I now only have two chapters left to write of the Wrexham AFC Memory Match book I have been writing since 2015. I will then have written about a game from each season that Wrexham AFC competed in the Football League, from 1921 to their relegation to the non-league doldrums in 2008. I will then be seeking to publish this book, with all proceeds going to the Wrexham AFC DSA (Disabled Supporters Association).
My relationship with the football club remains a confused one. I am proud of the fact that I stood my ground, and did not attend a match at the Racecourse during the final years that the club were being controlled by the Wrexham Supporters Trust. The following blog I penned in 2019, documents my opinions of the old regime and indicates why I had become so disillusioned.
Now of course, we have new owners from Hollywood, who are pumping their filthy lucre into the club and transforming it in to something that it’s not. It goes against all I believe in, to support a side fuelled by money, but on the flip-side I am an intensely loyal individual, and I love Wrexham AFC as an entity. I will be a supporter of the club for as long as I live, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the way in which the club is being gentrified at the moment.
It will be interesting to see if the club actually support the book I have been slaving over for five and a half years. Will I get the recognition I deserve, or does history count for nothing now that the clock has been reset?
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, enjoy the following Memory Match from August 1978.
Fulham v Wrexham
League Division Two
Fulham: Peyton, Evans, Strong, Lock, Banton, Gale, Bullivant, Davies, Mahoney, Money, Evanson (Boyd)
Wrexham: Davies, Evans (Lyons), Dwyer, Davis, Roberts, Thomas, Shinton, Sutton, McNeil, Whittle, Cartwright
Our opening game in the second tier was against Brighton and Hove Albion, at the Racecourse. Sadly, the match did not promise much for the season ahead, due to the negative tactics of the away team. The Seagulls simply parked the bus, and indulged in some blatant time-wasting tactics on what was an extremely frustrating anti-climax of an afternoon. At least we recorded our first point of the season, after a goalless draw.
Speaking after the game, Arfon Griffiths said: “Brighton won’t play like that against most teams. Against that sort of play, you’ve got to put away your chances. We had a couple, but wasted them.
“I thought our defence was magnificent, against a forward line that cost a lot of money and who also did well in midfield. If we’ve struggled a bit up front, you’ve got to remember that Dixie McNeil playing his first full 90 minutes for more than five months, was not fully match-fit, and Bobby Shinton had a couple of stitches in a gashed calf at half-time.”
Our next test came at Craven Cottage, against a Fulham side managed by Bobby Campbell. His starting eleven included a certain Gordon Davies, who would later finish his senior career at the Racecourse.
Any review of this match has to focus on the concerning head-injury suffered by Mickey Evans (below), mid-way through the opening period. Evans was knocked unconscious, as he challenged for an aerial ball with Fulham winger John Evanson. There was a sickening crack of heads between both players, and Evans was out-cold, while Evanson was left in a daze and suffered double-vision. A doctor was called for from the crowd, over the tannoy, as concern spread. Town physio George Showell, worked with ambulance men, but failed to revive Evans.
When the doctor finally gave the go-ahead for Evans to be carried from the pitch, via stretcher, the waiting medics were on hand to rush the right-back to hospital. Arfon Griffiths acted quickly to reorder his troops, and sent Graham Whittle to right back, brought on John Lyons and gave Bobby Shinton a much deeper role in the middle of the park. The Wrexham manager then left the Cottage, to concentrate on the wellbeing of the stricken Evans.
Fulham were in control before the reshuffle, but did not look like they had much to trouble a solid Wrexham defence, with John Roberts and skipper Gareth Davies, both in outstanding form. Whittle proved to be more than competent at the back, and little Mickey Thomas performed wonders in midfield. The score remained level at the break, despite Welshman Gordon Davies wasting an opportunity to put Fulham ahead. The former Merthyr man miss-kicked from ten yards, with only the goalkeeper to beat.
During the second half, Wrexham made it clear that they meant business, with their ploy of containment and quick counter-attacks. This eventually gained them the goal that they were looking for, on 79 minutes. McNeil, Shinton and Les Cartwright were all involved in the move that culminated in a diving header by Lyons – the man who had replaced the injure Evans earlier.
