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Wrexham AFC

Wrexham AFC (5)

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Athletic and Olympic

In the close season of 1880, the players of Albion (Wrexham) Football Club were amalgamated into Wrexham Football Club to provide additional depth and strength to WFC’s first and second teams, with players being selected by means of a trial match, which was held on The Racecourse on September 18th. However, at the start of the 80/81 season, Wrexham Cricket Club (the resident tenants of the lower section of Wrexham Racecourse) decided to raise the football clubs rent by £10 per year and this led members of Wrexham Football Club to hold a general meeting at The Wynnstay Arms Hotel on 21st December 1880, during which, they decided to adopt Rhosddu Recreation Ground as their new permanent home. The change of location also spurred WFC to later change its name to Wrexham Athletic Football Club, and Athletic played their first ever game (a scratch match amongst club members) on Rhosddu Recreation Ground on 10th September 1881.

Over the course of the 81/82 season, local newspapers recorded a number of League and Welsh Cup games against local teams for both of Athletic’s A and B teams, although at the end of the year, the club decided to change its name back to Wrexham Football Club. The club also changed its strip to white jerseys and blue socks and shorts in time for the opening of the 82/83 season- a season in which, they would play 21 games, losing 6 and winning 15, including a 1-0 win against Druids in the final of The Welsh Cup at The Racecourse Ground on 21st April 1883. At the time of the final, rumours had persisted that some members of Wrexham Cricket Club did not want the cup final played on The Racecourse; therefore, at The Welsh Cup Presentation Dinner at The Wynnstay Arms Hotel on 28th May, a representation was made to approach the owner of The Racecourse Ground- Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, with a view to grant the football club a joint tenancy of the ground, thereby ensuring that Wrexham Football Club would return to its spiritual home, permanently, in time for the start of the 83/84 season.

This season began well, with a 4-2 win against Oswestry, in an exhibition night game, illuminated by electric lights, which was held on The Grosvenor Road fields, Wrexham, on 31st August 1883. The club also entered the English FA Cup for the first time and were drawn to play Liverpool Ramblers on The Racecourse Ground on 10th November 1883, but the Liverpool club sent a telegram a few hours before the game was due to kick off, to say that they couldn’t get a team together, and so Wrexham received a bye to the second round, where they met Oswestry, on The Racecourse Ground on 1st December. However, this game was marred by crowd trouble after Oswestry scored a disputed, late goal to win 4-3, and the referee was accosted by players and spectators as he left the pitch. Consequently, the English FA banned Wrexham from all English Football Association games on 28th February 1884, although the club continued play games against Welsh opposition until the end of the season.

The English F.A. ban caused some consternation within the club, and so in the close season, members renamed the club as Wrexham Olympic Football Club, with Evan Morris retaining the role of club president and William Townley of The National Provisional Bank filling the post of treasurer, while accountant and member of the original 1864 team- John Taylor, also took a leading role as the club secretary. (Evan Morris had been a joint founder and the first real president of the original 1864 Wrexham Football Club and was the joint founder and current Vice-President of The Football Association of Wales, and John Taylor was the joint founder and Secretary to The Denbighshire Football Association).

The renamed club started its first season with a 4-2 win against Ruthin Football Club in another evening exhibition match, illuminated with electric lights, which took place in front of a large attendance of spectators at The Grosvenor Road Fields, on 30th August 1884. They followed this up with a 2-0 away win at Birkenhead on 13th September, and then held a scratch match for trialists at the Racecourse Ground on 27th September, before electing officials, a captain, vice captain, and squads for the first and second teams, at The Buck Inn, Hope Street, Wrexham, on 2nd October 1884. (The second team would later be known as Wrexham Olympic Swifts).
By renaming the club, Wrexham Olympic were able to be re-admitted into the English FA Cup and they won their first round tie against Goldenhill (Staffordshire) 1-0 on October 18th 1884, although Goldenhill later lodged a complaint that fans had run onto the pitch at the end of the game, and that one of the team had been a member of the team that had originally been banned from the FA Cup; but no further action was taken. Olympic were later knocked out of the competition in the second round after a 4-1 defeat by Chirk, although they did reach the final of The Denbighshire Association Challenge Cup in their first season, but the game with Rhostyllen Victoria was drawn and so was deferred until the start of following season. Olympic also provided the entire Denbighshire County football team for the county game against Cheshire at Northwich, in February 1885 and provided 4 players for the national game against Scotland at The Racecourse on 23rd March 1885.
In their first season (1884/85) Olympic played twenty three games, including cup ties, winning ten, losing seven and drawing six; having scored fifty-eight goals, with thirty four against, although results where somewhat influenced by player absences, which appears to have been a problem for the club during this period. The club also ended the season with an account deficit of £7, reportedly due to low attendances at The Racecourse.

