I have finally completed a Memory Match for every season that Wrexham AFC played in the Football League between 1921 and 2008. I first started writing these columns in 2015 for the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. After submitting these contributions to the programme for two seasons I became disillusioned with the direction that the club was being taken in by the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST).
After enjoying researching and writing these historic recollections, I hit upon the idea of continuing to write this column for my blog, with the aim of producing a book after writing about all 83 seasons that we spent amongst the elite. I have always wanted all the proceeds of this book to benefit the Wrexham AFC Disabled Supporters Association (DSA).
I am a former committee member of the DSA and I can say without question that this group of volunteers have done so much positive work to give some of the most disadvantaged football fans an inclusive matchday experience to remember. The way the DSA has been treated by both the WST and new regime, is nothing short of a disgrace.
I do not think that it is wrong of me to think that football should be a sport enjoyed by everyone on a level playing field. Only if that happens will I be seen back at the Racecourse and there is a lot to do if that is ever to be achieved. It is absolutely heart-breaking to spend the day watching television when I could be around the corner from my bungalow watching the club I once loved. If it wasn’t for these damned principles I would still be attending matches, but without these codes to guide me I would be a poorer person.
Anyway, I will write more about my personal relationship with Wrexham AFC in the introduction to the book I am about to publish. For now, we can get on with the final featured game of this series – the 1974 FA Cup quarter-final tie against Burnley at Turf Moor. Then the hard work will truly begin as I have to proof-read the different articles, try to find a former player to write a foreword, find a publisher or self-publish before trying to flog a few copies.
It is important that we all know the history of this great football club. I suppose this is my gift to the younger generation of fans who have recently started calling the Cae Ras home. Whether they will be bothered reading about the past is another question, but only with a true understanding of what has gone on before will they be able to create a better tomorrow for Wrexham AFC.
Burnley v Wrexham
FA Cup Round 6
Burnley: Stevenson, Ingham, Newton, Dobson, Waldron, Thomson, Nulty, Casper, Fletcher, Collins, James.
Goalscorer: Casper (58)
Wrexham: Lloyd, Jones, Fogg, Evans, May, Whittle, Tinnion (Thomas), Sutton, Davies, Smallman, Griffiths
The FA Cup campaign of 1973/74 was something special. The furthest that the club had ever progressed in the FA Cup was the fourth-round stage on four separate occasions – 1928, 1930, 1957 and 1970.
The first-round draw resulted in a home tie against struggling neighbours Shrewsbury Town. A 1-1 draw meant that we would have to replay at Gay Meadow, where we proved victorious with the only goal of the game scored by Geoff Davies. Another Racecourse encounter was served at the second-round stage and Rotherham United of Division Four were dispatched 3-0.
Second Division Crystal Palace were our opponents in the third round. They were struggling at the wrong end of the table and would eventually finish the season with relegation to the third tier under Malcolm Allison. Selhurst Park was the venue for our exciting performance, which saw Mel Sutton and Dave Smallman score in a convincing 0-2 victory.
We had never gone beyond the fourth-round stage before, so imagine the buzz around our dirty old town as Jack Charlton’s Middlesbrough, who would end the season as Second Division champions, visited the Cae Ras. Smallman grabbed the only goal of the game after 39 minutes to send us into the uncharted territory of the FA Cup fifth round.
Surely the romance of the FA Cup would come to an end against First Division Southampton at the Dell. We had only ever previously beaten a team from the top-flight on a single occasion. In the first year of the League Cup (1960/61), Wrexham beat Blackburn Rovers 3-1 in a fourth-round replay, but this would be a tougher test away from home. The Saints had only lost one home game all season – to Don Revie’s Leeds United – but this didn’t stop the Red Army invading Southampton, via over 60 coaches and two chartered planes to Eastleigh Airport.
Remarkably, we won the game 0-1 with the only goal of the game coming after 55 minutes from our 20-year-old starlet Smallman (pictured below). Our decisive goals against Palace and Middlesbrough in the previous rounds resulted from Tinnion corners, and he delivered another inviting dead-ball on to the head of a forward that John Neal described as a ‘genius’.
The next 35 minutes saw the Reds – we were actually wearing our ‘lucky’ white away-shirt that had served us well in the FA Cup that season – under intense pressure on a quagmire of a pitch. What followed was a series of narrow escapes, some exceptional defending and miraculous goalkeeping from Brian Lloyd to set up an unlikely quarter final trip to Turf Moor.
Burnley would provide Wrexham with a tough test as they would finish sixth in the top-flight at the end of the 1973/74 campaign. Jimmy Adamson’s usually polished side appeared nervous and disjointed that afternoon. The home-side had much of the game and were dominant in midfield with the trio of Graham Whittle, Mel Sutton and Arfon Griffiths failing to produce the cohesion they had displayed in previous rounds.
With only ten minutes remaining of a lacklustre first half, the Robins conjured up the move of the match when Sutton sent Smallman racing down Burnley’s vulnerable right-flank. Meanwhile, Griffiths made a surging run down the middle and was perfectly placed to receive Smallman’s cross with only Alan Stevenson to beat. The Prince of Wales fired in a shot from 12 yards that agonisingly hit the goalkeepers outstretched right boot and the ball was scrambled away. So close, yet so far.
