It has been a while since I last wrote a Memory Match column. I spent 2015-2018 writing these articles for the Wrexham AFC matchday programme when we were proud to be a community club.
Unfortunately, the club’s treatment of disabled supporters is nothing short of a disgrace, while the treatment of the proactive Disabled Supporters Association leaves a lot to be desired. I am therefore withdrawing my support of the club until ALL disabled supporters are given adequate and inclusive facilities from which to enjoy the football served up at the Racecourse.
Instead I will go to watch 90 minutes of action, wherever I feel I am welcomed. It goes without saying that I will always have one ear on the Wrexham result as it is not the actual club that I have fallen out with. It is merely the way the club is being run that I have an issue with. I will continue to attend matches when it is my turn on the platform rota and away matches, but I am not wasting any more time at the bottom of the stand with an abysmal view of the action while exposed to the elements. It is a disgrace that disabled supporters are being treated in such a way at the start of the 21st century.
I still want to continue with these Memory Match articles as they proved popular. I also enjoy writing them and remembering a time when it was enjoyable to visit the Racecourse and watch a decent standard of football.
** This was written before the Coronavirus outbreak. But l see no reason why my opinions should change. It goes without saying that l wish everyone associated with the club the very best of health, but I remain convinced that Wrexham AFC will only prosper by being inclusive for ALL supporters.**
Leyton Orient v Wrexham
Football League Playoffs Final (2nd Leg)
Leyton Orient: Heald, Howard, Dickenson (Ward), Hales, Day, Sitton, Baker, Castle, Harvey, Cooper, Comfort
Goalscorer: Harvey (44), Cooper (81)
Wrexham: Salmon, Salathiel, Wright, Hunter, Beaumont, Jones, Thackeray (Buxton), Flynn (Cooper), Kearns, Russell, Bowden
Goalscorer: Bowden (47)
Wikipedia tells us that the Football League play-offs have been held every year since 1987. They take place for each division following the conclusion of the regular season and are contested by the four clubs finishing below the automatic promotion places. For the first three seasons the final was played over two legs but this was changed to a single match at Wembley Stadium from 1990.
Season 1988/89 began with a 0-2 victory at Exeter City with Graham Cooper and Kevin Russell on the scoresheet. This was very encouraging, especially when followed by a 3-0 victory over Lincoln City at the Racecourse. Cooper (2) and Russell were on the mark again. Maybe this would be our season?
Unfortunately, it was mid-October before we won again in the league, by which time we had dropped to sixteenth place. This was to be our lowest position of the season, as in a remarkable turn of form we found ourselves top of the tree following a 0-1 victory over Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road.
After hitting top spot, we then proceeded to do our best to throw it all away. We started to plummet down the table, and after a 1-0 defeat against Peterborough United we slipped out of the play-off zone. Thankfully, victories in our final three matches of the regular season sealed our spot in the end-of-season lottery.
Wrexham finished the season in seventh place, the final play-off spot, three points ahead of Cambridge United and four behind Orient in sixth.
Fourth placed Scunthorpe United were our opponents at the first hurdle. Ollie Kearns scored twice as we upset the odds with a 3-0 victory at the Racecourse. We also continued to baffle the bookies with a 0-2 win at Glanford Park. Kevin Russell netted a brace that evening. A 5-1 aggregate victory set up a two-legged encounter with Frank Clark’s East London outfit. The winners really would take it all…
Meanwhile, Orient had been up against Scarborough in the other play-off contest. The Sea Dogs had only been a League club since 1987, but had successfully qualified for a shot at promotion after finishing in fifth spot. Their visit to the capital saw Mark Cooper dent their dreams of Division Three, but a Martin Russell goal after 69 minutes, gave them hope of reversing the scoreline at the McCain Stadium. Sadly, it was not to be for Colin Morris’s men.
According to the English National Football Archive, 7,915 were present at the Racecourse to witness a cagey goalless draw, in the first leg of the play-off final. This set up a do or die encounter at Brisbane Road.
Both teams were unchanged from the first leg, and Wrexham were quick out of the blocks. After just four minutes. Russell’s corner was headed back across goal by Geoff Hunter, to set up Kearns who’s overhead kick tested Paul Heald in the Os’ goal.
However, this was as good as it got in the first half, as the home side started to impose themselves on the tie. Alan Comfort – who was due to be whisked off by helicopter immediately after the game for his wedding – set up Kevin Hales at the other end, but his thunderbolt was just wide.
Comfort then beat Neil Salathiel on the left and crossed for Cooper, but Mike Salmon was on hand to make an acrobatic stop.
However, Lee Harvey broke the deadlock a minute before the interval, when he chested a high ball down on the right and fired into the top corner. Dixie McNeil now had to give one of the most important team-talks of his managerial career, to ensure we got back in to the game.
Whatever the Wrexham legend said in the dressing room, it seemed to work. Just two minutes after the restart, Russell’s deep cross was headed back across goal by substitute Steve Buxton and Jon Bowden netted the equaliser with a diving header.
The possibility of extra-time was now on the cards, but with less than 10 minutes to go, Harvey crossed from the right, and Cooper nonchalantly stroked home from his pin-point pass – despite being surrounded by three Wrexham defenders.
There was still time for Wrexham to have a late shot blocked on the line as they chased an equaliser – something McNeil still bemoaned years later – but it was Orient who sealed promotion.
“I have to say of all the games I managed, Leyton Orient was the worst because it was a horrible feeling to get beaten. It was a long journey home, and I mean a long journey home,” said deflated manager McNeil.
A disappointing end to the league campaign was not eased by fond memories of cup success. A 2-2 draw at Runcorn in the first round of the FA Cup, could have been seen as a success as we had avoided a potential banana skin. Surely we would take care of the Conference side at the Racecourse? Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and Runcorn beat us 2-3.
We had also been eliminated from the League Cup at the first round stage, as Bury beat us 2-1 at Gigg Lane and we drew the home leg 2-2.
McNeil’s men fared a little better in the Welsh Cup, with the emphasis on ‘little’. Lex XI were easily dispatched 8-0 at the Racecourse in the third round. Ollie Kearns netted four times in this game, to set up am away clash with Ebbw Vale. This was a tougher test, but two goals from Kevin Russell ensured our passage to the fifth round. Swansea City visited the Cae Ras, and were obviously more focussed than us on the night as they cruised to a 1-4 victory.