What a strange mixture of emotions I’m feeling leading up to the cup replay on Tuesday. On the one hand, there’s no side I’d begrudge victory to less than Brighton, on the other a victory over our twinned club would lead to a windfall which might make a huge difference to Wrexham’s future. It’s a friendly played for remarkably high stakes.
In many ways it’s hard to whip up a feeling of anticipation for a game against The Seagulls. After all, alongside AFC Wimbledon they offer the template for a club centred around the fans’ will which we would do extremely well to follow. I like to think we already are; the fact that we’ll be holding a bucket collection at the Kettering game on Saturday to support the struggling Poppies says a heck of a lot about the values which are at the heart of what we’re now about; never mind falling back on fans to pay bonds and employees’ wages, this is now a club which, despite still having to urgently address revenue issues of its own, understands the plight of the fan, no matter who they support, and will help if it can.
But, we all know that this season is being played out against a financial backdrop. Our natural yearning for success and a return to the Football League is supplemented by a sense that if we don’t take this chance, the next one might be a while in coming. Already we’re half way through a transfer window in which we fear our best players might be cherry-picked; however, we’ve been looking over our shoulders for a while, aware that if we don’t go up, this side might inevitably be broken up anyway.
When the owners of the club described paying the tax bill last summer as a calculated gamble against going up they brought shame on our club’s name; now we are in a similar situation, minus the moral ambiguity. We need to go up because the consequence of taking such a fast and loose attitude to our responsibilities over the last five years is that if we can’t cover the problems caused by previous overspending, we will have to cut back drastically.
So the money from springing a surprise on Brighton – the payment from being live on TV against Newcastle, a lion’s share of the gate receipts of another sell-out and of course the prize money from winning in the third round – would make a big difference to our future.
When we travelled down to Falmer we were offered a welcome which is rare in sport (I’d say unique, but the afore-mentioned AFC Wimbledon were also terrific hosts last season.) This was a proper club, run with the sensibilities of proper fans in mind. The word that sums it all up is civilised. From the warm welcome before the match, through the Brighton fans who stayed behind in large numbers to clap Wrexham off the pitch, to the superb experience of joining them afterwards in the concourse, enjoying the striking setting as the night sky was framed by the illuminated roofs of the stands, and enjoying real ale and freshly-cooked pies while talking about our shared passion: football.
It was an idyllic day, and I wasn’t the only Wrexham fan who reflected on the occasion and decided that if we could achieve something like that, admittedly on our own, smaller scale, then we’d have done alright. Can you see why the passion I might feel before we face a fierce rival is absent? Yet this is a game we literally can’t afford to lose.
So what to do? We could, I suppose, appeal to Brighton’s admirable side and ask if they wouldn’t mind rolling over for us. It’s not too much to ask of a friend, is it?