European Cup Winners Cup

Memory Match – 05-11-86

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.

05-11-86

Wrexham v Real Zaragoza

European Cup Winner’s Second Round (2nd leg)

Racecourse Ground

Result: 2-2

Wrexham: Pearce, Salathiel, Cunnington, Williams, Cooke, Comstive, Massey, Horne, Steel, Charles, Emson, (Buxton)

Goalscorers: Massey 102, Buxton 106

Real Zaragoza: Cedrun, Casuco, Fraile, Blesa, Julia, Guerri, Senor, Herrera, Pineda, (Carlos 108), Ayneto, (Yanez 81), Sosa

Goalscorers: Yanez 98, 104

Attendance: 14,515

After securing a 0-0 draw at La Romareda, the Robins had a big opportunity to finish off the job at the Racecourse. Before moving on to focus on the second leg of this European tie, I want to underline the enormity of our achievement in Spain which is often overlooked in the history books.

Real Zaragoza had beaten Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final and had overcome AS Roma on penalties in the previous round. This was a seemingly impossible tie for Fourth Division strugglers and Dixie McNeil’s men deserve enormous credit for their performance.

McNeil said: “It was truly magnificent, and the lads responded to the occasion with a display that must rank as one of the greatest in the clubs history. They played with skill and commitment and would have been the envy of many a First Division side.”

Moving on to our mammoth task in the second leg and we knew we were in for a sterner test than we had experienced in the first round against Maltese side FC Zurrieq. We had destroyed them 0-3 in Malta and confirmed our progress with a 4-0 victory at home.

The Spanish side were low on confidence as they had experienced a bad start to their season and had sent a ‘spy’ over from Spain to watch us hammer Aldershot 3-0 in our last home encounter before the European clash. Roman Fernandez said: “A cold, wet night like this will be a tremendous advantage to Wrexham.” Wrexham supporters were praying for inclement weather.

In front of the biggest crowd since hosting West Ham United in January 1981, the Reds made a shaky start to the match but soon settled. In fact, they almost took the lead when Steel’s firm header clipped the bar. Paul Comstive came close with a flying header that forced an agile save from visiting goalkeeper Andoni Cedrun.

Shortly after half-time, Chris Pearce was also forced into action when he made a super save to deny Sosa. This apart, Pearce had an extremely quiet evening as Wrexham continued to push forward.  The visitors were grateful to Cedrun for denying Mike Williams and when Comstive did beat him with a header, the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.

With the game now in extra-time the introduction of substitutes proved to be decisive as it was Yanez who broke the deadlock when Senor sent him clear to beat Pearce. This away goal meant Wrexham now needed two goals to win the tie and hopes were raised when Steve Massey equalised.

The game was now really opening up as tiredness set in, but just two minutes later the unmarked Yanez found himself room on the right to score what looked to be the decisive goal from a Sosa cross. When have you ever known Wrexham and their supporters to give up, though? Substitute Steve Buxton pulled one back moments later to set up a frantic finale that included a wonder save by Cedrun to deny Steve Massey.

Dixie McNeil put on a brave face: “I am disappointed to say the least, but not with the lads. They played magnificently and did themselves proud. It was two defensive lapses that gave them the goals, but had not been for their goalkeeper, I am sure we would have won through to the quarter-finals.”

Star man Paul Comstive said: “I thought all through the game we were in with a good chance of winning. They did everything they could to keep us out and in the end it was their keeper who beat us. Apart from their goals, they hardly troubled us all night.”

Memory Match – 19-09-90

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.

 

19-09-90

Wrexham v Lyngby

European Cup Winner’s Cup First Round, First Leg

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-0

Wrexham: Morris, Phillips, Beaumont, Owen, Williams, Sertori, Copper, Flynn (Hunter), Preece, Worthington, Bowden

Lyngby: Rindom, Kuhn, Wieghorst, Gothenborg, Christiensen, Larsen, Helt, Schafer, Christensen, Rode (Andersen), Kuhn

Attendance: 3,417

Season 1990/91 saw Brian Flynn decide to give youth a chance as there was no relegation to the non-league doldrums this season. An array of young talent was waiting in the wings, with players such as Phil Hardy, Waynne Phillips, Gareth Owen and Chris Armstrong all bidding to carve out a successful career in football.

Flynn said “I am getting the praise for these youngsters,, but it is Cliff Sear and his excellent team who have brought them all on over the last four years”. The new man in charge was fairly confident of a productive season and was only looking upward before the season began.

