A part-time team has a chance of promotion to the Scottish Premier League. How?
On Saturday, the season for Europe’s major leagues will come to a close with the Champions League final taking place in Kyiv, Ukraine. It will be between Real Madrid, seeking their 13th Champions League title, and Liverpool, seeking their 6th. The build-up to the final has been somewhat overshadowed by fans facing ticketing and logistical problems which have meant that what should be a happy, enjoyable occasion has turned into a stressful and expensive trip for many. Sadly, relatively low ticket allocations for fans at UEFA finals has become par for the course, with both sets of fans only receiving about 16000 each in a stadium that holds over 70,000, but the real problems for this final have been transport and accommodation. Local hotels have well and truly cashed in on the event, by not only raising their prices to exorbitant rates. Rooms that were $25 per night are now going for closer to $2500 per night. People who had booked rooms at the lower rates before the semi-finals had been played have found their bookings has been cancelled and their rooms have been re-sold for more money. Despite this, most of the rooms have been sold; some to ticketless fans, many, many more to UEFA’s battalion of sponsors and officials, which means that there are people in possession of tickets who can’t find accommodation. It should be noted that many Kyiv residents have been horrified by the price gouging and are appalled that it could lead people to think of Ukrainians as exploitative, have been kind enough to invite fans to stay in their own homes, but for people attending the game to be reliant on the generosity of complete strangers is a situation that should never have been allowed to happen. That of course assumes fans can get there in the first place. Flights have been chartered, but there are only limited slots available for chartered flights at Kyiv’s airports; as I’m writing this, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and Mayor of Kyiv, and former World Heavyweight Champion, Vitaly Klitschko are trying to find a solution to help the 1000 Liverpool fans who’ve had their chartered flights cancelled due to a lack of landing spots in Kyiv. Real Madrid have returned around 1000 tickets because their fans can’t get there, Liverpool may end up doing the same. Other fans have found creative ways to get there; some have flown to neighbouring countries and are taking colossal train journeys, renting motor homes are chartering buses to get them there and back. Now to the game itself. I’m probably jinxing it by writing this, but this has the potential to be a truly great final. Real Madrid will be the clear favourites; they come into this game looking for their third successive Champions League title, have better players than Liverpool and a ton more experience. But, Liverpool will be happy to be the underdogs. Had you asked them earlier in the season. Most Liverpool fans were just happy to see them back in the Champions League and would have settled for getting out of the group stages. What Liverpool lack in experience- they have an average age of 24, they make up for in enthusiasm. What they lack in individual playmaking flair, they make up for in having a system that creates a lot of chances. Having been able to see both teams in person this season, I think that they are far more equal than people may think. Both teams have the same weaknesses and inconsistencies as each other, which will mean that neither side will be afraid of the other and each will have worked out several ways they can win. Finals can often be quite tight and cagey games, I think this one will be much more flowing and open (may have jinxed it again). Most Liverpool games descend into barely-organised chaos at some stage, and this game will probably be the same. Real Madrid will be looking to attack and Liverpool don’t have the players to be able to sit back and defend. Even though Liverpool’s defence is far better than it’s given credit for, Real Madrid will be confident that they will get chances. They will probably aim to go after Liverpool’s 19-year-old right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had his first really shaky game since breaking into the Liverpool team in the semi-final second leg in Rome, betting that his inexperience may give them a way in. Also, Real Madrid will know that Dejan Lovren can be extremely error-prone at times and will look to capitalise. On the other hand, Liverpool will be equally confident that their pressing game, superior pace and rapid counter-attacks will see them have a lot of the ball in the final third of the pitch and that the guile of Roberto Firmino and the blistering pace of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah will see them have chances to score. In the game I saw Real Madrid in a few months back, they lost to a goal on exactly the sort of counter-attack that Liverpool specialise