Dixie McNeil

Memory Match – 07-04-90

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.

07-04-90

Wrexham v Maidstone United

League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 4-2 

Wrexham: O’Keefe, Salathiel, Kennedy, Reck, Beaumont, Youds, Preece (Armstrong), Thackeray, Sertori, Worthington, Bowden

Goalscorers: Youds (4), Worthington (6, 75), Sertori (85)

Maidstone United: Johns, Barton, Rumble, Berry, Golley, Roast, Pritchard, Elsey, Charlery, Butler, Lillis (Gall)

Goalscorer: Butler (9, 57)

Attendance: 2,806

 

After the heartbreak of defeat in the 1988/89 Division Four Play-Off final, Wrexham struggled to bounce back. Preparations for the new season were difficult with Kevin Russell joining Leicester City for £175,000, and Charlton Athletic paying £100,000 for Mike Salmon.

Replacements were signed in the form of Vince O’Keefe on a free transfer from Blackburn Rovers, Gary Worthington joined from Darlington at a price of £15,000, Sean Reck was snapped up from Oxford United for £35,000 and Robbie Barnes signed from Manchester City on a free transfer. However, these new arrivals failed to gel and a poor start to the season saw a frustrated Dixie McNeil resign at the end of October with the team struggling near the foot of the table.

Enter Brian Flynn. Things got even worse before they got better as the new man in charge won only one of his opening 18 League matches. Relegation to the Conference looked a real possibility before centre-half Eddie Youds was loaned from Everton and the club stumped up £30,000 for Mark Sertori from Lincoln City to kick start a revival based on a new 3-5-2 formation.

The new-look Robins seemed to be making little progress when all of a sudden they won five games on the trot and hauled themselves off the bottom of the table. After a couple of blips on the road against Aldershot and Cambridge United that left us in 22nd position, it was time for promotion-chasing Maidstone United to visit the Racecourse.

Wrexham profited from home advantage and made a blistering start with two goals in the opening seven minutes. Eddie Youds was first off the mark with a belter from a Sean Reck free-kick before Gary Worthington ended a fine five-man move by calmly lifting the ball over the advancing Nicky Johns in the Maidstone goal.

However, it wasn’t long before the visitors – unbeaten in five – got back into the game. Ken Charlery eased past Alan Kennedy and delivered a cross that was met by the head of Jason Lillis who saw the ball crash against the crossbar. Steve Butler reacted to the rebound before Vince O’Keefe and Youds to keep the game alive with his head.

The Stones were now in the ascendency with Warren Barton and Karl Elsey running the show. O’Keefe reacted well to keep out a deflected Charlery shot at his near post and we were lucky to maintain our lead after a speculative Reck back pass fell ideally for Butler who was denied an equaliser by an in-form O’Keefe.

It was only a matter of time though and on 57 minutes Butler got the better of our Warwickshire-born shot stopper for his second of the afternoon after good work from Elsey and Barton.

With only a handful of games remaining to decide which team would be relegated to the Conference, Wrexham could not afford to settle for a point. The Robins had to dig deep and were rewarded when Worthington restored the lead after Mark Sertori had failed to control a perfect through ball from Jon Bowden.

The high flyers were not giving up without a fight and O’Keefe was on call again to deny substitute Mark Gall before Sertori sealed a vital victory with a shot on the turn after Chris Armstrong had headed down a Reck free-kick.

***

Wrexham won a further three League games that season and finished the campaign in 21st spot. The club that fell through the trap door that season was Colchester United…

Memory Match – 15-10-85

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.

15-10-85

Wrexham v Cambridge United

Canon League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 6-2

Wrexham: Hooper, Cunnington, Comstive, Jones, Keay, Edwards, Hencher, Horne, Steel, Charles, Gregory

Goalscorers: Steel 39, Edwards 43, 45, 52, Hencher 58, Charles 87

Cambridge United: Hansbury, Rayment (Lee), Bennett, Finney, McPherson, Scott, Sinton, Pyle, Massey, Comfort, Crown

Goalscorers: Comfort 84, Crown 86

Attendance: 1,651

After winning four and drawing one of their opening five League games, season 1985/86 got off to a flying start. Dixie McNeil was duly named Manager of the Month for August, but our form was soon on the decline.

