They say returning to the site of a trauma can be therapeutic. On Friday I'll find out!
Wrexham's world changed when we visited Accrington last season. Before that match we were looking forward to a promotion challenge, unbeaten in seven and playing with confidence. We didn't look like we'd let many in and were getting goals from all over the pitch. That all stopped at Stanley.
The real cause of our decline probably occurred the Saturday before, when Neil Roberts was injured early on against Swindon. The importance of losing him wasn't immediately apparent as we went on to beat Dennis Wise's side that day, putting an abrupt halt to their perfect start to the season. The loss of Roberts was masked by an effervescent performance from Jon Newby, but we all know now that it was a one-off!
We took a large following to Accrington, assuming the heroes of the season's cutest tale would just roll over and die before us. Accrington Stanley, who are they? We were about to find out!
Once we arrived it felt like a different world. The ground's in the middle of a pretty rum-looking estate, more “Supernanny” than “Location, Location, Location.” Bare-chested lads lounged on their bikes eyeing us languidly as we arrived in the car park.
I say car park, but I'm being generous. Basic? Let's just say I've never been nettled in a club car park before! As we left I noticed a sign, scrawled on a scrap of paper which was lying in the grass, saying the gates would be locked thirty minutes after the game ended. This was a problem for me as I stay behind to interview the players so I sought clarification from a bloke leaning against the gate smoking, which I took as a sign of authority. He said to ignore it as they don't lock the gate any more. The reason? During the last game the locals cut the padlock off the gate with some bolt cutters so they could see what they could plunder from the cars!
Inside the ground I was swiftly apprehended by a Norwegian groundhopper, here to maintain his membership of the ninety-two club by visiting the newly promoted club. He grilled me on the unwieldy name of the ground. I tried to explain that I wasn't from Accrington to no avail, showed him the name on the ticket and in the programme but still couldn't shake him!
Eventually I managed to extricate myself and made my way up to the press box in the back row of the stand. That'd be the sixth row, by the way! I found myself next to a local radio reporter who further got my back up by being the least professional person I've ever come across in the press.
He crossed the impartiality line and left it far in the distance, but wasn't as bad as when we lost 3-1 to them on New Year's Day though (Oh yeah, they hammered us at home too!) On that occasion while I was commentating, so there was no chance of answering back, he greeted their late winning goal by shaking his fist in my face and shouting “We need this more than you!” He was long gone by the time I'd finished broadcasting but I look forward to making his acquaintance!
As we overtook them on the last day I suppose he was right, but it didn't feel like it from January to May! Not that I'm bitter, but the fact that better performances against Accrington home and away would nit just have given us more breathing space last season, but also would have sent them down's galling!
Throw in an early chance to clash with Lee McEvilly, our most divisive player of recent seasons, and the Football League's failure to punish their breaking the rules on the registration of players for the second time in close succession, which would have spared us a lot of last season's stress, and you've got plenty of reasons to bear a grudge.
It was a cathartic experience to relive that, but there's only one real cure for the pain; a win tonight!