It may seem hard to believe in these non-league times, but Wrexham AFC’s rich and memorable history has seen many great players don the red shirt down the years. It’s impossible to mention them all in a single article. Nevertheless, it feels like a good idea to have a light-hearted look back at just some of the legends to have turned out for the Town at this exciting moment in the club’s history. So sit back, relax and enjoy our Wrexham AFC Hall of Fame!
The Belfast Boy
Probably the biggest name of all only appeared for us in a testimonial match. For the purposes of the article, however, he needs a mention! George Best can justifiably be called one of the all-time greats and he appeared for the Reds in a testimonial for former club captain Gareth Davies in 1979. An iconic picture exists of Best alongside Davies and other club legends Mickey Thomas, Billy Ashcroft and Bobby Shinton. One of the greats of the game, pictured alongside some of the club’s greatest ever players.
The Wizard of the Dribble
Another household name also appeared for the club in unusual circumstances – and again on just one occasion. During the Second World War, football continued to help maintain the nation’s morale. Friendly games were familiar and the FA introduced a “guest player”. This involved players being able to represent several different clubs. Under these strange circumstances, Sir Stanley Matthews, the ‘wizard of the dribble’, made one appearance for the club, helping us to a 5-1 victory over local rivals Crewe.
Throughout the club’s history, we’ve fielded hundreds of Welsh internationals. Some came through the ranks and others joined at various stages of their careers. One of the club’s most high-profile signings came in 1998 when Brian Flynn snapped up legendary striker Ian Rush after Newcastle United had released him.
Sadly, the move never really met expectations. Rush was still a quality footballer, but the legs had slowed down, and he ended up playing in an unfamiliar, deeper role. Despite his incredible record (229 goals in 469 appearances for Liverpool and 28 in 73 for Wales), he didn’t manage a single goal for Wrexham. He decided to leave after a single season.
Rush’s Welsh strike partner and local boy Mark Hughes also made a solitary appearance for Wrexham. He actually scored a goal! It was in front of nearly 12,000 at the Racecourse when he notched in the 1993 Joey Jones testimonial match.
The Reds have also had some European Cup winners in their ranks. In addition to Joey and Rush, two Liverpool legends also donned the shirt for brief spells in the early ’90s.
Alan Kennedy, the scorer of winning goals in two European Cup finals, signed in 1990. He helped the club avoid relegation from the football league, while Jimmy Case signed in completely different circumstances in 1993. The club were flying high in the old Division 4 and Case was brought in to add experience to a youthful squad. Case would only make one start, but played his part in helping the club to their first promotion in 15 years.
Wrexham has also been the starting point for many players who have gone on to bigger, more glamorous clubs. One of the most unusual examples of this involved the current Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster, who has enjoyed a long and successful top-level career. Foster was a young, third-choice goalkeeper at Stoke City. The then Reds manager, Denis Smith, was in the midst of a goalkeeper crisis at the club and took him on loan in early 2005.
This decision would change everything for Foster. While impressing for the Reds on the way to our famous LDV Final victory in Cardiff, he caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson was a regular spectator at Wrexham in that era due to his son Darren’s presence in the midfield. Foster played out the season with Wrexham, but then signed for Manchester United that summer. It was a well-deserved reward for a player who still speaks well of his time at the club.
Foster would go on to play for England, but he’s not the only England player to have donned the goalkeeper shirt for Wrexham. Again, back in Joey’s testimonial, Liverpool goalie David James came on as an emergency substitute for the Reds and even managed to save a penalty against his own club!
Llay Park Juniors’ Very Own
Another player to owe his career to the club was Llay Park Juniors-schooled Chris Armstrong, a lightning-fast striker to come through the ranks in the late 80s. Armstrong made his name by scoring the winner in our famous European victory over Danish side Lyngby. After 60 appearances, Millwall snapped him up. Further moves followed to Crystal Palace and then, most noticeably, to Tottenham where his fine record wasn’t fully appreciated. He still remains in eighth place among Tottenham’s Premier League top scorers.
This period saw the club produce some exciting talent that made the club some serious income. Lee Jones would join Liverpool in 1992, but never quite became a first-team regular. Midfielder Bryan Hughes left for Birmingham in 1997 for a then club-record £800,000 after his exploits in that season’s famous FA Cup run. Hughes went on to play in the Premier League for Charlton and Hull City. It’s probably best not to think too much about his recent spell as manager though.
We should also remember that three Wales Euro 2016 squad members have appeared in the Wrexham shirt. A youthful Joe Allen impressed during a brief loan spell in 2013, Neil Taylor made his debut here before moving on to Swansea City. Goalkeeper Danny Ward came through the ranks and made his solitary appearance in bizarre circumstances when the first team played at Brentford in the FA Cup. Ward kept goal as the club had to play a Welsh Cup tie on the same day, at the same time, against local side Airbus.
The Best of the Rest
Recent years have seen slim pickings, as the non-league years has seen a revolving door of players with few staying beyond a few seasons. A few well-known players have joined the club in this time though.
These players include ex-Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, the reliable ex-Liverpool full-back Stephen Wright and the Blackpool regular Brett Ormerod.
Ormerod will be the man forever remembered for his missed sitter in the play-off final at Wembley. Also, a special nod to the popular cult hero Glenn Little. A man with Premier-League touch on the ball, but Sunday-league stamina by the time he joined us.
Hopefully, on the back of the exciting news about the takeover, some new legends will appear. And let’s hope we can add them to the list of the many greats that have represented us in the past.
This great article is courtesy of our regular football expert Morris Joseph.
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