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Jamie Baker | University of Sunderland

Sports Journalism BA (Hons)

When Baker Met Gradi: My Day At Reasheath

Dario-Gradi-001

As I have alluded to on numerous occasions in this blog, my dissertation project was a Crewe Alexandra supporters website entitled ‘The Gradian.’ Back in May I had the honour and privilege of catching up with the man after which it was named, a genius and the saviour of our football club, Dario Gradi MBE.

I had been attempting to make contact with Gradi since way back in December 2012 after my tutor, Professor John Price, impressed on me the importance of conducting an interview with the man who inspired the name of my website. I wrote numerous letters but received no reply and a week before my deadline I thought my chances of grilling the great man were well and truly dead in the water. However, I received a call from Gradi’s secretary completely out of the blue one day and organised a time and date for my own exclusive interview with the Railwaymen’s techincal director.Dario Gradi MBE

Having been summoned to Reasheath the day before my dissertation deadline I was incredibly stressed because not only did I have to write up the one interview with Dario, I was also meeting Academy Director James Collins in the afternoon for another interview I had scheduled, both were huge for me and just in the nick of time.

I pulled into the training ground at 12:45pm ahead of my 1 o’clock slot with Collins and made my way into the main building. I’d played in numerous cup-finals and trained at the facility a few times over the years, so the Premier League standard surroundings came as no surprise to me. That said, the place still impresses me because when you take a step back and remember the size of Crewe Alexandra football club in comparison to bigger clubs with greater resources, the fact that we still manage to maintain something of Reasheath’s scope is mind-blowing.

James Collins

James Collins

My interview with Collins was fascinating, the man had started coaching at the Alex before he’d even made his first team debut, such was the faith that Dario had in his ability as a coach. You could tell he genuinely had the utmost respect for Gradi and a real love of the football club as well as a belief in the philosophy that had been ingrained in him from such a young age.

Once I’d finished questioning the academy director, he took me to Gradi’s office for the interview I’d always dreamed of conducting. Ever since I realised I wanted to be a journalist, the person I’ve sought after talking to the most was the Railwaymen’s legendary technical director. Dario welcomed me into his office and asked me to make myself comfortable whilst he finished signing a few letters that were to be sent out to the academy kids. After he’d finished, he asked me about my course and what I was planning to do in the future and took a genuine interest in me, which I thought spoke volumes about the man.

The interview itself was notoriously difficult to control because I had an outline that I wanted to stick to and Gradi had a habit of going off on a tangent! One minute I’d be asking him a question about Dean Ashton, then he’d start talking about something Ron Noades had told him in the 80’s! It was certainly challenging but I loved every minute of it. There is the assumption with some Alex fans that Gradi has gone senile and lost the plot a little bit but I can assure you that whilst his grasp of names may not be what it was, he is still incredibly switched on and articulate. I’d heard a lot about how intelligent the man was and it is certainly true that he is a very, very clever guy and he was in fine fettle for my visit.

Dario GradiAs the interview went on, I got better at keeping Dario on subject despite him trying to show me the hydro-pool part way through! I politely told him that I’d been and seen it before (which was true) and we proceeded with the questions. At the end of the interview, Gradi asked me if I’d seen everyone that I wanted to talk to and I had just spotted assistant manager, Neil Baker roaming the corridors. Dario went off to find Neil and then returned saying that Neil and the manager Steve Davis were in their office discussing transfer targets and I could go in and talk to them now!_47073207_neil_baker_203bbc

This was a huge stroke of good fortune, I walked through the weights-room and into the office where Baker and Davis were sat opposite each-other. Neil got up to shake my hand and then went off to make us all a brew whilst I chatted to Steve, who I already knew as we were at Nantwich Town together before I left for University and he left the Weaver Stadium for the bright lights of Gresty Road! As a rookie sports journalist, I’d only ever interviewed two people simultaneously once before and found it difficult to begin with but soon eased into it. Being a Crewe fan and knowing that they were discussing transfer targets ahead of the new season, I was like a kid in a sweet-shop and as I hadn’t had chance to plan a line of questioning for this interview, I just had to go with my instinct. Many people on Twitter were saying that Steve was in Wolverhampton being interviewed for the Wolves job but there I was sat next to him in his office!SD

After an hour with the dynamic duo who had guided us to Wembley twice in a year, I departed to write up my interviews and turn them into stories with just 24 hours left until my deadline. I also had to drive back up to Sunderland to hand my dissertation in as a paper copy too! The race was on and time was against me but I managed to get it all done after working through the night.

I ended up getting a first for my dissertation project ‘The Gradian’ which contributed massively to my overall 2:1 in Sports Journalism. No matter what I go on to do in the future, I’ll never forget my day at Reasheath and in particular my interview with the great Dario Gradi MBE, the word legend is overused in sport these days but there is no other word to describe Gradi, except maybe as a ‘visionary’ or ‘God!’

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Student Profile:

  • Name: Jamie Baker
  • Age: 21
  • Studying: Sports Journalism BA (Hons)
  • Hometown: Crewe
  • Ambitions: To become a major sports journalist, travelling the world and reporting on all the major events.

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