Frustrated Fulham piled on the pressure in a bid to salvage something, but the visitors kept their heads and recorded their first victory at this level.
Following this historic victory, the Town went on a six-game unbeaten run and hopes were high for another successful season. However, Arfon Griffiths’s men were adversely affected by a long list of injuries, and some particularly harsh weather conditions that led to countless postponements.
We did manage to bring in some new faces – Joey Jones, Steve Fox and David Giles – but we also had to say goodbye to Mickey Thomas, who was transferred to Manchester United for a record £300,000. Such a fee was much needed at the time, as there were real concerns about our attendances. We were an ambitious club, but our modest attendances were not big enough to allow us to compete with the ‘Big Boys’.
Arfon Griffiths summed up the season with the following quote: “In the end it became a battle for Second Division survival, and it was quite an achievement that we won it. The spate of injuries has been exceptional – an absolute nightmare! The winter break meant we never saw any grass for eight weeks. We had thirteen games called off and 23 postponements, not including Stockport, which was called off ten times! That long break badly affected our training and reduced our fitness level. We also had six players have surgery.”
Our reputation as cup giantkillers took a dip during the 1978/79 season. Bury were swept aside 4-1 in the two-legged League Cup first round to set up a second-round clash with First Division Norwich City at the Racecourse. John Roberts deflected Kevin Reeves shot into his own goal after six minutes and John Ryan increased the Canaries lead in the 13th minute. Dixie McNeill pulled one back from the spot on the 28th minute mark, but former Reds goalkeeper Kevin Keelan saved a second penalty from McNeill in the 73rd minute. Had that set-piece been converted, we would have drawn level, but instead John Ryan scored his second to send John Bond’s men through to the third round.
As a second-tier club, we did not enter the FA Cup until the third-round stage. Stockport County finally visited the Racecourse at the start of February, for a tie that was actually postponed on ten occasions due to arctic weather hitting the UK. The Hatters were sent packing with a crushing 6-2 victory, on a snow-covered pitch. Our reward was a trip to White Hart Lane, to take on Tottenham Hotspur and rekindle memories of our triumph there in 1976. Bobby Shinton actually put Wrexham ahead after nine minutes, only for John Roberts to put through his own net after 25 minutes and Glen Hoddle put Keith Burkinshaw’s men on top five minutes before the interval. Parity was restored before half-time, when John Lyons netted for the Reds. It was to be the first of a brace for Lyons, who set up another shock when he scored from the spot eleven minutes after the restart. Unfortunately, substitute Chris Jones grabbed a late equaliser for the North London giants after 82 minutes, to set up a replay at the Racecourse.
When Chris Jones hit a low shot past Dai Davies in the replay, it seemed that this might have been the only goal of the game. Gareth Davies was our saviour, and sent the game in to extra-time. When Dixie McNeil lobbed Mark Kendall in the visitors’ goal, it seemed that there would only be one winner. This goal had extra significance, as it meant that our star striker had beaten Stan Mortenson’s 20 year-old record of scoring in seven consecutive rounds of the competition. However, this goal shook Spurs in to action and Chris Jones secured his first ever hat-trick to deny us another scalp.
After joining the competition at the fourth-round stage, Wrexham had too much for Porthmadog at the Racecourse (4-1), and were drawn against Swansea City in the fifth round. A tight contest ended with a 3-2 victory for the Reds, and saw us in the rather unusual situation of being the only Welsh club left in the competition. The other three semi-finalists were Worcester City, Shrewsbury Town and Chester, who we were drawn against at Sealand Road. A 0-1 victory saw us through to the two-legged final, where the Shrews were our opponents. We faced a stiff task before a ball had even been kicked, as we were without the services of Dai Davies and Joey Jones, who were on international duty, while Gareth Davies, Mickey Evans, Les Cartwright , Alan Hill, Steve Kenworthy and Peter Williams all missed out through injury. A 1-1 draw at the Racecourse, was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Gay Meadow, though our disappointment was eased as we still qualified for another European campaign.