When he was released by Brian Flynn in 1998, few words were spared for Jonathan Cross, which was not awfully surprising. Cross was never particularly popular with the fans, or, it was claimed in some quarters, the players. However, his story is one of missed opportunity – if circumstances had been slightly different he might have gone on to play a significant role for the club. His low key departure was a far cry from what we’d have expected when he burst into the first team seven years earlier.
Cross is now destined to be labelled the player we could have sold for a million pounds. Ipswich were rumoured to be interested – mind you, during our 1992-3 promotion season everyone was linked with Ipswich. However, there can be little doubt that the big clubs would have been aware of Cross’ emergence after an exciting start to his career.
He was marked out as a prodigious young talent when he made his debut at the age of sixteen in a derby game at Crewe. On a gluepot of a pitch which hardly suited a youngster making his first appearance, Cross showed enough neat touches in his sixty-seven minutes down the left wing to imply he would produce much more. His youthful talents were protected for the remainder of the season though, his opportunities limited to just four starts by the arrivals of Simon Ireland on loan and Mark Taylor.
He started the 1992-3 season in the first team, however, scoring his first goal in the opening league match against Rochdale as he switched to the right wing, where he spent most of the season. A match-winning two goals at Cardiff and another brace against Torquay were amongst his nine goals – his best total – as he helped the team to promotion in a dazzling season which made his reputation.
However, no sooner had the new season begun than his form began to deteriorate. His confidence seemed to wane: a reluctance to take on the fearsome Stuart Pearce in the Coca Cola Cup tie with Nottingham Forest seemed to sum up his arrested development. In February, an horrific head injury at Blackpool ended his season.
1994-5 saw little improvement in his form, and although he played a crucial, if brief, role in compensating for the loss of Gary Bennett a year later, lining up alongside Karl Connolly as a mobile, bustling centre forward in a necessary restructuring of the team, he managed only four league starts.
His opportunities were similarly limited again the following season, and he was allowed to go to doomed Hereford on loan. Perhaps this spell provides a microcosm of his career: after scoring on his debut, he was allowed to return five games later. Once again, early promise had failed to produce anything more lasting.
He made his way back into the Wrexham team at the end of the season as a result of a severe injury crisis in defence. Cross had played as a left-back for six games in 1992, but this change of position was to prove to be a burden. His performances at the back were poor, and he was often at fault as the Reds conceded seven goals in the two league matches he managed that season. However, he was now pigeon-holed as a full-back, despite a lack of polish in that position.
In explaining his decision to release Cross, Brian Flynn cited the high number of full backs already on the staff – clearly in his mind Cross was no longer to be considered as a striker or winger, although many would suggest he could have filled in successfully in those position when injuries struck that season.
We all know lads from our youth who looked certain to play professionally, but never made it. In some ways Cross’ story is similar to theirs – he promised so much, but ultimately failed to deliver the goods. With his ability, he ought to have done better for himself – if only he could have delivered on his early promise.