“Every club starts equal, so at this stage it is anybody’s guess who will win promotion.”

After an appalling start to the season, with only one win in the opening ten league games it quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be challenging at the right end of the table. What we needed was a distraction and progress in the League Cup certainly provided that. After beating York City over two legs, we faced Everton in the second round. We were demolished 0-5 at the Racecourse and thumped 6-0 at Goodison Park, but in hindsight these defeats proved valuable lessons for our inexperienced squad.

Another distraction came in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, where we were drawn against Danish Cup winners Lyngby. The first-leg at the Racecourse was instantly forgettable to my teenage eyes, but I do remember getting my programme signed by Chris Armstrong. That was about the sum of the excitement.

Kevin Reeves was more than happy with the goalless draw that we had earned: “The most pleasing thing is we never conceded a goal. If we get a scoring draw over there, then it’s obviously a big bonus to us.” Our defensive display was helped by the fact that Flynn chose to play Mike Williams, who had been out of action for nine months.

The Town had achieved more than expected already. It was seen as fanciful to hope that they could capitalise on this result, especially as we had to contend with the fact that we were restricted to four ‘foreign’ players thanks to a new UEFA ruling. This meant that experienced players such as Vince O’Keefe, Andy Thackeray, Nigel Beaumont, Sean Reck and Andy Preece all had to be left out of Flynn’s plans. We were given little chance and Danish newspapers predicted a landslide.

Competing in Europe for the fifth time, Lyngby included four full Danish international players on their books, and almost took the lead after only two minutes. Mark Morris managed to turn a Hasse Kuhl header onto the bar. In the resulting scramble, Morris did well to keep out Michael Gothenburg’s shot.

Only 11 minutes had passed when Wrexham won a free-kick that player-boss Flynn floated across. Jon Bowden nodded on and Chris Armstrong buried a header past Jan Rindom, to send the 400 travelling Wrexham fans into rapture.

Lyngby continued to press for the remainder of the game, but Wrexham defended gallantly and benefited from Morris being on top of his game, especially when making a one-handed save to deny John Helt. Thankfully, Fleming Christian missed a second half sitter with a wayward header.

After the match, Flynn said: “I’m very proud of all my players. They have done Wrexham and Welsh football proud, and once again we have kept up the club’s fine tradition in Europe.”

***

The second round saw the Robins drawn against Manchester United in a tie that we lost 5-0 on aggregate. The Red Devils went on to lift the trophy that season after beating Barcelona in the final.

Memory Match – 10-08-95

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.

10-08-95

Wrexham v Petrolul Ploiesti

European Cup Winner’s Cup First Round First Leg

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-0

Wrexham: Marriott, Brace, Hardy, Phillips, Hunter, Jones, Futcher, Owen, Connolly, Watkin, Durkan

Petrolul Ploiesti: Preda, Chirita, Leahu, Balaceanu, Grigore, Rachita, Pirlog, Abaluta, Zafiris, Zmoleanu, Toader

Attendance: 4,308

 

The summer of 1995 was a particularly turbulent one at the Racecourse with plenty of transfer activity. The biggest shock was the departure of 47-goal striker Gary Bennett to Tranmere Rovers for £300,000.  There was no doubt that his predatory instincts would be missed after hitting 109 goals in 160 appearances, but manager Brian Flynn moved quickly to create a new-look outfit by signing Peter Ward from Stockport County for £60,000, former favourite Kevin Russell rejoined from Notts County for £60,000 and winger Craig Skinner was captured in a £50,000 deal from Plymouth Argyle.

After lifting the Welsh Cup at Cardiff Arms Park, this was to be Wrexham’s last-ever campaign in Europe due to the fact that the club plied its trade in the English Football League. The good folk at UEFA had suddenly decided that teams that did not play in the national league of the country of origin would no longer be able to compete for the relevant national cup – in our case the Welsh Cup.

Flynn said: “The atmosphere on European nights is always something special. This is such a shame that the politics of football looks like denying us the chance of savouring it again in the future.”

Wrexham were drawn against the little known Romanian side Petrolul Ploiesti who had qualified by beating Rapid Bucharest 5-3 on penalties in the Romanian Cup final, after a 1-1 draw. This would a tough test for the Reds as they were hampered by more red tape and bureaucracy. UEFA’s ‘four foreign players’ ruling, meant we had to play without Peter Ward, Kevin Russell, Tony Humes, Craig Skinner and Bryan Hughes.

As a matter of note, Mel Pejic made his debut as the club’s physio for this game.

