Tag Archives: Wrexham AFC

Non League Day 2016

Saturday 3rd September 2016 – Maidstone United 2 – 2 Wrexham

National League @ Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone

A rare afternoon off following our arrival earlier in August coincided with this year’s Non League Day. And with tiredness limiting the appetite for travel too far, I opted to start my foray into Kent’s non-league scene, and visit Maidstone United‘s Gallagher Stadium for their National League match against Wrexham.

Maidstone is one of the original phoenix clubs. Formed in 1992 following the demise of the original, the National League (or Conference for us traditionals) marks the highest level the ‘new’ (if you can call 24 years new….) club has been, gaining promotion in the play-offs last season against local rivals Ebbsfleet United.

I travelled to Maidstone by train from Otford; the Gallagher Stadium can be seen as you enter Maidstone East, and is c. 5-10 minutes walk from the station. The walk is rather mundane along a series of roads outside of the town centre. There are a couple of pubs en route for those who wish to stagger the trip.

The entrance is situated next to a rowing club (the River Medway being next door).img_2506 img_2509

It cost £15 to get in that day, which was easier said than done as for some reason the turnstiles wouldn’t work for me. Feeling like a bit of an amateur, I opted for some refreshment. To the left of the entrance, the Gallagher Stadium has an array of options for eating; pie and chips (with FREE gravy), burgers, hot dogs, and something of a first, a tuck shop selling sweets! I opted however to head right to the Spitfire Lounge. On tap was a club special lager which I chose over a Whitstable Ale – an error. Fairly sure it was re-branded Carling, or perhaps the late nights tending to a four-week old have killed my taste buds!

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The Gallagher Stadium comprises of two terraces behind either goal, and to the right of the Spitfire Lounge, a main stand with seating. Opposite is standing only. The view is quite scenic with trees along the perimeter (and some flats behind the main stand).

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Stands behind goals

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Main Stand

A wander around the ground showed decent views from all angles. There is a slight industrial feel to the ground however, caused I think by the corrugated metal perimeter. Fans were segregated that day, with the 200 or so Wrexham fans who made the trip situated behind the far goal (opposite the main entrance). I opted to stand opposite the main stand that day, next to the away end.

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The crowd for this match exceeded 2,000, and as mentioned it was Non League Day. I was unsure how many had come for that reason only, like myself, however there was a lot of black and amber on display, indicating I probably wasn’t giving Maidstone enough credit for their support. Indeed I wasn’t. The crowd was noisy behind both goals and got behind their team from the start.

The Wrexham fans, seemingly used to playing clubs smaller than themselves, clearly had a repertoire of songs they wanted to sing despite the ground being full and the support noisy: “Shit ground no fans”, “Your ground’s too big for you”, and “Your support is f’ing s***” all getting an airing. A word for the Wrexham fans. I’ve seen fans taunting Welsh clubs with the usual “In-ger-lund” chant many times over the years, normally responded to with appropriate hand gestures. So it was both refreshing and amusing to see the Wrexham fans that day respond in a deadpan manner with an Icelandic thunderclap. Cap doffed. I imagine it may be some time before the summer of 2016 is forgotten.

Back to the game….

As the teams came out, the guys next to me seemed very excited that Wayne Rooney’s brother was lining up for Wrexham; I was more bemused by their player by the name of Nortei Nortay. Maidstone looked decent in the opening exchanges, and took the lead through a very nice free kick shortly after 20 minutes.

“One nil, to the little club…”

The last time I saw Wrexham was against North Ferriby United in the 2015 FA Trophy Final. The perennial scalp at this level (despite being non-league since 2008), they look a little now like the bigger club money from higher gate receipts has run out. It was however fairly even after the opener, and Wrexham equalised shortly before half-time. An entertaining half and two good goals to boot.

Full from pie and chips, and of course the free gravy, I changed vantage point for the second half, opting to stand between the Spitfire Lounge and the home stand behind the goal. I started to regret not being in a stand as spots of rain started to emerge; Kent had avoided the downpours that had caused an abandonment elsewhere in England that day.