in. For Liverpool to win, they probably need to be leading at half-time. Liverpool’s Champions League run has largely been due to the blistering starts they have made in games that has blown teams away. Liverpool play with their defence stepping up and compressing the pitch, and then the midfield and attack pressing to win the ball and then going forward in waves. If Real Madrid can figure out how to stop that, or pass around it, then they can stop Liverpool. If the game comes down to substitutions, then Real Madrid will probably win as they have far better players to bring on than Liverpool do. Liverpool’s decision to have a small squad, coupled with a few injuries means that they have extremely limited options in terms of making substitutions to change the game. If anything happens to one of the front three, they don’t have anyone who can provide anywhere near the same attacking threat. In the semi-finals and for the last few games of the season Liverpool played the midfield trio of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in every game, with no midfielders on the bench because they had no more midfielders available to use. Liverpool’s midfield options have improved due to Adam Lallana and possibly Emre Can being back from injury, but even so their bench contains nowhere near the quality of the Madrid one. Similarly, Madrid’s superior experience will come into play if they are in front coming into the later stages of the game. They know how to see games like this out. Liverpool’s worst moments in the Champions League this season is when they have been caught in two minds between carrying on attacking and sitting back to defend, so if Liverpool have a narrow lead in the late stages of the game, Real Madrid will still fancy their chances. I don’t think anyone will pretend that this year’s Champions League finals contains the best two teams in Europe. I also don’t think anyone can deny that Real Madrid have the better players. But, Liverpool will be quietly confident their team matches up against Real Madrid’s weaknesses well and Liverpool have found ways to overcome more talented teams than them before. Either way, this game has the potential to be a classic.
Today, Glasgow Rangers ended their near season-long search for a manager by appointing former Liverpool and LA Galaxy player Steven Gerrard on a four-year contract, which will begin at the end of this season. Gerrard’s only coaching experience to date is as coach of Liverpool’s under-18, where he did a solid job. Gerrard has announced that his assistant will be former Scotland midfielder Gary McAllister and he will also be joined by fellow Liverpool academy coach Michael Beale. At first glance, this seems like a great move for all concerned. Scottish football gets a big name in football coming to coach in its league; which in turn will boost the profile of the Scottish game and boost TV ratings. Rangers get a whole lot more attention from outside of Scotland and potentially become a more attractive proposition to new signings. Gerrard gets his first go at football management in the rare position of coming to a massive club, but doing so in almost unheard of circumstances, as nobody necessarily expects him to come and start winning trophies straight away. If he can establish Rangers as the second-best team in the Scottish Premiership ahead of Aberdeen and Hibernian, maybe beat Celtic in a game or two and goes deep in the two cup competitions and takes Rangers further in Europe than the disastrous campaign this season, that’ll be seen as a job well done. So, this is a no-brainer, right? Well, no. This is actually a massive risk by both Rangers and Gerrard. Make no mistake about it, Rangers are a gigantic football club. They have a vast fanbase-they average close to 50,000 fans every game- and facilities that are the envy of most clubs. But, they are also something of an empty shell of a club. For all of the shiny exterior, they are completely hollow inside. This is a club that is suffering on and off the pitch. This season Rangers have managed to go out of European football in July after blowing a 1-0 first leg lead to lose 2-0 Progres Nederkorn of Luxembourg, a team that not only had never won a European game before, but had only ever scored one European goal. That defeat was the beginning of the end for manager Pedro Caixinha, who was pictured trying to appease fans while being stood in a shrub. When Caixinha was fired in October, Rangers failed to find a replacement and appointed former Reading defender Graham Murty as Caretaker manager. Rangers have stuttered ever since. The job was just too big for Murty, who after two recent humiliations to arch-rivals Celtic, was somewhat unfairly fired. With one game left at the time of writing, Rangers could finish as high as second or as low as fourth. So not only will Gerrard will take over a team that isn’t pulling up trees, he’ll also be taking over a dysfunctional group of players that are