Gary Bennett

Memory Match – 27-04-93

Throughout the 2017/18 football season I have contributed to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I penned a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I shared on this blog.

This was 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.

 

27-04-93

Northampton Town v Wrexham

League Division Three

County Ground

Result: 0-2

Northampton Town: Richardson, Parsons, Burnham, Harrison, Chard, Terry, Wilkin, Aldridge, Gavin, Brown, Bell

Wrexham: Morris, Jones, Hardy, Owen, Humes, Pejic, Bennett, Lake, Connelly, Watkin, Cross

 Goalscorers: Bennett (13, 42 pen).

Attendance: 7,504

We all know that history only tells a story, but I can assure you that stories from our past are much more interesting than the dreadful football that we have had to sit through this season. It is important to realise that things haven’t always been this bad and there is certainly the potential for things to improve…

Back in 1992/93, Brian Flynn’s blend of homegrown talent and experienced campaigners set our pulses racing. Few would have predicted that after a 1-1 draw at Hereford United at the beginning of October left us floundering in 18th position. We were beaten at the first round stage of both the League and FA Cup by Bury (5-4 on aggregate) and Crewe Alexandra (6-1) respectively, while Leyton Orient hammered us at Brisbane Road in the second round of the Football League Trophy (4-1).

We had already conceded four goals at Bury, York and Gillingham as our season threatened to implode. The heavy Cup defeat at Crewe was a genuine turning point though as Brian Flynn entered the loan market to sign Mike Lake following the dismissal of Mickey Thomas. With our new midfielder pulling the strings we proceeded to loose only one of the next 10 games, including five consecutive victories.

The confidence was flowing and before we knew it, we were in a promotion battle. Instead of under-performing and disappointing we actually dug deep and maintained our impressive form up to the end of the season.

With two games of the season remaining, Wrexham went into the game against relegation threatened Northampton Town knowing that a win would earn them promotion for the first time in 15 years. Approximately 3,000 Wrexham fans descended on the County Ground to watch their heroes in action, but the early stages suggested that the Cobblers were intent on spoiling our party. Indeed, the home side forced four corners in as many minutes in the opening period, but Mark Morris proved a safe pair of hands as he caught every one of Darren Harmon’s vicious in-swinging corners.

The Red’s quickly settled and in the ninth minute Mike Lake should have at least hit the target after he was presented with a glorious opportunity by Steve Watkin. Four minutes later and we took the lead when Gary Bennett smashed home his 22nd goal of the season. Watkin’s tame effort was surprisingly fumbled by Barry Richardson and our ace marksman didn’t need asking twice to put us ahead.

All memories from this point on are a little hazy, but according to match reports Morris then made an unbelievable save as he tipped over Steve Brown’s bullet header after 25 minutes.

There was only one team that was ever going to win this game though and we made the evening comfortable when Watkin was pulled down in the area by Phil Chard and Bennett smashed home the resulting penalty. Referee Trevor West decided that Bennett was celebrating rather too wildly and added him to his notebook, but Wrexham fans really couldn’t have cared less. Before the half-time whistle, Watkin hit the post with a diving header.

Wrexham were in control during the second half and pushed forward in search of more goals apparently. At the final whistle, Reds fans poured onto the pitch to create joyous scenes of celebration.

“When I came here my aim was to help get the club promoted and now we’ve done that we’ll be looking to take the second division by storm”, said Gary Bennett.

Club captain Mickey Thomas, who was kicking and heading every ball from the bench said: “They’ve deserved it and so have the fans. What a season and what a team.”

It’s nice to remember the good times…

***

Lining up at number seven for Northampton Town that evening was future Dragons’ boss Kevin Wilkin.

Memory Match – 14-08-93

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.