Wrexham Olympic started the 85/86 season with an away win at Cambrian Liverpool and a home win against Shrewsbury Castle Blues, before playing out another 1-1 draw against Rhostyllen Victoria, in the deferred replay of the final of The Denbighshire Association Challenge Cup, at The Racecourse ground on 10th October 1885; and so the two clubs shared the cup for the season. They followed this with a 4-1 home win against Chester College on 17th October but were then knocked out of the English FA Cup after a first round 6-2 defeat, away at Leek, on 31st October 1885. They were also knocked out in the first round of The Welsh Cup, the following week, losing 5-1 to Ellesmere, at The Racecourse Ground, with newspaper reports recording that only 5 of Olympic’s first team players had turned up for this game and that they could only muster a team of 9 players for the first half, before introducing another 2 substitutes after the break. Fortunately, they followed this with a 0-0 draw at home to in-form side, Bootle on 14th November, with newspapers noting that Olympic had managed to field a full line-up of first team players, while, also stating that ‘there was but a poor attendance of spectators’. At the end of this season, a proposal to upgrade The Racecourse was presented to the owner- Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, by a joint deputation, consisting of members of Wrexham Olympic, Wrexham Cricket Club and The Hare and Hounds Football and Athletic Club (founded by Evan Morris).

The following season, (October 86) Olympic were beaten 4-1 away to Crewe in the first round of The English F.A Cup and the following month where comprehensively beaten 7-1 at home to Ellesmere, although they did regain some respect with a 10-2 win over The Denbighshire Colts in a Christmas day game, which was watched by an unusually large crowd of spectators at The Racecourse. But further embarrassment ensued when Olympic were knocked out of The Welsh Cup in a third round 8-1 drubbing against Chirk on 5th January 1887; such was the inconsistency of the Olympic team, which subsequently, greatly affected home attendances at The Racecourse during this period. (The cost of entrance to the ground in 1887 was 3d (more commonly termed at that time as thruppence, which equates to around 1.25 pence in current decimal currency) with access into the ground blocked by means of a canvas barrier).

Then, at the start of the 87/88 season, Wrexham Olympic and Wrexham Cricket Club jointly appealed for fans to raise £30 to buy land to separate the cricket pitch from the football pitch and fortunes seemed to have changed when Olympic received another first round bye in The English F.A. Cup. But they lost 2-1 to Davenham Village in the second round tie at The Racecourse on November 5th 1887 and they were also knocked out of The Welsh Cup, in the second round, losing 2-1 away at Llangollen on 19th December. This would be the last season for the club as Wrexham Olympic- which had proved to be a period of missing players, inconsistent performances and dwindling attendances, as the club would be renamed Wrexham Football Club for the start of the 1888/89 season.

There was, however, a now long forgotten success for the club during the penultimate year of Wrexham Olympic F.C.

Queen Victoria had been British monarch for 49 years and her golden jubilee year celebrations were officially opened, for a period of 12 months, starting on 20th June 1886. As part of these celebrations, a local news and sports journal- The Illustrated Wrexham Argus and North Wales Athlete, sponsored a tournament for local teams, with Olympic entering both their first and second team (Olympic Swifts) although only the Olympic first team would win through to the final against Bangor Football Club. The final was played at the ‘Anfield’ home of Everton Football Club on the 4th June 1887 (5 years before Liverpool FC was formed) in front of a crowd of around 3,000 spectators and culminated in a 4-1 win for Olympic, with goals being scored by W. Turner, (2) W. Roberts and T. Roberts. The Argus Competition medals were then presented to the team at the end of an open air concert, which was held in the grounds of Roseneath- the home of Wrexham Olympic’s President, Evan Morris, on 1st July 1887.

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The Early Years

wfc12Founded in 1864, Wrexham Football Club is the third oldest professional football club in the World.

Our spiritual home, The Racecourse Stadium, is the World’s oldest International football stadium, still in use today.

This is the story of the influences and events which gave rise to the founding of the club, and the history of the stadium, from its inception.

