With the 2022 World Cup schedule set for November and December instead of the traditional…
On the Bandwagon at Wrexham
In which the author goes to get a sense of what’s happening in Wrexham with his own eyes — and tick off ground #87 of the 92.
I have been accused, with some reason, of a certain cynicism regarding what’s happening at Wrexham. In response, I have tried to make it clear that I see two distinct things: what’s actually happening at the actual Wrexham, and all the hype about it. I have always been very happy about the first part, and for the people in Wrexham, and extremely tired of the latter. I wish Wrexham the best for many years to come, and I wish I never had to hear about their Hollywood ownership again.
The thing is, most of what is happening there is quite common: a struggling club in a down-on-its-luck area, brought to life by almost the only thing that can do such a thing: money. I have my feelings about what that tells us about the state of football (see the link above), and stronger feelings about our obsession with celebrity, but I also looked forward to visiting the actual Wrexham to see what is actually going on.
So, what is going on in Wrexham? A bunch of happy people having a great time in a wonderful and historic stadium. So let’s set aside my cynicism and go enjoy a game at the Racecourse Ground, which for me is also #87 of the 92 Football League grounds.
Welcome to Wrexham
My first impression was that the town is nicer than I expected. Watching the TV show might lead you to believe it’s a rundown mess, and believe me, I have seen some rundown messes on my UK football travels. But Wrexham is quite nice, at least the central part, and everyone I spoke to, with one notable non-local exception whom we’ll get to, was utterly delightful: the medical people who gave me directions, the ticket office staff, the people collecting for charity, and the steward who was delightful in putting up with my numerous questions.
In all cases, and unlike many other places I’ve been in England, no one commented on my being American. I was clearly not the first Yank they had encountered!
The center of Wrexham is like many places I’ve seen all over the UK: the pedestrian area downtown, the non-glamorous shops, a scattering of new and old pubs, the impressive church tower, and the occasional football mural, in this case Super Paul Mullin celebrating one of his many goals. It’s much less run-down than many places that host Football League clubs, and otherwise the only difference is the signs being in English and Welsh.
I’ve also seen most of the League Two grounds, so where many first-time visitors might think the Racecourse (Cae Ras in Welsh) a small place, for League Two it’s quite large — and cool. What did make a real impression on me was, first, it being a welcome five-minute walk from the train station and then how close the now-famous Turf Pub is – like attached to it, more or less.
The Turf bears an architectural resemblance to its television counterpart, but otherwise, it has been utterly transformed. No longer the eight Welshmen knocking about a mostly-empty pub complaining about their lousy football team; even for a Tuesday night League Cup game against Wigan, it was absolutely heaving, inside and out, with a spillover tent across the parking lot also doing some business. Ah, the power of marketing and money.
I don’t give half a damn about television or celebrities, but it is an interesting moment to walk into the Turf and see, almost immediately, the man who plays The Owner of The Turf on the show. He was stacking up empty glasses and saying Hiya to someone, and I thought, Right, he really does own the pub! Somewhere in there, I was later told, was also the former director of the club, himself a character on the show.
And sitting in the corner where all the names are on the wall (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the show) was That Redhead Lady From the Show. It was all a bit odd, until I remembered that the only odd thing was actually the American with the Portland Timbers cap walking around taking pictures, plus the hundreds of others packed in, trying to get a drink.
On to the Racecourse
I walked around the ground, past the giant gravel lot where soon shall rise, thanks to all that “Deadpool Money,” a huge new stand that will nearly double the capacity of the place. Already in place: Fancy new floodlights.
But over on the far side was a typical site in League Two: fans waiting to get autographs from, and selfies with, the home players, as the manager and various club officials park their cars and walk in. Here, though, the selfies are with people like former England goalkeeper Ben Foster. And the kids were wearing shirts with a United Airlines logo on them. It is League Two here, but it also kind of isn’t.
