‘It’s north Wales v south Wales’: Wrexham look to upset FA Cup odds at Racecourse

An all-Wales tie in the FA Cup brings back memories of the 1992 humbling of Arsenal

A series of unanswered questions have dominated the buildup to Saturday night’s all-Welsh FA Cup second-round tie.

If the most obvious centres on whether Wrexham can finally exert revenge for the morale-crushing 2013 Conference Premier play-off final defeat at Wembley which sealed Newport County’s return to the Football League, the most pertinent involves the future of Sam Ricketts.

Wrexham’s 37-year-old manager remains a bookmakers’ favourite to take charge of League One Shrewsbury Town and the tie at the Racecourse is further spiced by suggestions that Newport’s manager, the 38-year-old Michael Flynn, has also been considered for the vacancy.

Ricketts, previously a Wales full-back at, among other clubs, Bolton and Wolves, and Flynn have brushed off the Shrewsbury speculation but their covetable status seems no surprise. While Newport are fourth in League Two, Wrexham sit third in the National League. Promotion is a mutual priority but Ricketts remains keen to add the £54,000 second-round winners’ prize money to the £75,000 fee his club will bank from the live television coverage.

“You want a tie which will capture people’s imaginations – and this one does that,” said Wrexham’s manager. “It’s got people talking, it’s good for Welsh football. We certainly won’t be favourites but it’s north Wales v south Wales and we’ll be doing everything we can to try and win.”

Wrexham fans, in their 11th season of Football League exile, have looked on enviously as their southern siblings thrived, with Newport back in League Two and Swansea and Cardiff taking turns at sampling Premier League life. Even Chris Coleman’s achievement in leading Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France was accompanied by a sense that the north had been partly excluded from the party. After all, the Racecourse Ground last hosted a Wales international in 2008.

Wrexham manager Sam Ricketts.
Wrexham manager Sam Ricketts. Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

During that decade-long interlude much has happened to Wrexham – most of it bad. Financial problems precipitated a plummet from League One to non-league status but, after surviving a winding-up petition in 2011, the balance sheet has improved as debts have been cleared and Wales’s oldest club rebuilt.

In May this year they offered the softly spoken, Aylesbury-born Ricketts a managerial break. So far, the son of the 1978 world showjumping champion, Derek Ricketts, and nephew of the former jockey John Francombe, is fully vindicating his decision not to return to the elite equestrian world he grew up in and where he looked set to flourish.

Instead, a man who, as a talented 13-year-old showjumper, competed at the Horse of the Year Show hopes to reprise the spirit of 1992 when Arsenal came unstuck at the Racecourse in one of the most memorable FA Cup upsets. “There’s a huge history, everyone remembers Mickey Thomas’s goal,” said a manager seemingly reluctant to swap Wrexham for Shrewsbury.

“It’s part of the club’s history. It’s why the club is as big as it is but now this is an opportunity for our players to put themselves into folklore – to showcase their talent on live, national television.”

Mickey Thomas scores his famous goal.
Mickey Thomas scores his famous goal. Photograph: Malcom Croft/PA

A coach who believes the experience of soaring over 6ft puissance walls and falling off numerous horses has left him “fearless” expects a side he has made more attacking and possession-dominating to rise to the occasion. “We’re doing well in our league,” he said. “We know we’re capable of beating Newport but we have to trust ourselves.”Not that he expects a visiting side who beat Leeds in last year’s third round before taking Tottenham to a fourth-round replay to be complacent. “Newport won’t think they can just turn up and win,” cautioned Ricketts. “That’s where upsets happen but it’s not their manager’s style.”

Moreover, Flynn, a formerly much-travelled journeyman midfielder, played for Newport at Wembley in 2013 and fully appreciates Wrexham’s desire for revenge. “We’ve got a rivalry going back to that play-off final as much as anything,” Ricketts said. “It wasnothing to do with me or our current group of players but, since then, Newport have stayed in the Football League and we’ve stayed out of it. So there’s a few scores to settle, it’s an opportunity to get one back at them.”

There is also the added incentive of a place in the third-round draw but, first, Wrexham’s manager intends to enjoy an evening encapsulating the essence of something very special. “This tie is the FA Cup; the best club competition in the world creates games like this,” he said. “An all-Welsh, north v south, imagination-capturing, tie. It’s definitely what the FA Cup is all about.”


Louise Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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