CREWE Alex stars are not the only people in the town who play football for their country. PETER MORSE spoke to a pair of Crewe firefighters who regularly swap their protective uniforms for England football kits. THEY are part of an elite team working towards the same result. But when Russell Brown and David Brightwell take a break from saving lives, they try to score goals for England.
The Crewe firefighters have blazed a trail to be selected for England from a force of more than 60,000. Current non-league player Russell, 29, and former top-level professional David, 33, were picked from the recently assembled crop of Cheshire talent and will take on Scotland's Fire Service, the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police this season.
Talented midfielder Brown, from Cannock, helped to reform Cheshire Fire Service's football team after an eight-year break. The team provides the platform for international selection.
He said: 'The international standard is really good and there are some quality players. It is actually higher than the standard I play on a Saturday, which is equivalent to Nantwich Town.
'It is fantastic to put on a shirt with the Three Lions on it. It is amazing at any level and to think we have been picked for a squad of 18 from around 60,000 firefighters across the country is great. They really look after you and we get the same kits as David Beckham or Wayne Rooney would get.'
Brown, who is part of Green Watch, was at West Bromwich Albion as a youngster and has played for a host of non-league sides, including his current outfit Chase Town, who play in the Midland Alliance.
He represented England at university level and was actually selected to play for the England Fire Service team last year, but injury and strike action prevented him playing. England had their first match the season against Scotland abandoned but have a host of fixtures to be arranged in the coming months.
Brightwell, who lives at Congleton, played for a host of professional clubs, including Manchester City, Bradford City, Northampton Town, Hull City and Darlington.
He is part of a famous sporting family. His parents are medal-winning Olympic athletes Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer, while his brother Ian, 36, had a successful football career and is now player-coach at Macclesfield Town.
Brightwell took his new role in Red watch at Crewe Fire Station, Macon Way, in April. Hel said: 'To be honest, I had lost a bit of interest in football but had always kept myself fit.
'Russ is very keen and saw there is enough good players in Cheshire to make a good county side. I enjoyed that and when he recommended me for England, I was delighted.
'I was very surprised at the standard. The Cheshire team is better than Sunday League, good but perhaps nothing too special.
'But I honestly think the England team would give a League Two side a good game. There is an abundance of ability. It is a good feeling to represent your country and a real honour at any level.
'Nobody can take it away from me now and I am very proud. I always knew I was never quite good enough to play for England at a professional level, so I am delighted.'
Brightwell, a full-back or centre-half, made 43 appearances for the Maine Road outfit. His most successful season for them was the 1993-94 campaign.
He lists Eric Cantona, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole and Andrei Kanchelskis as the best players he has ever played against. Chris Waddle and Georgi Kinkladze are his favourite past team-mates.
He added: 'I was fortunate enough to have played at the top level in England for a while and played against some amazing players. I think Kanchelskis in his Manchester United days gave me the worst runaround, while Kinkladze was the most gifted player I have seen.'