Hud Y Cae Ras | Magic of The Racecourse: 7 matches that defined the golden era of Wales games in Wrexham, 1975-87
I have to admit to being excited by the recent takeover, despite my socialist political leanings. It’s not so much seeing Wrexham play in the upper echelons of the football pyramid that gets my juices flowing though, it’s more about what it could potentially mean for the infrastructure of the club. I’ll explain.
I want to see the top young players from north Wales come through with us, just as Mickey and Joey did in the seventies before they got their big moves. I want to see the likes of Harry Wilson and Danny Ward play at the Racecourse in their teens, rather than get poached before getting anywhere near to the first team. I want Wrexham players in the Wales squad again (the last was Neil Taylor way back in 2010…I think…don’t @ me). I want a four-sided Racecourse, with safe-standing on the Kop. I want to see Wrexham become a real hub for the womens game in Wales.
But most of all, I want to see Wales play competitive games in Wrexham again, just as they did I was growing up. Looking back now, it’s extremely lucky that I just caught the tail end of this golden period, with the first international I attended the 3-0 versus Spain in 1985. If Wrob and Wryan’s takeover can bring something like these days back then, frankly, I’m all in. Let’s wallow in some fucking glorious nostalgia, shall we?
Wales 1 Austria 0, 19 November 1975
The game that kicked the golden era off. Wales roared into the quarter final of the European Championship in front of a packed Racecourse on a properly wet and windy Welsh night. Over a thousand fans had made the trip from Austria and there was a sizeable media contingent also present for a match billed as one of the biggest in Welsh football history. With Wales needing a goal manager Mike Smith was about to send on the uncapped Jack Lewis of Grimsby, when local hero Arfon Griffiths popped up to score the only goal in the 69th minute.
Griffiths was playing in the absence of injured star striker John Toshack, whose absence also meant former Racecourse favourite Dave Smallman (then of Everton) also earned a spot in the starting XI. Smallman’s Everton teammate Dai Davies was also injured, meaning a debut for Wrexham keeper Brian Lloyd, the design genius behind the now-iconic programme cover. Oh, and there was a debut for a young defender by the name of Joey Jones, who’d moved to Liverpool a few weeks earlier. There’s surely never been a more ‘Wrexham’ Wales game.
The result meant Wales topped a qualifying group for the first, and so far, only time.
Wales 3 Czechoslovakia 0, 30 March 1977
Crowd trouble in the second leg of the European Championship versus Yugoslavia the previous year meant a ban from playing within 200 miles of Ninian Park, making The Racecourse the only viable Welsh venue to host the qualifiers for the 1978 World Cup. Not that the players minded; even the south Wales contingent- the likes of Toshack, Brian Flynn, Terry Yorath, Leighton James – loved the atmosphere for internationals in Wrexham, and enjoyed the drinking…, sorry, ‘team bonding’ sessions at The Sun in Trevor.
The Czechs were European Champions, and had lost only one of their previous 24 games (a friendly versus West Germany) but got hit by a Welsh juggernaut with debutant striker Nicky Deacy declaring ‘we ran them into the ground’. The Cardiffian had recently made an unlikely move from Hereford United to PSV Eindhoven and opened the scoring that night, with Leighton James grabbing the other two.
Sadly, the FAW decided to take the extra gate money from playing the crucial game versus Scotland later that year at Anfield instead of using the true home advantage offered by The Racecourse. Joe Jordan, Scottish qualification and another Welsh failure inevitably followed…
Wales 7 Malta 0, 25 October 1978
Okay, so Malta were genuine minnows at the time but still, 7-0! I’ve never seen us put seven past anyone. Rossett-born Ian Edwards – then of Ch*ster, but soon to move to the mighty Wrexham, where of course, he scored that volley against Derby County in 1980 – hit four of them. He only won four caps in all, giving him a very neat four in four record. The others came from Mickey T, Brian Flynn and Brighton winger Peter O’ Sullivan, who only three minutes earlier had come on for injured Wrexham midfielder Les Cartwright.
The following year manager Mike Smith departed following a loss in Turkey which meant Wales were unable to qualify for the 1980 European Championships. His six years in charge rejuvenated Welsh international football though, following a horrible post-1958 World Cup slump which lasted for around sixteen years.
Wales 4 England 1, 17 May 1980
The game that saw the return of Deesider Mike England to Wales, the former captain taking on the manager’s role after a spell living in America. It wasn’t a bad start for the new boss, with Wales’ recording their biggest ever win over the big boys from over the border. ‘He must have been thinking ‘this job’s easy!’’ says Brian Flynn.
England actually took the lead through Paul Mariner but that was the cue for a vibrant Welsh response, with Mickey T, Ian Walsh, Leighton James and a Phil Thompson own goal delighting the crowd on a balmy May day in north Wales.
Wales 1 England 0, 2 May 1984
Still our most recent victory over England, thanks to a debut goal from Ruabon-raised striker Mark Hughes. Mickey T was the star man that day though, whilst Joey became the first Welshman to play in three victories of over English (Wembley 1977, as well as the 4-1 in 1980). Given that Ian Rush had scored 47 goals that season (making him the unanimous choice for player for the year) it was almost a surprise he didn’t score but this was the beginning of a fruitful strike partnership between Rush and Hughes that would terrorise defences across Europe for the next few years.
Wales 3 Spain 0, 30 April 1985
Talking of which, the programme for this game described Rush and Hughes as ‘the most exciting international strike pairing in the world!’ and to be fair, they very probably were. This game proved it with Rush scoring twice and Hughes smashing an absolute worldie home in between. This was Spain’s biggest competitive defeat until Brazil beat them by the same score line in the 2015 Confederations Cup final. Sadly, once again the FAW put financial considerations above the wishes of the players, taking the final game of qualifying for Mexico ‘86 to Cardiff, where Scotland gained the draw they needed to all but put us out of the running.
Wales 4 Finland 0, 1 April 1987
With Hughes suspended, England handed a debut to Port Vale’s Wrexham-born, Corwen-raised striker Andy Jones for this crunch Euro ‘88 qualifier. It meant Jones got to partner Ian Rush, having played alongside his brother Stefan a few years earlier when turning out part time for Rhyl. Jones marked the occasion with an excellent volley to complete the rout. David Phillips and Glyn Hodges also got their first goals for Wales, with Ian Rush hitting his 13th in 31 caps (his 14th would come later that month in a 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia, also played at the Racecourse). Those results left Wales needing a win from one of their two away games at the end of the campaign; Denmark and Czechoslovakia. Despite decent performances, the goals simply didn’t come, with both Hughes and Rush at that point struggling to hit the heights during their spells on the continent (Barcelona and Juventus respectively).
England was sacked following another failed campaign, and the advent of the Terry Yorath era brought about a change of heart from the Welsh Rugby Union about using Cardiff Arms Park for football matches. Thus, the golden era of Wales games at Y Cae Ras came to an end although I’ve not given up hope of seeing Wales play competitive games in Wrexham again in the (hopefully) very near future.