Nearly twenty years of commuting from Crewe would take its toll on most travellers but, when he steps out of the station, Marco Criscuolo still smiles, safe in the knowledge that home is just five minutes walk down Gresty Road. Over the years, he has seen the area change dramatically – the landscape and the people…

a Marco Criscuol, August 09 s“Crewe became home in October 1989 shortly after I’d secured a job in London, as a Customs & Excise Officer. I’d been living in Devon with my father, having returned from several years in Germany. Finding work where I grew up had proved hopeless, so I was looking further afield. Geraldine, my wife, had just given birth to our son, Ruairí, and we were desperate to get our own home. Luckily, her eldest sister, who was based at Leighton Hospital, assured us that the housing up here was more affordable than the South West. She also offered to put us up until we found a place of our own.”

Crewe train station would feature heavily over the coming years, and it influenced one of the biggest decisions any family makes. “From the start I was commuting and spending many hours on the trains. I had to work at offices in London and Southend for over a year, before finally making the permanent transfer to Liverpool in February 1991. When that came through we decided to buy a house. Neither of us drives so being close to the station was essential. So Gresty Road was an obvious location – a few minutes walk away, not far from Geraldine’s sister and within our budget. When we came to look it over we realised that it was opposite Crewe Alexandra’s ground. Behind us was the cattle market, still trading in those days.”

b bedford st b&w

What grabbed the new family when they made the former railway terrace their home was the sense of community. “The street was full of families, and people who had lived here for years. Wynn Bailey lived on one side, and she had watched the football club’s wooden stand burn down in 1932. On the other side Mrs Jones had been here years. Her husband died in a railway accident and she brought a family up on her own. Then there was Stan, a brickie, and a fella called Ray – bother really friendly men. The other houses were full of young families and everyone got to know each other because the kids all played together in the alley at the back. It all started to change in the late nineties. A couple of the older neighbours died or moved to care homes, and it was never the same again. The property boom didn’t help, as most of the houses were sold to people who split them into flats. That changed the whole dynamic of the street and the sense of community seemed to disappear. The best experience we’ve had in many years came when a Polish family moved in next door. They’ve chatted more than any other new family and we’re constantly being given home-cooked food over the fence.”

c Cattle Market sBeyond the alley running behind the Gresty Road terraces was Manley’s cattle market. For some time that ensured that nearby streets were bustling when trading took place. “Rhuairí’s bedroom looked out onto the market. You could see the loading ramp, and every Monday and Friday morning, around 8am, you’d hear the sheep and cattle clattering out of the lorries and into the pens. The noise they generated and the shouts of the farmers and traders were fascinating – unless you were in bed trying to get some sleep! On other days they would bring horses for sale. I took a look one day when they had the Shires on show, and they looked magnificent decked out in their brasses and finery. There was another market across the road past the football ground, but when we arrived most of that had gone. On busy days some of the traders would park up there on the waste ground before they sold it and turned it all into a car park.”

The market finally closed and gave way to a modern housing estate, but another historic building also succumbed to the bulldozer around the same time. “Bedford Street School was still standing for a number of years, but the planners said that it had to go in the name of progress. I signed the petition started by local residents, but that had no effect. It was criminal, as there was nothing wrong with the building. Inside were beautiful wooden carvings and staircases, solid wooden floors, big windows and those huge cast iron radiators. They could have done something else with it, but the new housing won the day and they made a token gesture to remember the architecture of the old school. A neighbour told us later that she remembered being marched from Bedford Street down to Pebble Brook School when the changeover happened.”

d new stand 13 s

One attraction that has stood the test of time is Crewe Alexandra’s modest ground. Just a few years after coming to Crewe, the Criscuolo household witnessed the club’s greatest period and the building of a new stand. Marco also wrote a book. “I started writing articles for the fanzine, Super Dario Land, in 1993. One piece highlighted some of the club’s history and someone suggested that I should find out more. So I started some research, mainly about the origins of the name Alexandra. I found some of the early match reports and decided that the statistics would make a useful database. This went on for over a year and I considered stopping a few times, but Geraldine convinced me to finish it. So I decided to publish it all, with some editorial and a few pictures, and ‘Crewe Alexandra – Match by Match’ hit the bookshelves in the summer of 1997. That was an amazing time as ‘The Alex’ had just been promoted. Things got better and better on the pitch, then they announced that the wooden stand was to be replaced, with a massive, modern cantilever structure. It changed our view, but witnessing the work was something I’ll never forget. They pulled the old stand down as soon as the final home game finished. The new framework went up in days, and watching the steel workers was amazing. An enormous crane arrived one night and a gang of workers assembled it so that lifting the girders could start first thing in the morning. It was almost like the scenes from the famous New York photos, men walking up and down this structure hundreds of feet in the air. They were fearless. We’ve also got them to thank for preventing a disaster. One of them came over to the house and told us that our chimney looked unsafe and was about to fall. They were right, and we had it repaired straight away.”

Success for the football club continued as they held on to a place in the Championship, but like the neighbourhood around Gresty Road the players became strangers. “Promotion really changed things. As Rhuairí grew up he mixed with most of the players’ kids, in the bar before and after matches and also popping round to some of their houses. Neil Lennon would cross the road and always say hello if he saw him in the street, and Darren Rowbotham, Marcus Gayle and Dean Greygoose were the friendliest players I met. Then it all stopped. There seemed to be a barrier between fans, players and the club’s management. It’s as though we were no longer good enough. So if I could have one wish it would be to see that community spirit return here and across the road at the club. I live in hope, because I still love living here.”

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There will be a follow-up to the Crewe And Its People book later this year. Sign up HERE for monthly newsletters about forthcoming Crewe and Cheshire book projects, especially Crewe And Its People (volume II) scheduled for late 2016.

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