Steve Watkin

Memory Match – 27-04-93

Throughout the 2017/18 football season I have contributed to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I penned a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I shared on this blog.

This was 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.

 

27-04-93

Northampton Town v Wrexham

League Division Three

County Ground

Result: 0-2

Northampton Town: Richardson, Parsons, Burnham, Harrison, Chard, Terry, Wilkin, Aldridge, Gavin, Brown, Bell

Wrexham: Morris, Jones, Hardy, Owen, Humes, Pejic, Bennett, Lake, Connelly, Watkin, Cross

 Goalscorers: Bennett (13, 42 pen).

Attendance: 7,504

We all know that history only tells a story, but I can assure you that stories from our past are much more interesting than the dreadful football that we have had to sit through this season. It is important to realise that things haven’t always been this bad and there is certainly the potential for things to improve…

Back in 1992/93, Brian Flynn’s blend of homegrown talent and experienced campaigners set our pulses racing. Few would have predicted that after a 1-1 draw at Hereford United at the beginning of October left us floundering in 18th position. We were beaten at the first round stage of both the League and FA Cup by Bury (5-4 on aggregate) and Crewe Alexandra (6-1) respectively, while Leyton Orient hammered us at Brisbane Road in the second round of the Football League Trophy (4-1).

We had already conceded four goals at Bury, York and Gillingham as our season threatened to implode. The heavy Cup defeat at Crewe was a genuine turning point though as Brian Flynn entered the loan market to sign Mike Lake following the dismissal of Mickey Thomas. With our new midfielder pulling the strings we proceeded to loose only one of the next 10 games, including five consecutive victories.

The confidence was flowing and before we knew it, we were in a promotion battle. Instead of under-performing and disappointing we actually dug deep and maintained our impressive form up to the end of the season.

With two games of the season remaining, Wrexham went into the game against relegation threatened Northampton Town knowing that a win would earn them promotion for the first time in 15 years. Approximately 3,000 Wrexham fans descended on the County Ground to watch their heroes in action, but the early stages suggested that the Cobblers were intent on spoiling our party. Indeed, the home side forced four corners in as many minutes in the opening period, but Mark Morris proved a safe pair of hands as he caught every one of Darren Harmon’s vicious in-swinging corners.

The Red’s quickly settled and in the ninth minute Mike Lake should have at least hit the target after he was presented with a glorious opportunity by Steve Watkin. Four minutes later and we took the lead when Gary Bennett smashed home his 22nd goal of the season. Watkin’s tame effort was surprisingly fumbled by Barry Richardson and our ace marksman didn’t need asking twice to put us ahead.

All memories from this point on are a little hazy, but according to match reports Morris then made an unbelievable save as he tipped over Steve Brown’s bullet header after 25 minutes.

There was only one team that was ever going to win this game though and we made the evening comfortable when Watkin was pulled down in the area by Phil Chard and Bennett smashed home the resulting penalty. Referee Trevor West decided that Bennett was celebrating rather too wildly and added him to his notebook, but Wrexham fans really couldn’t have cared less. Before the half-time whistle, Watkin hit the post with a diving header.

Wrexham were in control during the second half and pushed forward in search of more goals apparently. At the final whistle, Reds fans poured onto the pitch to create joyous scenes of celebration.

“When I came here my aim was to help get the club promoted and now we’ve done that we’ll be looking to take the second division by storm”, said Gary Bennett.

Club captain Mickey Thomas, who was kicking and heading every ball from the bench said: “They’ve deserved it and so have the fans. What a season and what a team.”

It’s nice to remember the good times…

***

Lining up at number seven for Northampton Town that evening was future Dragons’ boss Kevin Wilkin.

Memory Match – 14-08-93

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.

14-08-93

Wrexham v Rotherham United

League Division Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 3-3

Wrexham: Morris, Jones, Hardy, Brammer (Williams), Humes, Sertori, Bennett, Phillips, Connolly, Watkin, Cross (Paskin)

Goalscorers: Bennett (2 pen, 48 pen), Phillips (88)

Rotherham United: Mercer, Pickering, Jacobs, Banks, Richardson, Law, Hazel, Goodwin, Helliwell, Goater, Wilder

Goalscorers: Banks (22), Goater (75), Goodwin (89)

Attendance: 5,707

After winning promotion from the basement division as top home goalscorers, Wrexham showed little sign of bucking their prolific Racecourse form in a pulsating Second Division encounter. Without first team regulars Mel Pejic, Gareth Owen and Mike Lake, this would be a stern test of our credentials…

The Reds made the perfect start to life at this higher level after Gary Bennett dispatched a penalty after only two minutes. It was Psycho himself who was up-ended by Millers goalkeeper Billy Mercer following an inch-perfect free-kick from Tony Humes. Bennett made no mistake from the spot as he sent Mercer the wrong way to register the fastest goal of the new Football League season.

Brian Flynn’s men proceeded to dominate the opening 20 minutes. Karl Connolly was unfortunate to see a header skim the crossbar while Steve Watkin should have done better when he found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat.

