Middlesbrough

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.

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.

Memory Match – 11-12-99

Throughout the 2015/16 football season I contributed to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I penned a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past. I hope to continue writing this feature next season.

11-12-99

Wrexham v Middlesbrough

FA Cup Third Round

Racecourse Ground

Result: 2-1

Wrexham: Dearden, McGregor, Hardy, Ferguson, S. Roberts (Ridler), Carey, Williams, Gibson (Owen), Faulconbridge (Connolly), N. Roberts, Russell

Goalscorers: Gibson 50, Ferguson 68

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Stamp, Ziege, Feste, Vickers, Pallister (Gavin), Mustoe, Gascoigne, Deane, Ricard, Juninho

Goalscorer: Deane 42

Attendance: 11,755

The 1990’s saw some splendid FA Cup performances by Brian Flynn’s men. Arsenal, Ipswich Town and West Ham United were all put to the sword.

We progressed to the third round of the 1999/2000 competition despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Kettering Town in the first round at the Racecourse. First half goals by Steve Roberts and Danny Williams saw us through the replay at Rockingham Road to set-up a second round home tie against Rochdale. Progress to the third round was booked with a 2-1 victory that was only sealed by a Craig Faulconbridge strike on 88 minutes.

Our prize was a plum daw against a top-flight Middlesbrough side that was managed by Bryan Robson and featured such illustrious names as Paul Gascoigne, Christian Ziege and Juninho. Hopes of progression to the fourth round seemed outlandish, particularly given our woeful League form – since beating Oxford United on September 18 we had remained without a win for 12 matches, including hammerings at Gillingham (5-1) and Burnley (5-0)..

Brian Deane put Boro ahead three minutes before half-time with a controversial goal. Robbie Mustoe played a cutting pass to Hamilton Ricard who appeared to bring the ball under control using his arm. An untidy scramble then followed as the Reds attempted to clear the danger. Alas, the ball broke to Deane who powered home the opener from 10 yards.

However, Wrexham did not panic. We had created one or two opportunities in the first half and came out fighting for the second period in the hope that our gutsy determination would exploit a crisis of confidence in a Middlesbrough team that had gone four games without a win in the Premier League, including a 5-1 massacre at Arsenal.

Five minutes after the restart the scores were level. Darren Ferguson’s defence-splitting delivery allowed Robin Gibson to control and lash a low, left-footed drive past the despairing dive of Mark Schwarzer.

The Premier League side could have retaken the lead but Ziege’s corner was hacked off the line by Brian Carey and Kevin Dearden saved with his legs from Deane.

Moments later the ground erupted as the impressive Ferguson dribbled along the edge of the area, beating two defenders, before crashing an unstoppable drive past the stranded Schwarzer.

His father, Sir Alex Ferguson, was watching from the stands because his Manchester United team had no game following their controversial decision to sit out the FA Cup that season.

Previously under-fire manager Brian Flynn said afterwards: “That was a memorable day again, absolutely fantastic. From start to finish it was an enthralling cup tie.

“I think we deserved to win. I mean, the quality of our finishing was of the highest standard. Darren Ferguson’s ball through for Gibbo and the way he finished it and obviously Darren’s solo goal. It does take something exceptional and unexpected to win a cup-tie like that.”

He added: “It was certainly Darren’s best game for us, but all eleven of them played a part.

“In the starting line-up we had five players who have actually come through our youth policy, that’s virtually half the team. It’s a great experience for them to play against world-class players and to compete against them and obviously do well.”

***

Wrexham’s reward after taking such a scalp was a fourth round home tie against Cambridge United. Predictably, we lost this match 1-2 and bowed out of the FA Cup. In fact, we didn’t win another FA Cup match until November 2004 when we thumped Hayes 0-4.