Walking into the Racecourse Ground is like walking back in time to something grander and more character-filled than our current age. Long may it remain so. It’s cozy, almost cramped, and with only a few obvious references to the show, mainly the phrase “Welcome to Wrexham” written in the same typeface. I did see, though, on the outside, a sight loaded with symbolism: just below the fancy new sign reminding us it’s the Stōk (cold brewed coffee) Racecourse, workers were covering up the last remnants of the old painted-on signage that simply said “Welcome to Wrexham Football Club.”
I walked down to pitch-side to take some photos. The pitch was immaculate, having been relaid over the summer and, since this was August, not yet trampled during the rains of the next 10 months. There I chatted up a steward named Kate (if you saw Kate you would know why I initiated this conversation), and one of my first questions was, “Three years ago, Tuesday night, League Cup game against Wigan, how many people would be here?”
“Five hundred,” she said, “Maybe 1,000. And I would know all of them.”
Tonight’s attendance: 9,700, just shy of capacity.
My cynical side pushed Kate on whether this isn’t all a bit weird, and she said there were definitely some old-timers who weren’t thrilled with the changes. There are always old-timers not thrilled with the changes. But considering the alternative, she said, and the recent past, the great majority of people are completely on board with it, even if tickets are hard to come by, and besides, she added, “Rob and Ryan seem such lovely blokes.”
In the new ticket scheme, they set aside 75 – out of nearly 10,000 – for their new throng of International Members, all of them seated up in the corner of the Wrexham Lager Stand. There I went, to find the usual League Two legroom, which is to say no legroom. I mentioned this to the fellow next to me, hoping he felt like chatting, but he didn’t seem to. Basic Rule of Attending Games: Try to chat up your neighbor, but if the response is a red light, or even yellow, leave them be.
Sadly, there was an American behind me who wouldn’t leave any of us be. Occasionally the unpleasant characteristics of my homeland gather at great intensity into one person, and on this occasion that person was sat right behind me. What followed was 90 minutes of a too-loud monologue which was 70 percent name-dropping of club officials and people from “the doc,” 20 percent himself, and 10 percent of very standard “take-him-on!” football commentary.
Working on a resentment, but also curious, I asked at halftime where he was from. He answered with the name of the state, without looking up or asking a question in response. For some reason, I asked if he had been here before, and he said six or seven times, and he’s been interviewed by national media a few times, and then he asked if I had seen “the doc.” I said I had, then he mentioned someone who would be showing him around the next day, and I said who’s that, and he rolled his eyes and said, “Well, you obviously haven’t seen the doc.” Thus ended our non-conversation, and I can only hope Wrexham survives their influx of Americans.
The game was what you might expect from a League Cup First Round matchup between a recently-promoted League Two team more interested in staying up and a recently-relegated League One team more interesting in going back up. That is, it was a bunch of reserves having at each other in front of a mildly interested crowd. But the kids put on a good show, and though it ended 0-0, it was back and forth and entertaining.
Wrexham won the penalty shootout, then I scooted over to catch my train back to Manchester, and I’ll just say this about that: If you come to Wrexham, especially for a night game, just spend the night. There’s a Premier Inn between the station and the stadium. Even if the trains run on time, it’s a slog getting anywhere from Wrexham, and these days British trains never run on time. I walked out of the Racecourse at 10:05 p.m. and into my Manchester hotel two hours and 50 minutes later.
As for other advice about going to Wrexham, I think you definitely should make the trip. Get a membership, log in early, get a ticket, and you’ll have a great time. You won’t see what you see on “the doc,” because (A) it’s a show and (B) the ironic effect of said show is that it has obliterated the world which it portrays. If you want to visit that world – the League Two Without Deadpool Money World – go check out somebody like Notts County, Stockport County, or Accrington Stanley.
Meanwhile at Wrexham, it’s a party. It’s League Two but with big players and a full stadium and lots of new faces and a giant dose of optimism and wonder, all in a grand old stadium that hasn’t yet been transformed. It isn’t normal, per se, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Some Images From My Day and Game at Wrexham
Just click on the first one to start scrolling through.