I’VE been truly blessed to have been to some wonderful football matches.
I’ve seen my team, West Brom, promoted more times than I’ve seen them relegated.
I have two international teams to follow, England and Croatia, and I’ve had some brilliant times watching them — well, Croatia more than England to be honest, but there you go.
Having worked in football on TV I’ve also been to three Euros and three World Cups and covered the Champions League at all of this continent’s great stadia.
But not much has come close to what I saw at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in January 1992.
Arsenal were reigning league champions, Wrexham had finished 91 places behind them, right at the bottom of the whole Football League.
And here they were playing each other in the third round of the FA Cup.
I was there because a close friend of mine from college, Bryn Law, was a massive Wrexham fan.
Bryn will be familiar to fans of Leeds United, for whom he commentates.
And he worked on Sky Sports for many years. In 2007, commentating on Wrexham’s last game of the season, he could be seen crying tears of joy when they dodged relegation out of the Football League. “This must never happen again,” he wept.
It happened again — the following season they dropped down to the fifth tier of English football, which is where they have languished ever since.
Because of Bryn, I have always kept an eye on Wrexham.
If Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who bought the club this week, want to make a documentary about the last 20 years of their club, they would have a tragi-comic horror film on their hands.
One owner after another contrived to make a bigger life-threatening hash of it, until the fans took the club over.
But they then basically fell out among themselves and everything carried on going to pot. All hope was ebbing away. If Covid had not brought last season to a premature end they could well have been relegated to the sixth division.
And then, in the most peculiar football story since Michael Jackson turned up one day at Exeter City, Ryan and Rob buy Wrexham.
Who knows what on earth they are up to? All we know for sure is that they have a couple of million quid to spend and, slightly unsettlingly, documentary producers already appear to be in place.
Surely this once great club is not now going to be reduced to the role of fall-guy in some Netflix reality classic?
‘CHARM OFFENSIVE LIKE NO OTHER’
To be fair, even if it is, what have Wrexham got to lose?
The two movie heroes have come riding to the club’s rescue saying all the right things and charming the pants — so to speak — off any Wrexham fan listening.
This is a charm offensive like no other.
Reynolds even dug up and replied to an eight-year-old tweet from a young woman in Wrexham called Lois who wanted him to model in a life-drawing class.
And yesterday it was reported that lifelong Wrexham fan Aiden Stott, who has cerebral palsy, had been given six grand to adapt his bathroom by McElhenney.
Can this story get any more random? Oh yes it can: See McElhenney’s tweet of John Cleese in a Wrexham shirt.
Both Ryan and Rob told fans on a Zoom call — yes, really — that they are looking forward to “a drink in local pubs” with them.
Do they know what they are promising here? After a 3-0 home defeat to, say, King’s Lynn, I’d be interested in seeing that pub scene in the documentary.
“We want Wrexham to be a global force,” says Reynolds. “This is the third-oldest club on the planet and we don’t see why it can’t have global appeal.”
There are many people well-versed in the ways of the football business who could probably share with them a good few reasons why Wrexham may struggle to become a global force.
But hell, why not dream?
Going back to the FA Cup third round of 1992, I doubt any of the Wrexham fans I walked to the Racecourse Ground with were dreaming of getting past Arsenal.
The league champions duly took the lead just before half-time. The fans in the kop behind the goal all kind of sighed in an unsurprised way.
Arsenal were still leading 1-0 in the 82nd minute, when Wrexham got a free kick, theoretically within shooting range.
As Mickey Thomas stood over the ball, Bryn said to me: “We haven’t scored from a free kick in living memory.”
Back of the net. 1-1. Pandemonium.
I daresay Wrexham’s then owners were rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a lucrative replay at Arsenal’s then ground of Highbury.
But no, they only went and scored again a couple of minutes later. 2-1 Wrexham.
And there was still time for a twist. Arsenal scored at our end of the ground, the entire kop buried its head in its hands. I swear I was the only person with their head up to see the linesman’s flag was up.
“Offside!” I screamed.
A terrible decision, but who cares? Pandemonium broke out for the third time in ten minutes, and then a fourth time when the final whistle blew.
I had Bryn’s head buried in one shoulder and his mate’s in the other.
When they finally came up for air, my sweatshirt was damp with tears.
Look for the word “miracle” in a dictionary and you’ll find it somewhere between “minuscule” and “misadventure”.
But look for it in football and you’ll find it in Wrexham on that day more than 20 years ago.
You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be half-hoping that another miracle there may yet come to pass in this corner of North Wales.
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