14-08-93

Wrexham v Rotherham United

League Division Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 3-3

Wrexham: Morris, Jones, Hardy, Brammer (Williams), Humes, Sertori, Bennett, Phillips, Connolly, Watkin, Cross (Paskin)

Goalscorers: Bennett (2 pen, 48 pen), Phillips (88)

Rotherham United: Mercer, Pickering, Jacobs, Banks, Richardson, Law, Hazel, Goodwin, Helliwell, Goater, Wilder

Goalscorers: Banks (22), Goater (75), Goodwin (89)

Attendance: 5,707

After winning promotion from the basement division as top home goalscorers, Wrexham showed little sign of bucking their prolific Racecourse form in a pulsating Second Division encounter. Without first team regulars Mel Pejic, Gareth Owen and Mike Lake, this would be a stern test of our credentials…

The Reds made the perfect start to life at this higher level after Gary Bennett dispatched a penalty after only two minutes. It was Psycho himself who was up-ended by Millers goalkeeper Billy Mercer following an inch-perfect free-kick from Tony Humes. Bennett made no mistake from the spot as he sent Mercer the wrong way to register the fastest goal of the new Football League season.

Brian Flynn’s men proceeded to dominate the opening 20 minutes. Karl Connolly was unfortunate to see a header skim the crossbar while Steve Watkin should have done better when he found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat.

The home side were made to pay for this as United were soon on level terms. Des Hazel turned Humes inside out and crossed for Ian Banks to volley home the equaliser even though Humes protested vehemently that the ball had crossed the line before Hazel centred.

Soon after, Bennett had a header ruled out for offside, but the Scouse goal machine didn’t have to wait long to double his tally when Wrexham were awarded a second spot kick. This time, visiting defender Nicky Law was the culprit when he needlessly handled a cross from Humes immediately after the break.

Rotherham proved resilient opponents though. They would not give up the fight and proceeded to bombard the Wrexham goal for a nail biting 20 minute period. Mark Morris was our hero when he produced an awesome double save, but our desperate defending could not prevent Shaun Goater from equalising in the 75th minute.

In the closing stages, Jon Cross wasted a late opportunity by shooting straight at Mercer and substitute Scott Williams wasn’t far off with a 25 yard drive. As supporters began to head for the exits, Karl Connolly produced a moment of pure magic to beat two defenders and set up Wayne Phillips who left Mercer helpless with a stunning strike from 15 yards.

Surely this was game over – unfortunately not. Shaun Goodwin had the last laugh when he volleyed home a late leveller to ensure the points were shared on an afternoon of breathless excitement.

***

Flynn said afterwards: “We’ve got to improve on our marking. Mistakes will be really punished in this division. I’m glad we’ve got the first one under our belt and I am happy with a draw. Rotherham deserved the draw and I think they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.”

Rotherham United actually finished in a lowly 15th position while Wrexham ended the season in a comfortable mid-table 12th spot.

***

It took us six games to record our first victory in the League – a 3-2 home win against league leaders Reading. There was little to celebrate in the cup competitions either as Walsall knocked us out of the FA Cup after a replay that was beamed nationwide to TV viewers.

Our fortunes in the League Cup were a little brighter as we disposed of Crewe Alexandra 4-3 on aggregate to set up a clash against Nottingham Forest. Another 3-3 draw – the second leg against Crewe also finished 3-3 – at the Racecourse saw Stan Collymore register a hat-trick, while he was also on target in the second leg which Forest won 3-1.

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.

My Racecourse

Taken from the Wrexham AFC official website

Nathan 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.

Here is the first and it the shares Nathan’s moving story of his My Racecourse memory against Barnet from nearly 25 years ago:

26/09/92

Wrexham v Barnet

Division Three

Racecourse Ground

Result: 2-3

Wrexham: Hughes, Jones, Pejic, Phillips, Humes, Sertori, Bennett, Owen, Connolly, Thomas, Paskin (Taylor)

Goalscorers: Bennett 35, Thomas 78

Barnet: Phillips, Howell, Cooper, Bodley, Barnett, Horton, Payne, Carter, Bull, Lowe (Stein), Showler (Naylor)

Goalscorers: Bull 21, 47, Carter 33

Attendance: 3,078

School days are supposed to be the best days of your life, but I can assure you that in my case nothing could be further from the truth. Academically there was no problem, but I was the victim of merciless bullies who I would do anything to avoid due to their repressive catcalls and punishing fists.

The problem was that I wasn’t like everyone else and in the black and white world of childhood being different is impossibly isolating.

I walked with a involuntary drunken stagger, which caused much amusement to my immature class mates. I was later to find out that my lack of co-ordination was caused by a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system known as Friedreich’s Ataxia, but at the time clueless doctors just labelled me as lazy and clumsy. I had few friends and felt that no one understood me.

