Les McDowall

Memory Match – 01-01-49

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 I would like to compile all the columns into a book that will reflect the rich history of my beloved football club.

01-01-49

Wrexham v Bradford City

League Division Three (Northern Section)

Racecourse Ground

Result: 5-0

Wrexham: Ferguson, Tunney, Jackson, Speed, Spruce, Bellis, Grainger, Beynon, Boothway, Sharp, Tunnicliffe

Goalscorers: Beynon (2), Birkinshaw (og), Grainger, Boothway

Bradford City: McManus, Ferguson, Ruecroft, Conroy, Birkinshaw, Murphy, Poole, Shearer, Hardcastle, Ward, Woollett

Attendance: 4,291

Wrexham opened the new year with a convincing victory that raised hopes for the second half of the season. 1949 certainly promised more than 1948 had delivered as a series of poor results and performances had seen us drop in to the lower reaches of the league table before Christmas. We were also knocked out of the FA Cup at the first round stage after Oldham Athletic thumped us 3-0 at the Racecourse.

This was our chance to record a ‘double’ over the Bantams as the third game of the season saw us record a hard-fought 1-2 victory at Valley Parade thanks to two goals from Dick Yates.

Writing in the Leader, “Wanderer” said “so paltry was the exhibition put up by the City that they made Wrexham’s task infinitely easier. That they  got away with no more than five goals scored against them without reply was certainly not due to their own strength but rather to the many gift chances which the Wrexham forwards let slip through their fingers.” This sounds strangely familiar.

Wrexham were well on top for 90% of the game as it quickly became clear why our Yorkshire opposition were rock-bottom of the league. The visiting defence were unable to cope with the Wrexham frontline and only former Wrexham ‘guest’ player George Birkinshaw finished the game with any credit. The visitors were not helped by a shaky performance from goalkeeper Brendan McManus who had a tendency to wander from his goal and was fortunate not to concede as a result.

It should also be noted that the weather was atrocious and affected the playing conditions. The reporter writing for the North Wales Guardian commented “that the treacherous, rain-soaked surface proved anything but conducive to good ball control and accurate shooting on both sides.”

“Wanderer” was particularly impressed with the deployment of five Wrexham forwards instead of the usual three. There are special mentions for Norman Sharp and Eddie Beynon. The latter opened the scoring on 38 minutes when he beat McManus with a low shot. This was the only goal of the first half when Wrexham were particularly wasteful in front of goal. Things did improve following our opener, but McManus did well to dispose of powerful drives from Jack Boothway and Dennis Grainger.

After the interval, Bradford’s attacks were more frequent but were never a menace to the Wrexham defence. Gradually, Wrexham took control of the game again and some “fine wing work” was a constant source of worry to the opposition.

Six minutes after the restart, Grainger sent the ball into the middle and Birkinshaw – threatened by the Wrexham midfielder – attempted a lofted back-pass to McManus, but his kick looped over the head of the advancing custodian to double our lead.

A host of chances went begging before Wrexham got their third goal in the 79th minute from Beynon who left McManus helpless. Five minutes later, Beynon provided Grainger with a pass and opened a way for him to net a fourth. Three minutes from the end Grainger’s centre was snapped up by Boothway whose shot seemed to curl clear of the goal, but it struck full­­-back Hugh Ferguson sufficiently to divert it in to the City net.

***

Wrexham finished the season in a respectable ninth position, which was quite remarkable when you consider that we had a change of manager and spent six matches being managed by a committee. Tom Williams was our boss for the game discussed above. However, following four straight victories his employment was terminated by the board of directors with 18 months of his contract remaining. A new manager was eventually installed when Manchester City wing-half Les McDowall became Wrexham’s first player- manager.

Memory Match – 13-01-51

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.

13-01-51

Wrexham v York City

League Division Three (Northern Section)

Racecourse Ground

Result: 4-3

Wrexham: Ferguson, Tunney, McAdam, Spencer, Spruce, McCallum, Lawrence, Wylliie, Fidler, Donaldson, Tunnicliffe

Goalscorers: Tunnicliffe, Wylliie, Donaldson, Fidler

York City: Ashley, Andrews, Simpson, Horton, Brenen, Spence, Linaker, Brown, Patrick (A), Storey, Patrick (M)

Goalscorers: Patrick (Alf) (2), Spence (pen)

Attendance: 5,159

Wrexham began the 1950/51 season without a permanent manager, following the departure of Les McDowall to his beloved Manchester City after only one season in charge. This had been a season of struggle and caretaker Cliff Lloyd could only lead the Reds to an inconsistent start to the new term. The high points of his stewardship up until November included home victories over Shrewsbury Town (1-0) and Chester City (2-0).

Peter Jackson was eventually unveiled as the new manager after we had endured a run of only one win in nine games under Lloyd. Jackson’s mission was to steady the ship and it could be argued that this was achieved with an anonymous 14th place finish in a newly expanded 24-team League.

This was Jackson’s fourth home game, having won two others and drawing one. With York City struggling for form it was hoped that our new boss could extend his unbeaten record at the Racecourse.

