The highlight of Bryan Hughes’ first match as Wrexham manager wasn’t the win, the goal, or our dominant second half performance. It was a superb video posted by a fan, documenting his son’s experience of his first football match. It illustrated the brilliant work done by our club, the value a football club brings to the lives of the community around it, and why rash talk of playing with the ownership structure of the club should be approached with extreme caution.
Last week stories circulated of a consortium showing an interest in the club. The lack of detail offered and the timing of the supposed revelation left a bad taste in the mouth. It felt like, just when the problems created by the loss of a second manager in two months had left the board in a difficult situation, dissent was being encouraged and the concept of a fan-owned club undermined.
Putting aside the dubious benefits of some consortium buying into us, the question of just why they would be interested in investing in a fifth tier club, and the dangers of giving away the control we have over the direction of the club, I ask you to consider the impact such a move could have on those brilliant initiatives I mentioned earlier.
The video is a moving tribute to our autism-friendly policy. All our home games are autism-friendly, and the video showed how the facilities made sure it was a very special day.
The Disabled Supporters Association has constantly attacked ambitious projects with vigour, and the tireless work of the club’s Disability Liaison Officer, Kerry Evans, makes you feel proud to support the same team as her.
Their list of achievements range from our magnificent wheelchair-accessible viewing platform, and the new Audio Description commentary which allows fans who can’t see the game to sit wherever they want in the stadium with their friends and enjoy the game, to the administration of the blue badge spaces in the car park, where the inimitable Mark makes sure all players and fans alike receive a warm welcome to the ground!
Wheelchair-accessible away travel has been introduced, allowing more fans to see Wrexham on the road, and it was announced this week that funding has been secured to continue this scheme into next season. Wrexham AFC is a club which is leading the way when it comes to inclusivity, and all on a voluntary basis.
So how is all this good work tied into the ownership structure of the club? Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many good people you have out there: the club still has to have the willingness to allow them to put their ideas into action. I have bitter first-hand experience of why it’s crucial to have the club behind you when you try to introduce such initiatives.
The audio description commentary which has been introduced recently isn’t the first attempt to offer such a service at the club. In 2001 the Supporters Association generously funded a similar scheme, with walkie-talkies given to fans so they could listen to our commentary.
At first things went rather well, although I was somewhat astonished to see a publicity stunt just after the launch of the service which made no mention of the Supporters Association or the commentary team, suggesting the newly-appointed commercial manager had been behind the scheme.
Things started to go wrong when the club took over the distribution of the equipment to supporters. The regime of the time had no real stake in it, and no interest in providing a service to the community. We continued to commentate, thinking fans were using the service, but discovered after a few months that all the receivers were gone! Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to where they ended up.
The bottom line is that the scheme failed because the owners of the club were interested in other matters; providing a community service which couldn’t be monetarily exploited had no value to them whatsoever. The excellent work we are seeing week-in, week-out at The Racecourse is down to the brilliant people who volunteer to give something back to their fellow fans. But it’s underpinned by the fan-owned, community-based nature of our club.
We should think very hard indeed before we even consider diluting the special nature of our club, never mind changing it altogether.