Disaster struck after 58 minutes. Welsh international Leighton James squared the ball to Frank Casper who shot at goal from fifteen yards. It seemed that Lloyd had the situation under control, but the ball deflected off Dave Fogg, looped over the despairing Lloyd and dipped under the bar.
The lads would obviously need the vocal support of our 15,000-strong travelling army, but according to Ron Chaloner in the Leader the fans were unusually quiet on this massive occasion. It is recognised that Wrexham fans out sang 20,000 Southampton fans at the Dell in the previous round, but on this occasion “when Wrexham were a goal down and needing fresh inspiration, their fans failed them dismally. This was when they were most needed to roar themselves hoarse.”
The fact that this was not an entertaining game, dominated by defences, could explain the poor atmosphere. Mickey Thomas replaced the injured Tinnion who limped off with a strained hamstring. This forced substitution could have changed our fortunes for the better, but even the energy and enthusiasm of this talented youngster failed to make an impact on the match. We did have a few half-chances, but in honesty there was nothing much to write home about in a disappointing end to an otherwise magical story.
Speaking after the game, a deflated Neal said “They had the luck and we didn’t. They say that goals like that win cups. I don’t know about that, but I know it was a terrible way to go out of the Cup.
“It was a pity the game had to be won like that, but all credit to Burnley. Credit to their goalkeeper too, with moving into the right position when Arfon’s shot nearly brought us the lead in the first half.
“They got their goal on one of the few times that either defence was broken down. The big problem now, is to lift the lads. I would not have minded being beaten if they had been played off the park, but they were not. They gave me the lot, and in the last quarter on an hour they played Burnley off the park.
“We have mixed with the best, and we have enjoyed every minute of it. The players have been a credit to the Third Division, and they have been a credit to me.
“Obviously, our target is the Second Division. I have to lift the lads and get on with the job.”
Burnley went on to face Newcastle United in the Semi-Final at Hillsborough. They were defeated 2-0, thanks to a brace from Malcolm Macdonald. The FA Cup Final that season was contested between Liverpool and Newcastle United. Liverpool won the game 3-0.
Bizarrely, the FA Cup did use to feature third-fourth place matches. They were introduced in 1970 replacing the traditional pre-final match between England and Young England. They were generally unpopular and were only played for five seasons. The 1972 and 1973 matches were played at the start of the following season and the 1974 match took place five days after the final. The 1972 match was the first FA Cup match to be decided on penalties.
Burnley played Leicester City at Filbert Street and actually secured a meaningless third-place with a 1-0 victory.
After such a disappointing Cup exit, we resumed Third Division football and actually built on our Cup exploits in a bid to salvage something from the season. We only lost three from the remaining 14 league games and finished the campaign in an agonising fourth position – only five points behind York City and Bristol Rovers. The Champions were Oldham Athletic, who were only six points better off than the luckless Reds.
The 1973/74 season will always be remembered for our FA Cup journey, but we were also involved in other domestic cup competitions. The first round of the League Cup (pictured above), threw up a mouth-watering clash with our rivals from across the border. We made the short trip to Sealand Road to beat Division Four club Chester 0-2 thanks to a double from Billy Ashcroft.
The second round saw our League Cup progress grind to a halt after drawing First Division Norwich City at Carrow Road. They ran out 6-2 winners in a game to forget.
Blaenau Ffestiniog were our first opponents in the 1973/74 Welsh Cup campaign, at the Racecourse. The game was actually called-off after only 27 minutes due to foggy conditions. The re-arranged contest ended in a convincing 6-3 victory for the professional outfit.
Chester could not gain revenge over the Reds when we beat them 1-0 at the fifth-round stage to set up a semi-final against Stourbridge. The shoe was on the other foot for once, as little Stourbridge revelled in their underdog status and surprised the giants from north Wales with a 1-2 victory to end our European dreams. John Neal actually missed again as he attended the other semi-final between Shrewsbury Town and Cardiff City. Imagine his surprise when he realised that his spying mission was pointless as his jaded team had been beaten by a bunch of English amateurs…
Following the Burnley game a letter appeared in the Leader in support of the comments made by Ron Chaloner about our supporters. It really is a surprise to me to think that our fans would be anything other than vociferous. Graham Wright of Rhostyllen said:
“As I returned from the Burnley match on Saturday I experienced a mixture of emotions – of disappointment and anger. Disappointment at Wrexham losing to Burnley through a fluke goal, and anger at the Wrexham ‘supporters’ for their lack of support once Burnley had taken the lead, a time, when, more than any other, the Wrexham team needed their support.
“Over 15,000, some say as many as 20,000, from in and around Wrexham went, and they “sounded” like a church congregation listening to a sermon, compared with the crowd against Southampton and against Middlesbrough. Not only did the supporters refuse to help raise the team, but many sections of the Wrexham crowd started to barrack the team.
“This just goes to show that the people of Wrexham don’t deserve such a great side.
“Ironically those “fans” were singing at the start of the match such songs as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “We’ll Support You Ever More.” They should bear in mind the first rule of being a football fan. “Support your team through thick and thin.”
Nothing like a bit of positivity…