“F*** you, Wrexham - we’re gonna win the league”
This title rivalry is really heating up.
Paddy and the Baddies just won’t budge
Like most UK towns, Wrexham is plentiful with bolshy, tracksuited teenagers vaping on street corners. They’re part of the scenery.
On weekends, many of these characters take a time-out from loitering to wander up to The Racecourse, but others stay put - chewing on their blueberry crush pens and occasionally interacting with passing members of the general public.
As a stream of red and white scarfs began floating up through town to the Good Friday game, two of these lads accosted the footy crowd.
“COME ON STOCKPORT! COME ON STOCKPORT!” one squeaked, before scuttling away down the road.
We weren’t playing Stockport that day, and there was nothing on the internet suggesting Liam Gallagher had been spotted swaggering around Island Green, which confirmed these two ‘proper las’ were not visitors from Greater Manchester and were in fact just two Welsh locals on the wind-up.
With Wrexham currently caught up in the most intense wave of civic pride since Goldie Lookin’ Chain booked to play Central Station, it’s easy to forget that some unsporty neighbourhood kids still regard the local footy club with contempt. But what was interesting was their choice of weapon. They didn’t shout “Chester!” or “Shrewsbury!” or even “Tranmere!”. They chose “Stockport!”: Confirming County’s status as Wrexham’s main rivals of the modern day.
This feeling seems to be mutual, too - with Stockport fans recorded bellowing “F*** you, Wrexham - we’re gonna win the league!” over Easter.
There are so many parallels to draw between Wrexham and Stockport. Backed by huge followings of football-obsessed fans from working class societies, both of these famous clubs survived the fall into the darkest recesses of non-league and are now reaping the rewards of heavy investment by enormously wealthy chairmen. In another life, we might have both been firm friends.
But instead of sharing a pint or two with these cagoule and hat aficionados, we’re regarding them as bitter enemies. At least, for the time being. We’ve been here before. Remember Luton Town? Newport County? Leyton Orient? These were all clubs of similar size and stature bolstered by rowdy fanbases aiming to roar their squad back to “where they belong” in the Football League, and the joust for promotion sparked some notable feuds.
But as vociferous and caustic as they were once upon a time, these conflicts are now long forgotten. Up and away into League Two Luton, Newport and Orient all went, forgetting about Wrexham the moment they could focus on fresh foes in the Football League. Still, Stockport remain the most annoying of the bunch simply because of their stubborn refusal to let go of the top spot, with the Quasi Mancs clinging onto first place as if it were an Oasis reunion record. Not even our best goalscorer for 20 years, our best winning run for a decade, or our best league crowd since the Boston match in 2007 have been good enough to budge them. They’re frustratingly good.
In recent weeks, swathes of The Racecourse audience have spent matches absent-mindedly refreshing their Flashscore apps to check the County result, but the sole occasion The Hatters slipped up was on the same day we could only manage a draw to Solihull Moors (who will be deeply unpleasant opposition in the play-offs if it comes to that).
After frustrating us, Moors looked good value to pinch a point at Edgeley Park on Monday, but even after Paddy Madden missed a pen he somehow scabbed a goal in stoppage time, meaning we still have loads to do to catch the New Baddies with time running out.
As a five-figure Cae Ras crowd on Easter Monday proved, we don’t need derby games to get the turnstiles spinning anymore. But that upcoming six-pointer with County in May is certainly going to feel like one.
Grin and bear it
Many opposition players who visit The Racecourse nowadays are apparently so overwhelmed by the adrenaline/big crowd that they take any opportunity they can to scream at the Welsh strangers in the red seats - regardless of whether they’ve been provoked or not.
Altrincham goalkeeper Tony Thompson had every right to follow suit on Easter Monday. The ex-Chester player had shipped four goals and was having a tough afternoon in Wales. During the second half, some members of the Tech End rubbed salt in the wound by shouting that the shot-stopper was “just a pink Phil Mitchell”.
But as Thompson prepared to hoof the ball down the field, there was no sight of any bulging veins or twitching eyelids. He turned back to the crowd with a big grin - a reaction greeted with warm chuckles from supporters.
Of course, this was all refreshingly good-natured in comparison to the treatment Thompson had received just three days prior, with a mob of Halifax fans apparently hurling various insults and physical items in his direction including electronic cigarettes and a calculator (arguably the most illustrative way of telling someone to go forth and multiply…).
