Result: Wrexham 2-1 Torquay United (FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st Leg)
Venue: The Racecourse Stadium (Saturday 21st February 2015, 3.00pm)
A windy, chilly day in the North West of the country. Just perfect for some football then! For today, a long term target of mine was to be ticked off in the shape of Wrexham FC’s Racecourse Ground. I had long wanted to visit the stadium, partly due to the historic status it holds and also due to them being a part of my Saturday’s in front of Soccer Saturday growing up.
As it was, the transport links all looked easy enough. With Wrexham’s ground being located almost right next to the Wrexham General Station, the trip down was all set up for the day when I looked for a final check on Friday nightand saw, to my delight, that there was a replacement bus service on the Chester-Wrexham leg. Oh, joy.
Anyway, the morning of Saturday 21st arrived and I set off for an earlier train as to ensure my timely arrival in Wales. This was almost blown to bits by me having to traipse back to the station from my house twice, due to me forgetting my railcard and thus ending in me sprinting over the bridge connecting the two platforms at Urmston and making the train in the nick of time. I did get a nod of acknowledgment from a guy on the platform I’d just come from who also gave e a thumbs up in recognition of my athleticism(!).
So, after paying my fare on the train towards Warrington, I soon arrived at the town’s Central station where I had to then undertake the short 15 minute or so stroll over to Bank Quay for my connection train to Chester, via Arriva Trains Wales. After a 25 minute wait, I was soon on board, although my chivalry came back to haunt me, as I let on all females before me leaving me with a vast shortage of seats meaning I had to share a table with a couple also bound for Chester, but they were more than happy for me to share their seats.
In fact, the same couple were heading for Wrexham General, I discovered on arrival at Chester, where I had to walk out to the front of the station for my bus. The “bus” was actually a well decked out coach, so not too bad and certainly better than the images that were in my mind of the banes of public transport that may turn up to ship us on a 25 minute ride over the border into Celtic country. We soon set off on a whistle stop sightseeing tour of the historic Chester,including the old Cathedral, Amphitheatre and City Walls. Added bonus and a reminder to me that I really ought to revisit the City and its football club at some point in the near future. After all, I haven’t been again since its Chester FC’s first ever home game, a 6-0 victory over Trafford, in the midst of which the Cestrians signed both Perry Groves and Pet Nevin. Not surprisingly, neither made an appearance for the club. Perhaps I should really stop there with my mentioning of the Dragon’s main rivals, or I may never be allowed back at the Racecourse again!
The coach rolled into a blustery Wrexham at just after half past one. After disembarking off the coach and bidding goodbye to the very courteous driver, I soon set off for the Turf Hotel, which neighbours the Racecourse and pretty much serves as it’s clubhouse, decked out in shirts and other memorabilia from the club’s past. It should indeed be held in high regard, as it was in this very building that the club was formed, way back in 1864 by the bored in Winter members of Wrexham Cricket Club. The pub was rammed on arrival, but I was able to get a Desperados and rest up by watching what remained of the Middlesbrough-Leeds game on Sky Sports.
The Turf was a mix of both home and away supporters though I think the United fans inside only numbered within single figures, but the atmosphere was certainly a very jovial and welcoming one, as was the service and people in general. The hour there quickly passed, including trying to decipher the number of autographed messages on the wall near the pool table before I decided it was time to make the move for the turnstiles at Cae Ras.
Within two minutes I was through the turnstiles after paying the £15 entrance fee and picking up a voucher on my way through, being warned that this was “Just in case the game is abandoned.” Not quite what you want to hear as you go in! Now, somewhat pessimistically, I headed inside and found myself in the large and well serviced concourse. I couldn’t find the programme seller and began to worry somewhat, before realising I had completely missed a large kiosk with a huge sign bearing the word “Merchandise” upon it. Something told me I may just find some luck there. My brains, eh?
