A Wrexham Cymru XI
Editor and chief moitherer of Wrexham AFC fanzine Shag, Ryan Jones, selects a Cymru XI of players from his beloved Wrecsam.
I approached this selection of my a Wrexham Cymru XI as if this side would be playing together next Saturday, rather than just picking the best players.
This led to a couple of serious omissions, in particular the striker (that seems a very old fashioned word these days) Wyn ‘the leap’ Davies, a Cofi who played for Town, Newcastle and Manchester United, among many others. And while Billy Meredith ‘guested’ for Wrexham, I didn’t feel he deserved his place in the line up as a representative of CPD Wrecsam for Wales. He was never really a Wrexham player so he doesn’t qualify in my book, although being a Chirker he was only brought up spitting distance from the shrine.
Looking at my starting XI now it is filled with players from the halcyon 77/78 side – no surprises there – but seeing that in black and white has brought home the fact that we’ve been very much in the doldrums for the past 12 years, and internationally for a long time before that too. Who knows, maybe in 10 years time I’ll be able to include the mercurial King of Coedpoeth, Jordan Davies in a Wrexham/Cymru XI, or even young Neco Williams who hails from the people’s republic of Cefn Mawr…when he eventually comes home.
Our decline as a football club in the early 80s was indicative of wider issues in the game, and a whole host of other factors going tits up for us. My Dad always says how unlucky we were because the ‘bottom fell out of the transfer market’. We made big signings and for whatever reason we never got promoted and couldn’t sustain what we’d started. If you look at the old programmes from 82/83 compared to the previous season it’s heartbreaking to see such quality players having been jettisoned and the raw young lads looking like rabbits trapped in front of massive floodlights.
The ‘Welshness’ of our teams has been very hit and miss over the years. Footballers are nomadic creatures, and the game doesn’t lend itself to loyalty anymore, or even homegrown talent getting a decent chance. This area creates talent but it’s often hoovered up by the Merseyside or Manchester clubs.
The late 70s was an apotheosis not only for Welsh football, but football in Wrexham; things could easily have been very different had we had a little bit of luck. Bill Shankly said that the 77/78 side was ‘the greatest side ever to be promoted from the 3rd division’, and he should know because he was virtually an ever-present that season.
The great John Neal built a wonderful side that was full of Welsh players, and the presence of so many of those players here reflects the impact of that era, the importance of those individuals and the legacy of a Wrexham legend. Only Brian Flynn could put a case forward for nurturing local talent so successfully.
GK – Dai ‘the drop’ Davies. Absolute legend for the Town, Arfon Griffiths bought him from Everton for the bargain price of £8,000 and he went on to make 199 appearances for Wrexham. First piece in the puzzle of the 77/78 team when he replaced another Welsh international Brian Lloyd in the side. Dai was one of the holy trinity bought by Arfon to augment the team that narrowly missed out on promotion in 76/77. My Dad referred to Dai as ‘Dracula’ because he was afraid of crosses. No truth in that but as a little lad I thought it was hilarious, and seeing Dai without his teeth in, gave me cause for concern. I recall him throwing himself around and being incredibly brave, he had a big personality and his manner and ability installed confidence in defenders. As a man who spent his life espousing the Welsh language and culture, Dai is a hero on a lot of different levels for me.
Left back – There can only ever be one player in anyone’s Wrexham Cymru XI to play left back: Joseph Patrick Jones. Joey came through under John Neal’s care, and flourished throughout the 70s, eventually moving to Liverpool where he was the first Welshman to win the European Cup (he won it twice, but was on the bench the following season). He came back to Wrexham in 1978 for a record fee of £210,000, a figure that remained our highest fee paid out for another 40 years. Joey would go on to become a legend at Chelsea, return to the Cae Ras again, after a spell at Huddersfield Town (in whose Cymru XI he was also picked by Matt from the And He Takes That Chance Huddersfield podcast) to finish his career with the Town, before becoming youth team coach for many years, bringing on the nucleus of the 92/93 promotion winning side under Brian Flynn.
Joey won 72 Welsh caps, the final pair of which were as captain in games against Canada and which set a then Welsh record. If there isn’t a statue of Joey Jones on the Mold Road outside the stadium within the next few years there will be riots. I shook Joey’s and once and his grip reminded me of my taid’s handshake. He’d been a collier and was tough as old boots. Joey was the same; it was like shaking hands with an oak tree.
