Thursday, 24 February 2011

We Should All Be Wombles

How wonderfully serendipitous that, when Wrexham FC stands at the crossroads. we should find ourselves going to AFC Wimbledon!

As Stephanie Booth makes encouraging noises about a community-led venture, we were offered a wonderful glimpse at how well such a venture can turn out.

First and foremost, AFC Wimbledon are tenants. But, unlike the norm in that situation, they appear from this distance to be welcome tenants. The relationship between them and Kingstonian seems to be mutually beneficial, and it's my understanding that, as the tenants' status has overtaken that of the landlords, they have gone out of their way to ensure the switch in status doesn't cause friction.

That sort of approach encapsulates what the club is about. By showing that sort of consideration, by being aware of the feelings of their neighbours, fans and business partners, they show themselves to be a proper, decent club run by proper, decent people. The sort of club that generates goodwill and positive PR naturally through its actions, rather than thinking that employing PR consultants and issuing rambling press statements means you'll make a positive impression.

The whole matchday experience at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday was a pleasant one, and not merely because we played so well. I'd say it's true in general that non-league clubs are more welcoming than those in the Football League; however, the high incidence of nice people I bumped into on Tuesday suggests there's something particularly good going on in that corner of Surrey!

From the friendly apprentices joking with me about my camera, through the highly attentive press officer who couldn't do enough to help, to the AFCW fans who applauded and laughed at Mathias Pogba's comical goal celebration when most fans would have hured abuse at him, this was a club packed with warmth and dignity.

A couple of particular incidents really stood out for me though. Mike T - website commentator, PA announcer and all-round top bloke - made an announcement in support of the Wrexham supporters at half time on behalf of the Dons Trust. It was a typical gesture from a big-hearted club. Most clubs are part of the same, tired old boys club and wouldn't dream of making such an announcement for fear of provoking an awkward atmosphere in the boardroom. The Wombles aren't constrained by such concerns though; they follow their consciences. Imagine how good it would feel to follow a club which not only says what you feel, but reflects your wishes in its every action.

The other example of Wimbledon's fundamental decency was a lot more mundane, but touching because of that. At half time there was a ceremony for a young Japanese lad who had contacted the club looking for a chance to develop his coaching skills. He was given that opportunity, but the time had come to say goodbye. The youth players formed a guard of honour for him and a genuinely touching ceremony unfolded in which he said his farewells, tears streaming down his face. When did you last go to a football match and feel the host club had enhanced someone's life? When did you last feel touched by a halftime presentation? Come on, when did you last see a guy on the pitch with a microphone during the break and not think"What a goon"? It was...and here's a word I don't think I've ever used before about something I've seen in a football stadium....lovely!

AFC Wimbledon are a template we should look to follow. They have engaged their fanbase, and as a result they get excellent crowds and support.

Obviously, they have been given a sense of purpose by the fact that there is a common enemy: the repellant MK Dons. But haven't Wrexham fans also got something pretty significant to share? Hasn't going through the trauma of the last seven years or so given us strength? The crowds which gathered at The Racecourse to watch the dross served up during our last season in the Football League suggest we already have a committed core of support. After all, if you subtract the away supporters our home crowds actually went up that season!

There are other examples from AFC Wimbledon that we could do well to follow; just have a look at the Dons Trust section of the club website to see an example of transparancy in action, for example. But in recognising the good in something, you should resist the temptation to mimic. Therein lies the path to failure. Instead, we should aspire to the values the Dons represent, and think of how we can also come to stand for them, in our own unique way.

I genuinely believe that there is something special about Wrexham Football Club, forged from being the one large club in North Wales and having gone through a painful process which has politicised us. I see this special quality in the support the club gets, the remarkably active and informed contribution of Red Passion, a remarkable resource which fans of much larger clubs would be jealous of, and in the pockets of superb work which fans have already done, such as with the programme team of the recent past.

Now's the time to crystallise those qualities. To make them integral to what our club stands for, not merely circumstantial pockets of excellence. To put our club at the heart of our community, and our community at the heart of our club.

