So why do we all resent Fleetwood so much? Because, let’s be honest: we really really do!
Want proof? Have a look at Red Passion, where the forums are full of annoyance at the Cod Squad (Army seems too large a unit by far!); the always entertaining Friday column by Andy Gilpin also articulated the depth of feeling amongst supporters; and if we’re to judge by the prominence BBC Wales give the issue in the post-match press conference, it’s all we think of up here.
It feels like it goes way beyond the normal feelings you have against your closest rivals, and I’ve got be honest and say that I feel it too. For me, it’s about something a little more fundamental than who wins the Conference title though. It strikes at something very important about Wrexham FC and our recent history, which is also a crucial issue for the future of the game.
Quite simply, you get the feeling that what Fleetwood are doing is simply bad for football.
You might accuse me of sour grapes, but I plead innocent without a moment’s hesitation. It bothers me that folk are willing to cheer on such a crazy model in these of all times. Enjoy it while you can, because I sense there’ll be no club to cheer at Highbury in ten years time.
That might seem a somewhat apocalyptic statement, but if you want to understand what I’m saying, just look at the evidence all around you. What happens to clubs who overstretch themselves? The headlines are grabbed by cases like those of Rangers and Portsmouth, and certainly Pompey illustrate my point quite nicely; absolutely, Harry Redknapp enjoyed success there, but most managers would have done if they were allowed to spend beyond their club’s means.
Football somehow seems to think that, as it rouses passions like little else and can rely on the undying support of a team’s fans, that it’s untouchable, operating outside the normal rules of economics. It doesn’t. Those fans whose loyalty has been bled by venal clubs through the good times remain committed, but they aren’t bottomless pits of charity. In these straitened times particularly, hard choices have to be made, and any sane person chooses family ahead of footy.
Instead of burying their heads in the sand and complaining about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play legislation, clubs like Chelsea ad Manchester City ought to be thanking Michel Platini for trying to put a structure in place which might one day save them.
At the lower levels there are cases more pertinent to us, whose similarity to Fleetwood is striking. When Crawley can spend more in a Summer than the two divisions above them combined, when Neath can outbid us on a player’s wages on crowds of two hundred, and afford to sign Lee Trundle at the same time, then it’s fair to say they’re living beyond their means.
They ought to be careful. Spending a massive amount more than you earn is a great ride – while it lasts. Then it’s devastation, destitution and destruction. Ask Rushden and Diamonds. It’s all very well enjoying the largesse of a sugar daddy, but reckless spending can’t go on forever, and when benefactors grow bored, become skint or die, few of them have a plan for a legacy in place like Jack Walker’s. In a decade or two we might look back and see that his was the only major investment in a football club which allowed it to maintain an elevated place after the funding ran out.
So Fleetwood strike a raw nerve in Wrexham fans for reasons beyond the fact that they are the one barrier between us and a return to the Football League. As Gilpin rightly points out, that sense that we ought to be back up there is certainly a factor, but it’s the nature of the opposition we’re up against that’s really the issue, not just the fact that someone has the temerity to block our path. Fleetwood are an artificially pumped-up club whose star will flare beautifully for a few years, then collapse in on itself. It’s a real shame that the authorities allow clubs to run themselves like that, gambling on the present and then suddenly being hit at some point in the future with the reality that they’re a club paying Championship wages on crowds of 2,000. It’s even more of a shame, from our perspective, that for two seasons the top spot in The Conference has been blocked by exactly that sort of flash in the pan club. After we beat Barrow we stood eighteen points clear of Luton. EIGHTEEN POINTS CLEAR OF LUTON! Just think about that for a moment; if Fleetwood weren’t having their brief, fatal flirtation with glory right now, the title would be pretty much wrapped up by now; we’d need just fifteen points from the last thirty to claim it. Why couldn’t Andy Pilley have bought a Caribbean island instead?