The Crewe joke and how not to be the butt of it as the Alex come to Valley Parade

There was a joke in football in the eighties that went along the lines of asking who the strongest team in British football was to which the answer was, hilariously enough, “Crewe, because they hold the rest of them up.”

That such a jest is outmoded is largely down to the opposition manager Dario Gradi who took charge of that laughing stock club and in a near two decades made alterations which changed the public perceptions of the Gresty Road club.

Crewe, the Football League’s shining example of a well run club to writer David Conn in his 2003 book The Beautiful Game, became synonymous with the development of young players with a series of high profile internationals either coming through the ranks or were picked up following release and turned around.

Gareth Whalley, Stuart McCall’s midfield partner in 1999, came from Crewe.

This track record is largely credited to Gradi and his youth development skills but credit is shared by a whole club prepared to rise or fall on the strength of the talent unearthed. A poor crop of youngsters could see a bad season or relegation but that was never considered a failure of the system which brought rewards on and off the field and certainly not a reason to change that system.

Gradi moved upstairs after his sixtieth birthday but has been called back to the job as caretaker following the dismissal of one of his successors. Crewe, it would seem, have staggered from the light of what they did well for twenty years and perhaps that is why they find themselves back near the position of mirth.

City’s attempt at continuity in management seem to be more faltering with manager McCall given a break from the attempts to oust him as his team continue a run of ten games without defeat that was made more impressive by the changes made in the midweek penalties victory over an unamused Notts County who once again employed the technique hence forth known as “If not a win then spin.”

Ian McPartland tells the vast majority of County fans who were not at the game that they were robbed and that Graeme Lee should not have been sent off and it is not true but creating the suggestion takes some pressure off him.

To be clear City got everything they deserved on Tuesday night.

That this was the case came from a squad capable of fluidly filling in roles in a formation and take responsibility for the performance. Leon Osbourne has yet to win me over but he let no one down on Tuesday for the majority of the game and can take pride in his display.

The winger will no doubt be dropped with James Hanson ready to come back from illness but Michael Boulding is becoming increasingly hard to displace in the side and when Gareth Evans returns from suspension – and the Ref who sent off Evans would have had cause to red Graeme Lee three times despite the Magpies manager’s protestations – Stuart McCall might have to pick between Boulding and Scott Neilson on the right hand side providing an interesting pointer to the longed for day that sees Omar Daley back in claret and (reduced amounts of) amber.

Michael Flynn put in an outstanding performance on Tuesday as he continues to be the ball winning and passing midfielder of our dreams while James O’Brien is starting to look equally impressive. Lee Bullock will return pushing Chris Brandon back to the bench.

Jonathan Bateson is unlucky to have to step down following two good displays and a switch for Simon Ramsden to the middle is not out of the question but Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are likely to return at the expense of Bateson and Matt Clarke.

Luke O’Brien has been a joy to watch of late and one recalls the Crewe idea that a team might rise and fall on the strength of it’s young players.

If Huddersfield Town rise on the back of goalkeeper Simon Eastwood then it is because of Tuesday night’s two penalty saves which galvanize a player who was mobbed coming off the field.

Mobbed with the rest of the players. Slowly building, improving, not losing. Dario would be proud.

Happiness will be revenge as Notts County face City again

The long hard slog against relegation” predicted after the 5-0 defeat at Notts County at the start of the season does not seem to be happening as City continue merrily along a middling path in League Two eight games without defeat performing but three points worse than the big spending visitors.

Not that would have been surprising after twenty five minutes of the first day of the season when the Bantams and County traded blows – an hour later the idea that ten games on and the difference between the sides would have been that opening day win would have been more surprising but League Two football is full of contradictions such as the fact that a former barber from Bamber Bridge makes a better signing than Sol Campbell.

City’s unbeaten run goes back eight games and includes the opening match in this the oft renamed Associate Members Trophy against Rochdale and will continue regardless of the result at Valley Parade where a defeat would simply see that game at Spotland expunged from what would be a seven game winning league stint. That is the context the game is set in.

So as Ian McPartland reads in the national papers that David Platt is about to take his job – Platt is a friend of Sven but a former Forest boss and one wonders how well that would go down with the locals who seem to matter not one bit in the saga of football’s tedious rich – while Stuart McCall reads little about his position making a welcome change from the last eight months.

Not that one should suggest that McCall has proved his critics wrong – one doubts that will ever happen with every football manager from Sir Alex down having a steady stream of criticism as background noise – but that he has crafted a team which he seems to enjoy managing as much as the supporters seem to enjoy watching them.

The City manager has undergone something of a change over the last three months having ended last season a near broken man scampering around the touchline kicking every ball to his more passive approach now where he seems to trust his young, eager charges to kick some of the balls themselves. Win or lose, perhaps he thinks, at least I can enjoy watching them without the feeling that some of them want to be somewhere else.

As was said last week by Scott Neilson it takes only one bad apple to spoil the mood of the dressing room barrel and we look West and think how it is not going great at Tranmere Rovers at the moment.

City go into the game carry suspensions and nursing illness and injury that robs the team of strikers and midfielders who pretend to be strikers. Lee Bullock will rest a bad toe following his hard working turn as target man replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and the poorly James Hanson who could return but with the rest of Bradford sniffing and sneezing for a week each one suspects he might be on his sick bed a while longer.