As you can imagine, I lived for the weekends and had started going to the Racecourse in the late eighties. One particular Saturday, my friends could not make it to the Cae Ras, so I had to decide whether to miss out on an afternoon’s entertainment – which had also been previewed on Saint and Greavsie – or go it alone…

It was ridiculously early. I purchased a copy of the matchday programme and spent the last few pounds of my pocket money to gain access to the near-deserted Kop. I had my choice of crush barriers to stand behind and after choosing a position on the upper left of this much loved terrace, I sat on the cold concrete steps to read about our 2-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town a couple of weeks previously.

This welcome three points against the Shrews had come against the formbook, which did little to suggest that season 1992/93 would be anything else other than our usual scrap amongst the dead men. Less than a month into the season we’d already suffered heavy-defeats on the road as Bury, York City and Gillingham had all scored four goals past us in three successive away defeats. How on earth would we cope against a second-placed Barnet side?

As the Kop slowly filled I realised that I was uncharacteristically relaxed and comfortable with those around me. I was not nervous or worried about being judged and took comfort from the fact that we were all there with the same aim in mind – three points for Wrexham. One bloke asked me the time, an old chap read the team line-ups from my programme and his mate shared his bar of Bourneville with me. Such interaction and unity with other human beings made a refreshing change from the assassination of my uniqueness by playground bullies.

I could be myself at the Racecourse…

I don’t remember too much about the game other than the novelty of Barnet boss Barry Fry running down the touchline in celebration of his side’s first half goals, Gary Bennett’s first league goal for the club, a disappointing attendance and the sliver of hope provided by Mickey Thomas when he reduced the deficit to 3-2 on 78 minutes.

We may have lost the game and left the ground full of frustration, but it didn’t matter to me, as I had enjoyed the afternoon of inclusion with my fellow Wrexham fans. This was my first real memory of acceptance by a group of supporters who have since become my extended family.

***
Inclusion and acceptance is what the Racecourse means to me. Over the summer months, I hope 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 – 19-04-03

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.

19-04-03

Kidderminster Harriers v Wrexham

Nationwide League Division Three

Aggborough

Result: 0-2

Kidderminster Harriers: Brock, Smith (Foster), Stamps, Bennett, Hinton, Scott, Flynn, Williams, Bishop (McAuley), Parrish, Shilton

Wrexham: Dibble, Whitley, Carey, Ferguson (Barrett), Roberts, Lawrence, Edwards, Green, Morrell, Trundle, Edwards

Goalscorer: Trundle 37, 64

Attendance: 3,689

Our first-ever League trip to Aggborough gave Denis Smith’s men the opportunity to gain revenge for a highly eventful defeat at the Racecourse in December 2002. Before that game, goalkeeper Paul Whitfield was injured in the warm-up and replaced by Kristian Rogers. On 63 minutes, Darren Ferguson was sent-off for allegedly stamping on Sean Parrish and after 84 minutes former Wrexham player Danny Williams was booked only a minute after coming on as substitute. It was a wretched performance by the home side and we slumped to a 0-2 defeat.

By the time we turned up at Aggborough the team had tapped into a rich vein of form and were on the promotion trail. Now would be the perfect time to avenge that defeat and extend our unbeaten run to ten games.

Kidderminster still had a play-off position to play for, but Denis Smith’s side overwhelmed their opponents with a scintillating performance in front of 1,400 travelling fans. Midfielder Scott Green – on loan from Wigan Athletic – had an early opportunity, but he couldn’t find the net after good work from leading scorer Andy Morrell.

The match was played in difficult conditions with a swirling wind causing all manner of problems, including a stoppage of ten minutes in the first half after scaffolding blew onto the pitch. This disruption didn’t stop Lee Trundle from concentrating on the job in hand and putting Wrexham ahead with an excellent goal eight minutes before half-time.  Trundle ran with the ball and, despite having options, he found the bottom of the net from 25 yards with his left foot.

It was all one-way traffic in the first half, but three minutes after the break captain Darren Ferguson picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Paul Barrett. Still, this did not stop the charge of the Red Army. On 64 minutes the confident visitors doubled their lead when Brian Carey was on hand to meet a cross – though his header was somehow kept out by Stuart Brock in the Kidderminster goal and Trundle was on hand to convert the loose ball from close range.

