Crewe: Spotting The Spotters
Of all the places I liked spotting the spotters it was Crewe.
When in Birmingham, my relationship with the station increased. Already used to it as I was to Chester from the overnights from Holyhead to Liverpool, it now figured in trips from Birmingham to Liverpool and from Birmingham to Holyhead, plus my various other weekend forays from the Midlands. And the first hours of my 21st birthday were at Crewe.
When I stopped living in Liverpool and moved to Birmingham, I retained my season ticket at Goodison and so at least every 2nd week - and of course for every midweek game including the never to be missed Simod Cup clashes - I headed north and often found myself in Crewe rather than on the direct train.
When the IRA bombed London I walked Crewe’s platforms in vain searching for a bin before realising the new policy of the bins being withdrawn.
It was in Crewe station that I sat unspeaking among English national team supporters as we all headed for Dublin and a spiteful international fixture. Seated either side of me were 2 large giggling skinheads from Millwall who were doing their own spotting - that of notorious thugs among the English fans. As I silently drank my tea between them I noticed the backs of the hands of both of the skinheads as they drank theirs. Tattooed on the hand of one was “TRACY” and of the other was “MICHELLE”.
The next time I saw the owners of those tattoos was in Dublin as part of a marauding English gang that waded into the Irish crowd with boots and fists. I held screaming women for their protection, by inches missing receiving a kicking from skinheads in brown suede jackets. By the time we all ended up back in Crewe their faces were cut and bruised, and my Irish scarf was never more hidden.
One night in Crewe, no different than all the other, I went to the counter and asked for my 6th large cup of tea. The server paused, incredulous, with a look of a barman serving a drunk and I thought she was about to refuse me when her supervisor behind her, reached down below the counter and grabbed a couple of hundred teabags. Then referring to the foot traffic expected from the ferry at Holyhead within the hour she dumped them narkily in front of me on the counter and said “The Irish will be here soon”.
And all the time the spotters were there, usually down the south end of one of the platforms. Always respected by the staff and ignored by the travellers, they would get excited periodically. I used to watch them fascinated. They spoke to each other in a way that had me questioning my prejudices, yet I had done my own phase of spotting - ‘plane spotting - much more glamorous and in a warmer environment, though the tea was always worse.
Once when a train to somewhere was cancelled I was put on a replacement bus and had a seat beside a spotter. He was no more than four years younger than myself but I felt protective of him as if he was my own child. His name was David and in his nervous giddy speech he told me that these hours at Crewe station were his first time ever to be away from his parents. He wasn’t quite sure of his way home and I felt an awful vulnerability for him as I got off the bus hoping he found his way home and alive. He was 20 years old.
It was in the late ’80s that I made my favourite realization about Crewe. I was far down the end of a platform out from under the main central covered building, and I looked up at the Crewe Arms Hotel as I always did. But this day I looked closer.
There they were - in the hotel, looking down on Crewe station and all its tracks and platforms. At several of the windows I could see the spotters and it was obvious that this was the ultimate destination for them. This was their Disney World, their French Riviera, their Carribean cruise, and their dirty weekend.
Ever since then I’ve wanted to spend a night in that hotel and do what they do. Just like I’ve always wanted to go to Mecca and see the Kaaba.