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The Racecourse, the Theatre of Welsh Dreams

Looking at the massive changes coming to the townscape of Wrexham, this is a timely reminder of the importance of The Racecourse ground, home of Wrexham Association Football Club, the 3rd oldest professional club in the world. Over the years it has hosted many Wales International matches and its status as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest International Football Stadium in the world that is still in use.  

 

Although its current architecture, aged stands and derelict Kop are the most visual part remaining of this historic location, the stadium has an aura of the great matches and occasions that have taken place here, permeated though the stands and terracing. Simply standing in the ground when empty, you can almost hear the songs and passion of so many dreams and glorious victories blending in to the magical silence that the ground engenders. This Old Lady has been, and continues to be, our own Theatre of Dreams.

 

The past of the stadium is readily available on other platforms and from other sources, I will refrain from adding too much here, but here is a ‘potted’ history that does not do real justice to its long and distinguished site of sporting activity in the town and region. Y Cae Ras (the Welsh version of Racecourse), has been in constant use since the early 1700’s at least, but gained its name from being the site of Wrexham’s very own racecourse where many meetings were held up until the late 18th century, albeit on a course that was much reduced in size since its earlier year heydays. The Turf public house next to the current stadium attests to the early origins of the ground. Indeed, the Turf also has an historic standing as where Wrexham AFC was formed by members of Wrexham Cricket Club in 1864 as a way of keeping their members engaged during the winter months.

 

Gradually, the Racecourse grew in to a football-only venue with the departure of horse (and cart!) racing, and the enclosure of the football pitch by earth banks and various covered areas over the early years. As time progressed, and the comfort of paying fans became more important, we see the addition of terracing and in the 1950’s, floodlighting. The current pylons are actually still those original ones that supported the lighting, although with new technologies, the power of the lighting has improved to meet television standard demands.

 

Wrexham enjoyed many ventures in club level European football, representing Wales in the European Cup Winners cup, and with the success that the Club achieved during the mid-70’s, further large stands were added. Firstly, the Yale Stand, capacity 4,200, backing onto where Yale College used to be. It was built in 1972 in preparation for the club’s first venture into Europe, and also provided new dressing rooms, club offices and entertainment suites. Then the University end (or, to those who follow the Club, historically known as the Tech End) stand was built in 1978, which was for a large part of its existence where away fans were housed. In 1999 the ground was brought up to its current configuration with the addition of a 3500-capacity stand to replace the long-established wood-built stand in that area on Mold Road, which had lain empty for a number of years following on from the Bradford City stadium fire occurred during an English League Third Division match between Bradford City and Lincoln City on Saturday, 11 May 1985, killing 56 spectators and injuring at least 265.

 

The final part of the ground is the now derelict and condemned Kop. This former all-standing home stand, had a capacity of 5,000, and at one time late in its usage was the largest all-standing terrace in the English Football League.

Unfortunately, due to the actions of owners previous to Wrexham Supporters Trust take over of the club, the Kop was allowed to basically rot away, and is now just the ghost of a place where the main vocal support of the Club stood and paid homage to their team and players, with voices that could be heard miles away and still echo to this day.

 

 

Looking at the ground these days, it is hard to imagine that almost 35,000 people attended an FA Cup tie against Manchester United on 26 January 1957. However, Wrexham AFC is a ‘sleeping giant’ with the ability to draw crowds far beyond the current, although consistent and much higher than most clubs at our level, attendances. The current capacity of the Racecourse is currently reduced to 10,500 due to the Kop being closed awaiting and awaiting redevelopment.

 

And the future of the Racecourse?  With the change of ownership from Wrexham Supporters Trust to Hollywood ‘A’ listers, we may see much investment into the infrastructure of the stadium to support the aspirations of growing the Club and moving it rapidly up the league pyramid. What impact this will have on the Racecourse remains to be see, but there remain plans already in motion to replace the Kop with a purpose build all-seated stand with integrated conference facilities built in to the fabric of the stand. The main body of this work, which has been completed with collaboration from The Wrexham Gateway Partnership, consisting of Wrexham County Borough Council, Wrexham Glyndŵr University, Wrexham AFC and Welsh Government, is continuing to develop plans for the regeneration of the Mold Road area of the town. This involves a remodelling of the University frontage, remodelling of the Crispin Lane end of The Racecourse and a lot of work at Wrexham General station, which will become a transport hub.

 

Indeed, progress has already been made on this very large-scale project, with keys plots of land, including the former garage showroom on the junction of Crispin Lane and Mold Road and the land immediately behind the Kop Stand at the Racecourse having been acquired by Welsh Government as part of preparatory steps for the Wrexham Gateway development. With the change of ownership, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Wrexham AFC and the others in the Partnership progress, especially with the new owners having quite a lot of money behind them.

 

However that relationship develops, it is almost certain that the Racecourse will become yet another incarnation of its historic self, and the fights that Wrexham supporters have had to keep football at their spiritual home will finally result in payback in both security of tenure and a Racecourse stadium finally suitable to support the growth of Wrexham AFC and both the aspirations of the owners, but, more importantly, the fans.

 

We have earned this, make no mistake about that, and, for once OUR Club is having its moment in the sun.

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