5 September ~ A decade ago Wrexham were the highest placed Welsh football club playing in the English system. There’s a very real chance that at full-time today they will be the fourth highest, if Newport County AFC win their first ever Conference game against their Welsh brethren. Wrexham’s decline is in marked contrast to the recent successes of Cardiff and Swansea, who are both finally living up to their potential after decades in the lower league doldrums. But while both the South Wales league clubs pushed for promotion to the Premier League last year, Wrexham were "consolidating" in the Conference, and wondering how the hell they had ended up there.
Newport’s recent history is one of success after success. A record-breaking season in the Conference South last year saw them promoted in March, returning almost to the level they were at before going bust. Along with Aldershot and Maidstone, they were one of the victims of football's grim days at the end of the 1980s, when it seemed to be a dying sport and clubs were being lost to bankruptcy with frightening regularity.
Wrexham actually benefited from one of those departures. Although they finished 92nd in the League in 1991, they were saved from relegation. The following season they won a famous FA Cup tie against Arsenal, the previous season’s League champions. They finished the season bumping along in the basement division before promotion the following year. They then stayed in Division Two (now League One) for almost ten years, with Swansea and Cardiff a tier below.
Their fall to the Conference bears striking similarities with the events that led to the original Newport County’s relegation from the League and collapse. Dodgy chairmen with more interest in the property value of the stadium than the fortunes of the team feature in both stories. In Newport’s case he succeeded, which is why County will host Wrexham in a council-developed stadium (complete with athletics track) today.
The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham is safe from the property developers at the moment. As the football ground with the world’s longest continuous record for hosting international matches, it seems to have avoided the fate of Newport’s Somerton Park, built on while the club was rebuilt at the bottom of the pyramid. As today's game will be the first time in over 20 years that these clubs have met in a league match, there is an opportunity for plenty of nostalgia about the “good old days”. Truthfully, though, both clubs are seeking to put some bad old days behind them, and get back to where they feel they belong. Either team could win and be one step closer. Jon Matthias