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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 15:17 GMT
Tales of Turf, triumph and trouble
Joanne Gallacher
BBC Wales News Website

Wrexham team 1878: Pic courtesy of Gareth Davies
Wrexham FC won the first ever Welsh cup in 1878
Wrexham Football Club's history has been a modern day version of the tale of David and Goliath.

Like David, the club has fought and won some uneven contests, with its Cup giant-killing acts on the football field.

But now the club faces its toughest challenge - that of survival.

My first experience of the club's tenacious spirit was in 1992 when the Robins, as they were then known, beat the mighty Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup.

I was a teenager when I saw Mickey Thomas' famous goal against Arsenal. He scored in the 83rd minute from a free-kick. The crowd went wild and my friend and I soon forgot that we had been complaining about the cold.

Wrexham's key dates
September 1872 - Wrexham FC is formed
1878 - Wrexham FC win first ever Welsh Cup
1921 - Wrexham FC joins the Football League
1974 - Reaches the FA Cup quarter finals
1976 - Beaten by Anderlecht in the European Cup Winners Cup quarter finals
1978 - Promoted to second division
1992 - Wrexham beat Arsenal
1998 - Brian Flynn becomes longest serving manager
2001 - Brian Flynn is dismissed
2002 - Chairman Pryce Griffiths retires
2002 - Mark Guterman takes over
2004 - Alex Hamilton named new chairman

From that moment on, and probably for the first time in my 16 years I was proud to be from Wrexham; the town finally got its recognition.

With that strike from Thomas, my years as a Liverpool supporter were pushed to the back of my wardrobe, along with the scrapbook I compiled on Ian Rush.

However, 12 years later and the scorer of that goal is worried that memories will be all that fans might have left.

"I'm very concerned about the club," said Thomas.

"Wrexham gave me the opportunity to be a professional footballer and I'll never forget that."

Thomas said he was 37 and ready to retire when he scored that goal against Arsenal.

"Arsenal were the champions of the league. They were expected to hammer us," he recalled proudly.

Mickey Thomas
Mickey Thomas was hailed a "hero" after the victory over Arsenal

"The euphoria afterwards was incredible, it was a magnificent night.

"Chelsea were playing that night and they started singing my name when I scored.

"We made all the newspapers, even in Australia and America," he added.

Wrexham fan and football historian Gareth Davies can recount other moments from the sometimes quirky club history, stretching back more than 130 years.

"The club was formed in 1872 not 1873 as is on the badge," said Mr Davies.

"The Racecourse had been used for many things including boxing, women's wrestling and in the late 1880s it was used for a proclamation for the National Eisteddfod.

"The Racecourse was a horse racing ground and they played cricket there too," said 59-year-old Mr Davies from Anglesey.

We're desperately worried about the club, it becomes your life
Gareth Davies

"It was cricketers who wanted something to do in the winter who formed the club," he recalled.

"It was formed in the Turf Hotel which is where the winning post for the horse racing used to be."

Wrexham fan Peter Jones said that up until the 1940s, players even changed inside the Turf pub.

"People used to sit on the Turf balcony and watch the football," he said.

"Up until the 1940s the players used to change upstairs in the Turf. They used to go down some stairs and onto the pitch.

"During the early 1920s there was one player, I can't remember his name and his parents were the landlords of the Turf.

Players at the Turf: Courtesy of Gareth Davies
Historians say players changed at the Turf Hotel

"He played in the first game for Wrexham in 1921 and he'd fought in the First World War.

"A few days after that game he caught pneumonia and he died in the Turf," he added.

Sitting in the Turf Hotel on Tuesday, Wrexham fan Dave Williams said "on match days the atmosphere's brilliant here".

"I used to go on the balcony and watch the games.

"I've supported Wrexham since I was young and it's the community to me.....I really hope we survive," he added.

Mr Davies said the first friendlies played at the Racecourse involved teams of up to 16-a-side.

"Most of the matches ended scoreless, mainly due to the large numbers on each side," he said.

Wrexham Football Club grew and rose through the divisions.

In Mr Davies' opinion, the club's heyday was between 1977-78.

"Around this time they were promoted to the old Division Two, which is now the Championship league and they also reached the quarter final of the FA Cup," he said.

"We had the likes of Dai Davies, Dixie McNeil, Graham Whittle and Mickey Thomas playing for us," he added.

Dave Williams
Dave Williams: The football club is like a community

Mr Davies said that the modern Racecourse is much improved.

"It's a much better ground now than it used to be. At the end of the Kop, there used to be a balcony and we called it the 'pigeon loft' because it was on stilts," he said.

However, despite the fact that the club has a good ground and a great deal of history a number of people from Wrexham still look across the border to England to support premiership teams like Liverpool and Everton.

Mickey Thomas, who had two spells at Wrexham, remembers a time when the club could get 25,000 people through its turnstiles now they get around 3,000.

Attendances could be a contributory factor to the trouble the club now finds itself in.

Players and manager Denis Smith have appealed for townspeople and fans of other clubs to return in numbers to help see off the crisis.

Wrexham has debts of 800,000 in unpaid tax and said on Tuesday it was to apply to be put into adminstration as a way of dealing with its problems.

The announcement came on the eve of a High Court hearing, with the Inland Revenue looking to petition to wind the club up.

Ex-chairman Mark Guterman is trying to buy the club from owner Alex Hamilton after he turned down two bids from Wrexham Supporters' Trust.

The club faces being docked 10 points by the Football League, if administration goes ahead.

"We're desperately worried about the club, it becomes your life," added Mr Davies.

Once again, Wrexham football club has found itself in the media spotlight but unlike 12 years ago this is not a cause for celebration.



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