Wrexham took the lead mid-way through the second half, and in fairness had been the better side after the break, A mistake by their defence however gifted an equalizer. And the match held out for 2-2.

Thankfully it didn’t pour with rain.

Maidstone United; a very friendly club, with a support that wouldn’t look out-of-place if they ever did return to the football league. And any ground that offers free gravy with your chips is always worth a trip in my book!

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Gone Fishing….

I’m on my holibobs.

See you next season!

In the meantime, please check out my posts from last season:

PREMIER LEAGUE

– Arsenal (The Emirates) – October 14; January 15;

– Chelsea (Stamford Bridge) – December 14;

– Crystal Palace (Selhurst Park) – April 15;

– Liverpool (Anfield) – October 14;

– Tottenham Hotspur – May 15;

– West Bromwich Albion – January 15;

– West Ham United – January 15;

CONFERENCE SOUTH

– Bromley FC (Hayes Lane) – November 14;

ISTHMIAN PREMIER LEAGUE

– Dulwich Hamlet (Champion Hill) – October 14;

SOUTHERN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION

– Biggleswade Town (Carlsberg Stadium) – September 14;

– Hitchin Town (Top Field) – December 14;

GERMANY

– 1860 Munich (Allianz Arena) – February 15;

– FC Bayern Frauen (Grünwalder Stadion) – February 15;

OTHER

– Wembley Stadium, London – March 15;

Wem-ber-leeey

Sunday 29th March 2015 – North Ferriby United 3p – 3 Wrexham AFC

FA Trophy Final @ Wembley Stadium, London

London hosted an all time classic of a match on the last weekend of March in 2015. If like me you travelled through Central London that evening, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Brazil’s 1-0 victory over Chile at The Emirates, given the sheer number of Brazilian flags flying around the tube.

But no. For a fraction of the price (£20 I paid for my ticket) you could have seen a match with, as the saying goes, everything. Second-half comeback, extra time, penalties, the underdog lifting the trophy. Real Roy of the Rovers stuff.

That match was the FA Trophy Final 2015, at our National Stadium, Wembley. North Ferriby United of the Conference North vs Wrexham of the Conference Premier.

Living in the South I have been fortunate enough to visit Wembley for all manner of events; firstly the 2008 Play-Off Final (The Windass Final) as well as two trips last season for Hull’s FA Cup run, over a dozen England matches, Rugby League World Cup, Olympic Football, a Groupon Tour and an Oasis concert……! I have very mixed views on it; it is a pain to get to (and away from!), the surrounding area is pretty ugly, there are very few watering holes nearby. But at the same time, the very act of getting to Wembley means your club must have done something right. It has that prestige about it, and as much as you don’t think it will get to you, you’ll do well to hold back a tear when the teams come out.

I probably wouldn’t have given this match a second thought had North Ferriby not been present. Most City fans have a soft spot for Ferriby; never really rivals (historically quite a few divisions apart) but friendly opponents in the pre-season curtain raiser, the Billy Bly Trophy, and home to many an ex-City pro. It is nice to see them do well, and they exemplify everything a lower league club should be. Well run, focus on youth and a community feel to it. So I had to go, they were my team for the weekend.

Pre-match first though….

Getting to Wembley from Central London is relatively straightforward, but for the full experience it is recommended you go via Wembley Park Station, so you can take the famous walk down Wembley Way. These days that involves also navigating the stands selling ‘Half and Half Scarves’, Wembley owned burger joints, and for the more subscribed games, layers of ticket sellers. Still, great place to hang the flags and saviour the ground.

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As mentioned previously, suppage around Wembley is quite a hard task….

For the larger games, fans are designated pubs, but these are often at least a 15 minute walk from the ground. The alternative is £4.50 bottles of Carlsberg inside the ground, or seeing if Frankie and Benny’s might serve you.

For previous visits with City however, there is one ‘institution’ that has achieved something of cult status; The Crystal Club. This is in effect an old sports hall, that on matchdays is turned into a drinking venue, selling warm multipack cans from a hatch inside. From 200 people strong renditions of Caravan of Love, Eminem style chanting, and the great view of the Cemex plant from the beer garden, whilst disgusting (both toilets were out-of-order 2 hours in on final day last season), it was the place to go. So it was there that we went.

