Jim Steel

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 – 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.

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…

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…