And you know what? It doesn't matter how the events of the next few weeks go really. Olly Hides might comically try to push Stephanie Booth on BBC Wales about how all Wrexham fans want is to go up, and if she can't guarantee that then we'll revolt! Too few people from that body bother to pop up here to see what's actually going on; a lot of us would take a hit on the pitch in exchange for a club we can be proud of. After all, that's what happened to AFC Wimbledon, and they didn't turn out too badly, did they?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Not long to wait now then; it's time to face up to what we want and not blink in the face of the challenge.

Yesterday's dramatic events turned everything on its head, and we're closer to being a fan-run club than ever. However, once the euphoria of seeing the club statements died off, I started thinking about what it really meant.

Clearly the demonstrations on Saturday had the desired effect, and enormous credit goes to the fans for what happened. It would seem that the owners' response is to decide to sell to a reputable consortium, which is what we've wanted all along. However, that decision seems to have come at a price: their immediate withdrawal of funding.

This was inevitable anyway. One thing is clear. Having waited to see if Kidderminster might drop off the pace of the play-off race by losing ten points, now we must ask ourselves whether we face the same fate.

It would be a vicious blow which the playing and coaching staff don't deserve. However, we must stand firm in the face of such a fate and drive through the deal. It might be frightening to contemplate the responsibility, but if the traditional model of football club ownership can't protect the club's assets, then we must take the leap and put them into hands we can trust.

If the price of long-term security is a handicap this season, so be it. Do it for the generations of Wrexham fans to come.

YouTube - Wrexham FC in Crisis

YouTube - Wrexham FC in Crisis

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Wrexham FC v Gateshead FC Tactical Review

YouTube - Gateshead Tactical Review

Less Than Marvellous

Obviously the most important thing at the match yesterday didn't happen on the pitch, but as a little relief from the ongoing ownership trauma, might I ask a question about the game itself? Namely, what the hell was going on out there?

A side built on the soundness of its foundations, which is in the chase for the club record number of clean sheets in a season, fell apart in spectacular style. Why?

Well, it was apparent that the right side of the defence collapsed, and it has to be pointed out that it was the one part of the line-up which was different from that which embarked on the wonderful unbeaten run which suddenly seems like ancient history.

Jordan McMillan had a very solid debut against Crawley, the one reservation about him being that he doesn't have the attacking thrust of the man he was replacing, Curtis Obeng.

Sadly, he looked much less confortable yesterday, his problems summed up by the fifth goal when he speculatively appealed for an offside rather than deal with a cross which was allowed to float too far across the box. As a result, his man had an easy finish.

Mind you, the ball should have been cut out before McMillan's error of judgement. Marvin Andrews misjudged the flight of the ball horribly, and sadly it wasn't his first mistake.

With the benefit of hindsight, plenty of people questioned the decision to drop Frank Sinclair and bring Andrews back in. Their argument makes sense; Sinclair had been doing well alongside Mark Creighton recently and was unlucky to be left out.

However, I must say that most of the people I spoke to before the game were happy with the decision, and I was one of them. Sinclair is forty this year, and has already been injury-prone since he came to Wrexham. He needs to be looked after, and with a big game coming up on Tuesday, the decision to give him a rest and bring in Andrews, who has been a great success this season don't forget, seemed perfectly sound.

Saunders might also have been aware that Gateshead have genuine quality out wide; Alan Shearer famously valued the quality of Martin Brittain's crossing when he was at Newcaslte, and Nelthorpe is useful on the other flank. Perhaps Saunders thought the height of Creighton and Andrews would be valuable in dealing with theirdelivery from wide areas. Again, based on what we've seen before today that would be a sound assumption; it emphatically wasn't the case though.

I suspect another factor was larger in Saunders' mind than resting Sinclair or guarding against Gateshead's crossing ability though. Andrews has been excellent this season, but he's a big man in his mid-thirties who, it shouldn't be forgotten, started only seventeen games in total over the last two seasons through injury.

