Wrexham v Aldershot
The Racecourse / Conference Premier / 29th November 2014
Since my dwelling in the north-west of England began four and a half years ago “Perhaps I’ll go to Wrexham next weekend,” has become a catchphrase of sorts. Whenever a free weekend has cropped up I’ve uttered this statement, with genuine intent to visit the North Wales town, before thinking “I’ll go next month” and heading somewhere else instead. This delaying has carried on for the best part of 4 years and a similar pattern looked to be continuing when spotting a free weekend at the end of November and spotting Wrexham were home, I uttered, “Maybe Wrexham that weekend.” But what? This time I decided I was actually going to go. Why hadn’t I already in fairness? To ensure that I wouldn’t get sidetracked, I even bought a match ticket in advance. “I’m going to Wrexham this Saturday,” was what I was now telling people throughout the week.
Shortly before 9am, I was on the Manchester train to Chester, where I would have to change to complete my journey to the North Walian town of Wrexham. Wrexham is the largest town in the North Wales (and the 4th largest in Wales) and so it has become the general hub of North Wales with much of the North’s administrative, commercial and retail departments centred there. Despite being a large town, Wrexham has failed to achieve ‘city status having had 3 applications for such status rejected.
I arrived into Wrecsam just after 10.30am and immediately I could see the famous home of Wrexham FC: The Racecourse. For those football fans who travel the country by train, you’ll be happy to know that the Racecourse is practically next to the train station and within minutes of hopping off the train, I was having a nose around the ground itself.
As well as being located next to Wrexham General train station, the ground is also just a few minutes walk from the town centre, so it was in that direction I headed next.
Pleasingly for me, the town is full of pubs. I knew I was in for a treat really, as when I asked the folk on Twitter for some pub recommendations the night before my trip, I received numerous recommendations for several different establishments. As I wandered the rather pleasant town centre, perpetually soundtracked by a gentleman singing old crooner classics such as My Way on the main high street, I began mapping out my pub crawl back to the ground. Not the most exotic place to start, but as it was just after 11am, my first port of call was to be the town’s Lloyd’ Bar, The North and South Wales Bank.
Not much to report from a generic Lloyd’s Bar, but the pub next door, The Golden Lion, was a far more interesting place. The place was rather empty when I entered, but the place had plenty of character. Also, this pub presented me with the opportunity to try Wrexham Lager. The lager was the oldest lager brewed in the UK with it originally being brewed in 1882, before brewing stopped in 2000 and only to be revived again in recent years. Interestingly, its early success saw it being chosen as the lager of choice on the ill-fated Titanic. All I will say is that it went down well…I’m talking about the lager there by the way and not the ship.
Next up was the Royal Oak located across the street from the Golden Lion. The signs outside the pub boasted of its status with CAMRA and so I was unsurprised to find a bar adorned with real ales. I opted for the Green Monkey lager, which was advertised over the pub’s walls. And bloody nice it was too! Everyone was very friendly in the pub with me now also seeing my first Wrexham fans of the day, although I ended up chatting with a man who was determined that I should visit Whitby one day. He may well have worked for the Whitby tourist board the way that he pitched the Yorkshire town to me.
I’d noted the Horse and Jockey pub in the heart of the town earlier for its small, dingy look, so I headed there next. The place was very cosy and very busy inside with many enjoying some Saturday afternoon grub, whilst others gathered at the bar. One particularly loud gentleman wanted everyone to hear about how much beer he had drunk last night. His bravado saw him get a bit flirty with the middle-aged barmaids with one particular joke falling flat on its face with the barmaid biting back with a rather witty reply:
Man: “What’s the difference between a chicken leg and a cock?”
Barmaid: “One is ‘fowl’ – the other is a chicken leg.”
The bar was in hysterics and the loud mouth was clearly annoyed that the barmaid had stolen the limelight; by the time he had delivered the actual punchline (“Come on a picnic with me and I will show you that you can eat both”) nobody could care less.
Next, another Wetherspoons was ticked off and now I was getting close to the Racecourse again and there was one just one last place to visit: The Wrexham Lager Club – great name. It was here where I found a load of the Wrexham fans and soon I was invited to join Wrexham fan Chris and Aldershot fan Ted at their table. We chatted about all things Wrexham FC and it turned out that Chris had only been following the club for 5 years after moving to the area and becoming enamoured with the club; he was originally a Bolton Wanderers fan so who could blame him for the switch! I was also particularly fond of the pub’s ‘scarf room’, a room in which the whole room is covered in the scarves of various football clubs (sadly, no Swansea one on the wall, but there was one Cardiff City one – I’ll bring one along next time I go maybe).
With kick-off looming, I decided to make the short walk down the road to the Racecourse. I was slightly tempted by the Turf pub in the shadow of the Racecourse itself, but on seeing how busy it was, I decided to give it a miss. I worked my way around to the far side of the ground to the Glyndwr University Stand. The stand has recently been renamed after the local university following the uni’s takeover of the ground in 2011. In fact, the ground’s full name these days is the Glyndwr University Racecourse Stadium – but I won’t be calling it that anytime soon. With my ticket handed over at the turnstiles and after many years of delaying my visit, I was finally into the Racecourse.
The Racecourse is still recognised as the oldest international stadium in world football having hosted the Welsh national team’s first ever game in 1877 and going on to host more Wales games than any other ground, although in recent years it has been deemed not up to the standard for international football. Fortunately, the ground underwent a £300,ooo makeover over the summer months and is now once again a Category 3, meaning it can now host international football again.
As well as hosting Wrexham FC for the whole of their existence, it should be noted that the ground is now also home to the Crusaders rugby league team. However, today was all abut football and the football club that resides at the Racecourse.