utterly demoralised and even worse, are at each other’s throats. The 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic saw midfielder Andy Halliday swear at a Rangers fan after being substituted, then Greg Docherty and Alfredo Morelos had to be pulled apart from each other in the tunnel after the game. Then, in the dressing room following the game, veteran striker Kenny Miller and club captain Lee Wallace got into such a furious confrontation with Murty they’ve both been suspended by the club and aren’t expected to ever play for Rangers again. So, Gerrard’s first job will be to restore some order to the chaos that has been the Rangers dressing room and then start to help the team regain their confidence. It seems evident that new signings are needed; though the already announced signing of Scott Arfield from Burnley is a good one. The question is do Rangers have the means to do so? If you remember, back in 2012, following some financial mismanagement that was so serious it led to criminal charges being laid at former owner Craig Whyte, who was acquitted, Rangers went bankrupt and, depending on your point of view, they either restarted back in the bottom division of Scottish football, or an entirely new team that bears a strong resemblance to Rangers did. Ever since, Rangers have bounced from financial crisis to financial crisis. They have been losing around £7m per year and are now completely reliant on loans from club directors to keep going. A lot of Rangers fans believe the club is in exactly the same position they were in when they went bankrupt. A few months ago, betting was suspended on Rangers being relegated for financial problems. While all of this has been happening, Celtic have not only established themselves as the dominant force in Scottish football- they’ve just won their seventh successive title- but are now head and shoulders above the rest financially largely thanks to some smart work in the transfer market, where they’ve managed to buy players cheaply then sell them on for a large profit. The gap between them and the rest is massive. If Steven Gerrard is serious about wanting a career in football coaching, then he’s taking a serious risk in starting at a club with so many unknowns. I’m sure he wouldn’t have taken the job had he not been given guarantees about the club’s finances; Gerrard turned down the job at MK Dons because he wasn’t convinced by what he saw. The wrongly held belief in England is that the Scottish Premiership is an ‘easy’ league, and therefore winning it is no great achievement. The average English fan, who will probably know nothing about the current realities of Rangers, will be expecting Gerrard to be winning titles immediately. If he doesn’t win a title at Rangers, and at this moment that is a very remote possibility, Gerrard will unfairly be tarred with the “couldn’t even win a title in Scotland” brush and that may be the end of his coaching career before it’s really begun. All coaches have to start somewhere. Rangers have decided that Gerrard’s lack of experience doesn’t matter. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Steven Gerrard will galvanise Rangers and then go on to have a coaching career as glittering as his playing career was. But, there’s an equal chance that this could blow up in either of their faces. Rangers are taking a chance on a completely unproven coach rather than a coach with a track record of steering a team through some troubled times. Gerrard is taking a risk on a club that has been a basket case for years and one that could stop his career at the first hurdle. Either way, this appointment is nowhere near the no-brainer that people may think it is.
Today, Wayne Rooney has re-joined Everton on a free transfer, having agreed a two-year...
Chances are you’ve never heard of Arbroath. It’s a small fishing town on the east coast of Scotland, about 75 miles north of Edinburgh with a population of about 24,000. It’s only really known here in the UK for the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter sent to the pope in 1320 asking for wider recognition of Robert the Bruce as King of an independent Scotland, and for the Arbroath Smokie, a type of smoked haddock that is produced in the town. It’s one of those towns where its most notable former residents all achieved greatness elsewhere. David Dunbar Buick, founder of the car company, lived there before his family emigrated to Detroit when he was two. Neil Arnott, the inventor of the waterbed was born there. Giants kicker Graham Gano was born on a navy base there. But Arbroath may get a bit more attention thanks to the exploits of its football team. Formed in 1878, Arbroath FC- nicknamed the Red Lichties after the red lights that used to hang from the harbour to guide ships home- are best known for a couple of pieces of football trivia. The first, is that their stadium, Gayfield Park, is the closest stadium in Europe to the sea, sitting a mere 5 yards from the North Sea.
