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Spending pre-season with Wrexham FC

Football is a truly beautiful game, full of highs and lows, joy and despair, success and failure. Which it will be for our beloved Wrexham FC this coming season, only time will tell for sure. Wrexham FC. A beautiful team in a beautiful game. Backed and owned by the best fans in the world. It is those fans I now thank for bringing us much of what you are about to read. Those fans who have already travelled far and wide, hundreds of miles, before even the first kick of the regular season. I raise my glass to you: truly, loyal, supporters.

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Following a quite pleasant off-season, Keates has shown that he is more than capable of recruiting a solid squad on a non-league budget. Not bad for a man just entering his first full managerial season; already we have cause to feel optimistic after last season’s ‘Wilkin’ (the new word I use to describe a complete and utter shambles – it was a Wilkin of a season – but that is all behind us now).

It is clear from the off that this is a new look squad, not just in ability, but also in desire and camaraderie. And this was all apparent despite the inclusion of several second year scholars and three trialists. Even playing two different sides, one for each half, Wrexham showed genuine cohesion amongst the ranks. The kind of cohesion only good management, solid leadership, and excellent signings can bring, so early in pre-season. It was however a survivor from last season who broke the deadlock after 11 minutes, as the excellent Rutherford slotted home. Scholar Niall Freeman then netted after 25 minutes. Lex pulled a goal back before the break, but Wrexham sealed a comfortable win when Leo Smith’s deflected shot found its way into the Lex net. Another survivor from last season, Leo rarely fails to impress, and yet again, he backed up Keates’ faith in him with a solid display. Not bad for a 19 year old coming into his first full season. Definitely one to watch out for in the forthcoming campaign.

This match proved a reasonable challenge for Wrexham, but on the 28th minute, an unnamed trialist gave us the lead. Things then settled down, remaining scoreless until James Jennings headed home after 80 minutes. The home side then put away a penalty before Wrexham extended their lead, young defender Ben Barrat netting in the dying stages of the game.

The unnamed trialist who scored at the time was called Gime Toure, otherwise known to our fans as ‘Jimmy the Legend’ or ‘Dismal Jimmy’ or just ‘Jimmy’. I do not recall a more talked about player on the Wrexham Fans Chat page on Facebook for a long time now. He split the support down the middle. So what was all the fuss about? He was fairly young. Tall. Imposing. And French. Henry he was not, but the fans took to him in droves. He became something of an enigma. But his shooting left much to be desired. We will talk more about him again at the end of this blog.


What could be better than taking over six hundred loyal supporters to a stunning country, to watch their beloved football team? Well I will tell you what. Winning in Portugal, in front of over six hundred manic, ecstatic, loyal supporters who once again, showed their tireless support for Keates’ mighty red and white army. And that is exactly what happened here. It is a memory I wish was mine to treasure forever. One of those moments to slot alongside the LDV Vans Trophy win at the Millennium Stadium, or the victories at Wembley, or beside the FA Cup triumphs over Arsenal, Middlesbrough, and West Ham. There were more, but I cannot spend too long reminiscing. After all, our time is now, and this is the season we make history. I did however speak to several Wrexham fans who were there in Portugal to witness this amazing victory, and this is what they had to say:

FRANCESCA MEROLA. “The team spirit is really positive. The lads are being pushed hard by the coaching staff and management. You could tell that straight away in the training session out in Portugal. Even in training, when a pass went astray, players would be angry with themselves for making a mistake. It’s focused and controlled and because of this, the team are working well together, and bonding really well with staff and fans. In matches we are playing really well, with neat, passing football. One touch, quick football with players looking for Kelly and Rutherford to make runs. I think we will get more goals from crosses this season. We may just be lacking a striker with a great eye for goal. I only say this as our shooting has been a bit off, but that will come with confidence and practice. I think all the trialists are good. I expect us to make the play-offs this season, at the minimum.”

CRAIG EDGE. “It has been the best holiday ever. Wrexham were amazing. Everyone played really great.”

LOU. “Jimmy looks good to be fair. Boden and Massanka linked up well. Leo Smith looked sharp throughout and could go on from last season, to impress even more. Our football was flowing, we created space well, and it was good to see us using the wings more, as we have been sorely lacking in wide players over the last few seasons.”

MARK CHALLONER. “What an experience. I’m knackered, skint, my knees are swollen and by kidneys are catching up with George Best, but I have had the trip of a lifetime, with quality people, old pals and new. Over 600 of us showed up to watch us win 2-1, as Leo Smith and Massanka both scored. The atmosphere was superb. This has probably been the best holiday of my life. Up the town!”

TIM EDWARDS (Fearless in Devotion Webzine – – – @fearlessidzine). “It was a great getaway for a brand new team, and all the players have gelled really well. We are dominating in games. The speed of the ball is quicker and our movement is sharper and more intelligent. Which is all down to Carl Darlington. We have much more width about us, but the final ball needs working on. In Portugal, we played a Tier 3 side. They are a proper tidy team but we hit the woodwork several times, and they scored against the run of play. We now have strength of character to come back whereas in previous seasons, we would have been turned over. I doubt we will sign Jimmy. He just isn’t good enough. He links play well and could be worth a punt, but I don’t think Dean (Keates) will go for him.”