Petrolul may have been technically superior and kept possession of the ball for long periods, but Wrexham matched them in endeavour and flashes of excellent football. In deed, Wrexham could easily have gone ahead after only three minutes when a Karl Connolly corner found young Stephen Futcher unmarked at the far post, but his header went just wide of the mark.

Later Waynne Phillips went close and late in the first half both Connolly and Kieron Durkan put chances just wide.

Andy Marriott was in great form making several crucial saves to keep the stalemate going into the second leg in Romania.  All we needed was an early goal over there…

***

The second leg was played in 90-degree heat at the Ilie Oana Stadium, but the Robins put this out of their minds and fought tooth and nail. However, the Welsh side’s resilience was finally broken on the hour when Zmoleanu swung over a corner kick and Mihai Pirlog powerfully headed home.

Flynn said of his team: “They were a credit to club and country, but above all they did themselves proud. It was always going to be hard against a side like Ploiesti with the restrictions that we had – I thought we were magnificent.”

Petrolul were eliminated in the next round by Rapid Vienna.

***

In 2013/14, Ploiesti were eliminated in the Europa League play-off round by Swansea City – 3-6 on aggregate.

***

In February 2015, Petrolul Ploiesti became insolvent. In the summer of 2016 the club was dissolved, but fans and club legends re-founded and enrolled it in Liga IV – the fourth level of the Romanian football league system.

Memory Match – 03-10-84

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.

03-10-84

Porto v Wrexham

European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round Second Leg

Estadio Das Antas

Result: 4-3

PORTO: Borota, Joao Pinto, Lima Pereira, Eurico, Inacio, Magalhaes , Frasco, Quim, Gomes, Futre, Vermelhinho (Walsh 77)

Goalscorers: Gomes 5, 38 (pen), Magalhaes 18, Futre 61

WREXHAM: Parker, King, Cunnington, Salathiel, Keay, Wright, Williams (Gregory 23), Horne, Steel, Edwards (Muldoon 77), Rogers

Goalscorer: King 40, 43, Horne 89

Attendance: 30,000

Following our famous victory in the first leg at the Racecourse – as featured in the Altrincham programme – we continued to struggle when it came to the bread and butter of League football. Sandwiched between the two legs, a trip to Gresty Road saw Crewe Alexandra batter us 3-0 while Stockport County came out on top of a topsy-turvy battle on our own patch that we lost 3-4.

Indeed our last three League outings had seen our hapless defence concede 12 goals, although crucially Porto had been denied an away goal in north Wales. Surely the Portuguese Cup winners – who featured 14 internationals, seven of whom had been capped for Portugal against Sweden in recent weeks – would save face in front of their own fans?

After 38 minutes – played out in a ferocious storm – Porto had steamed into a 3-0 lead. Fernando Gomes scored twice, one that seemed to feature a handball in the build up and one dubious penalty given away by Parker, while Magalhaes contributed a spectacular second. The Robins were on the rack and few would’ve bet against our opponents from scoring more.

However, Wrexham had a lot riding on the result. While a modest profit was recouped from the first leg tie, this was quickly accounted for when we had to charter a special plane to Portugal costing £14,000. On top of such financial concerns we were also playing for pride, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that we refused to go down without a fight. Scottish full-back Jake King foraged forward to convert a Neil Salathiel cross on 40 minutes and just three minutes later the same player connected with a corner in a crowded area to put us ahead on the away goals rule.

In the second half it was one-way traffic with Stuart Parker being called upon to make a series of fine saves from Vermelhinho, Gomes and Magalhaes. Unfortunately, there was nothing Parker could do to stop a deflected effort from Paulo Futre on 69 minutes. Order had been restored and it seemed like plucky Wrexham were on their way out of Europe.

Parker continued to be defiant in goal as time marched on, but as the home fans began to celebrate their impending passage into the second round, Jim Steel knocked the ball out wide to substitute John Muldoon. With only 60 seconds remaining the midfielder whipped in a cross that young Barry Horne launched himself at and planted a diving header past former Chelsea goalkeeper Petar Borota.

Our tiny pocket of support – some of who had travelled on the same flight as the players at a cost of £195 per person – exploded into ecstasy.

We may have lost 4-3 on the night, but our 1-0 triumph in the first leg assured our passage on the away goals rule.

“This has to be the greatest moment of my career. I’ll tell my grandchildren about this – when I’m a grandad,” enthused captain fantastic Jake King.

Fairytales do happen.

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…