Leicester City

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…

When Saturday Comes – Restricted access

I wrote the following article for When Saturday Comes magazine, regarding disabled access to football grounds.  They have used a picture of Wrexham fans enjoying the view from the wheelchair platform at the Racecourse, which just so happens to feature the fantastically gorgeous Nathan Lee Davies.

This is the original article that I wrote.  It has been edited a little in When Saturday Comes, but here it is reprinted in all its glory.  Enjoy.

Restricted access

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee [CMSC] published a report on Access to Sports Stadia in January, which highlighted substandard facilities and archaic attitudes towards disabled football supporters, especially amongst clubs plying their trade in the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

In 2015, the league promised to improve the matchday experience for disabled fans, stating that clubs would comply with official guidance – set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the  – by August 2017. With this self-imposed deadline fast approaching, the CMSC survey suggested that several top-flight clubs were unlikely to meet even basic standards before the new season starts. It seems as if profit and greed has been frequently favoured by club owners over any sense of social responsibility.

This is particularly hard to stomach when you consider that the estimated costs facing the entire Premier League to bring their stadia to standard are as little as £7.2 million. No wonder fans are disgruntled when their clubs are currently in the first of a three-year television deal worth £10.4 billion.

Committee chairman Damian Collins MP said: “Sports fans with disabilities are not asking for a large number of expensive changes, only to have their needs taken into account in the way sports stadia are designed and operated.”

There can be no doubt that the majority of our elite clubs are ignoring the needs of a section of their fanbase. We only need to consider the Premier League Handbook of 2016-17 for evidence of this. This is a hefty 655-page document that includes immense detail regarding stadium requirements for accommodating TV companies, yet includes only 11 words on disabled access. This is a depressing reminder of the modern game’s priorities.

Of course, the Premier League is defensive. A statement argued that clubs are showing commitment over, what it deemed to be, an ambitious timescale.  This is hard to swallow when you consider the inclusive work being done further down the pyramid. The CMSC report regards Championship club Derby County and non-league sides Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham and Egham Town as “exemplars of best practice”. My club, Wrexham, may have played some of the worst football ever seen at the Racecourse during the 2016/17 season, but I have never been prouder to support our truly inclusive, community-owned club.

Not only does the oldest international football stadium in the world now boast an accessible viewing platform for non-ambulant supporters, but we also have plans for two more platforms. In addition, we have purchased audio descriptive commentary equipment for fans with visual impairments and have recently become a dementia friendly football club.  This is good going for a club owned and run by its fans and shows that it is possible to open a stadium to everyone.

A Premier League report – released on Transfer Deadline Day in the hope that no one would notice – revealed that 13 of its 20 clubs’ grounds do not incorporate the minimum number of wheelchair spaces recommended in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG) and that nine of the clubs will not make the necessary improvements in time for the league’s August deadline.

Thankfully, the threat of legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) seems to have done the trick and shaken many clubs from an inactive slumber. David Isaac, EHRC chair, issued an uncompromising statement: “The time for excuses is over. Clubs need to urgently demonstrate to us what they are doing to ensure they are compliant with the law and how they are making it easier for disabled fans to attend matches. If they don’t, they will face legal action.”

Improvement schemes have subsequently been hurriedly announced by clubs that currently fall short of the minimum standards. Only four of these clubs – Liverpool, Stoke, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion – hope to meet these standards by the August deadline.

Positive plans are in the pipeline at Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and Leicester City, but these proposed works will not be ready within the tight timeframe.  Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea both pledge that their newly built grounds will be fully compliant with the ASG when opened.  Middlesbrough believe that the Riverside Stadium already complies with the regulations while the other two promoted teams from 2015/16, Hull City and Burnley, have been given a further year to make the necessary improvements.

Progress is being made and this should be welcomed. However, it is hard not to be cynical and question why such improvements have taken so long.  It is all well and good for football grounds to be hospitable to disabled patrons, but the change that really needs to happen is attitudinal so that no one feels excluded from watching their football team ever again.

