betting slip in my pocket!
Suddenly, Crewe looked as though they were going to score again. Now, my bet was 1-0 to Crewe, so I didn’t want them to score again. I got a few strange looks when Leitch-Smith was one on one with Belford and he saved it. Obviously I would have been happy if Crewe scored again, but I had money riding on it!
Southend finally enjoyed some pressure in the last 5 minutes of the match, but the Alex defence held out. This meant that I had won £7 and less importantly, Crewe had a 1-0 cushion going into the second leg down at Roots Hall.
It had been a very enjoyable match, and again, reaffirmed my belief that Crewe is the home of entertaining football. I actually wish I had a season ticket at the place.
It was time to walk up to William Hill to collect my small amount of winnings, before we then nipped to the chippy. I wasn’t keen on the chippy, but Aaron enjoyed himself as the bloke behind the desk kept calling him “Sir”.
We arrived back at Oliver, when we could see a yellow piece of paper on the windscreen. Joe thought it was a parking ticket. We thought it was funny. Unfortunately for us it turned out to be an advertisement for Wembley 2012 packages… but it would have been quite funny to see Joes face if it was a parking ticket.
Off we set, back up North to our mudhuts. It wasn’t that long before we dropped Aaron off. Whilst passing Warrington Wolves old ground, I persuaded Joe to stop and take my photo outside – which was very nice of him. The sun was now setting on what had been a very good ending, to a very good season… if you ignore the fact Bolton got relegated.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 41 miles
- ADMISSION: £9 as a concession
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3