In the latter stages of the match Dennis Lawrence had a header saved by Brock and although dominant Wrexham did not add to their tally, neither did they look like conceding. This was the Red Dragons’ fourth consecutive victory of an eight game winning streak as they eased to promotion in style – albeit they still only finished in third position on 84 points behind champions Rushden and Diamonds, and runners-up Hartlepool United. However, we did end up ten points clear of the fourth placed club, AFC Bournemouth.

***

Andy Morrell scored 34 league goals in the 2002/03 season, making him top scorer in all four divisions that year, having only scored two goals the entire previous season. This impressive haul set a new post-war scoring record for Morrell as he eclipsed Gary Bennett’s total of 32 in the 1993/94 season.

Denis Smith said: “I’m delighted for Andy. He’s had a superb season. Every club I’ve been at we’ve produced goal scorers. You’ve got to be there to finish them off and Andy does that brilliantly. He gets good service and I’m delighted for the lad.”

Memory Match – 29-11-94

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.

29-11-94

Auto Windscreens Shield second round (Northern Section)

Wrexham v Bradford City

Racecourse Ground

Result: 6-1

Wrexham: Marriott, Brace, Hardy, Hughes, Hunter, Jones (Phillips), Bennett, Owen, Connolly, Watkin, Durkan (Cross)

Goalscorers: Bennett (2, 14, 55), Watkin (17, 42), Owen (52)

 Bradford City: Tomlinson, Huxford, Jacobs, Duxbury, Sinnott, Richards (Power), Shutt (Showler), Oliver, Taylor, Jewell, Murray

Goalscorer: Power (73)

Attendance: 1,407

Wrexham made an excellent start to the 1994/95 campaign after winning four and drawing two of their openings six matches. This was against all expectations as the team were tipped to struggle with bookmakers setting odds of 33-1 for the Robins to win the Second Division. Such steep prices were exceeded only by AFC Bournemouth ((50-1).

The three League games prior to this Auto Windscreens Shield clash had certainly been eventful and entertaining. A goal feast began with a 4-1 victory over Wycombe Wanderers – including a hat-trick from Gary Bennett – before a disastrous defeat by the same score at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park that included two own goals. Bryan Hughes and Waynne Phillips were the culprits.

This dire display was followed by a Welsh derby against Swansea City at the Racecourse. The Swans were unbeaten in seven games but were swept aside 4-1 in north Wales thanks to a brace from Steve Watkin, in between efforts from Bryan Hughes and Gareth Owen. This exceptional performance was particularly impressive as manager Brian Flynn was unable to call on his trusted central defensive partnership of Tony Humes (suspension) and Barry Hunter (illness).

It was therefore with great confidence that we went into our midweek Football League Trophy encounter with Bradford City – a match in which Flynn recorded the biggest win of his fledgling managerial career.

The game was only two minutes old when Gary Bennett accepted a pinpoint through ball from Gareth Owen to slot past Paul Tomlinson in the Bradford goal.

The same duo combined for the second goal as Bennett headed home at the near post from Owen’s corner kick.

Steve Watkin then hit home a corner by Kieron Durkan, which had been missed by Tomlinson.  This was to be Durkan’s final contribution to the evening as just minutes later he was caught by a late tackle and had to be replaced by Jonathon Cross.

Wrexham continued to outclass Bradford with long periods of attacking play and the fourth goal came when Bennett unselfishly crossed to Watkin who was left with an easy finish.

The second half was only seven minutes old when Owen continued the goal feast with a well placed effort.

Top scorer Bennett brought the season’s tally to 19 and completed his hat-trick after rifling home from a Connolly through ball.  This was Psycho’s second treble of the season – his third was to come against Leyton Orient in January.

Bradford were in tatters, their small group of travelling fans giving ironic cheers every time they managed to mount an attack on the Wrexham goal.  A double substitution by visiting boss Lennie Lawrence did improve matters slightly and with just 15 minutes left Lee Power managed a consolation.

Wrexham ruled supreme though and were given a deserved standing ovation as they left the field. Indeed, Racecourse regulars were being somewhat spoilt during this heady period as our next game was an FA Cup second round tie against Rotherham United, which we won 5-2 to set-up a third round clash against Premier League Ipswich Town.