From a former England international to current Premier League stalwart, Crewe Alexandra have kick-started the careers of many esteemed footballers.
Gradi transformed the club’s fortunes when he arrived in 1983, implementing a youth-first approach.
He focused on promoting the club’s own youth players to the first team rather than signing players from other clubs, resulting in an array of talented footballers to graduate from Crewe’s academy and go on to bigger and better things.
2013 – Crewe name a starting XI completely made up of academy players for their last game of the season.
2018 – Crewe name a starting XI completely made up of academy players for their last game of the season.
— oddschecker (@oddschecker) May 4, 2018
This article looks at five of Crewe’s best academy products that ultimately went on to play at the elite level of English football, the Premier League.
Although they don’t qualify for this list, there are honourable mentions for former England captain David Platt, Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage – all of whom started their professional careers at the Alexandra Stadium.
Danny Murphy – 417 Premier League appearances
Born 20 miles north of Crewe in Chester, Danny Murphy is arguably the most successful player to graduate from Alexandra’s youth system.
He made 148 appearances across five years and two spells for the Railwaymen, scoring 28 goals and helping them to reach the second tier of English football for the first time in over 100 years in 1997.
Super Danny Murphy pic.twitter.com/3Wh3qw3V2s
— Ryan Lee 🇵🇸 (@ryanthomazlee) December 13, 2019
Murphy moved to Liverpool after Crewe’s promotion in 1997, where he went on to win a League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup treble in 2001, before captaining Fulham to a Europa League final in 2010.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) March 3, 2019
Where is he now? After retiring in 2013, Murphy is now better known for his football punditry, often appearing on BBC’s Match of the Day.
Ashley Westwood – 200 Premier League appearances (and counting)
Now amassing 200 matches in the Premier League, current Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood has the second-highest count on this list, yet he is the also the youngest to feature.
The 29-year-old was born in Crewe’s neighbouring town Nantwich, starting his career in Alexandra’s academy in 2008.
Such was Westwood’s talent, it took only a matter of months for him to sign his first professional contract with the club, before going on to make 120 appearances for Crewe, scoring 14 goals.
— John Robertson (@claretcrumpet) December 14, 2019
He left Crewe and joined Aston Villa in 2012, making 147 appearances for the Claret and Blue and helping them to avoid relegation from the Premier League in 2014.
Where is he now? Westwood joined Burnley from Villa in the winter of 2017, where he has amassed 75 appearances to date.
Billy Jones – 131 Premier League appearances
Billy Jones is another from the Crewe production line to have earned over 100 Premier League appearances since joining the club’s academy in 2003.
📸 | Today's game against Shrewsbury is a designated @kickitout fixture, and our players will be sporting branded t-shirts.
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) September 21, 2019
It was clear to Gradi and his coaching staff that he had huge potential, making his debut for the Alex at just 16 years old – whilst he also represented England from under-16 through to under-20 age groups.
The now 32-year-old went on to play 132 times for Crewe, scoring eight goals from his defensive berth.
— Crossbar Foundation (@cbarfoundation) February 7, 2017
He has since played for a number of teams, including both West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland in the Premier League.
Where is he now? Jones now plays for SkyBet League One side Rotherham United, where he has made 30 appearances since joining in 2018.
David Vaughan – 84 Premier League appearances
David Vaughan is the only name on this list not to have been born in England, yet he, like the others, started his career with Crewe Alexandra in 1997.
He was part of the club’s academy for three years, before signing his first professional contract with the Alex in 2000 and making his debut in the August of that year.
🎅🎁#SAFC Advent Calendar:
— Roker Report (@RokerReport) December 14, 2019
In total, he scored 18 goals in 185 Crewe appearances, before leaving for Spain and Real Sociedad in 2007.
During his career so far, he helped Blackpool to the Premier League in 2010, winning the Championship play-off final, whilst he has also featured for Sunderland in England’s top division.
David Vaughan: Has a better pass success rate (92.8%) than any other player in the Championship this season pic.twitter.com/Kem6P9IPWr
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 6, 2017
The 36-year-old also made 42 appearances for Wales at senior level, whilst he was part of the squad that made it to the EURO 2016 semi-finals.
Where is he now? Vaughan is currently without a club, after his release from Notts County at the end of last season.
Dean Ashton – 62 Premier League appearances
Last but certainly not least, Dean Ashton is the most prolific player for Crewe Alexandra on this list.
The striker netted 61 goals in 158 matches for the Alex after making his debut for the club in 2000.
⏪ | REWIND: Since we're playing in the @EmiratesFACup this weekend 👀
— Crewe Alexandra (@crewealexfc) November 6, 2019
Ashton was another major part of Alexandra’s promotion-winning team from the Second Division in the 2002/03 season, before leaving for Norwich City in 2005 to become their then record signing at £3 million pounds.
The 36-year-old had represented England 17 times across four different age levels before eventually making his one and only appearance at senior level in 2008.
Dean Ashton appreciation tweet. One of our best ever Number 9’s ⚒ pic.twitter.com/FysIQpzJdW
— Stevie Sizzle ⚒ (@TheSullis) January 24, 2019
He joined West Ham from Norwich in 2006, where he scored 15 goals in 46 appearances, whilst he also helped the Hammers to a FA Cup final in 2006.
Where is he now? After being forced to retire at 26 in 2009, like Murphy, Ashton has moved into the media industry where he often works as a pundit or commentator for televised matches.