The last few years have seen a real revival for the 1980s. Affectionate nostalgia has been kindled for those far-off days of Band-Aid, leg warmers and Selina Scott. If you’re not middle-aged, you’ll have to take my word for it: those were all actual things in the 80s.
My child of the 80s credentials are solid:
First Album: “Parallel Lines” by Blondie.
Favourite TV Show: Tiswas, then The Young Ones.
First Poster on Bedroom Wall: The Scoop “Follow Your Team” Wallchart, with Dixie McNeil’s goals and Wrexham’s results scrawled in despite my pen struggling with writing when horizontal.
Favourite Film: Star Wars.
First Band I Saw Live: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Favourite Ice Cream: Orange Maid or Strawberry Mivvi.
They were special, formative years for me, and I look back on them with fondness. However, nostalgia for the 80s does tend to warp your perspective. I guess that’s what nostalgia is: a misrepresentation of the past, cutting out the mundane and negative and recalling only the good times.
Wrexham fans are as guilty of this as anybody else, and plenty of them will tell you how great the 1980s were. It falls to me to break it to you, as someone who was there, that they weren’t great at all.
For Wrexham, the 1980s served only one purpose: to set up the 1990s. The victory over Arsenal which kicked off 1992 and the improvement under Brian Flynn, was a reward for the loyalty of the small band of fans who stuck it out through the 1980s, watching the club drop two leagues and nearly exit the Football League, while financial crises piled up, threatening to destroy the club.
The problem wasn’t the dubious intentions of our owners, but rather the difficulty in negotiating the financial landscape of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. With unemployment on the rise and crisis seemingly around the corner, a football club which was falling back to earth after the giddy adventures of the 1970s inevitably floundered into disaster.
We spent in the 70s and repented in the 80s. The Yale Stand was built, then the Border Stand erected, and a roof was put on the Kop to replace the bizarre Pigeon Loft, a cinema balcony on stilts which provided a minimal amount of shelter from the rain.
It made perfect sense to spend as the club hit out towards new boundaries. We played in Europe for the first time, reached the last 8 of the FA Cup twice and the League Cup once, and managed to climb to the second tier of the Football League for the first time in our long history. But recession was around the corner, and reality caught up with us.
As Mike Peters, Wrexham fan and lead singer of The Alarm, sang,
“After all time building up,
Comes inevitable knocking down”
The 1980s were tough. I’ve always seen the victory over Arsenal which we celebrated last week as an example of karma balancing everything out. My dad, my mates and the rest of the small band of loyal sufferers had to put up with an awful decade, and seeing us beat The Gunners was the reward we received for our loyalty.
Maybe what’s happening now is similarly a reward for those whose formative years were spent watching Wrexham in non-league football and having to listen to old windbags like me going on about the good old days under Brian Flynn.
There was some poor stuff served up in the 80s though. We started the decade off with consecutive relegations and then were consistently in the bottom half of the Fourth Division. I accept that playing standards have risen remarkably across the board since then but even so, many of those 1980s Wrexham sides felt a lot less competitive than the teams we’ve fielded in the National League.
Even the side that beat Porto was horrible domestically, reeling from one beating after another either side of that remarkable shock. Don’t forget that the manager of that side, Bobby Roberts, was employed because he had a history of being able to manage on a shoestring, and ended up having to play in goal even though he was a retired wing half!
So the 1980s wasn’t the glamorous place many would have you believe. Sure, we knocked Porto out of Europe, beat Brian Clough’s peak Nottingham Forest team on their own patch, won the Welsh Cup and reached the Fourth Division play-offs. Yes, we had players of the calibre of Dai Davies, Joey Jones, Gareth Davis, Steve Charles, Jim Steel, Mick Vinter and Kevin Russell.
Come to think of it, if we had all that in a bad decade, we must be a pretty special club!