Vanarama National League column – by Glenn Moore
Wales reaching the European Championship semi-finals, Swansea City becoming a Premier League regular, Cardiff City briefly joining them – and threatening to do so again, phoenix club Newport County returning to the Football League. It has been a golden era for the Principality.
Correction. It has been a golden era for South Wales football. In the north there has been less to cheer. The national team’s exploits under Chris Coleman were joyously received, but Wales do not play in the north these days. As for the club game… Wrexham, the oldest club in Wales, are now in their 154th season, but also their tenth successive outside the Football League.
Welsh sport is traditionally associated with rugby but the north is predominantly football territory. This has made Wrexham’s exile all the harder to bear given the better fortunes being enjoyed by southern clubs. Now, however, the Red Dragons are breathing fire again. Tuesday night’s victory over Solihull Moors lifted them to the summit of the Vanarama National League with the season’s mid-point fast approaching.
Wrexham have lost just lost just once in their last 16 Vanarama National League games, a run that includes 1-0 victories at rivals Chester and Tranmere. Those scorelines underline a rise that has been based on a tight defence with only 12 goals conceded in 21 Vanarama National League games. Manager Dean Keates puts a premium on graft. A former Wrexham player he talks of “a working-class town with honest people who want to see their team performing and working hard.”
Relegated in 2008 following a financial crisis that sent them tumbling from League One to National League in four seasons, Wrexham at one stage wondered if they would survive at all. Fan ownership in 2011 stabilised the club and, having survived a winding up order, they reached the promotion play-offs in three successive seasons. However, they only once made the final, in 2013, and lost to Newport.
Having never previously been to Wembley Wrexham went there twice that season, winning the FA Trophy before the play-off loss. The board, all-too well aware of the consequences of financial problems, used the proceeds to clear debt. Sensible in the long-term, but the team suffered, coming 17th the following season, Wrexham’s lowest ever position. The Red Dragons subsequently pottered in mid-table, becoming the Vanarama National League’s longest established members.
Until now, that is. Keates, who is in his first management role, brought in 12 players this summer and few expected them to gel so quickly. There is progress behind the scenes too with the club bidding to site the proposed Museum of Welsh Football at the Racecourse as part of a development to include rebuilding the currently closed Kop end. That would help bring back the national team, which last played in Wrexham in 2008, and further swell an average gate that, at more than 4,300, already exceeds 19 Football League clubs. On and off the pitch everyone is aware there is a long way to go, but the Red Dragons are finally moving in the right direction.
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