The press room at The Racecourse used to be under the Yale Stand and, in Football League days, was a convivial spot where reporters would chat about the game they’d just witnessed and fact-check with their colleagues to make sure the player who crossed for the second goa had been correctly identified.
It would always be filled with chatter until one of the managers arrived. Then it was suddenly down to business, and perhaps even passively competitive, as everyone would jostle themselves round the manager, looking for the best position to interrogate from, and record his thoughts.
Denis Smith was perhaps the manager with the greatest presence in these situations, not least because you were never quite sure which way he would jump. When we’d lost, he could be surprisingly upbeat; when we won, he was sometimes downright scary!
A particularly extreme version of this came after a midweek game at The Racecourse. I can’t remember who the opposition were, but I recall that it was a horrible night and we’d managed to escape with a one-goal win because our keeper, Kristian Rogers, had pulled off a string of fine saves.
We expected Denis to be delighted, but he was prickly from the outset. The first question, clearly from someone who had correctly read his mood, was about Rogers. How better to butter up a grumpy manager than to tell him one of his players did well.
“You must be delighted with the saves Kristian Rogers made?”
“No. That’s why I picked him.”
There followed an awkward exchange in which Smith defended his team from an anticipated onslaught from a media pack who wanted to ignore the result and complain about the performance.
In fact, I think the press, and remember that most Wrexham reporters are also Wrexham fans who wish the team well, were very happy with the result and not looking to stir up trouble at all!
Smith’s response stayed with me, though, and has coloured how I interpret games. I don’t look back at games like last Saturday’s and feel we rode our luck just because Rob Lainton made some good saves.
Still, Saturday’s game was a topsy-turvy affair which could have gone either way. Ultimately, analysis has to be influenced by the outcome: we beat Boreham Wood, will challenge for promotion this season, so clearly it was an excellent start to the season.
Yet we were under intense pressure for long periods, especially in the first half, and had it not been for the excellence of Lainton, we could have been out of the game after ten minutes.
Perhaps that, after all, is why the outcome is the most important thing. We could easily have lost, but we showed resilience and took our chances.
We know Dean Keates recruits with one eye on the character of the players he is attracting. When the going got tough, as a considerably bigger Boreham Wood bombarded us with the wind’s assistance, we knuckled down and repelled them.
Fiacre Kelleher had a magnificent debut, with Theo Vassell also excellent alongside him. In midfield, Luke Young and Jay Harris battled for every ball.
Jake Bickerstaff’s experience sums up the side’s strength of character. Nobody is ever going to be able to criticise Bickerstaff’s workrate, but Lainton was unhappy at the amount of crosses coming in from Bickerstaff’s patch, and was quick to berate him. The result? Bickerstaff stemmed the flow of crosses, and Lainton showed, like many others on Saturday, that running through the team is a relentless demand to live up to high standards.
But then, that’s why Dean Keates picked him.