It’s dark and late on a Sunday night after a long weekend of football.
A very long weekend for Wrexham fans, after an uneventful, and slightly soul destroying journey to Woking, and a lacklustre 2-0 defeat. The most positive comments I have heard resemble, “we had a good first half”, but are drowned out by the overwhelming number of dejected, frustrated and honestly realistic comments such as “should manager Mills go?”; but who else would we get.
Who else? Well I will address that exact point here in this article.
Let me know if you agree. And in order for you to have an opinion either way, I think it only prudent to give you a little background on our manager Gary Mills. Don’t worry, I’m not looking at ancient history, just what he has done since he arrived here with his two year plan.
He began with a very strong attitude and genuinely exciting manner. There was the usual buzz a new manager brings. The excitement of escape from non-league football. The spark of dreams. But year one did not go swimmingly and a play-off spot evaded us once again.
After signing a relatively solid squad, he proceeded to initiate something of a cull at Wrexham, and very few players survived. He basically assembled a whole new team. And what a truly brave thing that was to do. Fortune favours the brave they say. Or is it just the brave and fortunate?
Once again, things are not going smoothly. The points we have won, it can be argued we barely deserved. Late winners. Very little comfort on the ball. Spiralling belief and not much fight. It is quite a sad sight at times.
I struggle with this level of realism. This brutal honesty. The cold hard facts that analysis brings. I have always been the fan that sees a way back when trailing by two goals with just minutes to go. The one that sees victory ahead, no matter what has come before. So I guess it is time for that confession now.
The truth is. I am not only wavering. I am truly agreeing with the majority of the Wrexham fans that are choosing to share their opinions with me at the moment. We are not very good. There is something missing. And I’m starting to wonder if the mighty Wrex Dragon will ever breathe fire again. I have even fallen into the evils of daydreaming. Of winning the lottery and ploughing money into the club. Or a rich backer coming along and pumping money into what is needed, providing us with player budgets that go up and not down, that can provide us with strength and depth, to prepare for tired legs and injuries at the end of the season. Because even if by some miracle we were to make the play-offs, we would not be fit and healthy enough right now to see it through to an actual promotion.
We could pump money into the youth academy. Bring players through to start games. Keep players when they perform well instead of knowing they will leave at the end of the season when a bigger pay cheque is offered. Where is the love people?
If any of these facts are wrong, please be patient with me.
It has been a long road supporting Wrexham for 20 years, and sometimes games blur together. But I do remember back to 2005 when Darren Ferguson was team captain for us. In the heady days of league football. I remember a particularly depressing year when little was going right and if I remember correctly, it ended in relegation.
But I also remember being a very proud Wrexham fan that year. Prouder of that team than I have been of many Wrexham teams since. I was proud of Dennis Smith who managed us superbly. I was proud of the way the players fought every week like their lives depended on it, and due to the financial state of the club, often going without pay alongside their manager for considerable stretches.
I remember us beating teams who were fighting for promotion, even after we had been deducted 10 points for going into administration (the first team to have been treated so harshly I believe). We clawed back point after point but it would ultimately end in relegation. And do you know what? I remember that year fondly.
I remember Darren Ferguson receiving offers to leave the club for greener pastures and more money. And refusing their offers. Refusing their offers and choosing instead to lead us, wherever we were destined to go. Because that is what family members do for one another. The father leads. The sons they follow. And the support is two way. And it is without condition. It is one of the many things that drew me to Wrexham in the first place. It was more than just a football team. More than just a club. It was a family.
And that is what is missing now.
Where is the love?
Because love breeds all the components you need for success. Passion, commitment, and total dedication to the cause.
And you can see it in the Premiership now. Not quite in the same way. The game is obviously a very different beast in the Premier League. But tell me that the best teams in the league do not have managers that inspire the players to be everything they can be, not for money, but for the love of their team. To impress their manager. To impress their leader. Like a son would try to impress his father.
Tell me that Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool does not inspire love when he bounces on the sidelines like a club mascot before celebrating with his players. Tell me that the cool, commanding Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino, and the strong, no nonsense Everton manager, Ronald Koeman, do not lead and share their strength and determination with their players. Tell me that Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola doesn’t share his unparalleled genius, which will no doubt, see Manchester City lift the Premier league trophy this season. Each are brilliant. Each are father figures to their players.
I cannot go on at this point without mentioning the Welsh national team, who were it is safe to say, something of a laughing stock some years ago on the international scene. And this was despite having good managers who came with glowing CV’s and success wherever they had been. That in of itself was not enough. Because simply put, they did not inspire their players. Sometimes a job is just a job. But it wasn’t for Mark Hughes. Never for the magnificent Gary Speed. And not for Chris Coleman. True leaders. Truly passionate. And they truly inspired love. And each of them made Wales the team they are today.
But it’s not just about love, but continuity of love. Of leadership. Of strength. Of desire. That will not happen when you change managers every two years at your non-league club where you cannot afford to pay top wages for the best managers who come with these attributes already in place. It will only happen by choosing the right manager in the first place. By sticking by him regardless of results. By helping him to grow and learn. And by developing a family bond.
It is true that we are a fan run club. That is a very large tick in a very important box. But we are not a family. The players are not the children looking to their father to inspire greatness from them. I do not feel the fans are all there protecting those players unconditionally and nurturing them. There is a reason some fans are quick to turn on players and managers however and it is not because they are bad fans. Wrexham fans follow their team everywhere. They are marvellous fans. Some of the best there are. And they will still turn on the team. Because we are no longer the family we once were. And I think that everyone over 30, remembers when we were a family, and it hurts when we realise, that is the thing that is missing. It’s not money. It is that the players do not have a father (a manager that inspires), and they do not have older siblings to nurture them (unconditional support from the crowd). So where has the love gone? And how do we get it back?
Well I for one believe it will not happen by selecting the manager with the best CV or the best track record in football. The best for your buck so to speak. It will happen by finding someone who lives and loves not only football, but Wrexham FC. A strong Captain to lead us on the pitch, and a former player who can manage us and inspire us off it. Because they have worn the shirt and they know what it means. And they know how it feels. And they know that that feeling is the most important thing in the world.
It is even later now than it was when I started writing this, and I’m starting to feel nostalgic.
I miss having Darren Ferguson on the pitch, marshalling his team. I miss Carlos Edwards, who never stopped running. But mostly I miss Andy Morrel when he was our manager. Because regardless of his track record, my heart would break every time I heard his post-match interviews and his voice would crack as he held back the tears following a tough defeat. It meant everything to him. He was the father. He genuinely cared for his players. And I for one, loved him. I loved the team. I loved the club. And in that all too brief a spell, we were a family again.
We need to learn from history. Look back and remember what worked, instead of treating this like it’s a gamble and just plain bad luck if we happen to find the wrong man for the job. We need to find someone who played for us. Who loved and who still loves this club. Who would break their back and take a bullet just to manage Wrexham FC. Someone who appreciates that it would be the best job in the world. And that day, the players will know he would take a bullet for them too. And the fans would take a bullet for him, and his players. It has become an often used term in Wales since Euro 2016, but I cannot think of two better words to end this article on.