Despite checking however, it was closed…!

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Memories…

We made the mistake that day of heading to the retail complex to the right of Wembley Park Station – nothing. Perhaps we were looking in the wrong place? But then we stumbled upon a place with a sign outside “3 beers for £10” – BARGAIN! In we went…..it was a bakery. But it was raining so had to do, and so we sat drinking our warm Coronas in amongst couples having afternoon tea and a baby shower.

Watered (but not fed, beer and cake didn’t seem a good mix) we headed for the ground. Wembley is huge inside, not just pitch side, but concourses too. It really is a well designed ground, and there was a growing sense of excitement in the Ferriby end, who on that day were positioned to the left of the Royal Box.

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The attendance was just over 14,000 – the majority being Wrexham fans behind the goal to the right of my seat, but with, by my estimate, c. 5,000 in Green and White. I have to confess, I was sceptical pre-match that the low numbers would mean the stadium echoed a bit. I have questioned previously how it is viable for The FA to host such matches at Wembley given its sheer size – surely it would make more sense to host somewhere like Villa Park or Elland Road? Fine, it still wouldn’t sell out – but would make for a better atmosphere.

I admit, I was a snob, and I was proved wrong. Both sets of fans made a decent amount of noise – and why should non-league clubs, and their fans, be deprived of their big day out? It is schoolboy stuff to score the winner in a cup final at Wembley. So what then if the FA makes a loss on it!

To the game….

The first half started well for Ferriby, but it was Wrexham who took the lead and were most dominant going into the break. When they went 2-0 up shortly after the restart, I feared a drubbing similar to the season before, when Cambridge United put four past Gosport.

But that’s when the game really got going….

Some will say Wrexham switched off. Some will say Ferriby went for it. It was a mixture of the two I’d say, perhaps a smidging more of the latter. On the 75th minute, Ferriby were awarded a penalty, and fan favourite Liam King duly did the honours. The comeback was on – but I don’t think anybody really believed it at the time.

Ten minutes later, substitute striker Ryan Kendall grabbed the second, sending the Ferriby fans wild and the game into extra time. The Wrexham fans were stunned, their players too. It was Ferriby’s to win now, and it felt almost disadvantageous that the Welsh side would get a breather.

The Ferriby attack continued, and in front of the Wrexham fans, Kendall struck again. Manager Billy Heath and his staff joined in the celebration this time, and the place was alive. Were the part-timers going to go all the way? Unfortunately Wrexham had other ideas…

The team in red went for the equalizer in the second half of extra time and got it. In fairness, Ferriby were running on gas by this point and did well to hang on. But it felt something of an injustice that the match went to penalties. This would be a horrible way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Penners!

I can’t remember the running order, or who scored / missed first, but even though I didn’t support them, it was a nerve-wracking experience. Ferriby did though win, thanks to goalkeeper Adam Nicklin (who I have since heard works in a hotel bar -??? – if true, I imagine he’ll be getting “…and one for yourself…” for some time to come).

North Ferriby United – 2015 FA Trophy Winners!!!

What a game and what a day. It felt surreal to see them do it; the press beforehand had only really focussed on Wrexham, and to see a former league club humbled in this manner was truly enjoyable, particularly when it is a club just down the road from your hometown. I felt like a proper plastic fan at the start, but by the end I’m pretty sure part of me was Ferriby. For their true fans, when you spend your season trawling the likes of Bradford PA and Hyde United, wining in the luxury of Wembley must have been an amazing experience.

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So that is Wembley. Unless you attend a match like this, or En-ger-laaand, it is a ground tick that is dependent upon the success of your club, which doesn’t come to many. Forget the lack of pubs, the concrete exterior and the overpriced merchandise, it is a ‘memory making machine’. I’ve experienced both the good and the bad side of that. It was nice to walk back down Wembley Way again with a positive one, healing in part the sense of gutting after last season.

And again, congratulations to North Ferriby United and their cracking fans – see you at Church Road, for a long overdue ground tick, next season!

Other photos from the day

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