The Rock of Gibraltar

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Wrexham FC has a history of international footballers in its ranks. More often than not, it is to represent the Welsh National team.

But Wrexham’s summer signing and rock at the back Dave Artell has been called up to a new international team: Gibraltar.

Wrexham’s own Gibraltarian Rock qualifies for the small country through his father, who was born on the island. His grandfather was in the Royal Navy and lived on the island for three years, which is how he qualifies and looks set to feature in the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Artell is not the only player from these parts that will feature for the team off the coast of Spain. Former Chester defender Danny Higginbotham also represented Gibraltar in their first official international match against Slovakia back in November. After officially forming their football association in 1895, it has only taken them 118 years to play their first official game.

Further down the road you can find Preston North End defender Scott Wiseman who is also part of the Gibraltar team. However, Wiseman has not been allowed to join up with his national team as Simon Grayson does not want to lose him for the upcoming games.

Artell will miss the game away to Hereford on Saint David’s Day. But with new signing Danny Livesey and Leon Clowes back to full fitness, the Dragons have more cover to cope with the loss of Artell, who has been such a pivotal part of the squad this season, and in the run in to the play offs last season.

So what other players have made their international debuts whilst at the club? As mentioned previously, the majority have represented Wales. Mickey Thomas and Arfon Griffiths are two Racecourse legends and made their debuts for their country whilst at Wrexham. In recent times, players such as Neil Roberts, Mark Jones and Steve Evans also made their debuts for Wales whilst playing for the Dragons. In fact, Steve Evans became the first non league player to represent Wales for 76 years when he played in a 2-1 loss to Russia after Wrexham had been relegated from the Football League in 2008.

Then of course there is Neil Taylor. The 25 year old has established himself as the main left back for Wales since his debut back in 2010. Then he was still a Wrexham player but shortly moved onto the heights of Swansea City that summer, and has since represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics.

There are few other players that buck the trend in terms of making their international debuts whilst at the Wrexham. Barry Hunter made his Northern Ireland debut whilst he featured for Wrexham in the early 90s, going on to play 14 times and bag one goal for them. He is now chief scout at Liverpool.

One fantastic obscurity is Daniel Bennett. Bennett represented Wrexham 28 times in two separate spells either side of playing for the Singapore Armed Forces. Born in Great Yarmouth, he moved to Singapore and turned out for Tanjong United as a 17 year old in 1995. He changed his nationality to Singaporean in order to play international football and has gone on to play 128 times and score seven goals for his country, winning three ASEAN Championships along the way.

The Strikers Dilemma

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One thing Wrexham have been lacking this season is an out and out goalscorer. As it stands, Andy Bishop and Rob Ogleby are the leading scorers with seven goals each. However, four of Bishop’s goals came in two games against Gateshead and five of Ogleby’s came against Hyde. The problem is Wrexham don’t play Gateshead and Hyde every week.

Adrian Cieslewicz has obviously been sold to high flying rivals Kidderminster but he only managed two goals anyway in a disruptive season for the speedy Pole.

Brett Ormerod has managed five goals this season and needs to find his goal scoring touch, however he faces a further two games on the sidelines after a red card against Halifax. However, Ormerod’s goal tally is exactly the same as at this stage last season and the veteran ended the season as one of Wrexham’s stand out players in the run in to the play offs.

The gaffer Andy Morrell has taken more of a back seat this season, but has still chipped in with two goals in nine appearances, including a luscious volley against Forest Green back in November.

Joe Anyinsah is an obvious goal scorer but his chances have been few and far between. Although four goals by January doesn’t seem too convincing, he is still recovering from a nasty injury he picked up at Macclesfield and still managed to bag a late winner against Southport last week.

Finally, hot prospect Theo Bailey-Jones is yet to score for the Reds. However, he is used as more of an out and out winger in Morrell’s 4-3-3 system.

Cue Elliott Durrell. The 24 year old has blitzed 17 goals this season for Hednesford Town in the Skrill Conference North… from midfield! Search him on YouTube and an astonishing goal will no doubt be the top result. After Bradford Park Avenue grabbed a 94th minute equaliser against Hednesford recently, Durrell decided to take matters into his own hands by beating what seems like the entire team, staff and fans to grab the winner!

