Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, April 15, 2008

WATCHING Wrexham FC was always a bit of a white-knuckle ride.
Cajoled into abandoning my armchair support for Liverpool’s glory-boys by a couple of Daily Post colleagues – who were probably looking for someone to share their pain – I spent three or so seasons on the roads less travelled of the football league.
Let me tell you there is little joy to be had on a rainy day in Hull, which then had an open away end. The only laugh raised as we lost was when a ball hit the roof of the home supporter’s stand and they could all be seen brushing off the rust that had descended on them as a result. And then we couldn’t find a decent fish and chip shop open – in Hull. It was a long, long trek home.
But for all the cold, wet trips to see losses or 0-0 draws, there were more than enough moments of unrestrained delight to make up for that, and that is the joy of watching a team as unpredictable as Wrexham.
There was the Peterborough cup match when one of their fans, enraged at the drubbing they were getting by the on-form Reds, ran the length of the pitch to confront the Wrexham support. I think his sprinting years were some time behind him and by the halfway line he was flagging and grateful to be led away by the stewards for a cup of tea and a rest.
Who can forget Aresnal and West Ham, and Middlesbrough whose cup hopes were dashed on the rocks of unexpectedly brilliant Wrexham performance.
Who can forget 1-3 to dump Birmingham City out of the cup? Not me, because I had them at 30-1 with the stadium bookies to do just that.
But it wasn’t just the days of cup glory that I remember of Wrexham. It was moment like Jonathan Cross’s shot against Crewe one night as both teams vied for the play-offs. He took the ball on the bounce just inside the Crewe half and then lashed a shot at goal. Time seemed to stand still as we began celebrating one of the best strikes any of us had ever seen. Then it hit the crossbar.
All the time were were trogging round the backwaters of the football league though we could but wonder at what was going on off the pitch. Wrexham’s tribulations have not always been helped by those who have not always had the club’s best interests at heart.
Perhaps it has been a mercy that work has taken me away from the cruelty of being a Wrexham fan. My nearest league team is York now and having been there as opposition I can’t bring myself to switch allegiances and visit Bootham Bar as a fan.
Remember the plan to turn the pitch through 90 degrees, redeveloping one end and at a stroke rendering half of the newly-built Pryce Griffiths stand completely useless? Genius like that always seems to rise to the top in the lower reaches of football.
But that is the whole point of following a lower-league team. Let’s face it, few of us are ever going to achieve promotion to the Premiership.
You don’t do it for the abundant glories of watching Liverpool, or Man United or Chelsea do you? Following them disappointment comes when you are second best, not bottom of the league.
Following Wrexham means flirting with disaster. Travelling long distances for little or now reward and then still finding something positive to talk about on the long drive home.
That is what being a true football fan is about. Sure we can choose our team according to the wealth of the owner and guaranteed showings on Sky every week. But that’s not being a fan, that’s just a glorified version of shopping.
Being a fan means supporting your local team, no matter how dismal their performances are week-in, week-out. You keep the faith.
Now we are all but mathematically relegated, nine points from safety with 12 available. Miracles can happen, but some might say that Wrexham have had more than their share of them in recent years.
If the worst happens, and Wrexham drop, then we only have to look down the road to see that all is not lost.
To our unrestrained joy, Chester dropped out of the football league, but they’re back. Not without difficulties of their own, they’re hardly riding high, but they did claw their way back up.
It sticks in the craw to hold up the old enemy as an example, but sometimes you have to swallow your pride and admit they did what they needed to do.
Wrexham can do the same. It will be tough – takings will be down, players will be harder to come by. It will take a massive effort. But the loyal supporters who trail after them on dark winter nights, of who I was once one, deserve nothing less.

ST Deiniol’s Church, in my home village of Hawarden, is a big church, and it takes someone special to fill it.
Mark Parry, a school friend was that sort of person and his death, cruelly early, saw hundreds crowd the pews last week.
It was a sad day indeed, but the service reflected the joy and the music and laughter that Mark brought into so many lives.
The singing, by a Welsh congregation, was transcendent, I tell you, if you want a head-start toward Heaven then have Welsh women sing you on your way.
And it was typical of a man who brought happiness to so many, that he left the church to the tune of Laurel and Hardy’s ‘Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia’ – Mark ‘Paz’ Parry, as ever, trying to make us smile.

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