Following a shambolic 4-0 defeat at Port Vale in early October, McNeil totally lambasted his players:

“For the past ten weeks I have been telling them that they are not professional enough. They played schoolboy football today and they are going to pay for it. I am very annoyed with them and that is why they are back in on Sunday morning.

“I am not that annoyed about being beaten today. You are going to get games when you are beaten three or four nil, but what made me furious is the way we lost. Their last two goals [an own goal and a penalty] were jokes.

“I am very concerned about the goals we are giving away. There is no discipline at all and the greatest need at the moment is to be more professional. We had 20 shots at Port Vale’s goal and only one of them was on target.

“Until they learn to behave in the right sort of manner they will be in trouble.

“We are so devoid of ideas it’s unbelievable. Our reactions are nil and we are not bright, we are not alert. You have got to be b*****ds in this game and that is what we are not”.

With these words still ringing in the ears of the squad, Wrexham did scrape a 2-1 home win against Halifax Town in their next League game – though their performance left a lot to be desired. With crowds declining and the club walking a financial tightrope, performances had to improve to win back stay-away fans. Cue an avalanche of goals against a shaky Cambridge defence on a Tuesday night in front of fewer than 2000 spectators.

Jim Steel had put the Robins ahead with a brave diving header in the 38th minute. This resulted with him having to have two stitches in a gash above his left eye. However, the night belonged to local boy Andy Edwards who scored a hat-trick with his strikes coming in the 43rd, 45th and 52nd minutes. The other goals came from Nick Hencher and Steve Charles.

Hat-trick hero Edwards said: “I’m pretty chuffed and it’s the first game I’ve really enjoyed this season. I’ve been troubled with an ankle injury from the start of the season and I played when I should have rested it.

“The boss has had me in twice to give me a telling off because he thought I wasn’t sharp enough. But I think it was due to my injury. Now that it has cleared up I hope to be amongst the goals again.”

Lack of concentration in the Wrexham defence led to Alan Comfort scoring for Cambridge in the 84th minute followed by David Crown two minutes later.

Unfortunately, this was a flash in the pan and an inconsistent season followed that saw us finish in 13th position. To make matters worse, Chester were promoted as runners-up.

***

February 1986 saw the lowest ever crowd at the Racecourse for a League game, when just 957 turned up for the 1-0 win over Hartlepool United. The club took just £1,550 in gate receipts.

***

The lone highlight of a frustrating season of struggle was when we reached the Welsh Cup final after beating Cardiff City 6-2 on aggregate in the semi-final. Kidderminster Harriers were our opponents and held us to a 0-0 draw at the Racecourse. The Reds won the replay at Aggborough, despite Kim Casey giving Harriers an early lead. Jim Steel was our saviour with a crucial brace to ensure more European adventures.

My Racecourse – Stuart Roberts

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. This week Nathan talks to WST board member Stuart Roberts about the day his love for Wrexham AFC and the Racecourse was cemented:

28-12-87

Wrexham v Hereford United

League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-0

Wrexham: Morris, Williams, Cunnington, Hinnigan, Cooke, Bowden, Buxton, Hunter, Kearns, Russell, Emson (Preece)

Hereford United: Rose, Jones, Devine, Powell, Pejic, Spooner, Rodgerson, Bowyer, Stevens, Stant, Dalziel

Attendance: 2,443

 Being a child in a forces family, attending the Racecourse regularly wasn’t an option as we were living outside of the area. I got to see a few of the bigger matches, but I grew up as an armchair Liverpool fan as they were the dominant team of the seventies.   At school in the Midlands, I almost succumbed to the pressure from my classmates to join them as Molineux regulars, but after watching Wrexham lose there in the FA Cup Fifth Round in 1981, I found that my hometown team was more important than the men in old gold could ever be.

My first game without a guardian was at Christmas time in 1987. I got a lift with my cousin and his father-in-law, and absolutely loved my first experience of the quirky architecture of the old Mold Road Stand. People were spilling out of the Centre Spot and the Turf full of festive cheer and that is where the excitement started for me.  Then it was around the corner to the Kop….

