That word pride is something I've always associated with supporting the club. Football has become riddled with overpaid people who show no loyalty to anyone and who think that the important values in life are to show off their latest flash car. Money buys success and managers come and go every few months as drippingly rich businessmen demand instant success for their latest plaything before getting bored and selling up.
In that world Crewe have become notable as a rare exception. The club tried to stand for something. It was run by people with very little money and supported by too few people to really ever be successful. Yet it did very much better on the pitch than it ever should have done by having a policy of keeping the same manager for decades, giving that manager the time and the facilities to develop some very talented young players and then letting those players move on to better things. We used the transfer fee to pay all our bills and to invest in the next generation of talented local youngsters.
The list of people that the club developed include many very famous individuals including Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy. Our longest serving manager was Dario Grady, who had respect from almost everyone in the game of football as someone who built up a small club and took them from the bottom of the 4th division to 10th place in the 2nd division. He was so well liked by the club and the supporters that we stuck with him even when the club went down two divisions and kept him on to work with the youth team when it finally became time for him to retire.
This week all that went up in smoke. I ceased to be proud to identify myself as a supporter of a club with all the right values of loyalty, hard work and helping young people make the best of themselves. Instead I was left feeling embarrassed to admit to having longstanding emotional links to a place where young boys were told that if they wished to make it then they had better not complain when a previous youth coach, Barry Bennell, pressed his attentions upon them.
One of the most horrible things about sexual predators is the sheer scale of the damage they can do by pursuing their desires so ruthlessly. Firstly and most importantly there are the boys themselves. Desperate to make it in their chosen sport they are faced in their early teens or even younger with the terrible choice of being told that they can either give up on their dream or give in to the aggressive attentions of a deeply nasty individual. In a world where you don't easily admit to being anything other than a "real man" it must have been desperately lonely to have come away from the coaches attentions feeling pain and shame. Even worse to know that it was all too likely that it wouldn't be long before you'd be subject to the same abuse again. Worse still to feel that if you told anyone you wouldn't be believed and your dreams of making it as a professional footballer would be over.
No wonder that the brave individuals who eventually spoke out have showed so much emotion when they have tried years later to explain what happened to them. It is also no wonder that so many still haven't spoken out and that so many parents and police officers felt at the time that it was not in the best interests of the child to make them go through a court case when the perpetrator was in the middle of being convicted anyway.
Those adults who thought that they were doing their best by the young kids are now also amongst the victims. They are left with the shame of not having spoken out and exposed fully what was going on and making sure it was much less likely to ever happen again. Many of the directors of the club at the time are also left with feelings of shame for failing to spot the signs of what was going on or refusing to believe that someone they trusted could behave in such appalling ways. They didn't personally commit any crimes against anyone. Yet they are left with an association with a set of events that they failed to control and a shoddy individual who tricked them all too easily in order to be able to get away with hurting boys for his own pleasure.
A lot of good people have had their reputations torn to shreds as a result. Not least our former dedicated long term manager Dario who has been left with a horribly difficult set of questions to answer about what he knew when and why he appears to have believed the wrong people for too long and acted so slowly. He doesn't deserve this end to his career for being naively duped by a manipulative criminal.
There are no winners in a situation like this. There are only losers. It is hard to see how the club can actually survive. It's entire future has been based on attracting talented young kids with the promise that the club will do well by them and develop their talent to the maximum. What parent is now going to send their child with confidence to be nurtured by the club? Instead the club faces multiple legal challenges from adults making the case that they were not properly protected and have suffered decades of mental anguish as a consequence.
Even if it is proved that the club has a completely squeaky clean set of policies and applied them rigorously and fairly the publicity associated with the court cases and cost of defending them is highly likely to be more than it can even begin to cope with. If any of the victims win compensation for the damage they have suffered then the club is doomed to bankruptcy and those individuals are likely to get next to nothing for all their suffering beyond a public recognition of their suffering.
The only possible positive that can come out of the whole thing is that lessons are learned that make life much more difficult for the predators and much easier for young kids in any walk of life who find themselves under pressure to act in ways that they don't feel comfortable with under pressure from adults. The main lesson is a very simple one. When a 'good bloke' asks you whether you trust him or some snotty nosed kid that is forever whining about being mistreated it is usually a very good idea to take that kid to one side and listen carefully to what they have to say. The 'good bloke' could easily be a very nasty person indeed.