The home side were made to pay for this as United were soon on level terms. Des Hazel turned Humes inside out and crossed for Ian Banks to volley home the equaliser even though Humes protested vehemently that the ball had crossed the line before Hazel centred.

Soon after, Bennett had a header ruled out for offside, but the Scouse goal machine didn’t have to wait long to double his tally when Wrexham were awarded a second spot kick. This time, visiting defender Nicky Law was the culprit when he needlessly handled a cross from Humes immediately after the break.

Rotherham proved resilient opponents though. They would not give up the fight and proceeded to bombard the Wrexham goal for a nail biting 20 minute period. Mark Morris was our hero when he produced an awesome double save, but our desperate defending could not prevent Shaun Goater from equalising in the 75th minute.

In the closing stages, Jon Cross wasted a late opportunity by shooting straight at Mercer and substitute Scott Williams wasn’t far off with a 25 yard drive. As supporters began to head for the exits, Karl Connolly produced a moment of pure magic to beat two defenders and set up Wayne Phillips who left Mercer helpless with a stunning strike from 15 yards.

Surely this was game over – unfortunately not. Shaun Goodwin had the last laugh when he volleyed home a late leveller to ensure the points were shared on an afternoon of breathless excitement.

***

Flynn said afterwards: “We’ve got to improve on our marking. Mistakes will be really punished in this division. I’m glad we’ve got the first one under our belt and I am happy with a draw. Rotherham deserved the draw and I think they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.”

Rotherham United actually finished in a lowly 15th position while Wrexham ended the season in a comfortable mid-table 12th spot.

***

It took us six games to record our first victory in the League – a 3-2 home win against league leaders Reading. There was little to celebrate in the cup competitions either as Walsall knocked us out of the FA Cup after a replay that was beamed nationwide to TV viewers.

Our fortunes in the League Cup were a little brighter as we disposed of Crewe Alexandra 4-3 on aggregate to set up a clash against Nottingham Forest. Another 3-3 draw – the second leg against Crewe also finished 3-3 – at the Racecourse saw Stan Collymore register a hat-trick, while he was also on target in the second leg which Forest won 3-1.

Match of my Life

According to Wikipedia, Tanka (短歌, “short poem”?) is a genre of classical Japanese poetry and one of the major genres of Japanese literature.  Below you can read the sixth of my 2017 poems.

Twenty five years ago

A shock at the Racecourse

Saw boys become men

As the Gunners were shot down

Our fans sang in the Valleys

The poem above was written when I returned from the event described below:

On Friday, 6 January 2017, we will celebrate arguably the biggest giant-killing in FA Cup history.

It will be 25 years since that rocket from Mickey Thomas started a comeback against the Football League champions, that Steve Watkin would finish with Wrexham’s second and ultimately winning goal.

We would like to invite fans to join some of the team that were involved that day, to reminisce about what it was like to be involved, before, during and in the aftermath of a great day in our club’s history.

We will have highlights of the game to watch, along with a two-course meal.

This will be followed by a Q&A session and you will have chance to ask any questions you have.

As well as collecting signatures and pictures with our heroes from that everlasting day.

There will be some fantastic Wrexham v Arsenal prizes available to win in our raffle and you will also be able to purchase the commemorative match DVD, which you can get autographed.

So please come and join us for this historic night.

Memory Match – 29-11-94

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.

29-11-94

Auto Windscreens Shield second round (Northern Section)

Wrexham v Bradford City

Racecourse Ground

Result: 6-1

Wrexham: Marriott, Brace, Hardy, Hughes, Hunter, Jones (Phillips), Bennett, Owen, Connolly, Watkin, Durkan (Cross)

Goalscorers: Bennett (2, 14, 55), Watkin (17, 42), Owen (52)

 Bradford City: Tomlinson, Huxford, Jacobs, Duxbury, Sinnott, Richards (Power), Shutt (Showler), Oliver, Taylor, Jewell, Murray

Goalscorer: Power (73)

Attendance: 1,407

Wrexham made an excellent start to the 1994/95 campaign after winning four and drawing two of their openings six matches. This was against all expectations as the team were tipped to struggle with bookmakers setting odds of 33-1 for the Robins to win the Second Division. Such steep prices were exceeded only by AFC Bournemouth ((50-1).

The three League games prior to this Auto Windscreens Shield clash had certainly been eventful and entertaining. A goal feast began with a 4-1 victory over Wycombe Wanderers – including a hat-trick from Gary Bennett – before a disastrous defeat by the same score at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park that included two own goals. Bryan Hughes and Waynne Phillips were the culprits.

This dire display was followed by a Welsh derby against Swansea City at the Racecourse. The Swans were unbeaten in seven games but were swept aside 4-1 in north Wales thanks to a brace from Steve Watkin, in between efforts from Bryan Hughes and Gareth Owen. This exceptional performance was particularly impressive as manager Brian Flynn was unable to call on his trusted central defensive partnership of Tony Humes (suspension) and Barry Hunter (illness).

