Bobby Roberts

Memory Match – 15-02-83

Throughout the 2017/18 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

This is the third successive season that I have been writing the Memory Match column. Indeed, when I have written a Memory Match for every Football League season that Wrexham AFC enjoyed,  I would like to compile all the columns into a book that will reflect the rich history of my beloved football club.

15-02-83

Wrexham v Doncaster Rovers

League Division Three

Racecourse Ground

Result: 5-0

Wrexham: Niedzwiecki, King, Bater, Savage, Dowman, Keay, Arkwright, Buxton, Hunt, Steel, Gregory

Goalscorers: Hunt (43, 55), Savage (86), Steel (89, 90)

Doncaster Rovers: Peacock, Russell, Snodin, Snodin, Humphries, Lister, Mell (Liddell), Douglas, Austin, Mann, Robertson

Attendance: 1,899

A new era was beginning with the appointment of new manager Bobby Roberts during the close-season. An opening day victory against Cardiff City at Ninian Park was followed by a 1-0 home win in a League Cup first round, first leg clash with Shrewsbury Town. Unfortunately, this initial success was a false signifier for the turbulent season ahead as we lost the second leg of our Cup tie 2-0 at Gay Meadow and only won one of the next six League games.

Our largely inconsistent form saw us drop as low as 20th by October after a 1-1 draw at Belle Vue against Billy Bremner’s Doncaster Rovers. This match was the start of an eight game unbeaten run and was particularly noteworthy as Darren Baker became our youngest-ever League goalscorer at the ripe old age of 17 years and 115 days. The Yorkshire hosts equalised late on after a re-taken spot kick. Lister had blasted over, but Glynn Snodin made no mistake as Rovers got a second bite of the cherry. An incident-packed match saw Eddie Niedzwiecki sent-off after the final whistle.

The re-match was a Tuesday night game under the Racecourse floodlights, watched by only 1,899 spectators – the second lowest league gate of the season at that point. The stay-away fans missed Wrexham’s best win of the season thanks to three goals in the last five minutes.

The Reds were slow out of the blocks and they were fortunate to be 1-0 ahead at the interval through a Simon Hunt effort after 43 minutes. He broke through on the right and pushed the ball to David Gregory who shot. Doncaster goalkeeper Dennis Peacock could only parry the shot and Hunt was on hand to slam home the rebound.

In the 54th minute, Steve Buxton hit a shot from the left across goal, the ball was deflected up by a defender and Hunt dived in to head his second and double our lead.

This seemed to drain the visitors of any confidence as they played out the remainder of the game without displaying any positive ideas or imagination what so ever. Niedzwiecki was a mere spectator for the majority of the second half.

Hunt just missed out on his hat-trick when he agonisingly failed to connect with a Steve Buxton cross, but Robbie Savage made no mistake with a superb strike in the 85th minute. Gregory squared the ball to Savage from the right and the man who proved a revolution while at the Racecourse, picked his spot and lashed the ball passed Peacock for the 11th goal of his on-loan spell from Liverpool.

Jim Steel – who was also on-loan from Oldham Athletic – struck twice with two fine headers in the last two minutes to put the icing on the cake for Wrexham.

Despite being Wrexham’s biggest win of the season, manager Bobby Roberts said afterwards: “I think we have played better this season, but we were a lot sharper in our moves and finishing. That made all the difference in the end and made it very pleasing”

***

After failing to win any of their last 11 League games, Wrexham suffered their second successive relegation with a dire 22nd placed finish. Only Doncaster Rovers and Chesterfield finished below the Robins. In a disastrous campaign, we had been humiliated by Worcester City of the Alliance Premier League in the FA Cup second round, lost the Welsh Cup final to Swansea City and were forced to sell Joey Jones, Mick Vinter, Steve Fox and Billy Ronson in a vain attempt to balance the books. To cap it all Dixie McNeil was released.

This was a season to forget…

 

Memory Match – 06.09.83

Throughout the 2016/17 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

06.09.83

Wrexham v Rochdale

Canon League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 5-1

Wrexham: Wardle, King, Cunnington, Hunt, Coleman, Keay, Arkwright, Muldoon (Edwards), Baker, Gregory, Heath

Goalscorers: Arkwright (32, 81), Hunt (44), Gregory (60), Edwards (88)

Rochdale: Conroy, Oates, Chapman, Farrell, Higgins (s/o), Williams, Thompson, Hamilton, Johnson, Allatt, Greenhoff

Goalscorer: Johnson (51)

Attendance: 1,684

Following consecutive relegations, surely this was the season that things would start to improve? One thing for sure, things couldn’t get much worse…

Our opening fixture in the basement was against Doncaster Rovers at a sweltering hot Belle Vue. Wrexham certainly received a half-time roasting and ended up losing 3-0 with a performance that was described as ‘wretched’, ‘ineffective’ and ‘an embarrassment’ by Ron Chaloner in the Leader. Oh dear. Where did we go from here?