It took 20 minutes for Wrexham to open the scoring when Cyril Lawrence delivered a corner to the unmarked Billy Tunnicliffe who didn’t need asking twice to put the Reds in the lead. Frank Fidler had a chance to increase the lead with a flashing header, but it was the visitors who struck next on the half-hour. Alf Patrick made the most of Wrexham’s defensive shortcomings to equalise, albeit totally against the run of play.

It didn’t take the home side long to reassert their dominance though. Again it was a Lawrence corner kick that proved decisive, but this time it was Jimmy Wyllie who provided the finishing header. There was still time before the interval for Wrexham to increase their lead further. Fidler was unfortunate to see his header parried against the crossbar by Joe Ashley in the York goal, but the ball came down in play and Les Donaldson’s over-head kick secured our advantage going into the break. The only wonder was that York weren’t further behind.

The second half continued in much the same vein with Wrexham battering away at a defence that could not cope with the onslaught. Seven minutes after the re-start Fidler nodded in a Tunnicliffe cross to score his side’s fourth. Game over, or was it?

Whether it was a case of Wrexham becoming complacent or York digging deep to fight back is a moot point. Writing in the Leader, “Wanderer” complained about “Wrexham’s half-backs wandering hither and thither until all we could rely on was Eddie Tunney like the rock of Gibraltar crashing in and clearing when everyone else seemed unable to put a foot right”.

The Minstermen found their way back into the game thanks to an error of judgement from Wrexham goalkeeper Archie Ferguson. Matt Patrick delivered a corner that a poorly placed Ferguson could only watch sail over his head to his unmarked brother Alf, who was on hand to reduce the deficit for the final half-hour.

On 77 minutes disaster struck when Wrexham conceded a penalty following a “stupid push”. It was probably a harsh decision, but Ron Spence made no mistake from the penalty spot. This led to an uncomfortabl00e last 10 minutes, but had Wrexham increased their lead it would not have been an unfair result based on the overall standards of the two teams.

Memory Match – 27-08-49

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.

27-08-49

Wrexham v Lincoln City

League Division Three (Northern Section)

Racecourse Ground

Result: 4-0

Wrexham: Ferguson, Wynn, Jackson, Spruce, Wilson, Speed, Grainger, Graham, Boothway, Rowell, Tunnicliffe

Goalscorers: Boothway (3), Grainger

Lincoln City: Payne, Green, Stillyards, Wright, Emery, Owen, Windsor, Finch, Dodds, Eastham, Windle

Attendance: 13,162

This was our first full season under the tutorship of player-manager Les McDowall after the departure of Tom Williams in February 1949. McDowall had been at the helm for the last seven matches of a fairly successful season in which we finished ninth. However, on closer inspection McDowall’s initial impact was hardly impressive –winning two, drawing two and losing three. The jury was still out…

The only new signing in the close season was a four figure deal for outside-right John Graham from Aston Villa who scored on his debut in a 2-2 draw against Rotherham United. This well-earned point came against a side that had been runners-up in Division Three North for the previous three seasons and was followed by a fortunate 1-1 draw against Bill Shankly’s Carlisle United side at the Racecourse. This game saw much criticism, frustration and barracking of the team for a below par performance strewn with errors.

The catcalls and jeers must have been vociferous as they resulted in the following paragraph from match reporter “The Wanderer” in the Leader.

“Let us have a little more practical demonstration of the word “supporter” and a lot less criticism, and the team will profit by it in good games as well as in bad.”

Next up were newly relegated Lincoln City.

In their failed attempt to stave off relegation from the Second Division, the Imps spent £25,000 on players, so hopes were high that the team would bounce straight back up under the guidance of Bill Anderson. However, it was the Robins who surprised many – including their own fans – by recording such a resounding victory.

After 39 minutes of grumbling from the home fans, Wrexham clicked into gear and took the lead through Jack Boothway after good work from Fred Rowell and a pinpoint cross from Billy Tunnicliffe. A combination of defensive heroics, good goalkeeping and misfiring meant that the Reds went in at half-time with a mere one-goal advantage.

The second period was only 30 seconds old when Boothway doubled his tally after a direct dribble down the middle of the pitch. The 6ft 2in marksman ran out of options, so whipped the ball out wide to Tunnicliffe and continued his race towards goal. When Tunnicliffe eventually centred the ball it was met by the head of the in-rushing Boothway to give Frank Payne no chance in the Lincoln goal.

Boothway completed his hat-trick after an hour following a sublime dribble from Rowell that ended when he pushed the ball out to Dennis Grainger on the flank. The cross that followed was inevitably converted by Boothway who was popularly regarded as the best centre-forward at the Cae Ras since the legendary Tommy Bamford.

Four minutes later the rout was completed with a powerful header from Grainger.

***

After such a promising start to the season Wrexham quickly faded and finished a season of struggle in 20th position in the League table. Les McDowell left the hot-seat when former club Manchester City came calling for his managerial services. McDowall was an instant success at Maine Road by securing promotion to the top flight at his first attempt. This began a distinguished 13 year reign in the job after learning the ropes at Wrexham.