Wrexham FC are a proud football club with a rich history (they are the 3rd oldest professional club in the world after all), but sadly the past decade or so has been much tougher for the club with the Dragons sinking into non-league in 2007. The club has resided in the Conference ever since then and although the drop from league to non-league usually comes with a whole host of problems and despair, I believe that there is certainly one huge silver lining to take from the relegation: fan-ownership. I think anyone who has spent any time with me talking about off-the-pitch football issues will know that I’m a huge fan of fan-owned clubs. In my version of footballing heaven, every club would have such a model; just look at the success and stability the ’50+1′ rule has brought the Bundesliga in Germany. Since the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust took over the club in 2011, the club has become debt-free, won the FA Trophy, come within a whisker of promotion back to the Football League (only to lose to Newport in the 2013 play-off final) and, more importantly, positivity generally sweeps the club now. It’s great to see Wales leading the line with supporters’ trusts having large stakes in their clubs with Merthyr Tydfil now being largely fan-owned these days and my team, Swansea City, being 20% owned by the fans even in the heady heights of the Premier League.
As I observed my surroundings from the stand, I found the Racecourse itself to be very impressive, especially for a club who have resided in the lower regions of the Football League and now in the Conference. The Glyndwr University Stand, which I was in today, is a small two-tiered stand behind the goal with a few supporting pillars. Many might make a fuss about the pillars, but more frustrating for me situated in the back of the stand was the scoreboard hanging down from the roof, partially obstructing my view at times. Fortunately, the stand was far from full meaning I could just move about freely – I virtually had a whole row of seats to myself.
To the left of me was the Yale Stand which can hold 4,200 fans and was today housing 143 Aldershot fans in the top corner. Opposite the Yale Stand is most impressive-looking stand in the ground: The Mold Road Stand. The stand was built in 1999 over the old stand, thanks to Lottery funding, and houses all the usual facilities you’d expect in a main stand, along with a restaurant called ‘The Changing Rooms’. The appearance is certainly interesting too with its semi-circular shape and curving roof.
The saddest sight in the ground though was to be the stand behind the far goals The Racecourse’s Kop is a huge standing terrace and is certainly a throwback to an older era of football. The Kop was once the largest standing terrace in the Football League and it is truly a thing of beauty with its red and white crash barriers, but sadly the Kop is now closed. There are plans to redevelop it in the near future and I really do hope they try to keep some of the usual design, although I fear they will not.
On the pitch, we were almost ready for kick-off with the two teams walking out onto the pitch, Aldershot in their light blue away shirts and Wrexham in their red and black striped home shirts, in the style of their 1864 shirt to commemorate the club’s 150th anniversary this season.
Today’s clash was to see 12th place against 13th place with Wrexham and Aldershot level on 30 points so far this season. It was the Shots who started the game the better team and, as is frequently the case, it was to be a former player of Wrexham’s who would score the opener for Aldershot. And what a goal! Dan Holman cut in from the right wing, before curling the ball into the far corner with his left foot.
The Shots fans were in good voice and despite the small crowd of Wrexham fans surrounding the drum in my stand, there was very little noise coming from the home end. Fortunately, they would have more to sing about on the pitch, as virtually from the moment Aldershot took the lead, the Dragons dominated.
After a few half chances, the home team equalised. A through ball by Neil Ashton played behind the Aldershot defence saw Mark Carrington latch on and slot neatly past Phil Smith in the Shots’ goal. I don’t think anyone is really a fan of ‘goal music’, but at least Wrexham chose something a bit different to the Fratellis, as ELO’s ‘Oh Oh It’s Magic’ resonated around the Racecourse.
The rest of the half was fairly uneventful and a scrappy encounter ensued until half-time. The only thing of note that happened really was that I had a steward approach me telling me that I had to knock off the flash on my camera, as there had been complaints from players/staff during one game a few weeks that flashes from the stands were putting them off (apparently anyway – I didn’t quite believe that myself).
Half-time: Wrexham 1 – 1 Aldershot.
I headed down to the rather narrow concourse during the interval, but on seeing the queue for food, I opted to head back up into the stand.
The second half was a one-sided affair with Wrexham overrunning their opposition. By the 48th minute the home team were 2-1 up thanks to striker Andy Bishop. A long ball was headed on into the path of Bishop, who expertly chipped his volley just over the onrushing Smith. A superb finish.
The Wrexham fans were now a bit louder and in the 70th minute would have something else to cheer. Substitute Louis Moult broke into the box and was tripped by Glenn Wilson to earn the home team a penalty. The winner of the penalty Moult stepped up to finish past Smith. 3-1 to Wrexham.
There was still time for Jay Harris to send a powerful shot wide, but the game was to bear no more goals.
Full-time: Wrexham 3 – 1 Aldershot.
Having taken some photos of the ground as the fans spilled back out onto the street, I now had about 2 hours until my train back. To the pub!
Once again, I found myself in the Wrexham Lager Club with Chris, as the several Wrexham fans also in attendance discussed today’s game. I was a bit surprised to find how critical they were of certain players, especially considering they had just won 3 – 1. A few more Wrexham lagers were sunk, before I thought I better call it a day.
A quick wander of the town to buy some beer for the train home (Estrella Damm of course) and then I was back at Wrexham General ready for the 7pm back to Manchester.
I’m delighted that I finally got round to ticking off The Racecourse and the ground lived up to expectation. Nice ground, easy to get to and minutes away from a lively town – all the things I look for in a ground really.
Highlights: ground next to the train station, nice ground, near the town centre, plenty of good pubs, friendly fans, Wrexham Lager.
Low Points: not a great atmosphere in the ground, such a shame that the Kop isn’t in use anymore.
See all of my photos from my day in Wrexham and at the Racecourse here.