In his early performances for Wrexham he naturally looked rusty, doing some good things but making occasional misjudgements. That especially happened when the ball was in the air; his aerial prowess is legendary, but Andrews is a centre back who looks to time his jumps rather than use his bulk to occupy the space required to repel the ball and letting it come to him, as Creighton is. That means that if his timing is slightly off, Andrews makes mistakes. As he got more games under his belt this season, Andrews became more sound, and looked in magnificent form when he was injured at Altrincham on New Years Day. Perhaps Saunders reckoned that he needed Andrews to get his match-sharpness back as soon as possible, ready for a tough run-in, and decided the only way to do that was to give him some starts.

Again, there's absolutely no flaw in his logic. Sadly, yesterday's game was one in which logic went out of the window.

Video Highlights - Wrexham 2 Gateshead 7

YouTube - Wrexham 2 Gateshead 7

Friday, 18 February 2011

The True Voice of The Racecourse

It's ironic that, in a week when fans' attention has been on a series of rather unsavoury characters in connection to the ownership of the club, one of the most decent men ever connected to Wrexham FC has died.

Des Jones wasn't just a PA annnouncer, but what a PA announcer he was! His distinctive voice was a key part of the Racecourse experience for three decades of supporters. His clear enunciation, dry wit and ability to judge a situation singled him out as a true original. He managed to imbue a trip to The Racecourse with a sense of warmth that is hardly present now, as we find ourselves in a pitch battle to maintain its future.

Don't expect me to be capable of paying an appropriate tribute to Des. I knew him from traipsing as a young whippersnapper across the pitch before every game in order to get the teams from him for the hospital radio team. He was always charming-in fact charming is the word that springs to mind when I think of him. He would make sure he took time to chat to me, and was the sort of chap who would go out of his way to say hello if he spotted me. But like I said, I can't do him justice. Just look at the terrific tributes paid to him on Red Passion for a better indication of how he touched people.

His announcements were an intrinsic part of the Racecourse experience. It must be hard for younger fans to imagine such homely pleasures being part of going to a football match.

I've always been a little embarrassed that The Leader put the strapline "The Voice of the Fans" on my Friday column. That's never been true. Des Jones, on the other hand, always has been and always will be the voice of the fans, the voice of The Racecourse and the voice most beloved by a generation of Wrexham supporters.

Video Highlights-Crawley Town Fc v Wrexham FC

YouTube - Crawley Town v Wrexham

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Crawley Town FC v Wrexham FC Podcast

Featuring Dean Saunders, Andy Mangan and Mark Creighton.

Crawley Town FC v Wrexham FC Audio Highlights

fwcraa10x.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object)

Tactically Speaking

So Wrexham, in rare form, are facing up to a side which has looked too good for the division ever since the season began.

Neither side concede many goals-Crawley have kept five clean sheets in a row-so don't expect too much in terms of kitchen sink-throwing, at least until one of the sides finds itself behind with twenty minutes left.

My suspicion that we'll be looking at a tense affair is encouraged by Steve Evans' pre-match comments. I know the obvious rejoinder to that; why on earth would anyone take Evans' comments at face value? Fair comment, but, hard as it is to bring myself to admit it, I suspect there's some truth in his hope for four points from the double header. Clearly a draw would be no disaster for either side, and that might lead to a change in attitude from both managers.

Dean Saunders has turned into a gambler this season, with terrific results. He selects attacking sides for away games and often responds to a game turning against him by overloading rather than tightening things up and looking to regain a level of equilibrium.

Likewise, Evans has always been an offensive manager (you can take that how you wish!) He likes his sides to attack, and my understanding is that their last home defeat, to Newport, came about because he chased three points recklessly rather than settle for one. However, it would take a brave manager to adopt such an attitude in these summit meetings.

There'll be an early indication of Evans' aproach to this game. From what I've seen of Crawley this season, they vary between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. If he opts for a 4-3-3 then there's a real danger of the two sides' similar formations cancelling each other out. If he does this, it would be a real indication of his mindset; clearly he'll be looking to keep it tight and back his quality strikers to take their chances better than Wrexham's will when they present themselves.

