Wrexham and Immigration: Keates Gets It; Atherton Doesn’t

Dean Keates isn’t from Wrexham, but he hit the nail on the head when he talked about the town on the Summer.

Asked about his recruitment, he said he wanted to sign players who are “honest hard-working people” to match “the DNA of this community”.

Perhaps our MP, Sarah Atherton, ought to sit down with Keates so he can tell her a few things about her constituency.

Atherton called for “tough words to be matched with tough actions” to address economic migration, with the armed forces offering “whatever assistance is required.”

The thing is, Wrexham wouldn’t exist without economic migration and external influences as Mrs Atherton, who has come from Chester to involve herself in local politics, ought to realise. Wrexham AFC would probably never have become a Football League club either.

Wrexham’s history is one of a market town, with a vibrant mining and brewing heritage. I’m sure there’s no need for me to explain how being a market town means encouraging people into the area, but those other industries wouldn’t have had a workforce without economic migrants.

Equally, Wrexham AFC surely wouldn’t have been competitive in the crucial formative days of organised football without external help.

Mines require miners, because coal won’t come out of the ground by itself. Clearly Wrexham required an influx of miners from other regions because the local mines were particularly labour-intensive. A study in 1913 showed that only four regions had a higher proportion of mines which employed over a thousand people than those of Denbighshire.

Miners from the north west of England and Scotland travelled south to work in the mines around Wrexham. There was even a shanty town on the moors above Rhos, created by Scottish families who had moved into the area to mine.

The football club capitalized upon the situation. Over the years we’ve had a remarkable number of Scottish players. In the days when players needed a second income, we could tempt professionals south with the promise of a guaranteed job in the mines.

Aly McGowan

Consider club legend Aly McGowan, who is 5th in the list of Wrexham appearances. He was a Scotland ‘B’ International who moved south partly on the recommendation of our star striker Tommy Bannan, who had followed the same path south, and partly because Wrexham were offering £12 a week compared to the £6 he earned at Saint Johnstone. At both clubs he supplemented his income in the pits.

7th: Tommy Bannan 100 goals

After 12 years playing for us as a hard-tackling full back a bad leg break curtailed his career, but he remained at the club, fulfilling a number of roles, and after that was the steward at the Catholic Club. He proves economic migrants are not parasitic: they are hard-working people who make roots and contribute to their new home.

Once a migrant arrives, they have a vested interest in local success. For example, Henry Robertson, a Scottish railway engineer, was instrumental in the building of the railway line between Wrexham and Chester in the 1840s, and almost succeeded in convincing parliament to route the line from London to Holyhead through Wrexham rather than Chester.

For much of our time in the Football League, Wrexham was the smallest town to have a club in the competition, but our ability to attract economic migrants meant we consistently hit above our weight.

Wrexham continued to mine a rich seam of Scottish talent, employing a scout in Scotland and taking recommendations from McGowan’s brother.

Without such an influx of quality – and remember, players from other areas would be attracted by employment down the mines too – we surely would not have become the sole club to emerge from North Wales capable of competing with English clubs.

For much of our time in the Football League, Wrexham was the smallest town to have a club in the competition, but our ability to attract economic migrants meant we consistently hit above our weight.

Peter Baines was Wrexham’s first black player when he appeared in a wartime fixture. he also played during the conflict, and made a handful of appearances for Wrexham when normal football resumed.

We have a proud record of breaking down barriers and being a welcoming club. Peter Baines was one of Britain’s first black footballers, playing for Wrexham during the Second World War and beyond. He was embraced enthusiastically by the fans and community, as was Steve Stacey, the first Afro-American to play in Britain.

Steve Stacey

And please don’t tell me that our Trinidadian contingent didn’t add something special to Wrexham! Seven Trinidadian players, from Clayton Ince’s sole appearance in 1997 to the mighty Marvin Andrews in 2011, defined the club’s identity in the opening decade of the Millennium as we won our first trophy outside Wales.

Mighty Marvin

Of course, all football clubs are cosmopolitan now, although Premier League fans who enjoy having the financial muscle to attract players from around the world are in for a shock when the immigration policy Atherton promises kicks in.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement is only the latest campaign which shows that important messages of tolerance still need to be reinforced. Again, there has been a response from the town in the form of Bellevue FC, a club which reflects the nature of Wrexham in the 21st Century, encouraging diversity and accepting everyone on their merits.

Their manager, Delwyn Derrick, last year’s BBC Wales Unsung Hero at Sports Personality of the Year, is the embodiment of our DNA.

Because as Dean Keates says, Wrexham was made by honest hard-working people, and it really doesn’t matter how they got here.

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