WOW.

Even though the Kop was still fairly subdued, it gave me such a buzz to push my frame through those cold, iron turnstiles. Those of you reading this now will know that once you have felt the enigmatic mystique of the Racecourse combined with the intoxicating stench of fried onions and tobacco, not to mention the rush of pre-match adrenaline pumping around your body, there really is no going back.  The emotion of the event won me over in less than five minutes. We were only playing Hereford United in front of a couple of thousand beleaguered souls, but there was no where else I’d rather be showing off my new Christmas clobber.

Those feelings were probably enough to make sure I made a return to the Racecourse but it was pretty much guaranteed after making my way to the back of the Kop. I remember walking up the steps on the right hand side with people laughing and joking and obviously enjoying the experience as much as I was.  There were kids who were also starting their education in football and I don’t doubt that they soon learnt what supporting your local team meant and why they are probably taking their kids or grandchildren on a Saturday now, as I do with my daughter who shows as much passion for our great club as any proud dad could ask for.

Once at the back of the Kop I came across THAT guy who starts the songs. Everyone knew him and everyone wanted to stand by him.  He was and still is, relentless.  If a few minutes passed without a song, then you just knew a terrace anthem would soon be booming out. I think his name is Jacko…

“Everywhere we go
People want to know
Who’re the boys in red and white”…

As for the game in question, I had chosen to attend the only 0-0 draw of the whole season – home or away. This was just my luck. The day be0fore this game we had drawn 1-1 at Stockport County and now we struggled to find a way past a Hereford side that sat deep with ten men behind the ball at all times. I don’t remember any real scoring chances and this was a very depressing way to say goodbye to 1987. Dixie McNeil said afterwards that “1988 has to be an improvement on 1987!”

The fact that I wanted to come back for more shows that there is more to being part of a community of football fans than the “entertainment” we often have to endure.

***

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 – 15-08-15

d TownThroughout 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.

15-08-87

Torquay United v Wrexham

 Barclays League Division Four

Plainmoor

 Result: 6-1

TORQUAY UNITED: Allen, McNichol, Kelly, Haslegrave (Musker), Cole, Impey, Gardiner, Lloyd, McLoughlin, Loram (Nardiello), Dobson

Goalscorers: McLoughlin 29, 63, Dobson 38, 62, 71, Cole 58

 WREXHAM: Salmon, Salathiel, Hinnigan, Williams, Cooke (Buxton), Jones, Carter, Hunter, Steel, Russell, Cunnington

Goalscorer: Carter 18

 Attendance: 1,817

 

It was a new-look Wrexham side that kicked-off the 1987/88 season following a hectic close season that saw the departure of Barry Horne (£70,000 to Portsmouth), Mike Conroy (Released), Nick Hencher (Released), Steve Charles (£15,000 to Mansfield Town), Chris Pearce (£4,000 to Burnley) and Paul Comstive (£8,000 to Burnley).

Dixie McNeil worked tirelessly to sign adequate replacements and brought in Kevin Russell (£10,000 from Portsmouth), Mike Carter (Free from Hereford), Jon Bowden (£12,500 from Port Vale), Joe Hinnigan (Free from Gillingham), Mike Salmon (£18,000 from Bolton Wanderers) and Geoff Hunter (Free from Port Vale).

However, the marquee signing came a few days before the opening game of the season when McNeil re-signed Joey Jones for £7,000 from Huddersfield Town, after he’d turned down an offer to join Swansea City.

“I always wanted to come back to Wrexham, but I hope people will not think I have just returned to play out the rest of my career. I want to win things.”

Subsequently, it was with high hopes that the Robins travelled to the English Riviera to take on a Torquay side that only escaped relegation to the Conference on the final day of the previous season on goal difference. The South Coast club had since appointed a new manager in Cyril Knowles – former Spurs player and ex-Darlington boss – and were hoping that this would herald a new dawn.

“It’s a very difficult game for us. They will obviously be out to get off to a flying start, but it is essential that we also make a good start,” said manager McNeil.

“The first 10 games are vital for both the team and fans because it can give you a cushion against the odd setback. I’m very optimistic about our chances for the new season, especially with Joey Jones back at the Racecourse.