I did indeed find the fiery-covered programme being sold on here, where I was met by another jolly man who requested £3 for the bible. I happily handed over the cash and was handed my treasure in return. I have to say, at this point, Wrexham was having a great impression upon me. This continued as I entered the stadium itself, and took a seat on just about half-way. The main stand is a new build, stylish stand. Opposite this is a slightly older stand with multi-coloured seats dotted around here and there. The scoreboard end is to the left, which is where, it appears, the more vocal of the fans congregate. To the right is the vacant, closed off terrace, looking despondent. The ground itself has a capacity of 10,771 in its current three-sided guise. Now for an in depth look at the history of the, debated, oldest club in Wales, Clwb Pel-droed Wrecsam.
Formed in 1864, Wrexham played their first game in October of that year against the Prince of Wales Fire Brigade, using 17 players a side. As the rules were fluid, these early contests featured between 15 and 17 players, though the club were a leading voice in restricting the number to 11-a-side.
In 1878, the club won the inaugural Welsh Cup, beating Druids 1-0, though with a lack of funds meaning there was no trophy until the next year! They won it again in 1883. The club changed their name to Wrexham Olympic in 1883, following crowd trouble in an FA Cup tie against Oswestry. This only lasted three years, though, with the club reverting to Wrexham FC once again. In 1882, the club again changed its name to Wrexham Athletic, due to them playing a couple of season at the Rhosddu Recreation Ground due to rent disputes at the Racecourse, with fees raised to the princely sum of £10. However, they did move back to the Cae Ras in 1883, and have remained there ever since.
In 1890, Wrexham joined the Combination, playing Gorton Villa in their first game, a 5-1 loss. They remained in the Combination for four years, before joining the Welsh League in 1894, due to the upturn in costs. They won the League title on both seasons they competed for it, before returning to the Combination. Here they remained until 1905, winning four titles. They were then elected to the Birmingham & District League. Their first game in this league was against Kidderminster Harriers, a 2-1 triumph. During their time here, the club won six Welsh Cups (between 1909 and 1921).
In 1921, Wrexham were elected to the newly formed Football League Third Division North. Wrexham lost their first game 2-0 to Hartlepool United, playing in blue. They immediately gained revenge in the return fixture, winning 1-0 the following week! In 1933, the club finished runners-up to Hull City. During WWII, and now competing in Red, the club competed in the Regional League West. Due to having a barracks in the town, the club secured the services of players the stature of Sir Stanley Matthews. In 1956, Wrexham entertained Manchester United’s famed Busby Babes, losing 5-0 in the FA Cup Fourth Round and later that season (1956-’57), the club won it’s first Welsh Cup in over a quarter of a century.
1960 saw the club relegated for the first time, dropping to the newly formed Fourth Division. However, they did bounce back the next year, including a 10-1 win over Hartlepool, which remains, unsurprisingly, a record for the club. But, two years later, the Dragons were back in the Fourth Division and in 1966 they finished bottom of the whole Football League. In 1972, the club played their first European match (against FC Zurich) and eventually won the tie in Switzerland over two legs. They then played Hajduk Split, then of Yugoslavia, being defeated only on away goals. The present crest was introduced in 1974 and pre-empted the team raching the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup. In ’76, Wrexham remarkably reached the Quarters of the European Cup-Winners Cup losing to eventual winners, Anderlecht.
The club won the Fourth Division in 1978 via a 7-1 trouncing of Rotherham United, but soon returned, in 1983. In 1984, the club took the scalp of FC Porto over two legs (a programme is in the Turf), but lost out in the following round to AS Roma. The season ended with another Welsh Cup triumph. 1989 saw a Playoff Final defeat and avoided relegation in 1991 to the Conference thanks to another club taking the drop voluntarily. Again they were knocked out of Euro competition by another eventual winner, Manchester United, on this occasion. The following year featured the memorable Cup win over Arsenal (the Mickey Thomas Free-Kick being the highlight) and 1993 ended in promotion.