He is a free kick expert and an extremely cool head when it comes to penalties, this could be a vital signing for Wrexham.

Mark Creighton’s column in the Daily Post was interesting this week where spoke about buying players from within the Conference rather than the Football League as they adapt quicker to the pace of the league. Andy Bishop has proven this season that it does take time to adapt to the conference. Durrell does not.

He is full of energy, a jack in the box and knows where the goal is. He bagged a hat trick at the start of the season against Stalybridge and hasn’t looked back. Wrexham fans are already excited by the prospect of Durrell who was a fan favourite at Hednesford. Hopefully he can  fire Wrexham back into a promotion push, never say never!

So as Morrell promised, Wrexham have signed a much needed striker. Now the Reds need another centre back due the catastrophic amount of injuries in that position.

Wrexham fans, which centre back would you like to see at Wrexham? Tweet @WrexhamPlayer @wrexhamfan @CarlHogan or myself @alex94wxm with your suggestions and we’ll post a follow up article.

And It’s Goodnight From Me

Alex in the Wembley press box.
Alex in the Wembley press box.

After two years working at Wrexham, I take a look back at some of the memorable moments I witnessed behind the mic of Wrexham Player.

From dull 0-0 draws, to 6-1 thrashings. From the luxuries of Wembley to the not so luxurious. From Northern Premier League teams to Championship sides, I wouldn’t change a second of my time at Wrexham.

It all started back in December 2011 when Wrexham hosted Hinckley United in the FA Trophy first round. A very forgettable 2-1 defeat to the team who were then in the Blue Square South as Wrexham fielded an inexperienced side. I was in control of the Wrexham Twitter feed that day and was honoured to be involved in the media side of my local team.

Just over a month later and I would be involved in one of the biggest nights The Racecourse had seen in recent years, as Brighton came to town for the FA Cup third round replay. I did a piece for the website for this game and needless to say, like all of the other press associated with Wrexham, leapt out of seat as Andy Morrell’s stunning strike flew past Brezovan in the Brighton goal. Wrexham would go out on penalties after Brighton equalised in the 77th minute. Despite Dean Keates missing the only penalty of the shootout, it was still a proud moment for everyone associated with the club.

My first opportunity behind the mic was a 2-0 win over Bath City in a game where Curtis Obeng scored a rare goal. This really was a dream come true for me, to commentate on a football match, and it was a bonus it was on a team so close to my heart.

Astounding moments would follow for the remainder of that season that I was lucky enough to commentate on, such as Dean Keates delicate chip goal in a 2-0 win against Luton and the 5-1 drumming of Braintree on the final day of the season.

The season would eventually end in heartbreak as Wrexham crashed out to Luton for a second straight season in the play offs, losing 3-2 on aggregate after a heroic display in the second leg at the Racecourse.

My first full season as a Wrexham commentator was off to a flyer as Wrexham strolled to a 3-1 win over Woking on the opening day.

A memorable game for all the wrong reasons was the home game against Hyde in September 2012. Although Wrexham ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Glen Little and Jay Harris, the score flattered the Reds in a game that was marred by some horrific tackles and all round foul play by both sets of players. Thankfully this was a rare event!

I was lucky enough that I got to commentate on 12 goals in just two games at The Racecourse! Wrexham ran out 5-0 winners against Rushall Olympic in the FA Trophy first round and 6-1 winners against Nuneaton.

The FA Trophy final. Need I say more? No. But I will anyway. In the week leading up the biggest game of Wrexham’s recent history, I interviewed Danny Wright. The interview went on for about half an hour and credit the big man he didn’t look to bored by the end of it! In all fairness, in my time at Wrexham, the players have always been welcoming and happy to chat.

The day had arrived. 24th March 2013 against Grimsby Town in Wrexham’s first ever appearance at Wembley. The journey started the day before, digging the car out of snow for 6 hours to no avail! All hope seemed lost until my dad’s friend saved the day and took myself and my brother down to the game. An eventful tube journey to Wembley took place as we were the only Wrexham fans in a carriage full of Mariners. As you can imagine, there was a fair bit of banter flying around.

