There wasn’t much time for clear thought as the clock ticked up to midnight in Wrexham on Saturday.
In the 1864 Suite at the football ground, players Paul Mullin and Elliot Lee were up on a table, belting out American Pie. In the Turf pub next door, people were routinely walking into each other. This can happen when the drinking has started at midday.
But Brittnie Fields, from Huntsville, Alabama, was sober as she described why she wanted to be here, in a town she had until recently never heard of, on the day the football club won promotion to a league she knew nothing about.
‘Everyone wants the latest new thing now, don’t they?’ she said. ‘The latest shiny trend and fashion.
‘This place stayed the same. Just as it always was. Lived with its struggles. Its team lived in non-League. But the place kept hope and stayed true to itself.’
Paul Mullin (middle) has helped end Wrexham’s 15-year exile from the Football League
Rob McElhenney (left) and Ryan Reynolds (right) attract lots of new fans in USA and Canada
Out across town, among the raggle-taggle groups near the chip shop on Regent Street and in homes on the Caia Park estate, where poverty walks and ‘levelling up’ never came, some would have perhaps winced to hear this slightly romanticised talk of struggle. They would have said that it was something people could have well done without.
Mail Sport’s Ian Herbert was at the Racecourse Ground on Saturday night to see Wrexham clinch promotion with a 3-1 win
But this young woman, who’d travelled 4,000 miles without so much as a ticket for Wrexham v Boreham Wood, was right. Wrexham has prevailed and the club has been central to it: a metaphor for its fundamental optimism. Promotion this year. Or maybe next.
US and Canadian sports teams’ fortunes do not impinge on the psychology of a community in this way. There’s no real jeopardy. No endless rollercoaster of promotion and relegation.
That’s another reason why Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ Welcome to Wrexham documentary has appealed across the Atlantic, said Canadian Sandy Domingos-Shipley, who was also standing on the beer-sodden carpet of the Turf at midnight. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won ice hockey’s Stanley Cup since 1967, she said. But no one really hurts because of it.
Sandy has been coordinating group trips of Canadians to Wrexham games all season — 60 of them for Farnborough in the FA Cup, 15 for Wealdstone in the league — and has become such a regular presence that a local family has become her touchstone, always ready to collect her when she arrives.
This is how it has become, as Wrexhamers respond to others finding something good in their place. Americans are routinely scooped up and taken out from the Turf on impromptu short tours of the town.
Wrexham fans have navigated plenty of hard times and are now enjoying an upward trajectory
Seeing them lift the league title after so long proves that football remains the beautiful game
Mail Sport’s Ian Herbert (left) at Upton Park in 1992 with his dad, brother Pete and his mum
The response to a positive spotlight would be the same in towns the length and breadth of our country, though the story is special to me because Wrexham is my town. The place to which for years my brother Pete and I took the 1pm Saturday train from Chirk, in the nearby Ceiriog Valley, heading to the chippy, then the ground.
A black and white picture I’ve kept from then tells my story of Wrexham FC. There’s Dad, Pete and me and even Mum, just about visible, who also came along that day. It radiates happiness and you’d never have known that we’d done the trip twice.
We were at Upton Park in January 1992, for an FA Cup fourth-round tie, and the first time we’d caught the coach we made it to Toddington Services on the M1 when they called the game off, sending us all the way back to Wrexham. We travelled again a week later. That pretty much summed up the general experience.
And then, from a personal perspective, the beautiful simplicities of football drained away. Writing about this sport in the white heat of these times — when the game is such a religion that everyone takes an observation or challenge as a personal slight or act of sacrilege — made it increasingly hard to love.
There’s some fairly vicious social media abuse, right now, and some of the army of people managing the images of top clubs and players seem to find malicious intent in everything you write.
The new chapter in my club’s story has been a reminder that there’s still far more to it than the anger. Wrexham put the joy back.
In a sport which is full of anger and abuse online, Wrexham’s story is breaking the mould
You might not have heard of some who have made this so.
People like Humphrey Ker — a friend and creative collaborator of McElhenney and the owners’ de facto local ambassador, who has forged so many links in the town. Fleur Robinson, the club’s unassuming chief executive who has done every job imaginable as the world has crowded in on a club with a very small infrastructure. Steve Horowitz, a financier from New York’s Inner Circle Sports, whom McElhenney first approached about buying a club.
‘Be careful with whichever one you land at,’ Horowitz told him and Reynolds. ‘It’s theirs, not yours.’ He quoted them Bill Shankly’s line about football, life and death. They listened.
McElhenney and Reynolds kept it more low-key than usual at the weekend, despite the profusion of images of them which flowed. They seemed to have decided this was a time for the team and the town.
‘To be welcomed into the community, into this experience, has been the honour of my life,’ McElhenney said at the end of it all.
Yes, football really is a beautiful game. It’s taken new friends from America and Canada to remind me of that.
Take FA Cup semi-finals off Wembley
There was a serviceable railway network from the North to the South when the FA decided, in their desperation to meet the repayments for Wembley Stadium, that all FA Cup semi-finals would be staged there.
That railway network is a shambles now; the ultimate emblem of the North/South divide, as only those in the North really know.
The tepid atmosphere at Wembley as Man City eased Sheffield United aside calls for a rethink
What wouldn’t I have given to take my grandson to an FA Cup semi-final involving one of the great Manchester teams at the weekend, at one of the great stadiums which have hosted that fixture over the years?
The tepid atmosphere at Manchester City v Sheffield United on Saturday said it all. A ground like Goodison or Villa Park would have been bouncing. The boy watched on TV instead.
What will it take for Italians to tackle racist filth?
The Italian authorities have taken the best part of three weeks to conclude that sending off Romelu Lukaku for having the temerity to challenge the bigots, who were racially abusing him throughout Inter’s 1-1 draw at Juventus, was dim and deeply offensive.
Lukaku gave a bit back in front of that intellectually-challenged group, having listened to their racist filth in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg.
A ‘shush’ gesture after he’d scored offended a busy little official who issued a second yellow for ‘provocation’.
It’s the second leg in Milan on Wednesday night and Lukaku won’t be surprised to find more of the same hate heading his way.
What would it take for the Italian FA to start tackling the racism which at times makes their game so utterly antediluvian?
Romelu Lukaku made a ‘shush’ gesture towards a section of Juventus fans that were racially abusing him after he scored. He was sent off but has since had his suspension overturned
Time to deal with Toney
It has been five months since Brentford’s Ivan Toney was charged with 262 breaches of FA rules governing betting on football and two months since he accepted many of them.
So why, teams competing with Brentford might very reasonably ask, is he still running out for the club every week? And when will the case actually be dealt with?
Toney has scored 19 of Brentford’s 48 Premier League goals and put them in a position of safety. Those clubs fighting for their lives below them will feel that the time it’s taking to ban Toney has been helpful in the extreme for his team.
I asked the FA about this. They say there are no updates and there is no timeline.
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Sports Event Casino Handicap Description
|PK||0||It means not giving in to each other, and winning 1 point wins all.|
|0-50||0/0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses 50%.|
|0 loss||0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses.|
|1+50||0.5/1||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 level||1||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the two teams will tie and win by 2 points.|
|1-50||1/1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 loss||1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins by 2 points.|
|2+50||1.5/2||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|2 flat||2||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the two teams will tie and win all 3 points.|
|2 losses||2/2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|3+50||2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 3 points.|
|3 losses||2.5/3||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50%, and all 4 points win.|
|3 levels||3||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the two teams will tie and win all 4 points.|
|3-50||3/3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 4 points.|
|3 losses||3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 4 points.|
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