The second is that they hold the record for the largest victory in a professional game, having beaten Aberdeen-based side Bon Accord 36-0 in the Scottish Cup in 1885 (there was a game in Madagascar a few years ago that ended 149-0 but one team was deliberately conceding goals in protest of refereeing decisions, so Arbroath’s is the highest winning margin in a legitimate game). All that may be about to change, as Arbroath are in with a chance at doing something truly remarkable. They are in with a good chance to be promoted to the Scottish Premier League Arbroath play in the Scottish Championship, which-like it’s equivalent in England- is the division below the Scottish Premier League. There are 42 teams in the Scottish Leagues, but only 22 are full-time, with all 12 of the Scottish Premier League being full-time. The Championship is the point where full-time and part-time teams overlap. Following Alloa Athletic’s relegation from the Championship last season, only one part-time team remains. Arbroath. The other 9 teams in the league are all full-time (Falkirk are Scotland’s other full-time team but have been stuck for three seasons in the league below the Championship and aren’t showing any sign of going up any time soon). Part time means just that. The players do get paid for playing, but football won’t be how they make a living. The teams don’t train every day, instead it is more like 2-3 evenings a week, to allow the players to fit training in with their day jobs. In Arbroath’s case, top-scorer Michael McKenna is an electrician, veteran goal-scorer Bobby Linn is a refuse collector and midfielder Scott Stewart is a teacher. As you might expect, the part-time teams are at a disadvantage compared to their full-time counterparts in terms of fitness, but also in terms of tactics, as with limited time to work with the players, teams have to play a simpler game. However, Arbroath are defying all the odds this season, and at the time of writing are leading the Scottish Championship by three points. It’s still early in the season, but Arbroath are one of a group of teams that are chasing promotion. The rise and further rise of Arbroath can be put down to a few things, all of which goes to show it’s not necessarily the number of resources you have, it’s how you use them. Arbroath have an inherent homefield advantage because of the conditions, which are, even on a good day, difficult to play in. I’ve never been, but the stadium is meant to be extremely cold in the winter. Winds come screaming in from the North Sea and at times waves can actually crash over the wall onto the pitch. Arbroath are used to those conditions, and have found ways to play in them, which gives them an edge over the opposition. Arbroath have also used their part-time status to their advantage. There are several good players out there who are unable, or unwilling, to make football their full-time career and want a more stable, sustainable form of income. For those players, a chance to play at a higher level of football than they otherwise may get the chance to, makes Arbroath a very attractive proposition, and as such, Arbroath are able to attract better players. Finally, the biggest reason is the management of Dick Campbell. Campbell is a larger-than-life character, affable, fiery and ready and willing to tell a million stories. He’s also a cancer survivor, having beaten renal cancer several years ago. Campbell is one of those shrewd, wily operators that work in the lower leagues of football. He’s spent over 35 years coaching and is closing in on 1500 games as a coach, mostly spent in the bottom divisions of Scottish football.
Unfortunately, he’s been unfairly labelled as too old-school to ever get a job in the upper divisions of Scottish football, but apart from one ill-fated spell at Ross County, he’s been a manager who’s gained a reputation for turning lower-league teams’ fortunes around. Instantly recognisable for wearing his trademark bunnet (a Scottish word for a flat-cap) he first formed a formidable coaching partnership with his twin brother Ian during a successful spell in charge of Forfar Athletic, one of Arbroath’s local rivals and his brother is now his assistant at Arbroath. Their roles are reversed throughout the week with Dick working for Ian’s recruitment consultancy as his day job. The Campbell family’s coaching is rounded off by his two sons, Ross and Iain being on the coaching staff of Montrose FC, one of Arbroath’s local rivals. When he was appointed in March 2016, Arbroath were second from bottom in Scottish League Two, the bottom division in Scotland. In his first full season, Arbroath won the league. In his second, Arbroath finished third and were narrowly defeated in the playoffs. In his third full season, Arbroath were champions. Campbell has slowly built a formidable team from a mixture of journeymen and long-serving players. For example, Michael McKenna bounced around the Scottish lower leagues with Livingston and Berwick Rangers before joining Arbroath and is now the top scorer in the league. Campbell has also been a shrewd operator when it comes to loaning players. Forward Anton Dowds has came in on loan from Falkirk and played excellently. Similarly, Joel Nouble spent his career in the top two levels of the English non-leagues before making a move from Aldershot to Livingston last season. Campbell took him on loan and he has been so good it’s almost inevitable that Livingston will want him back in January. In their first few seasons in the Championship, Arbroath played a defensive style, making themselves as difficult to beat as possible. However, this season, Arbroath are top scorers in the leagues whilst having the second-best defensive record. Fans are responding. Arbroath’s average attendance has nearly tripled since Campbell took over, If the unlikely happens and Arbroath do make it to the Scottish Premier League, it’s unsure what they would do. While there doesn’t seem to be anything in the rules to stop a part-time team from making it to the Premier League, it is hard to imagine they could be competitive. But, at the same time, it is unlikely that Arbroath have the resources to go full-time.