An absolutely freezing day, culminated in a penalty shoot out and you all know the rest! As you can tell if you’ve seen the penalty shoot out on the YouTube channel, I got a little carried away when Johnny Hunt slotted the winning spot kick home. Cue Tim Edwards (Twitter Correspondent) jumping on me whilst in the middle of commentating!

Wrexham would get to Wembley for a second time that season, but the less said about that the better. Although the journey to Wembley part II was interesting. My first ever away game commentating for Wrexham was the play off second leg at Kidderminster where I had the best football food in history: Aggborough Pie!

This pre season I fulfilled another dream by commentating on Blackburn Rovers as they visited The Racecourse. Although not a huge game, personally it was significant to me as half of my family is from Blackburn, with my dad a huge Rovers fan.

Although the season started well with a late winner against Welling, Wrexham have stuttered. An eventful second game of the season on and off the pitch followed at Halifax. Not only did we get there 2 minutes before kick off due to horrendous traffic, but we were put in the middle of Halifax fans to commentate, not the media section! We eventually found our way round to the media section after a poor first half which saw a red card to Stephen Wright, but we witnessed a heroic come back from the Reds. However it was to no avail as Wrexham fell 3-2 to the Shaymen.

So now starts a new chapter for me. I’m off to Huddersfield University to study Sports Journalism as I look to pursue my dream of becoming a football commentator. The evening game against Luton Town (the opponents I have commentated on the most) will be my last for perhaps a couple of months depending on how uni life is going.

I would personally like to thank Geraint Parry the club secretary who has always co operated and been more than willing to help despite how hectic things get. Tim Edwards the Wrexham Twitterer and Richard Williams from the Leader for also making me feel welcome. Carl Hogan for being an excellent co commentator since last season as well as running the scoreboard professionally! I would also like to remember Steve Edwards who was the co commentator when I first arrived who sadly passed away last year, a man who taught me ever so much and who we sorely miss in the commentary box.

Finally I would like to thank Mark Griffiths. He does so much for the media side of the club that a lot of it goes unnoticed. He gave me my chance which I hope I have taken well. It’s a big gamble to give an 18 year old the chance to commentate on a big club but he gave me that chance. So I wouldn’t even be writing this if it wasn’t for “The Voice of Wrexham”.

You can’t get rid of me that easily though, and watch out for my new column on the Supporters Website coming up on my take on Wrexham from Yorkshire. I will return in: “An Idiot Abroad”!

A tale of screamers, elation, despair…. and Aggborough Pies!

Betwashing-machine_lrg[1]ter late than never I suppose! My review of the 2012/13 season comes a bit later than Mark Griffiths’ but I personally blame A-levels! A tremendous season in terms of emotion and action for Wrexham, but also the most heartbreaking since that game at Hereford back in 2008 where Wrexham condemned to the league they very nearly escaped at the third attempt at Wembley. I’ll be taking a look back at the highs, the lows and the downright obscure that myself, Mark and Carl all experienced from the commentary box!

Highs
Well, obviously there is one high that stands out more than most! Unfortunately, it’s not Glen Little’s spectacular attempt at the Welsh National Anthem! Wrexham’s first ever trip to Wembley was well deserved.

The reds dispatched Rushall Olympic, Solihull Moors, Sutton United and Southport before setting up a semi final tie with Blue Square North outfit Gainsborough Trinity.

SCREAMER ALERT! Danny Wright’s spectacular goal with his “swinger” in the second leg confirmed Wrexham’s place in the FA Trophy final after a 3-1 first leg win at the Racecourse and despite losing 2-1 on the day.

So to Wembley where we faced Grimsby Town as we looked to become the first ever Welsh side to win the competition. Hundreds of Wrexham fans had to physically dig their way out to get to Wembley due to the sever snow we had, myself included! Not a chance I was missing this occasion and I’m sure every other Wrexham fan had the same mindset.

After trailing to an Andy Cook goal (Grimsby’s only attempt in the game I’m pretty sure) Wrexham levelled form the penalty spot. Kevin “the kitten” Thornton became the forst Wrexham player to score at Wembley. Cue the 15,000 Wrexodus ascend into bedlam. Amazing scenes.

