In the early 1990s a young kid trained long and hard in the shadow of Crewe Alexandra’s old wooden stand. Kevin Street was destined to be a professional footballer and scored his first league goal on his Alex debut. The level-headed Westender enjoyed a few decent seasons but was forced to make some life-changing decisions in his footballing prime…
“I started kicking a ball around with my dad and some neighbours when I was about five years old. The other lads were always older than me, and I liked that. It was good competition and I think it helped me develop my strength and skill. We lived on West Street and played on the gardens with trees that were perfect for goal posts. Then we’d go over to the King George V playing fields, doing sprint training, kicking a ball against the walls of the pavilion changing rooms and then having a game with any kids who were there. I still go back there to do fitness work, remembering the great times we had. You don’t seem to see as many children playing these days, but there were loads of us always wanting to play.”
The informal games soon became serious as school and county teams snapped up the talented player. Then the Alex coaches spotted his ability and the hard graft started in earnest. “The training facilities at the Alex were great compared to other pitches around the town. But when you compare the old Astro to the modern 3G pitches kids play on today then you could say we had it tough. It was as hard as concrete, with a coarse sandy top surface. If you went over you knew about it. Dario Gradi was there, pushing you to the limit, encouraging, criticising and making sure that you were reaching your potential. John Fleet was always helping out, taking training and keeping on top of the kits and equipment. We didn’t have a changing room when we played next to the main stand, so we changed in the first team’s dressing room. That was a big treat and it made the local lads smile.”
The renowned Crewe Alexandra academy almost missed out on another starlet when back problems threatened to curtail Kevin’s short career. “At 15 a painful injury forced me to take a year off. I was in agony for months and I wonder if those hard surfaces and unforgiving early Astro pitches contributed? Oh, and playing far too much football as a young lad! So I rested and, thanks to mum and dad, kept the faith and always believed that I’d get through it and eventually succeed as a player. I had doubts, for sure, and even considered putting my career on hold to concentrate on study. I figured that I could go to university and then carry on playing non-league football. But the Alex also had belief in me. I was offered a place on the Youth Training Scheme and never looked back.”
That renewed confidence took him to the brink of first-team football in 1997, but he was forced to watch from the sidelines as a successful Alex squad secured promotion to the second tier of English football courtesy of a dramatic play-off final victory at the old Wembley stadium. His big chance finally came in the pre-season that summer. “I was desperate to play and knew I had a chance after some good performances during the pre-season. Then, in September of our first season at that level, I came on as a substitute versus Tranmere and scored on my full debut. I can’t describe that feeling, to score the winning goal that secured three points for the team. I was always a fan so it meant just as much to me as the supporters on the sidelines. I think my dad was very proud as well.”
The next few seasons brought mixed results for both Kevin and the Alex. Relegation in May 2002 was a harsh blow for the club, but it also marked the end of his career at Crewe. “Things were not working out for me. I’d had chances, done okay but never excelled. I don’t think that I was improving as a player. Dario was always very forthright and he told me as much when we sat down and chatted at the end of the season. It was time to go. To be fair to the boss, he was fantastic and told me I could train with the club and even start some coaching. So that’s what I did. The idea of university also resurfaced and I started to map things out.”
The immediate future involved more professional football, but perhaps the biggest changes happened when Kevin dropped to the non-league scene with Stafford rangers in 2005. “I had a fantastic time at Bristol Rovers, and also married my wife while I was down there. And at Shrewsbury Town I’d say I played with one of the best sets of lads I came across during my playing career. But Stafford Rangers offered new opportunities. I could continue playing but also build my coaching and managerial knowledge watching Phil Robinson. Moreover, it was the chance I needed to start my degree in Theology. So the time at Stafford was a real turning point in my life. It was a period of reflection and a chance to do things that had been on hold for years.”
With a few niggling injuries starting to slow him down as a player the emphasis on coaching intensified. At the same time, a desire to teach was realised as academic qualifications were achieved. “Teaching is something that appealed to me over a number of years, whether that’s out on the pitch or in a classroom. Theology is important to me, but I have started to enjoy history and citizenship studies. That’s been great fun, seeing pupils really enjoy learning. I gained teaching experience back in Crewe at King’s Grove and St. Thomas More schools, so seeing the reaction of the older kids who remember me, as a footballer, has been amusing. Others know me from coaching around the schools. Hopefully, I do enough to impress them and gain respect. That’s important for everyone if teaching is to succeed.”
In the summer of 2009 the local lad made a full return to the area’s football scene with Alex neighbours Nantwich Town. While former Dabbers boss Steve Davis switched to Gresty Road the opportunity to become player/assistant manager to Peter Hall at the impressive Weaver Stadium was too much to resist. “The possibilities at Nantwich Town are endless, but I think it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. A lot of non-league teams think they’ll make it but you need to take things steady. I saw enough at Stafford to realise that making the next step up is very difficult, so hopefully I can bring a little experience to the very ambitious people at Nantwich. I’d love to play some more while I’m still fit, but coaching and, maybe, managing is something I’d like to continue for as long as possible. We’ll see. Until then, my teaching qualifications are now complete and I’m entering an important phase of my new career. This is likely to be my main income now for my wife and two children, so I need to get my priorities right. The football, however, will always play a big part in my life, and I hope to be involved in some way for many years to come. Whether I’m good enough for management at a decent level remains to be seen. I’ve had a lot of help and inspiration from my parents, my priest at church, coaches in football and of course from the fans. So I’ll be giving it my best shot, as I continue to do as a player…”
Kevin’s story appeared in “Crewe And Its People” that was published back in 2009; the stories will be posted here between February and June as a permanent series of social history documents for Cheshire.
A second volume of fascinating Crewe life stories will be available to buy from September 2016. Subscribe to my newsletter HERE if you would like occasional email updates about publication dates for this and other Crewe/Cheshire book projects.