When I was growing up, I would watch the hospital drama Casualty every Saturday night. Each episode would begin the same: an every day scenario that looked innocuous enough, but before long, characters would end up maimed or incapacitated. One week a falling crane, the next a Russian nerve agent. Often, I found myself trying to guess how these seemingly normal openings would soon lead down the road of tragedy and misfortune.
I was reminded of Casualty watching Crewe Alex last weekend – and it was not just the hospital passes and suicidal defending. Like Casualty, you know things are going tits up, you just don’t know where and when. And, despite the feeling of impending doom, a small part of me would still hope for a happy ending. After a while though, you realise that there never will be a happy ending, and that at any given moment, calamity is just round the corner.
This is my angry (and not very forensic) analysis, of where it is all going wrong for The Alex:
Once you have made sure you are not near any sharp objects, let us start with Crewe’s league finishes since 2003:
That is 15 years, five managers, three divisions, and just one finish above 10th place. It makes grim reading. Without Steve Davis’ first 18 months in charge, it would look even bleaker. Only Oldham and Sunderland have more consecutive bottom half finishes than Crewe in the Football League.
So what are the problems? Before the start of the season, I wrote that Crewe concede too many goals and pointed out that on the last two occasions they had been promoted it had been when conceding less than 60 in a campaign. Easy, right? Well, this season, the problems have largely been at the other end of the pitch. Despite scoring six goals in our first game, we have added just five since, and after eleven games, only Grimsby, Cheltenham and Northampton have scored less.
I wondered, was this a new issue unique to the current campaign, or is there more to it?
*Positions in brackets are where that figure placed Crewe in the League that season for that particular metric.
|2017/18||420 (23rd)||185 (15th)||62 (11th)|
|2016/17||470 (19th)||181 (18th)||58 (12th)|
|2015/16||394 (24th)||167 (22nd)||46 (22nd)|
|2014/15||356 (24th)||171 (22nd)||43 (23rd)|
|2013/14||415 (22nd)||183 (20th)||54 (13th)|
|2012/13||403 (23rd)||215 (19th)||54 (16th)|
|2011/12||476 (12th)||245 (12th)||67 (7th)|
|2010/11||458 (9th)||247 (5th)||87 (1st)|
|2009/10||588 (4th)||295 (3rd)||68 (7th)|
Since Dario Gradi stepped down, the club score nine fewer goals per season on average. Indeed, since records began in 1999, a Crewe Alex side had never registered less than 200 shots on target in a season until Steve Davis’ first full campaign.
It has happened every season since.
And why were the club unable to take last seasons form into this one? There should be no excuses; only Cambridge United retained a higher percentage of their squad than Crewe during the summer. There was no major overhaul. Yet the same players and faces that won five of their last eight games now suddenly seem bereft of ideas. On Saturday at Lincoln, Crewe’s three shots on target came from defenders Corey Whelan and George Ray.
Over one or two seasons, you can easily attribute poor performances to a weak squad, injuries, or just bad luck. For it to happen so consistently since 2003 suggests the issue goes deeper than that. It is not a blip, or a poor run of form. It is a one way ticket to the National League.
These are my three possible explanations for the current situation (hint: none involve Norman Hassall):
- As the squad is made up of largely academy graduates, it should be admitted that the club no longer produce the quality of player necessary to be successful in the Football League and the money should be spent elsewhere.
- A more experienced replacement for Dave Artell should be found who would be able to get the best out of this current group of players.
- The chairman/board are not creating an environment or culture that is conducive to a successful football club.
Ultimately, the board now need to decide what the issue is and tackle it head on, because clearly, the current approach is not working.
The most frustrating aspect of the clubs current predicament is a sheer lack of acknowledgement from anyone connected with Crewe that anything is awry. It feels as though we are all just sleepwalking into the abyss. Not once has Artell been asked if he is worried for his job or feels under pressure. Where is the dreaded vote of confidence from the board? Privately, many feel Artell is not to blame. Well then, who is to blame? Every week it is the same quotes, the same soundbites, and the same results.
Attendances have been steadily declining for years and last Tuesday night, just 2500 fans turned out at home to Swindon, the lowest in the league since the 1980’s. Slowly but surely, fans are voting with their feet. And why would a Championship or League One side want to buy a player from a struggling League Two team? Quite simply, they wouldn’t.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the club have now reached a significant crossroads, and that decisions taken over the next 12 months will be critical to Crewe Alexandra as we know it. John Bowler did not spend 30 years of his life as chairman of this football club to see everything he ever built fall in around him.
Surely now, something needs to change, before it is too late.