Right back – over on the other full back position is another club stalwart, Mickey Evans, a right back who played 478 times for the club between 1966 and 1979, signed by Jack Rowley the same month that England did ok in the 1966 World Cup. Mickey was never capped for Wales, but did win Schoolboy, Youth and under 23 caps, and was pretty much an ever present through the 70s for the Town, playing in all the famous European games against the likes of FC Zurich, Hadjuk Split, and Anderlecht, and in the FA Cup run in 1974 that saw off the likes of Southampton and Middlesbrough. Well thought of in Welsh footballing circles, Mickey managed his home town club of Caersws for many years after he finished playing.
Centre back – I’ve opted for the partnership that saw us through the famous 77/78 season. Big John Roberts and the talismanic skipper of that side Gareth Davies.
Born in Abercynon in 1946, Roberts is yet another Wrexham player from the south. He was signed from Birmingham City by John Neal, but had been a member of Arsenal’s 1971 double winning squad (though he didn’t play in the FA Cup final). Renowned for being ‘no nonsense’ the big man played 193 times for the Town before being replaced by Wayne Cegielski and moving on to Hull City. Apparently the big man had quite a temper on him and he won 22 full caps. Sadly passed away in 2016.
Bangor-born Gareth Davies would play 490 times for Wrexham and earn only 3 full Wales caps in his career. Widely regarded by Wrexham fans of a certain vintage as a sophisticated Centre half, it speaks volumes for the quality of the man that he was player of the season in our most successful season ever, 1977/78. In recent years Gareth has suffered from dementia and struggled, but over the last few weeks I’ve seen that the Club is making sure that he is at Wembley in May for our FA Trophy final against Bromley. A nice touch, but there should be so much more at the Club to remind us of Gareth, a man who presided over our greatest side, and although unassuming off the pitch, his character and talent when he crossed that white line was formidable. A true Wrexham who arguably deserved more than the three caps he won at the end of that 77/78 season away to Tehran and in two of the 1978 Home Championship games at home to England and at his beloved Cae Ras against Northern Ireland.
Left midfield/wing – another man of the south Wales coalfield, Les Cartwright, born in 1952 in Aberdare came to us from Coventry City where he had served his apprenticeship during the early tenure of Mr Jimmy Hill. A fine winger who earned 7 Welsh caps, Les would play 154 times for the Town before leaving in the 1982 purge to finish his career at Cambridge United. Of course Les was an integral part of Arfon’s great 77/78 side, one of the holy trinity and fondly remembered among Wrexham fans. I can remember watching Les play when I was a young lad, i always thought he had a bit of finesse about him, we had players with a touch of class in that era, and he had class.
Right midfield – I’ve picked Mr Wrexham himself Mr Arfon Trevor Griffiths, the only one in this XI to have been born in Wrexham itself. Known among fans as ‘The Prince of Wales’, Arfon played for the Town between 1959 and 1961 before returning to the fold in 1962, in between which was a brief and unhappy spell at Arsenal. Arfon would go on to play a total of 721 times for Wrexham (the most appearances by a long, long way) culminating, of course, in sporadic appearances as player-manager in the 1977/78 promotion side that won the third division and Welsh Cup. Arfon was capped 17 times for Wales, playing an instrumental role in the European campaign in 1975, where he scored that famous goal at Y Cae Ras against Austria.
Apparently Arfon left the Club when the penny-pinching started because the board asked him to dismiss people from his backroom staff. Arfon refused and walked away on principle. You could easily argue that things went downhill rapidly from there. Unfortunately Arfon seems to be estranged from the Club at the minute, ever since he was hoodwinked by the pantomime local villains Moss and Dickens who ripped the Club off and built those two sets of
flats on Crispin lane, a painful reminder of mercenary businessmen asset stripping our Club.
Centre midfield – the inimitable Mickey T. Michael Reginald Thomas, born in Mochdre in 1954 to a Welsh dad and Irish mam, played for Wrexham, Manchester United, Everton, Brighton, Stoke, Chelsea, West Brom, Derby, Wichita Wings, Shrewsbury Town, Leeds Utd, and Stoke before finishing his career at Wrexham, having been capped 51 times for his country. Mickey could play centre mid or out wide, he could play anywhere anytime and was tremendously fit, just like his best pal Joey was blessed with an infectious enthusiasm about life and football that would see his professional career span 20 years, with that free kick against Arsenal a fitting tribute to a fine player. We won’t talk about him getting stabbed in the arse with a screwdriver or the fake fivers that saw him do a stint in prison in the early 90s, not that those adventures are anything to be ashamed of, it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. But let’s remember the dashing winger, the fiery midfielder and indefatigable footballer, who never knew when was beaten. Our Mickey T, a proper rum lad.
