Inevitably, the focus at a football club is on the first team, and this season is no different as we hope Sam Ricketts’ side can make a sustained push for promotion. But there’s more than one first team at Wrexham AFC this season. Even in the context of this ancient club’s history, what’s happening is a game changer.
We have a fully-affiliated Wrexham Women’s team now, and they’ve made an equally impressive start to their first campaign. They begin their journey in the North Wales Women’s Football League Division Two, but the possibilities for the club are remarkable. How quickly they’ll be fulfilled is linked to how soon we all realise what an exciting project this is.
A women’s team, backed by the resources and support of a club like ours, has the potential to become a powerhouse of Welsh football. Appropriately for a fan-owned club, it’s also in a position to make a real contribution to the community.
With gender equality and child obesity high on the media agenda, here we see the introduction of a women’s team to the biggest football club in North- and Mid-Wales, and the creation of a girls’ centre of excellence.
A player can join Wrexham AFC aged five and continue playing to adulthood, through five junior age groups. At last there’s an opportunity for girls to experience the sort of progressions boys have long taken for granted.
In that context, they offer a remarkable opportunity to local businesses too. They’re currently looking for sponsors, which seems an incredibly attractive proposition. Getting in at the ground floor and attaching a company’s name to a club which will surely drive its way up the divisions, gaining an increasing amount of attention as it goes, is a rare opportunity.
The chance to not be a sponsor, but to intertwine a business’ identity with a club on the up can have massive benefits. Think of the national publicity Wrexham Lager received, long after the sponsorship deal ended, as fans continued to sing an advert on the terrace every week!
That might be a rare example, but undoubtedly intertwining a brand’s personality with a club’s is a very attractive proposition to businesses – it’s why massive airlines like Ettihad and Emirates sponsor stadia. And here on our doorstep is a club which offers great value for money and a cause worth getting involved with.
The partnership with Pen-y-Cae is valuable too. It’s not practical to have too many competitive fixtures at The Racecourse, and by playing at Afoneitha Road we offer a reminder that the club represents the Borough of Wrexham, not just the town.
This is an opportunity to change the landscape of the club, and alter the established perceptions of fans. I like the idea that this season, while cheering the likes of Shaun Pearson and Mike Fondop, we can also enjoy the play of Phoebe Rintoul and Kim Dutton. It attracts me that, when we look at the long history of the club, we’ll not only be recording the feats of Arfon Griffiths and Joey Jones, but recalling how Jodie Richards and Lauren Reece were in that historic eleven which started another exciting story in our club’s history. When we think of goal-scoring feats, alongside Tommy Bamford’s sixteen hat tricks we should remember that Savannah Palin scored five goals in our first competitive match. Robbie Evans is the youngest men’s captain; Lily Clifton-Stringer was our 16 year old captain when we played our first women’s cross-border derby. And we won, naturally!
I’m quietly confident I was joint coach of the first girl’s school football team in Wrexham, at Saint Joseph’s High School in the 1990s. Miss Turton and I would patiently lay out the cones and prepare a team, but it was an exercise in futility as there were no fixtures!
The problem was there was no opposition in the area. Our one experience of organised football was a tournament on the coast, in which we were walloped by a succession of more established clubs!
That experience showed me how little infrastructure the women’s game had then in the area. Thankfully, things have improved remarkably, and as befits a community-focussed club, we can now be right at the forefront of this.
So, if you’re a Wrexham fan, you really need to add the pilgrimage to Pen-y-Cae to your regular schedule. After all, we’ve got a 100% record against Chester. What’s not to like?
We’ve never played Havant and Waterlooville before, so there’s only one statistical point worth making before today’s game. After making his fiftieth Wrexham appearance last Saturday, today Kevin Roberts plays his fiftieth league game for us.
But if you’ve been paying attention you’ll realise by now that the big game this weekend is when the women’s team play Penrhyn Bay on Sunday anyway.
This is my column from this 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.