Michael Boulding – who scored on Saturday – is perhaps at his most useful in a game against a team like County who are expected to attack and will not sit deep allowing the striker’s pace to count. Boulding reunites with Peter Thorne – back from injury – for the first time since the opening day.

The midfield will see Scott Neilson out wide with Michael Flynn, James O’Brien and Simon Ramsden continuing although the competition being what it is – and his last appearance at Valley Parade being promising – Luke Sharry might get a call to play. Likewise at the back Lewis Horne is knocking on the door of place in the side and keeping Luke O’Brien’s form up. Only two of the back four of the opening day of the season remain in place with Steve Williams having replaced Matthew Clarke alongside Zesh Rehman and Jonathan Bateson being in the right back slot. Simon Eastwood continues in goal although of course changes could be made.

For County one wonders which team they will field. They have a plethora of players of high ability and low morals. One can read this article and compare and contrast with the revolting Lee Hughes but also spare a different type of disdain for Luke Rodgers who seems to want to carve out a niche as League Two’s Didier Drogba combining ability with an utter disregard for the rules and a willingness to dive at any opportunity. One wonders why if County are as good as they can be – and make no mistake they can play with Ricky Ravenhill and Ben Davies a fine midfield – then why do they have to cheat so much? Even the opening day of the season saw Rodgers throw himself to the ground to “win” a penalty.

The Bantams go into the game looking for a kind of revenge for the opening day defeat but in the eight games in which County fans have seen Sol Campbell’s arrival and departure and results which do not match up to the thirteen men of AFC Bournemouth despite the one week of Sol costing more than the entire Cherries team. As City fans saw last year such a team can do as expected, they can be efficient, they can bring satisfaction but enjoyment is harder to muster.

Since that week in Nottingham the Bantams have been – well – fun to watch with men honest and true putting in hard work. I for one will take happiness over revenge any day.

Did we not already have this debate?

There is an article on BfB about Stuart McCall saying that he should not be City manager after the 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the weekend and similar discussions are being had on other fora. I respect David’s opinion on BfB and I understand his worries but I do not agree.

It is three months since Valley Parade demanded that Stuart McCall stay as manager. What has changed in those three months? Not much, but for some reason the people on the thin end of the argument think it is time to reopen it.

The argument has been had and a decision was reached. Those people who wanted Stuart McCall to leave City made a case, had a say, and should remain in the back seat understanding that Valley Parade has had its say and backed McCall in big numbers. We remember the SOS signs and the banners? One banner at the end of last season summed it up: Save Our Stuart, Stuart Must Stay.

One defeat does not change that.

One defeat to a team that has just spent oil millions on bringing in the best quality of management in Sven Goran Errikson and a collection of players who are too good for the division certainly does not change anything. It is not that case that we look at Notts County being really rich and should decide we have to do something, anything!

City the same problem a few years ago Colin Todd’s side lost to Southend United in the first game of the season and everyone screamed cause that we had lost to a newly promoted side but eight months later they were promoted and we had ripped ourselves up over being beaten by a team that went to The Championship. You do not change a determined attitude on the basis of a single result.

That decision was a value judgement made by the widest collective of City fans one can remember – minute’s silences and protests about administration aside when else can one remember Valley Parade reaching a consensus as it did at the end of last season when it backed Stuart McCall?

There are a couple of things to notice.

Firstly that for all the changes at Notts County this summer one thing that is not changing is the manager – Ian “Charlie” McPartland – who has been at the club for a decade and is trusted to carry on his work that includes finishing 19th last season because he knows the club. For all the money of the Munto Group and the Sexy Swede’s spending the thing that the boardroom at County know you can’t buy is the passion for the club to want to do well or the continuity of an establishment at a club. Can we not take that as a lesson from yesterday?

Second we need to know that sticking with your manager is not something you give up after a bad result in any game. Sticking with your manager is a belief that things get better with time, when patterns are built up, when knowledge is pooled and shared and that belief that that banner at Valley Parade summed up perfectly: Eight managers in six years we need stability (I paraphrase) and it is a belief that people at Valley Parade sung for, stood up for, and want.

That is a belief. If you change your belief after a bad result it’s not a belief at all, It’s a hobby.

I do not have a problem with people not rating Stuart or not thinking he is a good manager but we have already had this debate at City at the end of last year and we came to a decision to keep faith in our manager not just for the summer but for the long term. Some people made it really clear they did not want Stuart at the club but more people did want him.

Three months on the (and I used a broad brush here) anti-McCall people are back and they are intent on trying to unsettle the manager that everyone else wanted. These people lost the argument in the last breath and in the next want to carry it on.

Managing a club in the long term is done over years, not single games, and I would suggest that McCall’s position should not be questioned for years. Realistically though those people who argued that McCall should not be City manager and lost the argument can take a back seat for at least twelve months if not more rather than trying to pedal short term solutions to longer term issues.

The people who lost the argument need to show some respect for everyone else, sit down and shut up to allow McCall to get on with what people wanted – managing the club on something other than a game to game basis – rather than trying to push the agenda back around to something that has already been decided.


Writer’s Note: Comments are not on on this article. This is a debate that has already been done and I do not believe it should be reopened now.

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