Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
Going to Wembley last month was great fun. Now it’s time to get down to business.
Don’t get me wrong. I took the FA Trophy final very seriously, and would have been hugely disappointed if we’d lost the penalty shoot-out, especially as we’d dominated them and were held at bay bya keeper having the game of his life.
However, it was a cup final. A great opportunity, a fantastic day out, but ultimately something which adds another memory to the list, another trophy to the honours board. Sunday’s about something more substantial than that.
It’s about where we are in the great scheme of things. The Conference might have become League Three, it might be stronger than League Two as the two-up two-down bottleneck traps strong sides and rejuvenated clubs while teams that need to be flushed out of the Football League are able to linger a division above. However, there’s still a stigma attached: we’re still non league.
On Sunday we can end that. We can also get ourselves to where we ought to be. I’m not saying that in an arrogant sense. Some “big” clubs have come sauntering down to the Conference and put noses out of joint by acting as if they’re too good for this level and merely here until the normal state of affairs can be restored. I’m pleased to say that we haven’t been guilty of that, perhaps because the suffering we’ve been through over the last ten years means we’ve naturally become humble.
When I say we can go back to where we ought to be, I mean the current team really ought to be playing at a higher level. Week-in week-out for three seasons they’ve played at a level which would be more than good enough for League Two. For the last three years I’ve been lucky enough to write in these pages of club records being broken on a regular basis. I suppose I was doing that before, during the dark days of our slide into the Conference, but the records I flagged up then tended to be the type you didn’t want to break!
This team has changed all that. It has evolved over those years, but its core values remain. They’re committed, united and, above all, are a group to be proud of. How appropriate that the team which represents a fan-owned club also echoes the qualities you could ascribe to the supporters themselves.
The fans and the players have bonded over recent years: appropriately a bond was what helped bring them together. When you hear the players and staff constantly say they want to succeed because its what their phenomenal fans deserve, you can tell it’s not just glib PR. This is a squad which understands what they owe to the fans, and just how committed they are to them.
I’ve enjoyed the Conference. The clubs and fans of genuine non league have been terrifically welcoming. But it’s time for the suffering to end. As fans and as a team, united in destiny, Wrexham FC deserves that.