Wrexham's date with non-league destiny

After Swansea's promotion and Cardiff City's run to the FA Cup final, the quiet tragedy of Welsh sport may reach its sorry end today, writes Ian Herbert
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The Independent Football

After the euphoria of the Six Nations, Cardiff City's FA Cup final place and Swansea City's promotion, the quiet tragedy of Welsh sport may well reach its inevitable conclusion today.

If Wrexham, who entertain Notts County, get a worse result than Dagenham & Redbridge, the North Wales side will have to accept life outside the Football League for the first time in 87 years – a period which has been punctuated by remarkable feats of derring-do in the European Cup Winners' Cup and arguably the greatest upset in FA Cup history, when Mickey Thomas's oft-replayed free-kick helped overcome Arsenal at the Racecourse on 4 January 1992.

That day, as now, Wrexham stood 92nd in the league but while two seasons with no relegation to non-league saved them in the Nineties and a last-day win which sent Boston down did the same last season, a nine-point gulf from safety with four to play looks too much this time.

Like so many of the clubs who have made such a drift, Wrexham's troubles began in the boardroom, in the tumultuous period a few years ago when Cheshire property developer Alex Hamilton decided to take the club into administration, having been denied the nest-egg he though he had spotted when he bought the club with the intention of selling its stadium and moving out-of-town.

A drawn-out court battle and a doorstepping from fans in the village of Hale finally saw Hamilton off but by then Denis Smith's side had, by dint of their 10-point deduction, slipped down to League Two. Local businessmen Neville Dickens and Geoff Moss bought the club and though some fans date the side's demise to their decision to replace Smith with the inexperienced Brian Carey rather then Darren Ferguson it is fair to say that by then the trouble had been done.

"Saving the club from going out of business was one thing," Dickens said this week. "But trying to keep it in the League might prove a bridge too far. There was a four- or five-year period where the club was not treated as the main priority and obviously it suffered. It's been a hell of a job to try to get it back to where it was prior to that."

Brian Little, one of the most popular managers in the game, was hired in November to save the day and after going six games unbeaten before Ferguson's Peterborough beat them in late February it seemed survival was on. Little said before a critical home game with Mansfield that his charges had to accelerate against a string of weaker sides if they were to survive. They haven't. Thumping defeats at Milton Keynes and Shrewsbury have all but sealed things.

Little has signed another two-year contract as the club endeavours to make a quick return. "We are already making plans behind the scenes for whatever league we are in next season," he said yesterday – which sounded like code for "we're doomed". The club has recently learnt that Mark Jones, an exciting midfielder who was flourishing on the fringes of John Toshack's side and won his first cap before Wrexham's demise, will be off this summer. It rather rubs it in that Cardiff and Swansea are among those interested.

Though there is talk of the Welsh Assembly helping develop the Racecourse into a 15,000-capacity "Millennium Stadium of the North", Wrexham's loyal fans cannot but dwell on past European nights there against Anderlecht, Porto and Roma. Contemplating Forest Green Rovers and Farsley Celtic up ahead, they will wonder where it all went so wrong.

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