Dario Gradi's record breaking reign as manager of Crewe
Alexandra Football Club is perhaps best recognisable for
the amount of talented young players to have emerged through
the clubs youth system to play at a higher level. Rob Jones
is arguably where it all started, the first of the Gradi
era to leave the Alex's youth set up for big money, and the
first Alex youth player to represent England.
Born in Wrexham in 1971, Rob signed professionally with
Crewe Alexandra in 1988 as a 17-year-old having graduated
through the School of Excellence and YTS schemes at Gresty
Road. He made his Alex debut on 09 April of that year in
a 3-1 home victory over Darlington, starting what was to
become an impressive career with the Railwaymen.
The following season Jones, having established himself in
the right back position, helped Dario Gradi's side to third
place in the old Fourth Division and promotion for the first
time in many years. He stepped up to play in the Third Division
with ease the following season, helping the Railwaymen finish
comfortably in mid-table, and began to attract the scouts
to Gresty Road.
With his performances for the Alex, and with England at
various youth levels, having selected them ahead of Wales
whom he had played schoolboy football for as a youngster,
continuing to remain of a high standard, Jones was only at
the club for the opening two months of the 1990/91 season
when Graeme Souness splashed out £300,000 to take him
Jones had played twice against the Merseyside giants just
one year previously, when the Alex were mauled 9-2 on aggregate
in the League Cup, but now he was part of Souness' Anfield
revolution and for many was the outstanding signing of the
The move was a dream come true for the young Jones, whose
grandfather Bill was a former Anfield hero having made 278
appearances for the Reds between 1946-54, and within days
of arriving he was thrown into the side to make his high
profile debut. After signing on 04 October 1991, his first
game in the top flight arrived just two days later in a televised
game against Manchester United, at Old Trafford marking Red
Devils wonder-kid Ryan Giggs!
At the end of the 90 minutes, having marked Giggs out of
the game in a 0-0 draw, it was clear that Souness had signed
a gem of a player who had been originally uncovered by Gradi.
He adapted to top flight football with apparent ease and
within four months of swapping Gresty Road for Anfield he
was wearing the Three Lions of England after being called
up to the squad by Graham Taylor to face France at Wembley.
Jones made his England debut in February 1992, alongside
Alan Shearer, whilst another ex-Alex legend Geoff Thomas
played his last game for his country that day as Taylor's
side ran out 2-0 winners.
Jones returned to Gresty Road in January 1992 and received
a superb reception from the Alex faithful as his new club
won 4-0 in an FA Cup Third Round tie, and he ended his first
season at Anfield by lifting the trophy itself as part of
the Reds starting line up which defeated Sunderland 2-0 in
the final at Wembley.
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