They say better late than never. That’s why there’s a tournament called EURO 2020 being playing in 2021. The reason why is obvious. Even though the horrifying death...
As it’s the end of the year, it’s normal to reflect on how the year has gone. For most of us, this has been the year when Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down. Here in the UK, football hasn’t been immune from the effects of Covid-19. In fact, it is still struggling with the effects the virus has had, with teams struggling to cope financially from both having to return of some of last season’s TV money and a lack of fans in the stadiums. Clubs are also fighting a battle to keep away the even nastier new strain of the virus which is rampaging through the UK at the moment. The Premier League has seen two games called off this week alone after a raft of positive tests and is wondering what to do for the best once again. Fans have once again been shut out of stadiums, only a few weeks after being allowed back in in limited numbers, with the UK's Covid tier system being changed yesterday meaning that Liverpool and Everton, who were the last two Premier League teams allowed to have fans, having to close their doors. I think most of us can be proud of the part we’ve played in this pandemic. Even those of us who don’t work in healthcare, scientific research or one of the key industries that have helped keep things going, have managed to help just by making the changes to our lives that try to minimise the risk of making things worse for others. I think football can be quite proud of the part it has played this year. It plays such an integral part in life here in the UK that it was inevitable that, after initially being seen as part of the problem, it would play some kind of part in the fight against the virus. There’s been lots of good done by football during the pandemic. Firstly, after being called out by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock - in a bid to deflect from the British government’s total failure to prepare- Premier League footballers set up a fund where they donated part of their wages to raise money for the UK’s National Health Service. Most players ended up taking wage cuts or wage deferrals in order to help their clubs out and to help preserve the jobs of non-playing staff with even Premier League clubs feeling the strain after being forced to pay back a chunk of the TV money. Clubs themselves took on a big role within their communities, with a lot of them setting up schemes where they would reach out to those fans who were shielding at home by themselves to make them feel a little less isolated. Some clubs even got involved with delivering food to people. On the other hand, perhaps somewhat inevitably, some clubs got things completely wrong. In March and April, Five Premier League teams announced they would make use of a government scheme to cover up to 80% of wages of businesses that would be forced shut down following the order to stay at home. It was only when the public found out that these clubs, who turn over hundreds of millions of pounds annually, were using the same public money earmarked to help out the small business that employs 5 people that Liverpool, Spurs and Bournemouth realised the folly of their actions and changed their minds. Newcastle and Norwich didn’t. Arsenal topped that, by having their negotiations to cut player wages play out in public, which led to some players refusing to do so at all. Despite having cut player wages to save jobs, Arsenal made a lot of staff redundant, citing the need to save money, then followed that by almost immediately signing two players and improving the contract of another. Clubs continue to get things wrong as the rules change. This week, Scottish side Queen of the South had to apologise, then apologise for the apology (never a sign things have gone well) after allowing politician George Galloway (some American readers may remember him being in front of a senate committee in 2005 after being accused of receiving illicit payments from the UN’s Oil for food program in Iraq) to attend a game with his family, despite Scotland being under lockdown measures at the time. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve felt a bit sorry for the players. This virus has served as a reminder that despite them seeming to be larger-than-life, players are only human. Some of them have caught the virus. Some of them have family at home that fall into the vulnerable category, meaning it would be especially bad if they were to catch the virus. There was no opt-out option available like there was to NFL players. Footballers carry a value to their team that would be massively affected if they sat out a season. So players have had to carry on, regardless of whether they believe it is safe to do so or whether they were scared to do so. A lot of them will have had their wages cut, which may not be the biggest deal when you’re at the top making mega-money, for but for those further down the leagues with mortgages to pay and families to feed, a cut in wages will have had a massive effect. It was even worse for the women’s game in the UK. Most women’s teams in the UK are under the umbrella of a men’s team, so there was a constant worry that the women’s team could be a financial casualty. Also, in general, women’s teams depend a lot on sponsorship for revenue, so with companies tightening their belts, there has been less sponsorship available. Some players got things completely wrong too. There were several players who were disciplined for breaching lockdown, some more than once. Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were kicked out of England duty after bringing back two women to their hotel room in Iceland. Jack Grealish managed to breach it less than 24 hours after recording a video for Aston Villa urging fans to stay at home. The fact that football can be an effective instrument for change was perfectly personified by Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford who led a campaign to make sure that kids from low-income families continued receive free school meals during school holidays, and was so successful he managed to make the government U-turn twice and as a result, kids were provided with meal vouchers over the summer break and now the Christmas break. A lot of fans have done a lot of good too, really helping clubs out by buying merchandise, refusing to get refunds on season tickets and in some cases buying ‘virtual tickets’ for games they can’t attend. German side Dynamo Dresden sold an incredible 72,000 virtual tickets for a game against Darmstadt this week. Five miles away from where I live, eighth-tier Marine FC were looking forward to hosting Spurs in the third-round of the FA Cup in front of their fans. Unfortunately, they can no longer host any fans so they are selling virtual tickets too. The pandemic has also exposed the flaws football has in the way it is governed. When it came time to decide what should happen next in football there was a lot of self-interest at stake. West Ham vice-Chairman Karren Brady was very vocal about voiding the season, which would have ring less hollow had West Ham not been in massive danger of relegation at the time. Similarly, when the government started to hand out relief money for sports affected by the shutdown, English football was left out because the government correctly said that the Premier League has enough money to help out. Liverpool and Manchester United proposed ‘project Big Picture’, which offered quite generous financial terms to the Football League, but did so with some big strings attached, namely a reduction in the number of Premier League teams from 20 to 18 and a big change in the way the Premier League votes on matters, changing things from one club, one vote to one where the bigger clubs had a greater share in the power. That was rejected, but it took months of negotiation before a financial package was put in place to help the Football League clubs that desperately needed it, and when it came it was far less lucrative than the one proposed under ‘Big Picture’. Things were even worse in Scotland, where talks to end the season and work out what to do going forward ended up with some teams feeling completely screwed over, and it ended up with talk of legal action and a lot of bad feeling that hasn’t completely gone away. If there’s some lessons that I would like to see football take forward from the pandemic, the first is that football once again became a welcome distraction from people’s worries rather than something that seemed to exist just to add to them. Over the past few years football had almost become too big and too all-consuming with probably very few people genuinely enjoying the experience of being a football fan. But, how your team is doing on your pitch, or what others are saying about them off the pitch paled into insignificance when compared to the things people were grappling with this year. Hopefully people remember that. The second is the importance of allowing people to see football for free. When it returned, the Premier League was on free-to-air TV in the UK for the first time in many years, at the behest of the government, and was on pretty much every night of the week. Football was seen as an important part in getting people to stay at home. The last is that clubs, especially those at the top end of the Premier League who draw a lot of matchday fans from outside their area, have also realised that they can’t afford to take their fans for granted. A lot of clubs have really upped their game in the way they’ve engaged with fans and some have found some innovative solutions such as selling the rights to watch games online. Sadly, it looks like our lives in 2021 are going to continue to be affected by the pandemic. But, just as there’s hope that the end is in sight with vaccines becoming available, there’s hope for football too. Hope you all have a Happy New Year!
(Update: Yes, I did post this same piece a week or so ago. Maybe you saw it before it vanished down the Interhole. Where it went, how it got there, where is it now - these are questions beyond the ken of anyone here at BigSoccer World...
