Crewe Alexandra are a club situated in Cheshire, which is famed for their excellent youth development over the years.They have produced the likes of David Platt, Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage, Dean Ashton, Aston Villa’s Ashley Westwood and Manchester United’s Nick Powell, to name a few. Much of their success in producing youth talent is down to Dario Gradi, who has overseen the academy in various roles in over 30 years with the club.
Crewe were founded in 1877 and they have played at their current stadium, the Alexandra Stadium-a 10,000 seater ground- since 1906.
Also known as the Railwaymen or the Alex, they have been in League One for the past two seasons, having been promoted from the fourth tier of English football via the play-offs in 2012. The following season, after selling Nick Powell to Manchester United and Ashley Westwood to Villa, Alex finished 13th in their first season in League One, as well as winning the JP Trophy at Wembley.
The highest they have reached in recent years was today’s equivalent to the Championship, after play-off success in 1997 lifted them to the second tier.
Earlier in 2014, an incredible match against Port Vale saw Alex boss Steve Davis, play his son, Harry Davis, against a Port Vale side featuring his other son, Harry’s younger brother, Joe, as Crewe won 3-1.
Manager: Steve Davis
After stepping down from the manager’s role in 2011, Dario Gradi left big shoes to fill, but how well Steve Davis has gone about doing so. In three years with the club, he has lifted them from League Two to League One, whilst fielding a full team of academy products on more than one occasion, whilst also adding the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy to the Alex’s trophy cabinet.
A former player with over 500 appearances to his name, Davis has a wealth of experience with ten clubs over a 27-year career.
Davis, a former defender, served as an apprentice with Stoke before moving on to spend four years with Crewe, and the same with Burnley. Seven years with Barnsley saw a couple of loan spells at York City and Oxford United, where he secured a permanent move. After the turn of the century, he spent time at Macclesfield Town and Non-League Northwich Victoria and Nantwich Town.
The latter two also proved to be Davis’ first experiences in management before he served his time at Crewe as assistant before he was promoted to the manager’s role. In his first few months in charge at Alexandra, one of his first ideas implemented to training was yoga sessions, he said at the time: "It will cut down the injuries and strengthen areas where they're weak at the moment. It's something different and it will freshen things up."
Key Player: Matt Tootle
A difficult season at the Alexandra Stadium has seen Crewe’s captain fantastic Matt Tootle prove to be the shining light, as he was voted as the Player of the Year, as well as the Players’ Player of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, the 23 year old is yet another product of their famed academy system and the defender has come on leaps and bounds since his debut in 2009.
He played 46 times in total for Alex last season and he went some way to helping them preserve their League One status.
The full-back can play on either side, further forward if required, and he has endeared himself to the Railwaymen faithful through his tireless work rate and his everlasting battery.
After winning his awards, he told the Stoke Sentinel: “I am overwhelmed by winning both awards. To be voted player of the year by my fellow team-mates is unbelievable for me and then to win the supporters vote as well is something I will never forget. It was a tough season but we came through in the end.”
If Tootle keeps improving at such a rate, he may want to try his hand further up the Football League, with or without boyhood club Alexandra.
Steve Davis’ men had a tough season is League One, narrowly avoiding relegation as they finished 19th, just four points above the relegation zone.
Tootle and co helped Alex win two and draw two as they went unbeaten in their last four to beat the drop to League Two.
Juventus and France midfielder Paul Pogba’s brother plays for the Cheshire outfit, and Mathias Pogba topped the club’s scoring chart, with five goals. Manager Steve Davis’ son, Harry, a defender, had the next best tally with four goals, along with Bradden Inman.
They had a bad start to the 2013/14 season, with just one win in their first twelve matches but they ultimately struggled to put an unbeaten run together, often losing once they came up against the league’s stronger sides at the top of the table. They won a total of just 13 matches, drawing 12 and losing 21 matches, a decline on the previous year’s 13th placed finish.
The club’s heavy reliance on their academy is cost effective and if they can bring through, and keep hold of, a couple of talented young players to add to the spine of their team, Steve Davis’ men may enjoy 2014/15 more than the tough season they endured last year.