When Saturday Comes – Equal access

Below is an article I wrote for the May 2015 edition of When Saturday Comes magazine on disabled access at football grounds.

EQUAL ACCESS

My first away game holds memories of standing room only on a crumbling terrace. It was 1989 and things were very different back then. There were about 500 of us crammed together under a low-hanging roof with obstructive roof supports hindering any decent view as Hereford United and Wrexham played out a turgid goalless draw – apparently.

I’d spent the afternoon craning my neck, deciphering the work of graffiti artists and paddling in piss at Edgar Street. It may sound the stuff of nightmares but it has become a treasured memory from my formative years due to the camaraderie and sense of belonging that was conjured by following my team out of north Wales. It was this notion of shared identity and togetherness that led to more disappointingly brilliant visits to architecturally elderly football grounds during the early nineties. I was part of the crowd.

Fast forward seven years and I’d become a lonely and isolated figure after being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia – a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system – which eventually confined me to a wheelchair. I quickly learnt to accept the limitations placed on me by Mother Nature, but I struggled to adapt to the social limitations of a disabled-unfriendly society, which are perfectly illustrated through my experiences as a football spectator.

Away travel quickl0y became a hassle. I could no longer decide on the day of the game whether or not I fancied attending. Instead, I had to telephone the relevant club in advance of my impending ‘pain-in-the-arse’ presence to pre-book tickets. There was one occasion that I was unable to claim a space in a 20,000 capacity stadium despite the official attendance being a paltry 6,729.

When I did manage to secure a match ticket I was determined to travel with my fellow fans on the inaccessible coach, even if this meant losing my dignity by crawling onboard and struggling onto a seat. After expending all my energy with such manoeuvres I couldn’t face the prospect of repeating the process for toilet breaks. Frustratingly this meant no beer for me. To make matters worse, the majority of football grounds didn’t have disabled toilet facilities before the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, meaning that I’d often have to wait until I returned home to relieve myself. Lucky I’ve got a strong bladder.

At least I had the game to look forward to. Annoyingly though, instead of mingling with mates over 90 minutes of social interaction I’d be forced to use a makeshift wheelchair section – wi00th inadequate views from pitch level – in the depths of rival territory and accompanied by hostile stares. What do you do when Karl Connolly converts a late penalty to secure a precious point to the distress of everyone around you? I celebrated. It was worth the bloody nose…

The final whistle signalled another slap in the face. I would regularly travel hundreds of miles to watch my local team but due to my segregation away from the main body of visitors, my efforts would go without applause or recognition by travelling players. It wasn’t their fault. I was merely an invisible needle in a haystack.

My frustrations weren’t just limited to on the road. Things were just as bad at the Racecourse where wheelchair bound fans were plonked at the side of the pitch with only a rickety looking corrugated-iron structure for protection from the elements. It was hard enough to come to terms with my disability without being treated like a second-class citizen by my own club. Instead of accepting this situation, I allowed two club stewards to break all manner of fire regulations and carry me up into the main stand where I could enjoy the game with friends.

These were my experiences in the twentieth century. Surely, the picture is brighter in 2015? It would appear not. More needs to be done to include disabled people – whatever their disability – in the matchday experience. As sports writer David Conn underlined in a recent article, the vast majority of Premier League clubs have not made the required improvements in line with the Equality Act 2010. The money is there to make the necessary architectural improvements to football stadia – as shown in the new builds at Swansea, Leicester and Arsenal – but the socially responsible drive and purpose is missing.

As is often the case, football mirrors society and sporting arenas will continue to be an ugly place for those with disabilities until society at large becomes more accepting and accessible for all. Coalition welfare cuts, a shortage of accessible housing and shocking statistics on disabled hate crime mean I won’t be holding my breath for a return to the inclusion I experienced at Edgar Street…