 As landed gentry, the Williams-Wynn family of Wynnstay, near Wrexham, held military office for Merioneth and Denbighshire and were traditionally responsible for raising military regiments for the defence of the realm: these included The Denbighshire and Merioneth Rifle Militia and The Denbighshire and Merioneth Yeomanry Cavalry. Therefore, during the 1790’s, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, MP and Lord Lieutenant of Merionethshire and Denbighshire allocated three of the fields that he owned at Plas Coch, on the outskirts of the town, to be used as militia and cavalry training grounds. This training led to competitive horse racing within The Denbighshire Cavalry, and the fields at Plas Coch were gradually developed into a racecourse.

Cavalry race meetings were later extended to include non-military horse racing, and the first official public race meetings were held at The Racecourse on the 6th and 7th October 1806.

The meetings became an annual three-day-event and The Racecourse was continually upgraded to cater for the huge crowds who would flock to the town to watch the riders compete for prizes such as The Town Purse, The Silver Cavalry Cup and The Wrexham Gold Cup. A parade ring and winner’s enclosure were erected near to the junction between Crispin Lane and Mold Road, and a new public house- The Turf Tavern, was built to the side of the winners enclosure, near to The Mold Road Entrance onto The Racecourse, between the years of 1831 and 1835. Temporary grandstands were then erected either side of The Turf Tavern each year and dismantled after the meetings had finished.

However, by the mid 1850’s these meetings had become marred by drunkenness and violence and a group consisting mostly of clergy and members of The Temperance Movement campaigned to have the meetings stopped. In response to this threat, an alternative group of brewers and landlords formed a pro-racing lobby and funded the construction of a new Hotel, as an extension onto the town-side of the existing The Turf Tavern in 1854/55. At he same time, the group also funded the construction of a new permanent grandstand on the opposite side of The Turf Tavern (where the Mold Road Stand is situated today) and converted a part of  The Turf tavern, which was closest to the new stand into a press office and offices for racecourse officials.

The pro-racing groups efforts were, however, in vain and the annual thoroughbred race meetings were disbanded in 1857, although cavalry racing would continue to be staged, and pony and donkey race meetings would later be re-introduced to The Racecourse.

Throughout these years, an increase in trade and investment had brought new jobs to the area and the population of Wrexham continued to grow. A new Board of Guardians was elected to aid the poor of the district, and the towns’ infra-structure was also steadily improved.

One of the major employers at this time was The Provincial Welsh Insurance Company, which was established in 1852 to sell fire and life insurance policies. This proved to be a successful venture and in 1861 the company moved its headquarters to new purpose-built offices on The High Street. The Company encouraged its employees to take up sporting activities by creating its own cricket team, and later converted part of its offices into a gymnasium for its employees to use, out of office hours. The company also created its own Fire Brigade to protect its assets in the town, but this proved to be ineffective and was gradually disbanded, to be replaced by a new community volunteer force- The Price of Wales Fire Brigade, which was established in 1863. Later that year, a new community group, called The Union Volunteer Service Club, held its inaugural meeting in The Feathers Inn. The group was formed, specifically in response to concerns about the general health of the working classes and their tendency to spend their free time getting drunk in public houses. The club proposed to set up meetings, which members of the public could attend to take part in athletics and sport activities, as a healthier alternative to drinking alcohol. The club also proposed to raise funds to enable the construction of a gymnasium in the town, but as this was their first year, they realised that such an undertaking would take some time to achieve.

Then, at a pre-season meeting in April 1864, Wrexham Cricket Club, who played their home matches on The Racecourse Ground, were renamed and amalgamated into The Denbighshire County Cricket Club. The club consisted mostly of servicemen from The Denbighshire Cavalry and The Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers, who also used The Racecourse for cavalry training and races, and military parades and drill practice.

On 8th October 1864, the same club held its end of season dinner in The Turf Tavern, and during the after-dinner speeches, the chairman of the cricket club- Edward Manners, announced his intention to buy a football in the course of the week, and stated that he expected a good many down on the field next Saturday. He also stated that after a consultation he had with the Mayor, he intended to establish an athletics club on The Racecourse.

Wrexham Football and Athletics Club played its first ever game, fielding a 10-man team against 10 men of The Prince of Wales Fire Brigade, at The Racecourse Ground on 22nd October 1864.

The fire brigade won the game 2-1.

