Adrian Chiles: You're not a real fan if plight of Wrexham does not worry you

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The Independent Football

I'm fond of the people who ring up football phone-ins. As a presenter of this radio genre I'd obviously be daft to say otherwise, but I do like them if for no other reason than they remind me of myself: they're passionate about their clubs; they can be rather boring on the subject and they're so one-eyed that most of what they say is twaddle. But it's always a pleasure to take their calls, strangely therapeutic even, at the end of (another) bad weekend for my club.

I'm fond of the people who ring up football phone-ins. As a presenter of this radio genre I'd obviously be daft to say otherwise, but I do like them if for no other reason than they remind me of myself: they're passionate about their clubs; they can be rather boring on the subject and they're so one-eyed that most of what they say is twaddle. But it's always a pleasure to take their calls, strangely therapeutic even, at the end of (another) bad weekend for my club.

Occasionally, though, I find myself making a note of a caller's name and number in case I can somehow track them down to put them right on a few things. For example, three years ago a posh-sounding Arsenal fan, John from Luton, called in. That night we'd taken a number of calls from fans of clubs struggling for survival in the lower reaches. York, Notts County, and Oldham as I remember. "John, as an Arsenal fan, how does it make you feel to hear these tales of woe?"

"What?"

"These clubs actually might not survive. How does that make you feel?"

"Not bothered really."

"What?" I demanded, my backside and feet simultaneously becoming airborne.

"It doesn't concern me. Why should it? I'm an Arsenal fan."

It's a source of lasting disappointment to me that I was so gob-smacked I was quite unable to formulate a coherent response. I wonder where that lovable character is this weekend. As sure as anything he's not giving the plight of Wrexham a second thought. Today they play Hayes in the FA Cup. Next Saturday they may well not exist as on Wednesday they face a winding-up petition brought by the Inland Revenue. If this doesn't trouble you, if it doesn't gnaw away at you, then you're not fit to call yourself a football fan.

When I was a little boy I always noticed Wrexham because of the name of their ground. I knew what a racecourse looked like and because the Racecourse Ground was never on the telly I had no reason to imagine it to be anywhere other than in the middle of a huge racecourse with horses galloping around it.

Then, at university, I met a Wrexham fan. Sports fans, you might know him. His name's Bryn Law, a fierce-looking bloke who works for Sky Sports News. Through him began a lifelong, if casual, affinity with Wrexham. My first game was midweek away at Colchester. A small but still frankly astonishing number of Wrexham fans had made the journey. We arrived late and the match had already started. As we entered the away end Bryn started chanting to the tune of the chorus of "The Music Man": "Ani ani animal, animal, animal. Ani ani animal ani animal." And blow me down if everyone didn't join in. The animal in question was Jon Bowden. He had mad hair, you see. I was hooked.

Another match that sticks in my mind was away at Walsall several years later where I first saw Wrexham's semi-official lead chanter go about his work. His name was Jacko. He looked like he might have been a choirmaster in a Borstal. Whenever he started singing, everyone joined in. When they didn't join in, he had the dignity to accept it with good grace: "We hate England and we hate England..." he started chanting during a quiet moment in the second half. Nobody joined in. "Come on!" he roared, "we hate England and we hate England..." Still nothing. "Alright, b*****ks to you", he shouted, "I hate England and I hate England..."

Four months later I was lazing in bed in the West Midlands on a Saturday morning. Bryn called: "I've got a spare ticket for this Arsenal cup game. Come up."

"No."

"Go on."

"Oh all right then." One of the better decisions of my football-watching career. And it's a funny thing that although I support another club, being in the Kop there that day is one of my favourite football memories. "We haven't scored from a set-piece in 10 years," moaned Bryn as Mickey Thomas lined up the free-kick for the equaliser. Brilliant. Then they went ahead. And then Arsenal had the ball in the net at our end. I swear that as every Wrexham fan in the ground buried their head in their hands I was the only one who spotted the linesman's flag go up. No linesman's flag has ever been celebrated like that one.

The last time I was at the Racecourse was for a friendly with West Bromwich at the start of last season. West Brom were abject; Wrexham were good and the ground looked great.

Quite how it is that the whole thing could fall apart imminently deserves a book of its own, but the nub of it is that the freehold to the ground belongs not to the club but to its last chairman, one Alex Hamilton. There are strong indications that he's not going to die of grief if the ground's only tenant, the football club, is wound up. He's a property developer, you see. I'm not even sure I blame him. If I loved money more than I loved football I'd probably feel the same way. This kind of situation is always going to arise when a football club is perceived to be worth less than the land it plays on. If that's the case at your club then I suggest you waste no time working out whether there are enough checks and balances in place to stop you going the same way as Wrexham.

In the meantime, there's the cup game at Hayes today. Fortunately Denis Smith, the manager, is made of strong stuff: "It's the worst situation I've known in 20-odd years in management". I should hope it is, Denis. "Everything - players, hotels - is having to be paid for in cash. We've got to be positive though - being miserable's not going to help. And we've got to win - you get £16,000 for getting through to the next round".

Denis, a born optimist, is guilty of harbouring the thought that has bred complacency in so many of us: "Very few clubs go under in the end". But when pressed - and if you're a Wrexham fan look away now - he's not so sure: "Denis, what are the chances of Wrexham still playing in the spring?"

He says: "50-50. No better than 50-50".

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