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.
Elliott Durrell’s goal last Saturday brought something home to me. It brought home just how important the 150th anniversary match will be in a week.
That might not seem like an obvious conclusion to draw, but his goal reawakened something in me, something from my childhood, and drew a link between my past and my present which made me understand just why our celebrations are such an important matter.
I was thrilled for Durrell. He’s striven for a goal, suffered through the frustrations of missed chances, misfortune and poor decisions and finally come out the other side with his first goal for us. Seeing the footage our cameraman Loz Mitchell took of his strike, standing on the abandoned Kop, brought back very distinct memories.
It took me back a good 35 years. I’d be standing on The Kop – quite near the front, just where Loz was, because I was too young and timid to go and stand with the real “lads” at the back, watching the first player I ever decided was my favourite. Like all youngsters new to the game, it was an idiosyncratic choice: I didn’t go for established international stars like Dai Davies or Mickey Thomas, wasn’t dazzled by the attacking flair of Bobby Shinton or Dixie McNeil, and was too young to appreciate the loyal solidity of Mickey Evans and Gareth Davis (I didn’t get King Lear back then, either!)
No, my hero was a plump, gifted winger who, I later found out, was quite a character. Steve Fox was my first Wrexham hero and his trademark move was to launch the ball towards goal from distance: the sort of distance Durrell specialised in.
The similarity doesn’t end with their shared penchant for long distances shooting either. Fox, like Durrell, struggled for his early goals, and also like Durrell it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He’d fire in shot after shot, peppering The Kop and threatening to do structural damage to the gleaming new stand behind the other goal.
I was perplexed as to why he kept shooting despite his complete failure to score: these days Opta would parade his success rate of 0% across the bottom of the screen when he launched the ball into the scrubland between the stand and Crispin Lane.
However, my Dad explained that if you don’t shoot, you don’t score, and he’d rather have a trigger-happy forward than a shot-shy one.
And that, in a nutshell, explains why Durrell’s goal pulled together 150 threads in my mind. It showed how everything is connected: the club’s history, its sense of place, its role in the lives of the fans.
There are kids out there, just starting the exciting journey of discovering a passion for the game, who will fasten upon Durrell and remember him in years to come – maybe when we celebrate our 175th anniversary and he joins a parade on the pitch with other ex-players like Neil Taylor and Cristiano Ronaldo (I can’t wait for him to finish his career with the club he truly loves.)
Remembering that conversation with my Dad shows how the game fastens down relationships as we share something precious with the people we love. And seeing that strike go in took me on a flight of fancy. Durrell scores in the Kop goal. Where Fox scored, and Gary Bennett scored and Tommy Bamford scored before them. And where, deep in the early history of football, a long-forgotten player scored the first goal by Wrexham, no doubt, in an unrecorded match. That’s why the Grimsby game means so much. Because that link between us, our lives, and those lives touched by this great club of ours, need to be remembered, need to be commemora