Well, we travelled to Vale Park for the first leg of a Milk Cup clash with Port Vale and, despite an improved performance, lost 3-1. This was followed by our first home game of the season. Peterborough United were the opponents and a patchy performance ended in a 2-2 draw that was witnessed by only 1,680 fans – our lowest-ever League attendance and the smallest gate of the day in the entire League.

Things could only get better and so it proved as Jimmy Greenhoff brought his Rochdale side to the Racecourse. There was little suggestion of the treat in store for Reds fans when Shaun Cunnington misplaced a back-pass that could’ve ended in calamity but for the vigilance of new loan signing Phil Coleman.

Ian Arkwright opened the scoring spectacularly from 20 yards after 32 minutes. Things got worse for Rochdale on 41 minutes when Andy Higgins was sent off for a second bookable offence after tripping Arkwright. On the stroke of half-time, David Gregory’s superb pass put Simon Hunt clear on goal and he calmly doubled our advantage.

Rochdale rolled up their sleeves in the second half and Steve Johnson sparked a revival when he collected Peter Farrell’s pass, beat Jack Keay and fired home under Bob Wardle’s body. This was the start of a tricky period, but when Gregory headed home Shaun Cunnington’s crossed on the hour it was all over bar the shouting.

There were nine minutes remaining when Arkwright rounded Steve Conroy to score the fourth and the fifth goal was claimed by substitute Andy Edwards on 88 minutes with a neat shot.

Bobby Roberts was obviously pleased but he wasn’t getting carried away: “We played a lot better and competed a lot better. We were a wee bit rocky for a spell but sometimes you get that against ten men.

“We looked a bit nervous after Rochdale scored. Some may lack a bit of confidence at times but when we got the third goal we were comfortable. There were five cracking goals there tonight and there was some very good football.

“If we can keep knocking in goals, people will want to see us.”

***

Wrexham’s win took them to ninth place in the Fourth Division table, but this was about as good as it got. As the season dragged on it soon became clear that this performance against Rochdale was a one-off and we finished the season in a lowly 20th position.

On the bright side, we did qualify for Europe by reaching the Welsh Cup final, signed Jim Steel from Port Vale for £10,000 and escaped having to apply for re-election on the final day of the season with a 5-1 home win over Tranmere Rovers.

However on the flip side, attendances didn’t really improve, we lost 10 home games in the league to equal the club’s worst ever record from 1963/64, we lost Eddie Niedzwiecki to Chelsea for a bargain £45,000 and Bobby Roberts was forced to play in goal during a Welsh Cup tie against Worcester.

On the whole, it really was a season to forget…

My Racecourse – Mark Thompson

Nathan Lee Davies is a key member of the Wrexham Disabled Supporters Association, who is right behind our My Racecourse campaign. Despite a debilitating condition he does all he can to contribute to Wrexham AFC’s success. He has agreed to pen for us a series of short stories over the summer detailing what the Racecourse means to fans and former players alike. As Euro 2016 approaches, Nathan talks to matchday programme contributor Mark Thompson about international football at the Racecourse, quiz nights with former managers and Christmas carols with television soap stars.

12/05/73

Wales v Scotland

Home International Tournament

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-2

Wales: Sprake, Rodrigues, Thomas, Hockey, England, Roberts, James, Mahoney, Toshack, Yorath (Davies 69), Evans (O’Sullivan 78)

Scotland: McCloy, McGrain, Donachie, Graham, Holton, Johnstone, Dalglish (Macari 84), Stanton, Parlane (Stein 80), Hay, Morgan

Goalscorer: Graham (60, 70)

Attendance: 18,682

With Wales about to play in their first major tournament since 1958 – or more accurately 1976 – I’ve been in a reflective international mood. I’d like to focus on my first international match at the Racecourse back in 1973 when Wales played Scotland in the Home International Tournament.

It was Wales’ first game since a 2-0 win over Poland at Ninian Park, which got the World Cup ’74 qualifying campaign off to a cracking start.  At school – Rhosddu Juniors – lots of my classmates were talking about a ‘new era’ having started for Wales. This was the first time I’d heard that phrase, but as a long-suffering Welshman it was certainly not the last.

The day of the match was overcast and a bit chilly while I was charged 10p to gain access to the Kop through the Boys turnstile.  My pal Neil Roberts and I were amongst the first in the ground.  After an abortive attempt to climb a floodlight pylon, we pottered down towards the Tech End in search of some pre-match entertainment.  We lingered on the terrace that became known as the Yale Paddock, but in those days it was just the terracing in front of the New Stand.  Once at the Tech End we sat on the wall behind the goal with our legs tucked in behind the advertising hoardings and watched the terraces filling up with Scotsmen behind us.  They all seemed to have those yellow flags with a red lion on them – AKA the Royal Standard of Scotland – not the traditional Saltire.  I remember us shouting “Get a dragon on them” with ridiculous bravado.

