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.
Opening day fixtures in Kent are a bit like buses. You don’t have one for ages and then two turn up at once! Last season we broke a run of six seasons which began with an opening match at home in grand manner when we trekked all the way down to Dartford, and tomorrow we repeat the trip south when we make our first ever visit to Bromley.
In fact, my opening sentence is a little misleading. The game at Dartford was actually the first time we’d ever started the season in Kent, and was one of the longest trips we’ve made to begin a campaign. As the crow flies, the 177 miles to Dartford was just three miles short of the trip we made in 1987, when Dixie McNeil took a new look side to Torquay full of optimism. The long return journey can’t have been much fun, as we lost 6-1!
In terms of distance, Bromley’s ground is just five miles closer to The Racecourse than Dartford’s, but in practical terms the journey’s a less appetising proposition. If you’re going by car the best route means you’ll cover a whopping 232 miles; only the Torquay match has ever required a longer road trip on the opening day of the season!
Mind you, but for the luck of the draw the Wrexham team of 1995 would have made an opening odyssey which would put these jaunts to Kent and Devon firmly in the shade! That season our first match wasn’t in the league but in the European Cup Winners Cup, but we were drawn at home in the first leg. If that hadn’t been the case, then the trip to Romania to play Petrolul Ploesti would have racked up 1,420 air miles!
Funnily enough, we’d never faced a side from Kent until the opening day until 2013, when we beat Welling 2-1 at home, but Bromley tomorrow will make it three in a row!
Last season was the first time we’d begun a Conference season with an away match, and a 2-1 win meant we maintained our remarkable unbeaten first day record at this level.
Indeed, we’ve won the opening game in six of the seven seasons we’ve kicked in the Conference. We haven’t lost an opening match since a 2-0 defeat at Darlington eight years ago set the tone for our last season in the Football League.
Of course, Gary Mills has lots of new players to choose from tomorrow after a radical reshaping of the squad over the Summer. Indeed, he could give twelve players debuts at Bromley, fitness permitting. While that’s obviously highly unlikely, there’ll be a terrifically large number of players making their first competitive appearance for us.
Last season Kevin Wilkin fielded six new men at Dartford, while the record for Mills to aim at was set in our very first game at this level. Brian Little gave seven players for their first Wrexham match against Stevenage in 2008 and four of them scored in a 5-0 win. We’d certainly settle for the same again tomorrow!