Usually, when there’s investment in a football club, especially a lower league club it’s a mundane announcement. It’s usually a local businessperson or a company nobody’s ever heard of before who have decided to invest. It’s not usually that notable. So, last week when National League side Wrexham AFC announced that talks had progressed with two potential investors to the point where they could be named, very few people would’ve predicted that those two investors would be Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. It’s still early days, and only a potential investment. We don’t know what the size of the investment is and how much of a stake they are looking to take in the club. If it goes through, they will join other celebrity investors in English football like Lebron James (Liverpool) and Mindy Kaling (Swansea). What’s made Deadpool and Mac want to buy a stake in a football club at all is anyone’s guess; what possessed them to want to buy into a fifth-tier club is even more of a head scratcher (for example, Wigan Athletic are desperately looking for a new owner and are available for $5m), unless there’s some kind of personal connection that’s currently unknown. But instead they’re investing their money into a team that have been out of the Football League for 12 years, who earned the lowest league position in their history last season, and come from a town that has some of the worst depravation in the UK. Formed in October 1864, Wrexham AFC are the oldest professional club in Wales, and are the third oldest professional club in the world (they may be the second oldest, as Stoke City’s foundation date is disputed). To put that into perspective, Wrexham were formed before Nevada was a U.S. state. Wrexham play at the Racecourse Ground, which is the oldest international ground still in use today as it has hosted Wales games since 1877. It doesn’t host that many games anymore, but when Wales have a lower-profile friendly they are willing to play outside of Cardiff, they play at Wrexham. Wrexham have played in the English league system since 1921 for the simple reason that there wasn’t a Welsh league until 1992 (for the same reason Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Merthyr Tydfil play in the English leagues) and they were so established in the English leagues they chose to stay. Unlike all the other Welsh teams playing in England, Wrexham is in North Wales, and lies close to the border with England. As a consequence, Wrexham have much more of a rivalry with the English sides nearby than with their fellow Welsh sides. This includes a ferocious one with Chester, a city on the England-Wales border a few miles away. Wrexham’s performance in the English leagues was always solid yet unspectacular. The highest they got was finishing 15th in what is now the Championship, where they spent four seasons in the late 70s and early 80s. However, Wrexham were best known for their exploits in European football. A quirk in the rules meant that they participated in both the FA Cup and Welsh Cup every season until 1996. As they were one of the few professional teams in Wales, Wrexham won the cup regularly (they’ve won it 23 times) and as a result, qualified to play in the European Cup Winners Cup 8 times before UEFA ruled that the Welsh clubs playing in England can only play in Europe by qualifying through English competitions. In the 1984/85 season, with Wrexham being in the bottom division of English football, they pulled off a huge upset by knocking out Portuguese giants Porto in the Cup Winners Cup. They won the first leg in Wrexham 1-0, then came back from being 3-0 down in Porto to lose 4-3 on the night but got through on away goals. Wrexham floated along in the bottom two divisions of England for years before financial problems hit them in the early 00s. At one point the owner tried to evict Wrexham from the Racecourse Ground so he could sell the land to property developers. They later suffered the ignominy of being the first club to be deducted points for going into administration and were saved from liquidation by a late takeover. The off-field problems spread to problems on the pitch and in 2008, Wrexham were relegated from League Two into the National League, where they have remained ever since. Wrexham have since become the living embodiment of how difficult a league the National League can be to get out of, as they have been close to returning The club continued to struggle financially, and were taken over by a supporters trust in 2011, making Wrexham one of the few clubs that are supporter owned. It’s not been an entirely successful move, as the team have struggled on the pitch, and have never really looked like being able to earn promotion back to the league. Last season, Wrexham had a torrid time on the pitch, and were facing the prospect of being relegated into the regional divisions of the National League. Covid ended the season prematurely, and possibly saved the club from relegation, but Wrexham still finished in a record low position. Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s interest couldn’t come at a better time for Wrexham. Wrexham, like all lower and non-league clubs will be facing an uncertain future as rising Covid-19 levels in the UK have meant that plans to begin allowing spectators at matches have had to be put on hold. Clubs at that level depend on the gate money, and there will be a lot of clubs who are in desperate need of a financial boost The next stage will be for Reynolds and McElhenney to put forward their vision for the club at a Special General Meeting and the Supporters Trust will decide on whether to accept their investment. The initial plans were given 97.5% approval by the trust last week, so it seems like there’s a very strong possibility that this deal will go through,
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