After Johnny Hunt dispatched the winning penalty, the Wrexham contingent went berserk. Tim Edwards (Twitter Correspondent) couldn’t help but jump on me while I was still commentating!

Away from Wembley, the return of Mark Creighton gave a lift to the whole club. After a nasty knee injury at the beginning of the season away to Ebbsfleet, The Beast returned in his emergency striker role in a 1-0 defeat to Mansfield on the final day of the season.

The 6-1 mauling of Nuneaton Town was the joint biggest score of the season along with the 5-0 thrashing of Rushall Olympic in the FA Trophy. SCREAMER ALERT! Adrian Cieslewicz’s stunner from 25 yards perhaps didn’t get the credit it deserved in a season that contained a flurry of howitzers and was overshadowed by one in particular.

Jay Harris’ goal of the season doesn’t need analysing. Just watch it and admire. He picked up the Steve Edwards Goal of the Season award, an award dedicated to the well renowned Wrexham commentator who sadly passed away this season. A colleague, a friend and an inspiration to a young commentator like myself, but it also ended the fantastic commentating partnership that was established between himself and Mark Griffiths.

Aggbrorugh Pies! Next season I urge you to go to Wrexham v Kidderminster away purely for the Aggborough pies! They are the stuff of legend. I didn’t quite realise how special they were until trying one and they are by far the best thing I have ever eaten at a football match.

Lows
Again, the obvious. The second Wembley trip of the season could not have been more contrasting to the first. The first all Welsh play off against Newport was the chance for Wrexham to gain Football League status after 5 years away. It wasn’t to be, and in the London sun, Wrexham’s warriors collapsed with 5 minutes to play. A 2-0 defeat coupled with the engine of Keates and Harris driving to exhaustion resulted in despair for the Wrexodus.

The initial injury of Crieghton against Ebbslfeet which was a huge loss. In all fairness, Chris Westwood upped his game this season and was a rock at the back but he himself suffered an injury which ruled him out of the play offs.

The injury of Danny Wright against Braintree. Little did we all know that in that innocuous challenge, as soon as he put his hand on the deck, the injury that he suffered against Brighton the season before would resurface, and he would never play for Wrexham again. A huge loss through the play offs, and despite hammering Kidderminster, we certainly could have done with his goals against Newport. He has a good scoring record against the Exiles and it could have made the difference.

The shortness of Andy Bishop’s spell. 2 goals in 4 goals was an impressive return from the man on loan from Bury, it’s just a shame we couldn’t have kept him longer as his performances were fantastic and brought something new to the strikeforce.

The downright obscure
Getting the tube to Wembley was interesting. My brother and I, along with our dad’s friend who we came down with were the only Wrexham fans on a tube full of Grimsby fans! Stares were thrown our way I assure you! It was the Grimsby fan who spoke up first that effectively jinxed his team, “You’ve come a long way to lose haven’t you?” How wrong he would be. Making Chris Maxwell walk out of an interview was a personal moment of obscurity. It came in the interview at Wembley after we had won the FA Trophy. “You’ve won a trophy with your local club, you might as well stay now?” I asked the goalkeeper. A smile and a shake of the head along with the utterance “Right I’m off” was enough to confirm he wasn’t too impressed!

Andy Morrell entering the post match press conference at Wembley with a can of Fosters (other lagers are available) and making no excuse for it! Clearly in high spirits, and a moment I won’t forget.

Club secretary Geraint Parry hands a package to Chris Westwood in the office before the play off first leg game against Kidderminster. 5 minutes later, Chris enters back into the office and states “Geraint, this isn’t for me. It’s a part for a washing machine!” Brilliant. I don’t even think it was addressed to Westwood but Geraint handed him over the package!

So a season that will long live in the memory for the right and the wrong reasons. We now look to next year as Morrell looks to rebuild the squad that has begun to dissipate. Will we go one better next year? We all certainly hope so!

 

A New Breed of Dragon

Jay Colbeck
Jay Colbeck

Almost exactly a year since Wrexham ran out 1-0 winners down in Newport last season, that same youthful look to the Wrexham came up trumps for the Reds once again. A 1-0 win against 13th placed Cambridge United courtesy of Jay Colbeck’s second goal of the season.