The first Wrexham silverware of the new Millennium was the FAW Premier Cup of 2001, but afterwards the club were plunged into financial disarray by the owners. After a 10-point deduction, the club were relegated to League 2. 2005 saw the Dragons win the Football League Trophy with a 2-0 win over Southend United at Millennium Stadium, In 2007, a final day relegation duel between Wrexham and Boston United went the way of the Welsh side, keeping them in the League, and relegating their opponents but the 2008 season ended with the club dropping out of the Football League. Conference Football awaited. Despite a few play-off appearance, the club have failed to return to the League, to date, though they did reach Wembley for the first time in their history in 2013 via the FA Trophy Final, beating Grimsby Town on penalties but they lost out only weeks later in the National Stadium to fellow Welsh club, Newport County. Last season, the club finished in 17th place in the Conference, the club’s lowest ever League finish.
The breeze was still stiff as the sides entered the field, with the mascot for today being a young girl who had been through all sorts of medical issues and illness. A real touching story and at the end of the announcement, a round of applause broke out around the stadium, including the visiting Torquay fans, I may add, the 160-ish of which who must be congratulated for making the long journey up.
The game got underway and was immediately a free-flowing, entertaining game. The Gulls had the first chance with Ryan Bowman’s effort clawed away by Andy Coughlin in the home net. Chances came and went at both ends before, on 25 minutes, Joe Clark received the ball around 25 yards from goal and unleashed a pinpoint thunderbolt into the top corner that was unstoppable. He celebrated in style, knowing just how special the strike was. The atmosphere was helped, personally, by the very vocal young girl sat just next to me with her Dad who shouted many Wrexham chants and more. Great to see, start them young!
Centre back Manny Smith’s looping header struck the bar as Wrexham looked to put daylight between the two as they gained control of the contest but 1-0 it remained at the break and I headed to the concourse for Soccer Saturday and some Chips and Gravy. It was ok, not the greatest I’ve set eyes on though, but a solid 7 out of 10. No, not Jeff Stelling, the food. Tut, tut.
I returned to my seat just prior to the sides retaking the field. It was Clarke who spurned the best chances to double his side’s advantage as he was denied by both Torquay custodian Martin Rice and defender Luke Young on the goal line.
After a chance went begging for United, they gained control and began to look most likely to grab an equaliser. Indeed, their fans seemed to sense this too as they raised their noise by a few notches but, against the run of play, they conceded a second. Great play by Mark Carrington led to Connor Jennings squaring the ball along the six-yard box where Louis Moult touched home at the back post before celebrating in a “cool”, restrained manner. 2-0.
Now it was a crossroads for Torquay. Don’t score and have a mountain to climb. Get one back and possibly become favourites for the tie. They decided on the latter. But, it was one of the most horrendously scruffy goals you are ever likely to see. The Gulls broke free just a few minutes after they’d fallen two behind and Bowman met it with his midriff/knee and bundled it past Coughlin. In fact, it took the travelling support a good five seconds to realise it actually was a goal!
Despite late pressure, Wrexham hung on to take a slender advantage into the second leg at Plainmoor. I headed straight off for the bus back to Chester, and soon arrived back at the English border city after passing by Chester Racecourse, which looked rather resplendent in the setting sun, before boarding a train back to Warrington Bank Quay. On arrival back at Central Station, I was faced with a rarity. A late train working to my advantage, meaning that I got home a good half an hour earlier than I was scheduled for. This just doesn’t happen to Manchopper at any time, on any journey. Unbelievable! And back in time for Take Me Out too. The day just couldn’t have ended in much better fashion, other than the Kidderminster trip, of course!!
My Wrexham M.o.M.- Neil Ashton
My Torquay United M.o.M.- Luke Young.
Game: 8- Good, entertaining free-flowing contest.
Ground: 8- Really quite an aesthetically pleasing ground, mixing old and new well.
Programme: 8- A good, solid read. Well worth the purchase.
Food: 7- Not bad at all. Prefer the thicker chips, but not expected.
Fans: 8- A good, mostly supportive bunch, especially the young girl sat next to me. Very vocal future Ultra!
Value For Money: 7- £12-ish travel, £15 in and £2.40 food. £3 programme. Not bad really.