Graham Whittle

Memory Match – 22-04-78

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.

22-04-78

Wrexham v Rotherham United

League Division Three

Racecourse Ground

Result: 7-1

Wrexham: Davies, Evans, Dwyer, Davis (Cegielski), Roberts, Thomas, Shinton, Sutton, Lyons, Whittle, Cartwright

Goalscorers: Thomas, Lyons, Whittle (3, 2 pens), Shinton, Cartwright

Rotherham United: McAlister, Forrest, Breckin, Rhodes, Spencer, Green, Finney, Phillips, Gwyther, Goodfellow, Crawford

Goalscorer: Phillips

Attendance: 16,586

I wasn’t there. Almost four decades later I only have a dog-eared programme and a video cassette of poor quality images – that seem to have been shot from the moon – to remind me that the game really did happen.

After the heartbreak of the previous season, we had lost manager John Neal to the bright lights of Middlesbrough, star striker Billy Ashcroft joined him and a flood of transfer requests resulted. Arfon Griffiths stepped-up as player-manager, but the Robins recorded just one win in their first seven games and found themselves languishing in eighteenth position in the Third Division table. Griffiths took decisive action by signing Dixie McNeil for £60,000 from Hereford United and goalkeeper Dai Davies was recruited for a bargain £8,000 from Everton. “I am not a Welsh nationalist, but the little girl was beginning to get a Liverpool accent,” said the Welsh-speaking keeper.

‘Deadshot’ Dixie scored on his debut and Wrexham went on a thirteen game unbeaten run to top the league table for the first time in four years. However, it was the cup exploits of Arfon’s men that really made the nation sit up and take notice. It took Liverpool and Arsenal to knock the Welshmen out of the League and FA Cup competitions, both at the quarter-final stage.

Thankfully these cup shenanigans did not interfere with the Town’s league form and seven straight victories in March helped earn Griffiths his fourth manager of the month award of the season.

As the season drew to a close, Wrexham faced relegation-threatened Rotherham United on the back of five games without a win. Nevertheless, if Wrexham could win this match they would ensure promotion to the second tier for the first time in their history. In preparation for this massive game Arfon took his players to the Costa del Llandudno for a ride on the donkeys and a tram ride up the Great Orme. Whatever happened on the north Wales coast certainly helped to quash the tension and banish the jitters as Wrexham returned to the Racecourse to destroy Rotherham in emphatic fashion and finally escape from the Third Division.

16,586 fans crammed into the Cae Ras and saw Mickey Thomas fire us ahead on 12 minutes. Following a return pass with John Lyons, the magic little man fired past United goalkeeper Tom McAlister and celebrated with a somersault. Only three minutes later Lyons doubled our advantage after Les Cartwright clipped the ball back from the by line. Wrexham had the bit between their teeth and added a third after a penalty was awarded following a clumsy challenge on Cartwright by visiting defender Mark Rhodes. The spot-kick was blasted home by Graham Whittle.

Bobby Shinton got his name on the score sheet after he turned a defender inside out before jabbing the ball into the far corner. Before the half time whistle, the Reds made it five as Whittle headed home Cartwright’s cross. It was such a fine display that even the referee – Mr Bert Newsome – joined the rest of the ground in a standing ovation.

Battling Rotherham pulled one back after the break when Wayne Cegielski’s header dropped invitingly for Trevor Phillips to promptly smash the ball past Dai Davies.

Wrexham restored their five-goal advantage from the penalty spot as Whittle completed his hat-trick. Cartwright made a spectacular run to fire in a seven. At the final whistle, the crowd erupted and spilled onto the pitch in never-to-be-forgotten scenes — at least for those who were there.

***

The result did not help Rotherham’s cause, but they stayed up by one place.

Memory Match – 21-12-74

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.

21-12-74

Wrexham v Watford

League Division Three

Racecourse Ground

Result: 5-1

Wrexham: Lloyd, Jones, Fogg, Evans, May, Whittle, Tinnion, Sutton, Davies, Smallman, Griffiths

Goalscorers: Smallman 25, 44, Whittle 26, 31, Davies 45

Watford:  Rankin, Craker, Williams, Joslyn, Keen, Goodeve, Bond, Jenkins, Mayes, Scullion (Bristow), Downes

Goalscorer: Joslyn 55

Attendance: 4,128

 

When writing about a John Neal side of the Seventies there are certain words that usually feature, such as “giantkillers” and “Europe”. However, neither of these words could be used in connection with 1974-75, which failed to explode into the expected promotion charge. Instead, during a season of transition we had to settle for a few sparks of hope in an ultimately disappointing campaign.

After losing to Stourbridge in the previous season’s Welsh Cup semi-final, there were no memorable European encounters while Fourth Division sides Crewe Alexandra (1-2) and Mansfield Town (3-1) knocked us out of the League and FA Cups respectively – both at the first round stage.

Prior to this featured game against mid-table rivals Watford, the Leader spoke about how victory was vital for 12th placed Wrexham to keep in touch with the promotion-chasing pack. Manager Neal was in an optimistic frame of mind: “What we need is a good run. We have dropped a few silly points which would have put us among the front runners, but we have been working hard on trying to sort out one or two little problems we have had.”