Midfield – Partnering Mickey is the first player to be picked outside of the 70s side: Bagillt’s finest, Barry Horne who made 184 appearances for the town in a tough period in the mid 80s, before eventually being snapped up by Portsmouth, followed by spells at Everton, Southampton, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday. Barry was a tough midfielder, box to box style. Totally uncompromising, the kind who you would describe as a rottweiler. He was tenacious but could play a bit too. The finest moment of his Wrexham career being his goal away against Porto in our famous victory in Barry got 59 caps for Wales, Captained the side and also won the FA Cup with Everton in 1995.
Forward – Dave Smallman. From Connah’s Quay, Dave played 104 times for Wrexham between 1972 and 75 before, scoring 51 goals. He moved on to Everton where his career was sadly cut short by a bad injury. He went onto play until 1987 in fact but had been robbed of his trademark acceleration that took him away from defenders. Dave formed a partnership with Billy ‘Yeti’ Ashcroft; Billy being the big man and Dave feeding off him, dropping deep, or being more the poacher. Dave was capped seven times between 1974 and 1975, including in that match versus Austria in 1975. My Dad often refers to Dave Smallman as ‘the lost genius’ of his generation.
Dave now lives in Minera just outside Wrexham, and I saw him coming out of the Spar in Coedpoeth last week. His Patreon only Podcast Pêl-droed episode is a brilliant listen.
Forward – Top lad and battering ram of a forward, last but by no means least: Thomas Bamford. Born 2 November 1905 in Port Talbot, ‘Tommy’ Bamford remains Wrexham’s all-time top scorer, having scored 209 goals in 241 appearances for the Town between 1928 and 1934. Tommy would join Manchester United from Wrexham enjoying another successful spell scoring 53 goals in 98 appearances before moving to Swansea Town, racking up a decent 14 from 36 appearances for the jacks. The second World War saw Tommy’s career cut short, because by the time it was over he was 40 years old and had to hang up his boots. He played 5 times for Wales, scoring only six minutes into his debut when he was one of nine debutants – aka ‘The Unknowns’ – who faced Scotland at Hampden Park in 1930.
His fifth and final cap game in Colombes in north west Paris on the occasion of Wales’s first ever official international against a nation other than England, Scotland and Ireland. A legend in Wrexham, the name Tommy Bamford is known to all Wrexham fans, his uncompromising image with arms folded staring deadpan at the lens, almost daring the camera man to take the photo. It’s not hard to imagine how tough he must have been to have not only battled defences in that era, but to have been so prolific. The Brylcreem barnet of the era and build of a boxer, he must have been some player.
So there you have it, my Wrexham Cymru XI. It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention a few personal favourites who didn’t make the cut. Brian Flynn who of course finished his playing career at Y Cae Ras, but as with Billy Meredith not really a ‘Wrexham’ player for me, undoubtedly one of our finest managers, but he was winding down as a player when I saw him.
Watching the Little Wonder mark Gary Pallister at a corner is one of the most comical things I’ve ever seen at a football match mind.
One cap wonder Steve Roberts (brother of Neil) is one of the best centre halves I’ve seen at the Cae Ras. He played 150 times for the Town before moving on to Doncaster Rovers, eventually finishing at Walsall and was a class player, whose distribution for a defender was second to none.
Around the same time I thought Craig Morgan from Fflint would play at the top level. He looked a very good player, and though he never quite touched the top level, he won 23 Wales caps (all but his last under John Toshack) and has had a solid Championship career.
A personal favourite and very much in the Joey mould was Haverfordwest’s Deryn Brace, someone who you would want in the trenches with you. Of the class of 92/93 Gareth Owen (winner of a single B cap), Waynne Phillips and Stevie Watkin (from the same village as Neco) all deserve an honourable mention. Their team didn’t hit the heights of the 77/78 side, but they were consummate professionals, great servants for the Town and all Gogs too.
I only hope that in the near future we see more players representing Cymru while on the books of the club. Only when that happens will we know that we are sat at the table again. The cradle of Welsh football here at Y Cae Ras is both a spiritual and symbolic place.
In my mind it is sleeping and almost mythical like the Mab Darogan, because only with a vibrant football team here will we be at full strength. It’s the oldest international stadium in the world, a special place. I’m old enough to remember beating Spain here, and the buzz of the home internationals, battering the Saes 4-1 obviously stands out, so to me the last 30 years have been painful and the great games down in Cardiff have been bittersweet.
If this season is anything to go by then the future is bright, and in my lifetime Welsh pêl-droed will be coming home to the cauldron Y Cae Ras… the Holy Ground.
Fe Godwn Ni Eto