If he goes for 4-4-2 then he'll have picked the bold option. On the upside for him, teams have sometimes managed to get at Wrexham down the flanks playing a 4-4-2 as Saunders' 4-1-2-3 formation really doesn't offer natural support for the full backs. The two most obvious examples of this were the recent game at Mansfield and the first twenty minutes at Newport.

However, playing 4-4-2 might also play into Wrexham's hands: Saunders has got his side well-drilled, and they maintain excellent shape when they're forced to defend. When Crawley go 4-4-2 they often play with inverted wingers who look to come inside onto their stronger sides. I've seen them come unstuck like that when a side's sitting in and maintaining their defensive shape as Wrexham can; the wide men come inside and simply overcrowd the central areas in the opposition half, making creativity very difficult.

They might be able to come inside and slot balls to runners in the channels, a tactic which would be aided if Evans makes a change from recent sides and picks Richard Brodie ahead of the more static Craig McAllister, but Wrexham are very adept at closing up the channels.

So there you have it: it's bound to be a 4-4-draw isn't it?

What Price Free Speech?

So no banners are allowed in on Tuesday unless they toe the party line?
Which is, of course, sensible advice: it would have been hard to concentrate on the important matters on Tuesday, as the ground was bound to be swathed with anti-Saunders banners. After all, there is a groundswell of fury against the manager, who has disgusted the fans by infuriatingly leading them to the verge of their greatest run of league wins in modern history, and threatening to perpetrate a disasterous return to the Football League.
We must not allow Saunders' folly to distract us from the club's current success. Wrexham FC has successfully moved its home sideways and charitably put it up as security for a rugby league club, This has been accomplished skilfully, smoothly and successfully. Saunders' failure is a nightmarish distraction, an uncalled-for smokescreen, when we ought to be able to celebrate the club's achievements.
At this massive point in our season, the last thing we want is to be distracted by onpitch matters!
Hope you don't mind me spouting off on the internet about this, by the way. I know that sort of thing can go down rather badly, although I hope you'll agree my syntax is rather better than on other sites!

Those Pre-Old Trafford Nerves

I'm getting a bit long in the tooth to feel like this!
I got up at 615 this morning to begin the journey to Sussex, and felt the same pang of nerves I've felt for the past few days. They've been building up for a while; as our winning run extended, I was gripped by a desperate desire that it should remain intact until today. I wanted us to have all the momentum we could muster by the time we hit the Crawley double-header.
And we did it. Now, we have to keep that self-belief going for another three hours.
My nerves remind me of our last visit to Old Trafford, appropriately enough considering Crawley's next opponents! I remember sitting in the car park before the game, feeling absolutely terrified! Part of me was scared of the national humiliation that Alex Ferguson's side might inflict upon us; part of me was thrilled at the thought of us bloodying his nose.
I'm not going to try to hide my dislike of Manchester United; I just can't help it, it's in my blood! The thought of us actually beating them tapped into something deep inside, and made ne feel as petrified as I've ever done about footy. Until now.
I feel something similar; not quite as intense, but definitely different from my normal Saturday morning sensation (which is usally a mixture of preparing myself for the worst and anticipating TV Burp!) I think the similarity is partly down to the unusual nature of the fixture lists; a double header with one of our rivals, just when we're hitting our stride, is too nerve-jangling to be true!
However, I think there's a much bigger reason for these sensations. We had to plumb the depths to do it, but Wrexham have finally found me an adversary I dislike even more than Sir Alex and his churlish charges!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Online Coverage of Matches

I had a trial run of some new ideas for covering the games at Barrow, and as they seemed to work I'll do them tomorrow.

There are two new things I'll be trying:

Near-live video reports: I'll post team news once the team sheets come round, plus half time and full time reports on the youtube site.

Near-live audio: I've started an audioboo account, and will post stuff on there too. I've been thinking about the best way to use this, and I think what I'll do is post interviews that won't fit into the podcast, and general reports, rants and background stuff. I think this'll be a service which will vary according to circumstances: some days there might be lots of these, on others rather fewer.

When anything is uploaded to either of these services there'll be an update on our twitter page, so probably the best way to keep up to date with them's to follow that.

Wrexham Calendar