If there’s a lesson to learn from watching the European Championships, it’s that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
There are three ex-Wrexham players appearing in the tournament, and they all started their nation’s first match, yet none of them got a sustained chance to show their class for us.
Danny Ward was a bold selection as Wales’ goalkeeper by Rob Page, if only because Wayne Hennessey has been such a reliable figure between the posts over the last few years.
However, Ward has shown he has the temperament for the big occasion: he was selected for the first match of Euro 2016 and did well, and his heroics against France a couple of weeks ago showed that a lack of first team opportunities hadn’t dulled his reflexes.
Ward rewarded Page’s bravery with a magnificent performance, repelling the Swiss in making himself the undisputed man of the match.
It was all in stark contrast to his sole appearance for Wrexham in 2012, which was much more low key and far from glorious.
He was acknowledged as a terrific prospect back then: he’d been working his way through the youth levels of the Wales set-up, and had caught the eye of a number of big clubs. However, at 18 years old it was too soon to contemplate throwing him into the first team, and with Chris Maxwell and Jos Mayebi scrapping for the Number One jersey, we were hardly in a position of weakness in goal.
He did turn out once for us though, in very peculiar circumstances.
That was the season we were readmitted to the Welsh Cup, but the circumstances were somewhat loaded. Ties had to be played over a nominated weekend, which would obviously lead to a clash of fixtures for us, and we were drawn to play at Brentford in the FA Cup on the weekend in question.
As a result, our youth team had to play Airbus in the Welsh Cup. Apart from Ward, ten others were making their debuts; like Ward, four others would never appear in the first team again. Five of them were in the 25 youngest players in the club’s history at the time, seven of them were under 18.
In front of a crowd of 401, the youngsters did well, but losing skipper Leon Clowes to a red card was a turning point. A goal in the 93rd minute meant Airbus took the game into extra time and the winner came when Ward dropped a cross.
It was a humble, chastening beginning to a journey which has now taken Ward to standing out at an international tournament.
Dan Bachmann was another goalkeeper who enjoyed a late elevation to being first choice in the European Championship. Austria’s number one enjoyed his tournament baptism less than Ward; North Macedonia’s goal was due to a defensive mix-up, and Bachmann probably ought to have clung onto the ball rather than let it run loose to Goran Pandev. At least he can say he conceded to the second-oldest scorer in the history of the tournament!
His time at Wrexham was punctuated by similar misfortune. Signed on loan from Stoke as a 20-year old, it was clear that Bachmann was a class act, but his luck was always out. He would miss 25 games through injury, couldn’t play in the massive 3rd Round FA Cup tie at Stoke because they were his parent club, played a hero’s role as we won a penalty shoot-out at Gateshead and missed the FA Trophy final, because he was called up by Austria’s Under-21s.
Joe Allen’s spell with us is the great “what if” of Wrexham’s time in the National League. What would have happened if it hadn’t been cut short by injury?
Allen arrived in Wrexham’s first season in non-league football, on loan from Swansea, 14 games into the campaign, almost immediately after Dean Saunders took charge following Brian Little’s unhappy reign.
He was clearly far too good for the National League. On his debut he ran the game, scoring in a comprehensive 3-1 beating of York. Four days later he repeated the trick with an imperious performance as we won at Mansfield.
And then he picked up a serious injury and was ruled out for the season.
Who knows how that campaign would have played out if he’d stayed fit? Saunders brought in a lot of young loanees from the upper echelons of the pyramid in his first two seasons at Wrexham, and most of them faded, so perhaps Allen’s influence would have diminished over the course of a punishing season. However, none of those young loan players looked to have the quality of Allen, except for Ryan Flynn and Ritchie De Laet, who also succumbed to injury after a handful of games.
If Allen had avoided injury, perhaps we’d have bounced straight back up to the Football League, and who knows how the intervening 13 years would have played out?
Allen, Ward and Bachmann are all fine players, but none of them, for a variety of reasons were able to influence our fate. It just goes to show that circumstances play as big a part in football as anything else.