It was therefore with great confidence that we went into our midweek Football League Trophy encounter with Bradford City – a match in which Flynn recorded the biggest win of his fledgling managerial career.

The game was only two minutes old when Gary Bennett accepted a pinpoint through ball from Gareth Owen to slot past Paul Tomlinson in the Bradford goal.

The same duo combined for the second goal as Bennett headed home at the near post from Owen’s corner kick.

Steve Watkin then hit home a corner by Kieron Durkan, which had been missed by Tomlinson.  This was to be Durkan’s final contribution to the evening as just minutes later he was caught by a late tackle and had to be replaced by Jonathon Cross.

Wrexham continued to outclass Bradford with long periods of attacking play and the fourth goal came when Bennett unselfishly crossed to Watkin who was left with an easy finish.

The second half was only seven minutes old when Owen continued the goal feast with a well placed effort.

Top scorer Bennett brought the season’s tally to 19 and completed his hat-trick after rifling home from a Connolly through ball.  This was Psycho’s second treble of the season – his third was to come against Leyton Orient in January.

Bradford were in tatters, their small group of travelling fans giving ironic cheers every time they managed to mount an attack on the Wrexham goal.  A double substitution by visiting boss Lennie Lawrence did improve matters slightly and with just 15 minutes left Lee Power managed a consolation.

Wrexham ruled supreme though and were given a deserved standing ovation as they left the field. Indeed, Racecourse regulars were being somewhat spoilt during this heady period as our next game was an FA Cup second round tie against Rotherham United, which we won 5-2 to set-up a third round clash against Premier League Ipswich Town.

Memory Match – 16-11-91

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.

16-11-91

Wrexham v Winsford United

FA Cup First Round

Racecourse Ground

Result: 5-2

Wrexham: Morris, Thackeray, Hardy, Beaumont, Thomas, Jones, Setori, Owen, Connolly, Watkin, Kelly

Goalscorers: Connolly 8, Watkin 71, 77, 85, Thomas 90

Winsford United: Mayfield, Lloyd, Whitney, Edey, Taylor (Hall), Esdaille, Grant (Nevis), Thomas, Cameron, Blackwood, Sheridan

Goalscorers: Esdaille (14), Blackwood (76)

Attendance: 2,933

It was with a certain degree of trepidation that Wrexham took on non-league Winsford United in the first round of the FA Cup. A couple of seasons previously we had been knocked out of the FA Cup after a first round replay by Conference side Runcorn, so tension was abound when the draw paired us with a high-flying outfit from the HFS Loans League.

Winsford had scored twenty goals during their five FA Cup preliminary rounds, including a 3-2 win over Altrincham. In addition, their league form was excellent – winning eight out of their ten opening games.  Meanwhile, Wrexham were struggling on the pitch under rookie manager Brian Flynn and off it in front of dwindling crowds.

Wrexham took the lead when Karl Connolly took full advantage of a slip by John Whitney to shoot into the roof of the net after eight minutes.   However, the underdogs did not capitulate as expected. Just six minutes later Dave Esdaille turned and shot home from eight yards following good work by Darren Sheridan and Jimmy Cameron. We certainly had a fight on our hands.

In the 22nd minute James Kelly struck a sweet volley which cannoned off the crossbar, but this was the closest that the Robins came to restoring their lead during the first half.

After the break, Winsford began to take control and went close on 54 minutes when Esdaille’s cross eluded the Wrexham defence and fell to prolific striker Bevon Blackwood. Uncharacteristically, the goal machine hesitated on the edge of the six yard box which allowed Phil Hardy to save the day with a timely tackle.

After dicing with humiliation, Steve Watkin fiercely volleyed home after 71 minutes, but we still couldn’t shake off the gutsy part-timers as five minutes later they were level – Blackwood finishing brilliantly after great work by Esdaille and Archie Lloyd.

It was a breathtaking game and Wrexham went back in front from the restart when Watkin grabbed his second after good work from Connolly and Mickey Thomas.

Watkin then completed his 15 minute hat-trick with a deft flick from a Gareth Owen cross as the Cheshire side began to tire.  Veteran midfielder Thomas then side-footed home the fifth after unselfish play by Watkin and Connolly to end the Winsford dream.

***

Unfortunately, the game was marred by a racist incident involving Winsford manager Mike McKenzie. In his regular Terrace Talk column, Les Chamberlain reports that McKenzie alleged that some Wrexham fans behind the dugout spat and hurled racist abuse at him.

However, according to Les Chamberlain’s ‘mate in the paddock’ it was McKenzie who spat at the supporters after James Kelly had been booked for a foul on a Winsford player. He admitted that the Wrexham fans were guilty of racist chants, but that McKenzie had retaliated by spitting.

Thankfully chairman Pryce Griffiths, Carroll Clarke, chairman of the Supporters Association and manager Brian Flynn all condemned the inexcusable racist abuse. Whatever actually happened certainly put a dampener on a fantastic afternoon of football that put us one step closer to a potential money spinner against a big name club in the third round of the FA Cup….