Two years ago, a lovely guy called Pete Warburton passed away. Here’s the passage I penned for the After Dario book that was published a few months after Pete died. I always hoped that it did him justice…
For me, the Alex staff, many of the club’s supporters and several of my close friends, She Wore A Scarlet Ribbon was tinged with sadness as I recorded the passing of two great people. Chapters about Alex kit man John Fleet and supporter Mike Lazenby gave a sombre tone to the story of my journey with Mistress Alexandra.
Unfortunately death is one of life’s certainties that creeps up on us all, just far too soon for some. The football brought us all together, and at least the weekly dose of everything Alex makes sure that we will never forget them.
On Saturday 22nd February 2014, away at Vale Park, we won the match but lost another Alex stalwart. Pete Warburton was the official Crewe Alexandra photographer. His smiling face and considerable technical kit could be seen home and away, in rain or shine. He often wore his trademark cap. If you didn’t know him, then he would often go unnoticed. Pete didn’t make a fuss, demand attention or need people to know who he was or what he did.
Everyone reading these pages knew his work. His images filled the club’s matchday program and graced publications and websites for the best part of a decade. The game against Port Vale was just another assignment, although his footballing passions were always with Crewe. Details of the match itself form part of this book’s next chapter, but moments after the final whistle Pete’s season and life ended all too suddenly.
The derby was a volatile affair. During the afternoon the Alex photographer took up a number of positions, recording a historical moment when three members of the Davis family took part in the same game (Steve, Harry and Joe of course), capturing the frantic match action, then snapping noisy, boisterous and – ultimately – delighted Alex supporters dancing and singing in the away enclosure.
On the final whistle he grabbed some fabulous pictures of the players and management coming over to the Crewe fans. It was a crazy celebration on the back of a fully deserved win, and to most of those going wild behind the goal, Pete was just another guy pointing his camera. And yet everyone posed, pointed and put on their best portrait face, because he encouraged that. He always nodded for approval before he clicked the shutter. It was an incredible day out and he was in the right place at the right time. I was sat about six rows from the front, and as usual he was beaming, ecstatic to see the Alex get three points and delighted at the mass of happy faces in front of him. We were his canvas and he painted with relish.
As we made our way out of the ground, dodging vicious comments and a few random missiles from disgruntled home supporters, Pete made his way to the official exit by the dugouts, about to mount the steps of the press box, taking a few more pictures no doubt. He was always on duty. But that’s where he stopped, taken ill suddenly. Colleagues and officials rushed to help, but even with the quick action of medical staff it was too late.
Everyone leaving Burslem was oblivious to the tragedy until the first messages filtered onto the various social media sites. There was shock and disbelief, and I swapped messages with a couple of people to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake. I didn’t want to believe it, but the news slowly sunk in and what had been a joyful day became one of the saddest of the season.
I wouldn’t describe Pete as a close friend, but he was someone I spoke with each and every time we caught each other’s eye at matches. At the Wembley play-off final against Cheltenham he was busy grabbing pictures of fans excitedly awaiting kick-off; friends and family scattered across thousands of seats. He saw me chatting with a few mates and lowered his camera, waved, shouted “hello” and asked if we were enjoying ourselves. He did that to countless others. There were similar exchanges before, during and after so many Crewe games over recent seasons.
A game that sticks in my mind is a friendly against Nantwich Town in the summer of 2012. Alan Martin was in goal taking a few practice shots in his stride. Pete was snapping away and took up a position by the corner flag to grab the all-important angle of another save. He always did get the best perspective, using light perfectly to capture mood and moments like nobody else. I was hanging over the barrier and dropped a cheeky comment in his ear, trying to put him off his shot. It didn’t work, of course, as he was the consummate professional. He chuckled, caught the action he needed, checked his result on the digital display, and looked around with an infectious smile. ‘No chance, Hornbrook,’ he told me. And then ‘how are you?’ without changing gear. That was Pete – friendly, affable and unflappable, professional and yet very personable.
Perhaps my first moment with the photographer was during a charity event driven by Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council, in the days before Cheshire East Council came into being. I was still updating the Crewe Blog website, a day-to-day words and photo diary of the town. I grabbed stories ad hoc, but also attended many of the formal press events that attracted The Crewe Chronicle, Evening Sentinel, local Crewe Guardian, and also council press officers and freelance photographers like Pete. I stood side-by-side with him one day, brandishing my modest Canon camera and trying to get the light balance just right. He looked at me for a moment and then threw in a little advice. It was simple, straightforward stuff, the kind of information garnered over many years. While many craftsmen are sometimes guarded and keep trade secrets close to their chest, he was always happy to divulge handy tips. I saw him do similar to amateurs and professionals alike over the years.
In the background, without wanting to attract attention for his efforts, he taught disadvantaged kids and young adults how to take better photos. He was a very generous man with his time. Something else that always grabbed me was how polite he was to everyone. Okay so it’s easy to keep a calm exterior when sitting with friends and family, even at work (most of the time). But occasionally something tips you over the edge, especially in and around the sometimes fractious situations that develop at football grounds. Not so Pete. He’d smile and laugh it off if anyone was unpleasant, turning the other cheek and disarming people with his humility.
I also covered the Crewe & Nantwich by-election, when Edward Timpson became the local MP, and then the 2010 General Election when the nation wondered if the Labour Party would take back the seat. On the sidelines capturing the political action behind the lens was Pete; me too on many of the campaign days. Unfortunately, the national media scrum also descended upon the towns, especially during three frantic by-election weeks in May 2008. The paparazzi boys (and girls) from London were like animals – quite literally. The snappers from the tabloids were particularly aggressive, out for themselves and happy to trample on anyone that got in their way.
Pete and I looked on one day, raising eyebrows to each other and stepping aside to grab another angle away from the mayhem. A photographer from one of the red tops elbowed Pete aside to get an uninterrupted line of sight to David Cameron who had arrived in Crewe to boost his candidate’s chances of victory against Labour’s Tamsin Dunwoody. Pete shrugged, and I suggested that we should head to High Street where the local Guardian office was situated. I knew they were en route there later, and access was awkward by car. We took a shortcut past Hops Belgian bar, and set up in a prime position before the political heavyweights arrived. There were no national hacks anywhere to be seen. Even then we talked football as we waited, the Alex always at the forefront of our minds.
I saw Pete at weddings, non-league football, charitable events and even the Town Sports at the Cumberland Arena in Crewe, and on the Barony fields in Nantwich, where he captured a great action picture of my youngest flying through the air in one of the sprint events. But it was always the Alex that made him really smile, stood there in all weathers wearing his unflattering “press” hi-vis top. He’d polish his glasses, check his lens, adjust his tripod and settle down ready to capture whatever the lads in red had to offer. And what a task that has been in recent seasons, dropping from the Championship and then suffering painful relegation and managerial uncertainty. He stuck around, and he deserved the Wembley triumphs as much as anyone. They were his days in the sun and he chronicled some amazing scenes that will adorn the walls of the club, cherished programmes and websites forever.
The phrases “too young to die” and “he was a great bloke” are bandied around too readily, but in each case the cap fitted perfectly. Pete was an outstanding gentleman, whether you’d met him once, twice or a hundred times at Alex matches or events around Cheshire. It was no surprise that so many people attended the memorial service at St. Mary’s in Nantwich. His wife Pauline must have been immensely proud. This is my tribute, a brief diversion from the After Dario story but one that highlights so well the fact that sometimes there are things much, much more important than football.
The image of the Academy XI on the back page of this book was taken by him before the Walsall game in April 2013, a historic day for the club and one that he found very rewarding.
Pete Warburton; may he rest in peace.