Remember the days when a Wrexham game on television was a precious, rare experience? An occasion which merited changing into your best clothes as if you’d just managed your team to the cup final on Football Manager?
In this age of multi-channel options and the fragmentation of sports rights, with an increasing number of subscription sports channels looking to fill their schedules with content, seeing The Dragons on TV has become much less of a novelty.
In fact, ironically, the lower we’ve sunk through the divisions, the greater our exposure has been, as the National League has struck deals, first with the ill-fated Setanta, and then with BT Sport to bring a regular selection of non-league games to our screens.
This pattern might not be particularly lucrative for the clubs, but it has meant our presence on TV has become a much more common occurrence.
Before television coverage of football proliferated, we didn’t tend to get onto the screens live until our cup heroics had reached their natural conclusion. Therefore, there was no live coverage of our glorious triumphs over Porto or Arsenal – after all, why would a terrestrial channel set aside time to cover the First Division champions hammering the side which had finished bottom of Division Four when there was a limited number of games they could cover?
Instead, our exits from the cups tended to be when the TV companies took an interest. The less we say of our game at Chesterfield in 1997 the better, although at least our defeat to West Ham in 1992 allowed Des Lynam to bristle with indignation on our behalf when TIm Breacker’s professional foul on Karl Connolly didn’t result in the red card it clearly merited.
Our FA Trophy Final win over Grimsby was shown live, of course, but let’s not talk about our other trips to Wembley.
Being Welsh has boosted our coverage. BBC Wales and S4C kept a close eye on our run to the third round in 2015. I recall being too ill to attend a tie at home to Woking, and wondering whether the ailment which struck me down had spread like wildfire as I surveyed the swathes of empty seats on my screen!
S4C has shown an eagerness to cover our games which allowed fans to watch both legs of our FA Trophy victory over Gainsborough Trinity and numerous other matches. However, BBC Wales take the biscuit for covering obscure matches in full, thanks to their invention of the FAW Premier Cup.
A bizarre tournament, it was apparently cooked up after the BBC realised they had a surplus budget for covering football and suggested creating a competition which would pit the Football League clubs, expelled from the Welsh Cup, against their League of Wales counterparts. The outcome was a complete domination of the competition by Brian Flynn’s side, mixed in with regular live coverage of our reserves beating a selection of League of Wales sides as they progressed through an inconveniently bloated group stage. All this was played out in front of miserable crowds – 9 of the 13 smallest crowds to attend a Wrexham game came in the competition, and 6 of our 9 lowest home attendances. It’s no great surprise that the BBC withdrew their support after a while and the tournament withered and died.
We haven’t tended to enjoy our recent outings on live TV. Two seasons ago we went through an unpleasant spell of grim televised matches. I suppose at least the 3-0 hammering at Dagenham and Redbridge allowed one of the more remarkable individual performances of recent seasons to be appreciated by a wider audience, as Shwan Jalal pulled off a series of remarkable saves. However, his heroics merely illustrated how awful we were – if he hadn’t enjoyed such a wonderful outing, who knows how badly we’d have been beaten?
Our next televised match was enough to make anyone question the wisdom of putting football on television as a form of entertainment. An incredibly grim goalless draw in the cross-border derby will no doubt have driven thousands of viewers to contemplate cancelling their subscriptions. After the match BT Sport’s producer told me that if our games were that dull they wouldn’t show us again that season, and he was as good as his word!
At least we enjoyed a notable televised success last season when we went to Chester and triumphed thanks to a Shaun Pearson header, and then earned a 2-1 victory when they came to The Racecourse, but sandwiched between those games was a cruel 4-1 defeat in the snow at Macclesfield.