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Why Wrexham can look forward as well as back

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Chris Bevan | 10:54 UK time, Thursday, 5 January 2012

New Wrexham chief executive David Roberts is enjoying the nostalgia surrounding the 20th anniversary of his side's famous FA Cup win over Arsenal, but he is far more concerned about the club's future than its past.

Don't get me wrong, realism has not entirely replaced romance at the Racecourse Ground ahead of the Blue Square Bet Premier leaders' third-round trip to Brighton this weekend. There are plenty of people with happy memories of one of the biggest shocks in the competition in the modern era, and Roberts is one of them.

As a lifelong fan who was on the terraces on that freezing day in January 1992 when a Mickey Thomas wonder-goal was followed by Steve Watkin's late winner to send the Gunners crashing out, he would clearly love a win on the south coast to add to the Welsh side's already rich giant-killing tradition.

But, after helping to stabilise the perennially troubled club, he admits his real "dream come true" remains securing a return to the Football League after a four-year absence.

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And their latest cup run is only part of Wrexham's revival on and off the pitch in recent months - after a decade of lurching from one financial crisis to another.

Any repeat of that cup success seemed unlikely as recently as last summer when players and staff went unpaid and the then owner Geoff Moss called off pre-season friendlies because of a lack of cash.

The future of the Dragons, and their home, was again in doubt but Wrexham's Supporters' Trust (WST) and the local community rallied to save their club in August.

Glyndwr University bought the Racecourse to ensure Wrexham can continue playing there, and fans raised a six-figure sum at short notice to enable their team to start the season.

The WST went on to complete its takeover of the club in November and appointed Roberts when it was ratified by the Football Conference last month.

On the pitch, not even the departure of manager Dean Saunders to Doncaster in September has disrupted their progress, with his replacement, player-boss Andy Morrell, overseeing a 14-game unbeaten run in the league, including wins in their last five games.

Roberts is a qualified chartered accountant who was previously a finance director of a multi-million pound private equity group in the north west of England. He told me: "There's a real feel-good factor about the town at the moment.

"Seeing the fans raise over £100,000 in a matter of hours to meet the Conference Bond was quite incredible and we had nearly 6,000 here watching us beat AFC Telford United on New Year's Day, which was fantastic, but we know there is a lot of hard work ahead to get the club back to where we want it to be.

"Life here is never dull but Wrexham is a football town. That's why people responded in the club's hour of need and why so many have fought so hard to keep it alive over the past decade.

"As custodians of the club, we all need to ensure it survives for future generations to come. The challenge of creating a financially sustainable business is paramount."

Wrexham have had to fight to stay at the Racecourse

Wrexham have had to fight to stay at the Racecourse. Picture: Getty Images

They plan to achieve that by making the club an integral part of the local community again, in Wrexham and further afield in North Wales. Becoming a fans-owned club was just the start - a Community Share Scheme is to be launched to raise more funds, and hopefully ensure those financial problems do not resurface.

There may be more uncertain times ahead but, as Roberts says, promotion back into the Football League would be "a massive help on all fronts".

Will the WST succeed in safeguarding Wrexham's future? Roberts is optimistic. He was also confident of beating Arsenal two decades ago too - despite the fact the Gunners were reigning league champions while Wrexham had finished bottom of the entire league the previous season.

"It might seem strange but I just had the feeling we could beat them," Roberts explained.

"We rode our luck at times but Thomas's free-kick was worthy of winning any game and, as for Watkin's winner, I think the ground erupted when it hit the back of the net. The celebrations went on long into the night."

Roberts is not making any similar predictions ahead of Saturday's game, which will give Dragons supporters a chance to thank their Brighton counterparts for their support in a campaign to oust unpopular former owner Alex Hamilton, who wanted to sell the Racecourse to property developers, in 2004.

But he points to his side's win over League One outfit Brentford in the last round as proof that they definitely still have the ability to spring a surprise.

"Brighton are three divisions above us and have just beaten the Championship leaders, so few would predict anything else than a home win," Roberts said.

"However, the beauty of the cup is its unpredictability. We have a proud giant-killing reputation built up over the last 40 years and it would be nice to add Brighton to the list of higher-division scalps.

"We'll be taking around 2,000 fans down to the Amex Stadium and I'm sure that win, lose or draw we'll have a great day out."

You can watch a special feature on Wrexham's 1992 win over Arsenal, featuring Robbie Savage and Mickey Thomas, in Football Focus on Saturday at 1215 GMT.

Follow me on Twitter throughout the season at www.twitter.com/#!/chrisbevan_bbc

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Should be an interesting game, and given the state of the Albion's squad – depleted by injury and suspensions – an upset could be on the cards. Gus wasn't too fussed about the cups last season, and while we had – and beat – premiership opposition in the Carling Cup this season, it remains to be seen what sort of approach he will take for the FA Cup.

    Outstanding that Wrexham are bringing 2,000 - hope they enjoy the day, but not too much!

  • Comment number 2.

    We all love a giant killing (unless our own team is the odds-on favourite) so good luck Wrexham and may the road back to the Football League be smoother than the road heading in the other direction.

