A follow-up to the original Crewe And Its People book will be published later this year, probably September/October time. The final interviews take place in late May and early June, before the serious editing begins. It is, however, looking pretty dang good… if I do say so myself. There’s a great spread of people from different backgrounds, and varied social circles, all with a common thread- they have done something unique for the town and its people.
Until then, here’s another story taken from the original book (published back in 2009) about Toby Robinson, a local lad who tried his hand at a few things before finding his niche. In fact, having followed the Crewe music scene for some time, it’s fascinating to look back seven years and revisit Toby’s thoughts about the future. And, as an aside, the new book will feature several people from the Crewe area who have not only wowed music lovers around the town, they have performed on international stages. Cracking stuff, and more will be revealed over the coming months. You can, if you enjoy keeping abreast of Crewe-themed book releases, receive occasional email updates by signing up for my newsletter HERE. Now enjoy Toby’s original story…
Jack of all trades…
Some people never settle at school, often avoiding the steady careers that others plan for years in advance. After a series of random jobs around the town, Toby Robinson grabbed an opportunity to enter local journalism and report on Crewe Alexandra. It was something that would offer him stability and open new doors in the future…
”School didn’t suit me, even as a young kid. Mum and Dad worked so I used to go home at lunchtime from Hungerford Primary School. Other kids had school dinners or sandwiches, but I’d often go to the chippy at the top of Vincent Street. It was mad really, and looking back a young lad walking along busy roads was dangerous. But the best bit about those early days was the adventure playground. There was a scheme for children after school, at weekends and during the summer holidays. Kids came from all over the Sydney estate. They had Tarzan ropes, equipment to make things, ball games and activities run by play scheme workers. It taught us a lot – and it was fun. I don’t think school children have the same freedom now, and the play area that was built years later is too sanitised, too safe to allow real creativity.”
Despite being moved away from friends at Crewe schools during his teenage years, Toby was never destined to take an academic path. “I quit before I sat my GCSEs, so I left with nothing. Perhaps that was foolish, but I went through a rebellious phase. I have no regrets. I tried to sort myself out and enrolled at South Cheshire College, resitting exams I should have taken a year earlier. But I soon lapsed into the student lifestyle and spent a lot of my time drinking and playing pool in the Earl of Crewe pub on Nantwich Road. Eventually, I completed some NVQs but never wanted to take things further, like going to university. So I drifted into a series of temporary jobs, trying a bit of everything. People laughed because I went through about 15 jobs in a year. Then an administration role cropped up on the ninth floor of Rail House, working through an agency. It was just before British Rail was broken up and I remember seeing a letter recommending that I be offered a permanent position. So I nearly started a railway career! But the contract ended and things changed as parts of British Rail became Railtrack. So I ended up taking other temporary work elsewhere.”
Then one of those too-good-to-be-true jobs was advertised. The local Crewe and Nantwich Guardian required a sports reporter, even offering training to the successful candidate. Despite a lack formal experience or qualifications Toby’s local knowledge and love of Crewe Alexandra appealed to the newspaper. “The interview went really well. Everything about the role was perfect, although the money was less than I was earning on temporary railway jobs at the time. But then I got a letter saying that I hadn’t been successful. I was gutted. Luckily, within a year, I saw the position advertised again. I rang the editor immediately and he told me that he had been thinking about me. I’d been second choice first time around, but he asked if I was still interested. I didn’t have to think about it. I went through another interview and at the second attempt I got the job.”
The Guardian moved from its Market Street office in the late 1990s, so alongside the Sentinel and Crewe Chronicle the High Street area became Crewe’s mini Fleet Street. “There was a good feeling about the place in the first few years. There were five of us on the paper’s editorial side and I also had some great support from established journalists like Roy Greer (Chronicle) and Gwyn Griffiths (Sentinel). I think they appreciated that I cared about the Alex. It also helped that our editor, Mark Smith, liked the fact that I was passionate about the local sports scene, unlike others who had used the paper as a stepping stone. So I felt part of the team and started to cover the Alex during one of their most successful periods in the Championship. Without being big headed I think I managed to develop an informal style that people enjoyed reading. It wasn’t quite a fanzine, nor was it the usual straight-laced format so common in most newspapers. I stuck at it, and with the editor’s backing the sports section grew to several pages. Despite pressure from the sales teams we refused to buckle and maintained the format. I think the readers liked that.”
The Alex staff also seemed at ease with the young journalist’s style, although long-serving club manager Dario Gradi rarely let his defences down. “Dario told us what he wanted to tell us, although he wasn’t the dominating ogre that some thought. That just wasn’t the case. I never got close enough to know him that well, nor did we fall out. There was a mutual respect. John Fleet, the kit man, was a big help, always making us feel welcome, as did the other staff at Reaseheath. The players were different. They seemed to change during my time covering the club. They became less approachable. That was a shame as you often got the feeling that they wanted to speak out. It was hard to comprehend because I spent a lot of time with Steve Walters in my late teens. That was a fascinating period, seeing him develop as a player in the early 90s and as a man away from the game. Too many people thought that he was a hot head, a troublemaker. That wasn’t really the case, as a lot of people picked fights with him because he was an up-and-coming star. So I saw a footballer’s life up close and personal. Because of that, I tried to give other players a bit of space when I started reporting on the game.”
Sadly, the Guardian couldn’t avoid the major cutbacks and changes that swept through the newspaper industry as the Internet altered the way people accessed news. Ending a ten-year association with the paper might have broken many people, but Toby grabbed the opportunity when the axe fell in early 2009. “I had a philosophy that people read our paper predominantly for the Alex news, followed by the ‘What’s On’ guide. I managed to increase the entertainment content and made some great contacts during my final year at the paper. I helped with promotional activities for the M Club, a club just down from the Guardian’s High Street base. That involvement with the music industry encouraged me to establish an agency called Volume PR with my friend Mark. It was geared toward the local music scene and a natural progression was to set up a music festival for Crewe. It was something that had always frustrated me, seeing most large-scale events staged down the road in Nantwich. So we did something about it and the Crewe Live 08 music festival happened at the end of May, just after the by-election.”
The event was a huge success and led to more work. “We teamed up with Ray Brushev from the Royal Hotel complex, which included a music venue at the back called The Box. He came to us and I’d like to say that we played a part in creating a Rock and Indie scene for Crewe, getting up-and-coming bands to the town alongside a number of decent local acts like Sgt Wolfbanger, Flux, Bleached Wail and the Sumo Kings. The 2009 Volume Festival raised the bar further and suddenly local pubs and other venues were copying our formula. I suppose that’s flattering. I’ve no idea where I will be in five or ten years, but I’d hope to be in Crewe promoting music – maybe in a different form. We’ll see…”
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