“The new lads have only played a handful of competitive games together, but there have been signs that we will have a good side once the season gets underway.”

Everything seemed to be going to plan when Mike Carter gave the visitors the lead from eight yards on 18 minutes, but that was as good it got as Torquay quickly found their stride. Goals from Alan McLoughlin (29) and Alan Dobson (38) gave the Gulls a half-time lead, but worse was to follow after the break as David Cole (58), Dobson (62) and McLoughlin (63) netted three goals in five minutes. To rub salt into the wounds, Dobson secured his hat-trick on 71 minutes.

“Without a shadow of a doubt we were a shambles,” blasted McNeil.

“We were totally overrun and never got into the game. I don’t mind getting beaten but to go down 6-1 in your first game of the season and loose three goals in five minutes is wrong. I was sick watching the goals going in; I just couldn’t believe it.”

  ***

At least the Red Army didn’t travel en masse to Plainmoor as Torquay had decided to ban all visiting fans.

A United spokesman said that they have never had any trouble from Wrexham fans in the past but had to bring in the ban to cut police costs.

“We are a holiday resort and fans tend to make a weekend of it and there has been trouble. We have a moral responsibility to local people so a membership only scheme has been introduced,” said the spokesman.

 

Memory Match – 11-08-79

gue CupThroughout the 2015/16 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham Areil

FC 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.

11-08-79

Wrexham v Carlisle United

 League Cup Round One First Leg

Racecourse Ground

 Result: 1-1

WREXHAM: Davies, Hill, Dwyer, Davis, Jones, Giles, Sutton, Whittle, McNeil, Vinter, Cartwright (J Roberts)

Goalscorer: Vinter 65

 CARLISLE UNITED: Swinburne, Hoolickin, McCartney, MacDonald, Tait, Parker, Bannon, Bonnyman, Ludlam, Kemp, McAuley

 Goalscorer: Kemp 60

 Attendance: 5,878

 

The 1979/80 season kicked off with a League Cup clash against Third Division Carlisle United, which was seen as the ideal preparation for another tilt at life in the second tier.

During the close season, Bobby Shinton (£300,000 to Manchester City) and John Lyons (£50,000 to Millwall) both departed the Racecourse while Mick Vinter was picked up for £150,000 from Notts County by manager Arfon Griffiths.

Of equal significance was the club’s rejection of a £100,000 bid for Graham Whittle by Crystal Palace and his subsequent signing of a new two-year deal to stay in north Wales. After being plagued with cartilage problems during the previous season, Whittle’s commitment to the cause was as exciting as a new signing and he lined up alongside Vinter and Dixie McNeil.

If home fans were expecting a goal glut against lower division opponents then they were to be disappointed. Wrexham struggled to find their way though a well-organised Carlisle outfit who had one eye on the second leg. There was plenty of decent football on show but little excitement until the hour mark when David Kemp put the visitors ahead from 15 yards.

Just five minutes later the scores were level. Jones tackled goalscorer Kemp in his own half and sprayed an accurate pass to midfield maestro Mel Sutton who, in turn, set Whittle free down the right. What followed was a perfect cross for the in-rushing Vinter to score on his debut.

Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, Wrexham were unable to turn their neat approach work into a comfortable lead, leaving cynics moaning that they’d seen it all before and optimists focussed on the potential shown by a fluent passing side.

 

***

Arfon’s men seemed to be heading for an embarrassing cup exit in the second leg at Brunton Park three days later after falling behind to a Joey Jones own-goal on 25 minutes. It didn’t seem to be Wrexham’s day as they struggled to find any rhythm at all, Jones failed to reappear for the second half due to double vision and Niedzwiecki – deputising between the sticks for the injured Dai Davies – was called upon on several occasions to keep Wrexham’s Cup hopes alive.

Indeed, it took two stunning late goals from Whittle (81) and McNeil (87) to secure their place in the second round of the League Cup and set-up a double header against Southampton.

“We needed to beat Carlisle and the way we won pleased me and perked up everyone at the club,” said Griffiths.

“It’s pleasing too that the three front runners have each scored in our opening games and they are getting a good understanding.”