In a new series of articles, I head to some of the Football League’s towns and grounds to give away fans and groundhoppers a guide to where to eat, where to drink, what to see and what you can expect from the ground. (All photos included are my own)
We kick off with Crewe. The town of Crewe grew up with the railways. Before the train tracks, and then the football club, got into full gear here, Crewe was another rural Cheshire village. The opening of Crewe Railway Station in 1837 opened this corner of East Cheshire up to the world, and its importance is reflected in Crewe Alexandra’s nickname, The Railwaymen – though it’s the kind of antequated moniker you’ll only ever hear on The Football League Show, where the commentators quickly become desperate to liven up their commentary with long-forgotten club nicknames. The present day Crewe, though, is less industrial than the town of decades gone by. Nowadays, it’s a mixture of attractive architecture, run-down neighbourhoods and uniquely charming pubs. It’s a town with a distinct identity, and more character than many of Britain’s identikit town centres. There’s rough edges to Crewe, but there’s enough positives to make it a good away day destination.
My first stop is Hops Belgian Style. Despite the name sounding like a poor Bing translation, it’s a top-notch pub with plenty in the way of character, and even more in the way of continental beers. With its cosy wooden interior, its lovely beer garden and some unusually sunny Northern weather, it’s a perfect spot to begin the day. It’s also a venue which welcomes away fans. A cheery group of Walsall fans are seated on one outdoor table, discussing their side’s recent form, and the merits of Eastern Europe’s strip clubs (note: apparently Estonia’s are excellent), whilst a gaggle of Alex-supporting lads are spread out on the next table along. The sun keeps shining, and I tuck into a generously sized sausage roll (they offer various light bites) and a pint of Sparta, a decent Belgian pilsner.
I then continued my matchday research at Albert’s Corner, another popular pub just a minute’s walk from Hops, just beyond Crewe’s spectacular Christ Church, one of the town’s most impressive sites. Albert’s is a relaxed, friendly venue apparently popular with students (see: cheap beer), and its style mixes neon lighting with vintage photos, which is actually a lot better than it sounds. I settle down with a pint from the local Beartown Brewery, and contemplate the spectacularly tight relegation battle engulfing League One.