Crewe boss David Artell on sterilised promotion celebrations

‘I wanted one of our players to be kissed by a 60 year-old woman who had run on the pitch’: Crewe boss David Artell on sterilised promotion celebrations, dealing with the struggles of Covid and where his ‘terrific little football club’ go next

  • Artell is always up for a challenge but couldn’t have imagined the recent ones 
  • Artell led Crewe to top of League Two in their final game before Covid-19 struck
  • Crewe were eventually sent up to League One as the runners up of League Two
  • But his achievements have been overshadowed by the child sex abuse scandal
  • Former coach Barry Bennell and boss Dario Gradi were involved in the scandal 

David Artell insists he is always up for a challenge but the ones he has faced in recent years while in charge of Crewe are the sort he could never have envisaged.

For someone with such a thirst for knowledge and learning that inspired by watching daytime shows like Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis Murder he completed a degree in forensic biology while still playing, there is an irony to Artell saying ‘no course prepares you for football management.’

Certainly nothing could have prepped him for the task of leading Crewe through an unprecedented last few years.

David Artell (above) insists he is always up for a challenge but the ones he has faced in recent years while in charge of Crewe are the sort he could never have envisaged

‘Challenging,’ the former centre-back said, when asked how he would describe them. ‘I don’t think any manager, not to my knowledge, has gone through that.

‘Probably two of the most difficult things that people have encountered in their generation if you like. So it’s a fairly unique set of circumstances I’ve managed in.’

The ‘two things’ Artell refers to are a global pandemic and the repercussions of the harrowing historical sex abuse scandal that cast the darkest of shadows over Crewe.

Artell had led Crewe to top of League Two in their final game before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, leading to the initial suspension of the 2019-20 campaign.

While clubs deliberated how to resolve the prematurely-ended season, the idea of scrapping it from the record books altogether cropped up threatening all of Crewe’s hard work up to that point.

Eventually they agreed to settle it on a points-per-game basis, sending Crewe up to League One as runners up.

Artell (left) played for the likes of Crewe, Morecambe and Rotherham during his career

The 40-year-old (above) is currently English football’s eighth-longest serving manager

Artell was named League Two manager of the year but said: ‘The main disappointment of the timing of the pandemic was the players not getting to feel the actual raw emotion and euphoria you feel when you get promoted.

‘The celebrations were all sterilised – literally! It was all for the right reasons, you have to keep everyone safe.

‘And what the emergency services did for example was heroic. We’re just kicking a ball around so there are relative levels of course.

‘I wanted one of our players to be kissed by a 60 year-old woman who had run on the pitch at Gresty Road on the final day because that’s the raw emotion for everyone associated with an experience like that but that day never came.’

But such achievements, and Artell’s entire reign, have been overshadowed by the child sex abuse scandal involving the club’s former coach Barry Bennell and manager Dario Gradi among others.

The revelations, which re-emerged in 2016, led to multiple investigations into Crewe and other clubs and resulted in the FA’s damning Sheldon Report which was published in March.

As one of the public faces of the club now Artell was at times left to field questions about a horrific situation he had no connection to.

Artell led Crewe to top of League Two in their final game before the Covid-19 pandemic struck

Crewe were eventually sent up to League One as the runners up of League Two (above) 

‘It’s difficult to talk about it now because, again, it’s a bit like the pandemic,’ Artell said.

‘People have been severely, severely affected in a horrific way. The scandal came back to life if you like when I was academy manager in the November before I took over in the January [2017] and I can remember reading court cases that had happened before and some of the stuff was harrowing. Really harrowing and I wouldn’t want anyone to read, never mind go through it.’

Artell, who played for the likes of Crewe, Morecambe and Rotherham, is currently English football’s eighth-longest serving manager.

The job is becoming increasingly volatile but he has lasted almost five years and is closing in on the 250 game mark.

Having managed through such testing circumstances in his first few years in the job, it is little surprise he has changed.

‘I’ve gone from giddy new manager to more staid, more this is how you need to be at all times because I think the game demands that of you,’ he said.

‘When I was first manager I still wanted to head and kick every ball, still thought I was a player, and you have to make sure you lose that quite quickly.

‘Now you’re either going to look like an absolute idiot on the touchline or in press conferences or have a heart attack and I don’t think either of them are particularly pleasant so you have to become far more reserved at times.

‘No course prepares you for football management. I certainly haven’t been on one. At 40 year-old now I think I’ve served an apprenticeship and now I’ve got to forge a career.’

Artell’s achievements have been overshadowed by the child sex abuse scandal involving the club’s former coach Barry Bennell (above) and manager Dario Gradi among others

The revelations led to multiple investigations and resulted in the FA’s damning Sheldon Report which was published in March 

After last season’s impressive 12th-placed finish on their return to League One, this season has been much tougher for bottom-of-the-table Crewe and Artell, whose attributes as a talent developer from his academy days have had to come to the fore.

In the cycle of life at Crewe, Artell explained, this is one of the ‘fallow’ years, one following the sale of a number of key players.

‘It makes you sustainable but then makes it tough the year after but that’s the business model,’ Artell said.

‘I certainly believe the chairman, the board understand where were at and the majority of our fans because they’ve seen this cycle before.

‘We would prefer not to have cycles and that doesn’t mean it is acceptable to lose either. That’s the club, its philosophy and a brilliant one.

‘Of the 92 football clubs I think about 60 have been in administration and Crewe is not one of them.

‘What does that mean? It means they’re run properly and they have been for a while. That should be upheld and it shows the model works.

‘It’s a terrific little football club and it gives managers time to develop and to develop players.

‘I’ve been in the job five years and think I’m doing a decent enough job even though the table might not show that at the minute but you’ve got to hope that other people see the value in your work.

‘If somebody sees that value in me, great. If they don’t I’ll keep going with what I’m doing at Crewe because it is a fantastic football club.’ 




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