Wednesday 23 April ~
An exceptional season for South Wales football has now been offset by the demotion of the Principality's oldest existing club. Wrexham's 2-0 defeat at Hereford last night ends their 87-year run as members of the League. They had gained a lifeline from a 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Notts County on Saturday, but Wrexham had clearly been one of the two worst teams in League Two, having occupied a relegation spot for all but three weeks of the season. Manager Brian Little and his predecessor Brian Carey, who is still on the coaching staff, have taken flak for the team's performances but Wrexham had also been worn down over several years by machinations behind the scenes.
For anyone who grew up watching football in the 1970s or early 1980s Wrexham were the model of a well run small-town club, with a good youth system – the side that won the Division Three championship in 1977-78 contained seven locally born players – and a knack for upsetting bigger clubs in the cups. Even when the club lurched towards the foot of Division Four during a financial crisis in the mid-1980s they had some notable cup victories, such as knocking Porto out of the Cup-Winners Cup in 1985. But decades of achievements can be undone in no time by a predatory individual.
On becoming chairman in 2004, Alex Hamilton attempted to get the club to vacate the Racecourse Ground, their home for all but two years since 1872, so he could sell it for redevelopment. This led to Wrexham being the first club to be fined ten points for going into administration in 2004; the threat from Hamilton lingered on until current chairman Neville Dickens acquired control in May 2006. While the new board gained the fans' backing there seems little doubt they made significant errors in their managerial appointments. Denis Smith, who had been in charge throughout the biggest period of turbulence in the club's history, was sacked in 2007 and replaced by Carey, rather than another former player, Darren Ferguson, who has now taken Peterborough to promotion.
Wrexham need not disappear into obscurity. Three of the four clubs in the Conference play-offs, Torquay, Cambridge and Exeter, were relegated from the League within the last four years. And they will get far more TV exposure next season given that Setanta now cover two live Conference matches every week. Brian Little even has experience of taking a team straight back into the League after a season out. The fact that they have averaged bigger crowds than last night’s opponents, promotion-chasing Hereford, also bodes well for 2008-09 although Wrexham fans will not want to think about that for a while yet.