    PS. please can Villa make it through their tie at Bristol Rovers, the TV companies seem to think they might not ;)

  • Comment number 3.

    Really hope Wrexham get back into the FL this season. It's a football town and the club, like so many others, goes a long way to giving the town its identity. In Andy Morrell they have a first class guy and professional who will always have a special place in Blackpool fans' hearts. I'll never forget his 4 goals at Swansea on the last match of our promotion season from Div 1 to the Championship.

  • Comment number 4.

    As Liverpool fan always loved going to Racecourse for the annual preseason friendly. Great to see the club on the way back. Good luck to them but Brighton fans deserve credit for their struggle to achieve the impressive AMEX. went there for league cup this year and fans were great and loved their new facilities

  • Comment number 5.

    Let's hope there's no repeat of the utterly disgusting chanting about Gary Speed from Telford fans in Wrexham's last match.

  • Comment number 6.

    As a Wrexham fan, I'm really looking forward to this weekend. For the last few years, our cup ties have been a bit dull and normall resulted in a soft defeat to leave us to focus on the league & survival.

    I was gutted when Utd & City got drawn from the hat, thinking that's our TV ties gone. I'm glad though that we drew Brighton, the two clubs have an amicable relationship stemming from the troubles both clubs had at the turn of the Millenium. Thankfully both sides haven't forgotten that & this weekend can see a return of the Fans United day! Hopefully a good game is in store for both groups of fans!

  • Comment number 7.

    Really looking forward to my day out in Brighton. We shouldn't get anything out of the game but you never know.
    Oh and you could have got a picture of Wrexham rather than the welsh rugby league team?

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    As a Chester fan it's decent to see the goats achieve something for the area, but let's not hope too much for promotion as I can't wait for the next derby game. Neil Youngs Blue White Army!

  • Comment number 10.

    I do very much love the fa cup for all its qualities of giant killing and the fast paced contrast of knockout football compared to leagues. I always go for the underdog if I am a neutral and so I am definitely hoping for Wrexham victory on Saturday, unlikely as it may be.

    P.S. I am trying to recreate the old 606 at http://bit.ly/tw6Bdj

  • Comment number 11.

    Why is there a picture of the Crusaders RL team in an article about Wrexham FC?

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    Chris how dare you, it's bad enough Wrexham beating the bees without you rubbing it in with a blog on them.


    Seriously though, Wrexham deserve every bit of success that they have had in recent times, especially after the bad days.

    I'm a Londoner [a Brentford fan] living in the north west, Chester and Wrexham are my nearest clubs, on the odd ocassion I pop down to the racecourse for a game. The transformation is remarkable, much of down to the fans who are a real credit to the club.

    On Saturday i'll be at Tranmere watching Brentford beat them but i'd like to wish the Wrexham lads all the best against Brighton and no matter what happens, you can all be proud of what you have achieved so far.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    I really hope Wrexham can give Brighton a good game and force a replay back at the Racecourse Ground.

    If interested please check out my blog, it's a good one this week.

    http://footballalwayswins.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 16.

    re: 11 (worsy). The photo is the Welsh Rugby League team and the Australian team when the two sides met in the four naitons. But do agree, why is there a league related photo and its never mentioned at all in the article. I'm in oz and look forward to this weekend every year.

  • Comment number 17.

    Wrexham's survival is essential for the future of Welsh football as its Centre for Excellence develops the best young talent in North Wales. Without Wrexham, talented youngsters picked up and developed from the ages of 6/7 would be denied access to the top coaching and facilities provided by the club. Wrexham has a history of providing players for the Welsh national teams from U16's upwards, with Swansea's Neil Taylor one of the more recognisable successes. Promotion this season would secure once again, funding from the FA, lost two seasons ago following relegation from the League. The FA Cup dream is one thing but promotion is so much more important on so many levels.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wrexham fans will forever be grateful to the fans of Brighton for there support shown in a red card protest in our last league game of the season in May 2005. Over 1500 Brighton fans to a man displayed a red card against the "owner" Mark Guterman who had bought and sold the ground to the "real owner" Alex Hamilton.

    Brighton fans had already experienced a similar theft of there football ground the Goldstone Ground a couple of years earlier and fully understood the situation Wrexham were facing.

    Not only that, Brighton fans continued to show there support for Wrexham's fight to not only 'Save The Racecourse' but Wrexham FC when Fans United Days were organised, with fans of not just Brighton gave there support in Wrexham's hour of need.

    We thank you all.

  • Comment number 19.

    Even as an RL fan, I find the use of that image odd. Don't the BBC have a football related (or neutral? image of the Racecourse ? And if they don't, and have to waste viewers' money by asking Getty Images for one, did the largest commercial image library in the world really not have one?

  • Comment number 20.

    As a Brighton fan visiting family in Wales, I went to see them dismantle Telford last week. The team played very wel indeed and not having been to the Racecourse since 2005, it was great to see over 5,800 fans show up.

    Just shows what an be achieved when genuine fans get involved. Well done Wrexham and enjoy the Amex. I'm sure you'll get a great reception.

 

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