THE DRAGON. “I honestly cannot add to what the fans have already said except for these four words: Keates is a genius.”

A comfortable win for Wrexham was overshadowed by what appears on paper to be a close score line, but make no mistake, this was Wrexham’s day. Goals from new signing Scott Boden after just 42 seconds, and James Jennings on 36 minutes, sent the 400 plus away fans home happy again. Leo Smith also had another solid day and the team as a whole excelled with nice build up play, passing and creativity, both on and off the ball.

A late first half goal from Chris Holroyd shook what was proving to be a stout and organised Warrington defence. As on so many occasions, that late first half strike led to an almost inevitable early second half goal, this time from our danger man, Scott Boden. The game remained tight and Warrington did pull a goal back, but Wrexham went home with yet another win, to make it five out of the five. Wrexham FC later announced that over 2000 season tickets had been sold. I would be very surprised if we didn’t smash the 5000 fan mark at our first home game. All in all, a very good few days for our club.

Perhaps we were due a small bump in the road, after a silky smooth pre-season so far. Perhaps we even needed one to prevent us entering and beginning the regular season in complacent cruise control. Besides, there are real positives to take from this result. That’s right, actual positives. Our performance was still decent. We had countless chances, but somehow failed to test their keeper much. We linked up well, dominated play, and really should have gotten something from this game. Also, credit where it is most definitely due. Nantwich really showed up. And if we had scored a goal like theirs, we’d have been raving about the finish; absolutely belted home. Rightly so, their strike received a round of applause from our fans. So fair play to former Prestatyn Town forward Jordan Davies. I thought he had a great game, and both him and his team deserve some recognition. They were hungry. They battled. And if it gives us a kick and propels us to two strong final pre-season displays, and an opening day win, I imagine we will all be thanking them. Saying that, we must take our share of responsibility for this result. Our finishing wasn’t just bad, it was shocking, and often rye smiles could be found on the faces of disbelieving Wrexham fans around the ground. At least five balls left the ground at high altitude, and many were slotted wide of the net when smashing it down the middle would have at least given their keeper something to think about. Despite good play, we didn’t look like scoring. Despite the many chances, I never really felt like we were going to ripple the back of their net. That has to change, and change fast, if we are to secure three points on opening day. With any luck, it will prove a valuable reminder, that pretty football doesn’t win you games, if you then fail to get the basics right in front of goal.

Jimmy is no more, having moved to Macclesfield to face us in our first league game of the season. Now why does this make me a little nervous? We need a good start to the season, in the same way a deep-sea diver requires breathing apparatus. I think a slow start would be seriously bad for our long-term prospects of promotion. We shouldn’t fear any team, nor any player, and certainly not Macclesfield, and certainly not Jimmy; right? But oh how cruel life can be. Half the Wrexham fans will smile and laugh, having seen him miss chance after chance in pre-season. But the rest of the fans? The ones who like me, had a little place in their hearts for that giant, slick, imposing 23-year-old Frenchman; they may perhaps share my uncertainty about what could unfold on opening day. One thing is for sure, it is going to be a belter, and all the more so with Jimmy attacking our goal. So I guess the big question is, how did we fair without him in this game?

Bloody well in all honesty. We were strong from front to back. Creative. Easy on the eye and effective. Goals from Marcus Kelly and Chris Holroyd were icing on a tasty cake in this satisfying victory, allaying any fears that Nantwich was more than just an off day. Massanka and Mackreth were missing through injury, which proved the only grey cloud in this otherwise blue match-day sky.

A belting goal from Chorley’s Courtney Meppen-Walter, a free kick from all of 25 yards, marred an otherwise fine display from Wrexham, who took the lead through a Boden goal after 35 minutes. Despite missing a penalty and being denied another decent shout for a second, the deadlock remained as Wrexham failed to win their final pre-season game, but did enough to calm any real nerves heading into the regular season. Am I personally concerned that we may not be good enough to challenge for promotion? Not massively. Do I feel as optimistic of going up as I did after the game in Portugal? Not quite. I had a large piece written on Jimmy. I was going to include it, but instead I deleted it, because that is now water under the bridge. Sure we could do with one more striker. We know it. Keates knows it. And I’m sure it will happen. But to finish, I want to simply focus on the positives that have come from this pretty positive pre-season.

Keates has definitely built a solid squad for the 2017-18 season. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that. The team we have has vastly improved from last season’s team; our players are all able, upbeat, and have belief in themselves, in their manager, and a love for the crest on their chests. They love being here. We love them being here.

It has been a long time, but we are a family again.
Whatever this season brings, we are in it together.

In Keates we trust.


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