Goals were what we needed and the players responded to their pep talk by putting on their shooting boots. Wrexham scored five goals in a remarkable first half. The avalanche started in the 25th minute when Dave Smallman sent a glancing header past Watford goalkeeper Andy Rankin after Arfon Griffiths floated a free kick into the box.

Less than a minute later, Wrexham doubled their lead. Griffiths sent Smallman away down the left and his cross was knocked back across the box by Brian Tinnion for Graham Whittle to turn on a sixpence and shoot low into the corner of the goal.

Watford were all over the place. Whittle grabbed the third after good work from Smallman and Geoff Davies allowed him to score from 12 yards. The rampant Reds were in awesome form and Smallman almost notched another soon after, but he headed a Tinnion cross onto the bar. Not to be denied, Smallman nodded home the fourth after a Griffiths header from a Tinnion corner had bounced off the bar.

On the stroke of half-time, Wrexham completed their five-star show when Smallman ran free of the beleaguered Watford defence and crossed for Davies to slot home.

The Robins eased up in the second half and allowed the Hornets to score a consolation goal after 55 minutes when Roger Joslyn followed up after a shot by Bobby Downes had been blocked.

A jubilant John Neal said: “We hadn’t been putting away a big enough percentage of our chances in previous matches, but on Saturday we really tucked them in.”

***

After such a resounding victory our topsy-turvy season took a turn for the worse as we lost five and drew one of the next six games. In March, we beat Aldershot 4-0 thanks to a Dave Smallman hat-trick, but shortly after this treble the club – £50,000 in the red – accepted a club record fee of £75,000 from Everton manager Billy Bingham for the young marksman.

A distraught Neal said: “Wrexham have won, Everton have won, and the boy was won. I’m the loser because I hated to see him go.”

The campaign concluded with a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park against champions Blackburn Rovers that left us floating in 13th position.

Still, we managed to finish a largely forgettable season on a high after beating Cardiff City 5-2 over two legs to lift the Welsh Cup and earn another crack at European opposition.

Memory Match – 15-01-77

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.

15-01-77

Wrexham v Reading

League Division Three

Racecourse Ground

Result: 3-1

Wrexham: Lloyd, Hill, Davis, Cegielski, Roberts, Thomas, Shinton, Sutton, Ashcroft, Whittle, Griffiths

Goalscorers: Ashcroft 23, Griffiths 33 (pen), Whittle 73

Reading: Death, Peters, Henderson, Bowman (Youlden), Bennett, Moreline, Murray, Hiron, Earles, Carnaby, Stuckey

Goalscorer: Murray 68

Attendance: 5,653

 

The Robins entered this game on a high. They were flying high in the League and three days previously they had knocked Sunderland out of the FA Cup at the second attempt – completing a memorable hat-trick of cup victories over First Division opponents that season.

Wrexham were without regular full backs Mickey Evans and Alan Dwyer. Evans was unwell and Dwyer had dislocated a shoulder during the replay against Sunderland, which seemed likely to keep him out of action for six weeks.  Despite this, the Reds were far from disrupted.

It was a day to remember for Wrexham’s formidable three-pronged strike force as they brought their combined season’s goal tally to an incredible 46. Billy Ashcroft’s header gave him 17 for the season, Graham Whittle’s shot took his tally to 13 and skilful Bobby Shinton was unlucky not to add to the 16 he had netted that term.

Whittle thought he had scored after 20 minutes, but his “goal” was disallowed by the linesman. However, two minutes later the deadlock was broken when Mel Sutton’s cross was met by the head of Ashcroft and his powerful header went in off the underside of the crossbar.  Steve Death in the Reading goal had no chance.

Shinton – who was mesmerising all afternoon – almost doubled the lead after displaying his sublime skills with the ball, but his shot was cleared off the goal line by Gary Peters with Death beaten.

On 33 minutes, visiting defender Paul Bennett was forced to impede the unplayable Ashcroft to prevent him from connecting with a Sutton cross. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Arfon Griffiths stepped-up to net his first goal of the season and double our lead.

Reading were chasing shadows in the first half. Their only chance of note was squandered by Pat Earles – a new £15,000 signing from Southampton – who tamely headed Ray Hiron’s centre across the face of goal.

After the break, Wrexham loss some of their momentum and Reading enjoyed a period in the ascendancy after John Roberts went close with a good header.

The warning signs were there when Brian Lloyd, a spectator for much of the game, was called upon to make a staggering full-length save from a rasping drive by Bruce Stuckey.

However, Lloyd was left helpless after 68 minutes when John Murray lashed home an unstoppable drive from 30 yards for his 13th goal of the season.

Any hopes that the Royals had of staging a comeback didn’t last for long as just five minutes later Whittle restored the two goal advantage from 12 yards after good work from Ashcroft and Griffiths.

Manager John Neal said: “I am overjoyed.  This has completed a wonderful week.  Now I am going to give the lads a couple of days off. They deserve a rest after their tremendous efforts, twice against Sunderland and again today in the energy-sapping mud.”

***

Unfortunately, following their FA Cup heroics over Sunderland, which was watched by over 16,000, the attendance dropped to a mere 5,633.  This was disappointing to say the least, but it could be explained by the atrocious weather conditions – including snow – that cast some doubt on whether the game would actually go ahead.

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.”