Football’s vicious circle

Crewe Alexandra’s relegation to League Two was confirmed with five matches still to play. It hurts, for sure, but the ever-decreasing football circles in which the club operates means that dark days will be the reality for the foreseeable future.

Some fans will leap upon that assertion as abject negativity, defeatism of the highest order. We should dream and aspire, they will yell. I agree. In theory any team should be able to climb the greasy pyramid’s pole, reach the summit, and then wave a huge flag from the highest mountain.

Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Multiple factors now hamper any potential Alex progress, and I don’t believe that sacking current manager Steve Davis will fix anything.

One of the main problems is expectation. The crazy hype that blights football leaves many supporters harbouring wholly unrealistic delusions of grandeur about our humble club. With a new gaffer, a few quid from the board, that diamond loan signing and a bit motivation we could conquer the world.

I am as guilty as the next fan. In my head, we can still win any game, our pure footballing principles will always come good, the referee will protect our players, and the faith placed in youth will eventually pay dividends. If only any of that was realistic.

Let’s start with the youth element and in particular the academy. We need it, if only to develop sufficient players to fill a squad of 20-plus players. The days of unearthing two, three or four “stars” each season, however, are gone.

The academy isn’t failing, but many of the young kids that once chose Reaseheath now go to Stoke or Man City. That wasn’t true 10-15 years ago. Many of the bigger clubs scoffed at major investment in their younger teams. They could – I recall one arrogant manager saying – simply buy the best 19, 20 and 21-years-olds when they had proven themselves.

That has changed. Top clubs now invest multi-millions in their academies, and football’s governing bodies are making it increasingly tough for smaller clubs to keep pace.

Some of the real gems at 8, 9 and 10 years of age now choose those vast Premiership academies that have been developed over the last decade. And the set-up at Manchester City is scary. Their kids play in Premiership-standard facilities.

That leaves the Alex with the best of the rest, still good youngsters but probably capable of playing no higher than League Two level. That’s no disgrace, as Crewe Alexandra is a L2 standard club. And it is, although many reading this will scoff and disagree vehemently.

As a club Crewe Alexandra has improved facilities steadily over 30-plus years, but the fan base is roughly the same. The commercial operation is also relatively static. Although it’s easy to point fingers at people within the club, I’m afraid that cash flow mirrors Crewe in general. It’s improving, slowly, but the town is hardly awash with money.

On the pitch the coaching team has done what it can. But, many point out, the signings have been poor and the loan players brought in have proved to be largely ineffective. True, on both counts. But you get what you pay for. Monkeys and peanuts! Moreover, few professional footballers pick clubs based on heartfelt loyalty. Money talks, and whether you like it or not our budget equates to players in the bottom division, if not the fifth tier.

Still, the manager should have got more out of the players he has at his disposal. He has also favoured his son and he plays too many of the team out of position – all fair points, great discussion threads down at the pub, and raised by many watching from the side lines. So why hasn’t Steve Davis been sacked?

That’s the golden question.

A number of supporters believe that the manager’s apparent rolling contract is the issue, and that the club’s money men shiver at the prospect of a compensation pay out. I doubt that, as they chopped Steve Holland and Gudjon Thordarson when they thought that it might make a difference. Both decisions had financial implications.

Also, and this is a biggie… Dario Gradi was always available to slot back in as manager after a) Holland, and then b) Thordarson. That ship has sailed. The great man is still ever-present, coaching and cajoling in the background, but by his own admission now too long in the tooth to be pounding the touchline on match days.

One thing that truly baffles me is that all of the ingredients that helped to cook up appetising feasts during our precarious Championship era are still present. Gradi and Neil Baker are there, contrary to some rumours, as are former players Kenny Lunt and James Collins – who now coach. These men are not shrinking violets. They have opinions, and they understand football. And yet the club continues to falter.

Unless a significant investor decides to throw his money at the Alex, then our immediate future will be top half in L2 and bottom third in L1. So YES, I think we can go up at some point, perhaps as a yo-yo club enjoying promotions and enduring the inevitable relegation that will always follow.

League One – just like the Championship before it – is increasingly congested with former Premier League clubs. They have parachute payments, larger fan bases and, usually, money men on the board who enjoy being associated with city clubs. Crewe Alexandra (as the club stands) can never prosper at that level again. Sorry, but that’s the harsh reality.

Each season we will ship players out. Academy prospects will come through and earn contracts. They will have one, two and maybe three seasons to establish themselves. The days of the club paying anything for players in the transfer market are all but gone. We will scoop up the odd freebie, but only when their agents have failed to secure them more cash elsewhere. There will be five-plus loan players brought in, constantly rotating, making stability an almost impossible task. And so it will continue.

I’m not in the “Davis Out” camp that wants the manager sacked, nor do I want the board ousted. The latter, by the way, cannot happen. It’s a private club, with a majority shareholder who seemingly does what he wants.

Now here’s a shocker; although I’d desperately like to see more transparency from the Crewe Alexandra board of directors, I still have a grudging admiration for them. Bar one man, with whom I have exchanged angry and frustrated words on a number of occasions over the last ten years, the majority have the club’s best interests at heart. They understand the complexities of running a small club on a shoestring. They stick at it. They are football men.

That is not enough for many supporters. In a way, why should it be? Supporters ARE football, at least that’s what we think. So there will be a protest of sorts this Saturday at Gresty Road, where they will demand action. The board, manager and players will hear it, as will the media. But to what end?

What a depressing article.

Luckily, I have managed to shift my mind-set such that life does not revolve around the results of Crewe Alexandra. It’s a game; no really, it is. It’s great to believe that we – THE FANS – can make a difference, but I’m afraid we can only make the occasional dent in an increasing tough exterior that keeps supporters at arm’s length.

Sorry, but while the structure of the club remains unclear, and the issue of shares and who sits on the board is fluid, well, there will be stalemate as far as supporters are concerned. We the insignificant pawns must await the next move by those genuinely in power.

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