But football fans are a strange breed, and this isn’t even the most bizarre thing to have happened to Thompson during a game - with the keeper targeted by a streaker in 2015 who ran the length of the field to snap a selfie with him before bounding off in his tighty whiteys. On that occasion, too, Thompson saw the funny side.
Cool-headed, smiley keepers are in unsurprisingly short supply in non-league - not least due to the fact that they have opposition fans screaming abuse at them for around 45 minutes every Saturday, often in stadiums that position crowds so close to the pitches that keepers can practically feel the spittle on the backs of their necks.
Thompson is a rarity. But there was also Chesterfield’s goalkeeper Scott Loach - who remarkably raised a smile when our fans stole the ball from him in Derbyshire and began pinging it around the away end to waste time. In contrast, down the other end, Lainton was rubbing the Chesterfield fans' noses in it when the final whistle blew for 0-2.
This brings us nicely to the case of Lainton’s stand-in Christian Dibble - who appears set to stay between the posts until the end of the season.
We were all wondering how Parky might respond after Dibbs endured a calamity against Dover. But the gaffer - rightly acknowledging how the whole defence had just experienced an off day - has stuck with his backup. And his faith has been rewarded. Dibble has been largely solid and appears to be growing in confidence - which is vital as the season draws to an end.
He’s the kind of keeper who needs to be focused on the field rather than the fans - turning the banter behind him into white noise as he organises his defence for a big run of games. And he’ll have to be at his best going into these last few matches.
Six more in the league to go. And up next - a trip to Surrey.
The statues of non-league
If you’re heading to Woking on the train this weekend for Wrexham’s visit to the Kingfield Stadium, you’re bound to spot The Seated Man.
Every time you roll into the platform, you can’t help but do a double-take as to whether this statue is a real person or one of those frozen street performers who twitch abruptly to startle passers-by.
Woking, like The Seated Man, are going nowhere. Not this season. After looking like a half-decent team during their visit to The Racecourse way back in August, The Cards have sunk and become anchored in lower mid-table, sacking gaffer Alan Dowson (the man who took them up into the National League) a few weeks back via a 20-second phone call.
Even their highlight of the season - a derby day record home league crowd of 5,171 - was soured by a gut-wrenching 3-2 stoppage time defeat to Aldershot Town (having been 2-1 up until 88 mins).
Woking’s top scorer Tahvon Campbell was also poached in January. But they do still have goals in them - with Inih Effiong matching Campbell’s 13 strikes whilst Max Kretzschmar has bagged 12 goals from midfield. These two could potentially pose a few problems for the Reds on Saturday, and there’s always something unnerving about the unpredictability of teams playing purely for pride. You just don’t know if they’ll thrive or fold.
The Cards will play in this division next year - accruing enough points to stay up but an insufficient number to make the play-offs. Still, whilst the town of Woking might have the relics, it’s not a stretch to call Wrexham the real statues of the National League. We’ve been stood still longer than any other team - 13 consecutive seasons - and we’re already getting a clear picture of the fifth tier landscape in 2022/23.
It looks particularly rubbish.
Woking will be joined by Yeovil Town, Wealdstone, Maidenhead United, Altrincham, Southend United and Scunthorpe United. Oldham Athletic may yet follow them via the drop, whilst Gateshead and Maidstone United could come up.
Scunthorpe, Oldham and Gateshead are grim and baltic even in August, and the rest of these fixtures involve long hikes to the Big Smoke, Essex Blackpool or the deep south.
The closest geographical team of the bunch is Altrincham, whose fans saw an opportunity to mock our unmoving position in the pyramid on Easter Monday.
Taking a break from watching their side getting absolutely Mullin’ed, Alty’s well-dressed travelling contingent briefly pocketed their homemade scones in cling film, removed their driving gloves, and politely patted their palms together, serenading Wrexham with ever-so-slightly-raised voices: “We’ll see you next year! We’ll see you next year! Just like the last one, we’ll see you next year!”
The irony is that a visit to Altrincham would actually be the silver lining on another season of fifth tier footy. It’s a lovely town. But, in an ideal world, we could pop to the charming Alty markets on a Sunday next year instead, having just spent the previous day winning at Salford or Rochdale after playing in League Two.
We’re pretty sick of being the National League statues.