It was goalless at half-time. Unlike the football, the half-time entertainment was terrific. It comprised of a display by police dogs catching criminals. This got us warmed up for the second half, but our enthusiasm and excitement were soon extinguished…

As we were right next to the goal we had an excellent view of Wales goalkeeper Gary Sprake going down in instalments as Arsenal’s George Graham side-footed past him to put Scotland 0-1 up.  Ten minutes later, Graham scored his second goal as Scotland won 0-2.  After these goals I spent the rest of the game eating my packet of Spangles.

At the final whistle we ran on the pitch and I managed to secure an autograph from Rod Thomas of Swindon. Oh the glamour.

The following Tuesday, Wales lost 0-3 to England at Wembley. Wales’ new era looked a lot like the old one.

***

‘My Racecourse’ memories don’t have to be about matches attended. I vividly recall football quizzes from early/mid 1980s in the old Wrexham AFC Social Club. They were also held in the upstairs bar at the Centenary Club.

Usually I was on a team with former Chief Executive Dave Roberts, which was a very luck break as he has a thorough knowledge of football trivia.  Quizmaster Dave Davies also held quizzes where the competitors entered as individuals.  In one of them, I finished with the same score as manager Bobby Roberts. It was strangely satisfying to know exactly as much about football as the Boss.  I bumped into Bobby recently in Leicester and he told me that the Wrexham job was the most difficult of his career.

***

Of course, ‘My Racecourse’ memories don’t have to be about football. For example, I recall a Christmas carol concert in 1976 that featured Coronation Street actor Peter Adamson – AKA Len Fairclough – as the star guest.

Earlier that same year, the Racecourse held a ‘Festival of Entertainment’, culminating in people riding round the pitch on horseback dressed as characters from Planet of the Apes.  Trust me, it happened. I was there and not on drugs. Honest.

***

Over the summer months, Nathan Lee Davies hopes to compile a series of articles about our treasured Racecourse memories. We hope that this will promote the My Racecourse brand by showing how much this venue means to so many people and illustrate that it can be used by all of the community to create more memories in the future.

Memory Match – 19-09-84

Throughout the 2015/16 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

19-09-84

Wrexham v Porto

European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round First Leg

Racecourse Ground

Result: 1-0

WREXHAM: Parker, King, Cunnington, Salathiel, Keay, Wright, Williams (Muldoon 71), Horne, Steel, Gregory, Rogers

Goalscorer: Steel 78

PORTO: Borota, Joao Pinto, Inacio, Eduardo Luis, Eurico, Magalhaes (Agemar 45), Frasco, Quim, Gomes, Futre (Walsh 71), Vermelhinho

Attendance: 4,935

Some stories never grow old. This is one of them.

Our beloved club was in turmoil and struggling to keep its head above water in the basement division. Dire on-field performances under the tutorship of Bobby Roberts led to calls for his head, attendances had plummeted and the club was in financial dire straits. The only glimmer of hope on the horizon was entry into the European Cup Winners’ Cup following defeat in the previous season’s Welsh Cup final to English side Shrewsbury Town.

When the European draw was made in Zurich, the Reds were paired with the illustrious FC Porto who had reached the Final of the previous seasons’ competition, losing to Juventus. After the draw, Roberts said: “It’s going to be very hard because they are a top-class side.”

The first reaction of Porto President, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, was “Where’s Wrexham?”

He was about to find out.

A confident Porto line-up began the match as if they could walk it, but after only five minutes Jim Steel rattled the crossbar with a powerful header to warn the Portuguese prima donnas that this would be no walkover.

Midway through the first-half the tables were turned when the woodwork came to our rescue – twice in four minutes. First up Fernando Gomes hit the inside of the post and could only watch helplessly as the ball rolled along the goal line before Reds defender Steve Wright headed against his own bar after a flick-on from Vermelhinho.

The match remained goalless at the break, but on 53 minutes Gomes unleashed a rocket from outside the box that whizzed past the despairing Parker. Fortunately, the crossbar saved the day yet again.

Just after the hour mark all eyes were on the linesman when Barry Horne cracked a first time shot that slammed against the underside of the bar and ricocheted down onto the line. Agonizingly the officials waved play on.

The breakthrough finally arrived with only 12 minutes remaining. Steel pushed the ball out wide to substitute John Muldoon who galloped down the wing and delivered an inviting cross for Steel to head home.

“I thought I’d scored in the first half and it was a real sickener when it hit the bar, but when I did score it was without doubt the best goal of my career. I couldn’t stop dancing when it went in.”

The Robins held on to record yet another memorable European night at the Racecourse in front of only 4,935 fans, which is less than attended our recent game against Welling United.

“The result is a very big shock for us,” said Porto boss Artur Jorge.

“Wrexham were strong and perhaps we didn’t expect them to be so strong.

We didn’t play as well as we could but we expect to recover the situation in the second leg. We can improve more than Wrexham can.”

We’ll see Arthur, we’ll see…