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.
Ninth of August 1997. Wrexham travel to Fulham on the opening day of the season and put in a superb performance. Our passing is crisp, we carve out chance after chance and we play with control for virtually the entire ninety minutes.
But just before half time shaky goalkeeper Mark Walton comes unconvincingly for a corner and Fulham score. We lose 1-0.
It’s a performance that sticks in my mind because in many ways it encapsulates my experience of being a Wrexham fan. We keep being the side that draws admiration from others. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve left an away defeat with opposing fans and press slapping me on the back and telling me how unlucky we were, what admiration we deserve, how we were the best team they’d played that season.
I’m proud of the fact that we’re admired; that we play good football and are appreciated for it. But I’m a bit sick of it as well. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that instead of seeing us lose bravely, I’d like to see us win ugly.
My moment of awakening was Monday morning. I went to bed on Sunday night feeling good. We’d done ourselves proud at Stoke, and were incredibly unfortunate not to come away with at least a draw. To be honest, I feared we might lose heavily before the match, so heroic defeat felt great.
When I woke up on Monday I looked at it more dispassionately though. What I’d seen had started to sink in. In the cold light of day my perspective changed: we were winning with ten minutes left and conceded three avoidable goals. I was still inordinately proud of the team, but now I was starting to get a bitter feeling in my stomach. Once more, we’d been the brave losers. I just don’t want that any more.
Stoke showed they were a class act and were terrifically magnanimous in defeat, from Mark Hughes through to their fans who stayed behind to applaud Wrexham’s players and supporters. They were brilliant and their respect is massively appreciated. The praise that was heaped on us by “Match of the Day” felt fantastic too.
But all that those kind words are worth nothing. Where has three and a half decades of this warm fuzzy feeling got me? My team’s in non league football but everyone likes us. I’d be happy to flip that equation on its head.
Please don’t get me wrong. We were brilliant at Stoke. Wonderfully, unexpectedly brilliant. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with Kevin Wilkin’s team. But now it’s time to turn admirable losses into run of the mill victories. I regularly heard a predictable sentiment after the game: we’ll walk the Conference if we play like that every week. It’s a spurious notion. How on earth can the team be expected to replicate such an effort? But we can start winning ugly, getting the results however we can. I’ll happily to ditch the moral high ground and revel in that.