With seven changes to the team that slumped to a poor defeat at Woking at the weekend, there was a fresh look about the team, with an influx of the youth players, showing why they deserve a look in. No Riley, Westwood, Harris, Keates or Stephen Wright, in came Rushton, Clowes, Colbeck and a substitute appearance from Rob Evans.

Declan Walker also retained his place in the team along with Chris Maxwell and Adrian Cieslewicz was brought back in for a start. Then there was Johnny Hunt on the bench. All in all, that counts 8 of the 16 squad last night that had progressed through the youth ranks at Wrexham, a credit to the work of Andy Davies and Joey Jones respectively.

A first home start in the league for Clowes and Colbeck and just their second league starts ever for the Dragons, they proved more than up for the challenge in key positions.

With 3 points needed to secure a play-off spot, this wasn’t a nothing to play for game. But the youngsters did their job sublimely. With centre back partnership of Artell and Clowes the defence looked solid, despite the fact that the two hadn’t played a first team together and the fact Artell was coming back from injury.

Despite a slightly shaky start, Clowes grew into the game and by the end of 90 minutes had thrown his body in the way of the ball, made powerful headers away and let’s not forget some crunching tackles!

Jay Colbeck was magnificent in the middle of the park. Playing first time balls to start attacks quickly, not shying away from a tackle, and leaving his man for dead many a time with some cute little turns into space. It was his goal that separated the two sides after 4 minutes after following up his own shot which could only be parried by Nicholas Pope in the Cambridge goal.

Rushton and Walker combined well down the right, threatening at all times. Both weren’t afraid to take on a man and Nick Rushton nearly got lucky when he sped past McAuley into the box but his cross was over hit. Walker provided the crosses that created danger, as well as a cheeky nutmeg on Andy Pugh in the second half!

Then there was the appearance of Rob Evans from the bench. Only his second league appearance as well (both off the bench) plus an FA Trophy appearance against Rushall Olympic back in November, but, like Colbeck, played with real maturity. Sitting deep and starting attacks with pin point passes, and bursts from midfield, Evans proved a handful for Cambridge. Like Clowes and Colbeck, he didn’t shy away from a challenge either! Andy Morrell said how impressed he was with Evans in the post match interview commenting on how much of a “tidy footballer” he is and that he has a “huge future ahead of him”.

So a successful night all round for Wrexham, 3 points, play offs guaranteed for a third successive season, and a fantastic performance from the youngsters given a chance. With the key members of the squad rested though, suddenly the youngsters have got something to shout about. Breathing down the necks of the regulars in the team, the kids are our future!

Glorious Gubba!

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“Ohhhhh what a goal Mickey Thomas!” The immortal words etched into every Wrexham fan’s memory as Mickey Thomas scored THAT free kick against Arsenal in the FA Cup Third Round at The Racecourse back in 1992. The commentator was Tony Gubba who sadly passed away at the weekend after a career that lasted over 40 years.

A sad day for all those who followed sport as Gubba was an instantly recognisable voice. From covering the Olympic Games in 1972, to commentating at every World Cup from 1974 to 2006, Gubba led a glorious career. His commentaries even appeared in “The Damned United” the 2009 film about Brian Clough’s 44 days in charge of Leeds United.

Not only fantastic at what he did, but he was an inspiration, especially to a young aspiring commentator such as me. An ever present on Match of the Day and even the commentator on Dancing on Ice up until February 2013, Tony Gubba achieved magnificent success that most sports journalists can only dream of.

In early 2012, Gubba was named as the third longest serving commentator on British television after John Motson and Gerald Sinstadt. I really looked up to Tony Gubba and followed his work closely. If I can achieve half of what this glorious voice of sport did, then I will be more than overjoyed.

Wrexham fans can associate the late Tony Gubba with one of the most historic moments in the club’s 149 year anniversary. “And Arsenal’s world is falling around their ears!” was the cry from Gubba as Steve Watkin knocked in the winner to give Wrexham a famous giant killing over the First Division side.

A true legend, a perfect professional and an inspiration to all those aspiring to make it in commentary, Tony Gubba, you shall be missed.

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