The final chapters of Wrexham’s European adventure had a lot to live up to – from the drama of Anderlecht and Porto to the glamour of Roma. As always, the lads didn’t let the fans down and treated us to more memorable moments. There was another shock result, a heroic near-miss and a visit from one of the world’s biggest clubs still to come! Here we bring you part three of Wrexham AFC in Europe.
A Light in the Gloom
The 1986-87 season was a difficult time for the club with financial issues and falling gates. The prospect of another European campaign provided some light relief for the supporters, however. The first round of the Cup Winners’ Cup saw a trip to Malta and a straightforward first- leg 3-0 win over FC Zurrieq with goals from Steve Massey, Steve Charles and Mike Conroy. The job finished with an even more comprehensive 4-0 thrashing at the Racecourse (two goals from Massey and one each from Barry Horne and Jim Steel).
Our reward for this victory was a plum tie against Spanish top division side Real Zaragoza – the reigning Copa del Rey champions. Zaragoza had beaten Barcelona courtesy of a Rubén Sosa goal in the final to earn their place in the European campaign.
The Reds travelled to Spain for the first leg in hope more than expectation. However, in front of a raucous home crowd and against all the odds, we managed to earn a 0-0 draw. The result could have been even better had Jim Steel’s late volley been a few inches lower rather than rattling the bar! The tie was beautifully poised for the second leg, and it was to become a match etched in Wrexham folklore, a Bonfire night spectacular under the lights.
Another tense 90 minutes followed – it was 0-0 again at full time, but a thrilling period of extra time followed.
The Chilean international Patricio “Pato” Yáñez silenced the home crowd to put Zaragoza in front in the 97th minute. Steve Massey equalised in front of the Kop within five minutes, however. Pato struck again in the 104th, only for Steve Buxton to equalise with 10 minutes to go!
A siege on the Zaragoza goal followed, but their goalkeeper Cedrún played the game of his life and the Reds couldn’t quite manage the winning goal they needed. It was so close and it was a truly heroic performance in front of 14,000 home fans. We didn’t get through, but it was still one of the great games by a Wrexham side.
Although manager Dixie McNeil rued our defending, it was harsh to be critical over such a great effort.
Brian Flynn Restricted by Uefa
We had to wait a few more seasons for our next campaign, but, by 1990, we were back in the Cup Winners’ Cup even after losing to Hereford in the Welsh Cup final. The draw paired Wrexham with Danish side Lyngby. By this point, UEFA rules over team selection badly affected the Reds and manager these measures restricted Brian Flynn’s choices. He had to blood future first-teamers such as Gareth Owen and Wayne Phillips along with hardened old veterans like Flynn himself and former Liverpool European hero Alan Kennedy.
The first leg at the Racecourse was a disappointing affair, but a 0-0 draw meant the tie was still wide open. A sizeable group of hardy supporters travelled to Denmark for the second leg. The town rewarded their loyalty when, after 11 minutes, local youngster Chris Armstrong nodded in the deciding goal from a cleverly worked free-kick.
Another great night in our European history! The fans danced and drank long into the night. By the time they arrived home, they were aware of the draw for the next round – a glamour tie against none other than Manchester United!
We hope you’re enjoying part three of “Wrexham AFC in Europe”. For more article about our amazing local football team, click here.
A Trip to Manchester
The first leg saw the Reds travel to Old Trafford. They met a United side who were still very much in transition. This match was early in Sir Alex’s reign and, at that stage, the locals were restless. Only 29,000 turned up on the night. This attendance included a very healthy away following and, for the first 43 minutes, it was all very tight.
The game turned just before half time with a quickfire United double from Brian McClair and Steve Bruce. The Reds dug in, however, and managed to restrict United to only one further strike in the second half: a rocket from Gary Pallister. Wrexham’s youngsters had shown up well and the fans appreciated the effort.
Thirteen thousand turned up for the second leg at the Racecourse. It was always going to be an impossible task for the home side though. Again, the Town put in a spirited performance. A further 2-0 win for United (with goals from Bruce again and Mark Robins), however, ended the European campaign for another season. Eventually, United went on to win the trophy. Mark Hughes’ famous double overcoming Barcelona in the rain in Rotterdam and the Ferguson era was well underway.
The Final Campaign
Our final Cup Winners’ Cup campaign was probably one of the most forgettable. In 1995, we drew little-known Romanians Petrolul Ploiesti. The Reds played out a disappointing 0-0 draw at home and then went down 1-0 in an uneventful defeat in the away leg.
By now, the football world was changing. The introduction of the League of Wales in 1992 meant that Wrexham’s avenue into European football disappeared. Our European era had come to an end. Those who experienced it will never forget the great matches. Maybe we can dream that one day a new generation of fans will have their own glory days following the Town.
Story courtesy of our regular football expert Morris Joseph.
We hope you enjoyed part three of “Wrexham AFC in Europe”. For more article about our amazing local football team, click here.