Wrexham hope to add to turnovers


"We went to Porto and there was a bloody hurricane. We come to Rome and the bloody shops are shut. When we play in Russia, Reagan will probably have the place blown up."

The Wrexham striker Jim Steel's mini-diatribe in 1984 as his club prepared to meet Roma in the European Cup Winners' Cup is a vivid reminder of how quickly both world politics and football can change.

No more Cold War, and no more trips into Europe for Wrexham. By so frequently winning the Welsh Cup, this tiny North Wales club regularly sent shock waves across to the continent, none greater than in 1976 when an Anderlecht side containing the

mighty World Cup Dutchmen Robert Rensenbrink and Arie Haan was pushed to the limits in the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup.

Wrexham lost 2-1 on aggregate and the Belgian club went on to win the trophy. What days those were under John Neal, a manager who mitigated his immense intake of nicotine by sipping after-match milk.

Arfon Griffiths was the midfield star and later took over from Neal. Under him, Wrexham knocked Newcastle United out of the FA Cup in 1978, eventually losing to Arsenal in the quarterfinals.

Manchester-based journalists actually visited the Racecourse Ground on their days off just to watch Wrexham and be part of the family. My former colleague Paul Fitzpatrick still remembers those heady times with huge affection.

"One night I was the last out of the press box and when I went downstairs, there were no glasses left to have a drink. Arfon spotted my dilemma and went off down the corridor to find a tap and wash out a glass for me!"

The friendliness survives, as does Wrexham's amazing ability to rise head and shoulders above themselves when faced with Cup opposition from the league's upper echelons.

In 1992, they defeated Arsenal in the FA Cup and last year, on the way to the quarter-finals for the third time in their history, put paid to West Ham. Although eventually losing to Chesterfield still rankles - the biter bit.

As long as the League of Wales survives, Wrexham's road to Europe is forever cut off, for they are no longer allowed into the Welsh Cup. So they must make do with the English and their silver pots.

This season's FA Cup trail appeared to have gone stone cold in the final minute of their third-round match against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. A Neil Ardley corner was headed in by Marcus Gayle, and thousands of Wrexham fans fell miserably silent.

Seconds later, they were in full and jubilant voice again when it became clear that the referee, Steve Dunn, had blown his whistle before the ball went into the net. Saint Dunn they call him in Clwyd now.

Joe Kinnear, the Dons's manager, bellyached hugely at the injustice of it all, and no doubt his team will be well and truly up for it tonight in the replay.

Wimbledon, the Cup winners in 1988, have built their formidable recent history on injustices, real and imaginary, and Wrexham's own confidence was hardly enhanced by a 3-0 home defeat against Fulham last Saturday, and failure in the second round of the Auto Windscreens Shield against Mansfield Town the same week.

"In fact, our match against Wimbledon is a good one to have after two defeats," said Kevin Reeves, the club's assistant manager, whom Malcolm Allison paid Norwich City £1.2m to bring to Manchester City in 1980 - a massive fee in those days.

"This game looks after it self. There will be a cracking atmosphere and I have no doubt our players will respond as they normally do in such situations."

Reeves's boss, Brian Flynn, became manager in 1989 and is now the fourth longest-serving in the League behind Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, Dario Gradi of Crewe and Port Vale's John Rudge.

Of late, the murmurings of discontent have been growing, and the team were booed off the pitch after a goalless home draw against Gillingham just before Christmas, but a win tonight would quickly silence the malcontents.

"Of course we are aware how fired up Wimbledon will be, but they will have it in the back of their minds how we have turned over more than a few fancied clubs here," said Flynn.

Vinnie Jones may have persuaded Bobby Gould and the Welsh FA that Wales was the land of his fathers, but tonight several thousand Welshman will be only to delighted to send him back to England with a totally unsentimental parting gesture.