 Wrexham Football Club’s 10-man team of that day were;- 

Charles Edward Kershaw - Land owner and accountant                    

Elected member of The Wrexham Board of Guardians

Vice-Chairman of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Volunteer in The Prince of Wales Fire Brigade

Founding member of The United Volunteer Service Club

Racecourse official (various roles)

William Tootell - Cork cutter                                               

Sergeant, 1st Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Drill Instructor, 5th Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Edward Ephraim Knibbs - General dealer and auctioneer                   

Private, 1st Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Member of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Racecourse steward

Thomas Hanmer - Landlord of The Turf Tavern                   

Private, 1st Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Member of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Thomas Henry Sykes - Landlord and Gilder                                 

Private 1st Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Member of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Thomas Heath - Corn miller                                                

Former Grenadier Guard

Drill Sergeant, 1st Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers

Thomas Broster - Teacher and post office clerk                    

Member of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Baptist Church Trustee                

John Taylor - Landlord  

Member of Denbighshire County Cricket Club

Private, Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers                                                         Racecourse official (various roles)

George R. Johnson - Provincial Insurance Clerk                           

Member of The Provincial Insurance Cricket team

Volunteer in The Prince of Wales Fire Brigade

Joseph Roberts - Provincial Insurance Clerk

 

Member of The Provincial Insurance Cricket team

Although he didn’t play in the first ever game, Evan Morris, Town Counsellor and Director of The Provincial Insurance Company was the first President of Wrexham Football Club, and would later play in the team. A Captain in the 1st Denbighshire Rifles and a Major in The Volunteer Brigade of The Royal Welch Fusiliers, Evan was a member of The Denbighshire County Cricket Club Committee and a founding member of The United Volunteer Service Club.

Edward Manners was the Chairman of The Denbighshire County Cricket Club, and served in many roles as an official at The Racecourse.

Both were founding members of Wrexham Football Club.

Edward Manners would later be elected to serve as Secretary to The Football Association of Wales and Evan Morris elected as vice-president of the association.            

The history of Wrexham Football Club and its spiritual home, The Racecourse Ground, were born from the roots of the national military necessities of the time; indeed, The Racecourse had its own military buildings and stores, which were probably situated close to The Crispin Lane boundary of the course. Moreover, most of the founding members of Wrexham Football and Athletics Club were volunteer servicemen or officers from the local cavalry and infantry regiments. These regiments would continue to use The Racecourse for drill practice, parade events and cavalry racing until the early 20th Century, although The Royal Welch Fusiliers retained links with the club, which still exists to this day: the nickname ‘goats’ from our closest rivals, is derived from the regimental goat of The Royal Welch Fusiliers, and the plume of three feathers, which adorns our club crest today, is a more recent addition, which links back to our historic military connections.

In its early days, The Racecourse was developed to cater for a more, well-healed clientele who turned up en-masse to watch the sport of kings, but as private investment bought jobs to the town and the population increased, the so-called working classes began to flock to race meetings and the social atmosphere changed. In time, the annual race meetings became a festival of drunkenness and violence, which pervaded the town as a whole. The drinking culture of the time was a serious blight on society and drunken riots were common place; not least because it was safer to drink beer and spirits than it was to drink water, at that time. But social unrest and excessive drinking were also part of a much wider issue, born, at least in part, from the social disparities, which separated the working classes from their masters. These disparities were particularly apparent for the colliers who worked in the numerous mines of the area, where working conditions consisted of long arduous days in dangerous, often lethal environments, for little pay. Indeed, The Racecourse was frequently used as a rallying point for miners to campaign for better pay and working conditions.

Despite the investment, which had brought employment to the area, poverty was still rife, mortality rates were high and life was harsh for much of the population. The demon-drink, with all its social consequences, provided an escape from the realities of everyday life; none-more-so, than during the annual holidays of the October race meetings.

Throughout these years, the church and a growing temperance movement had gained more influence in the town, although there were also many other, well-meaning individuals and groups who sought to change the ills of society. Sport and athletic activities were championed as a solution to this problem and it was amidst this atmosphere that Wrexham Football and Athletics Club was founded.

The first athletics day to be staged by the club took place at The Racecourse on 8th May 1865. The meeting consisted of racing for prizes over various distances for groups split into junior and seniors, walking matches, hopping races, high and long jump competitions, and provided the first trophies (pewter tankards) ever to be received in the name of Wrexham Football Club.

This event was followed by a much larger meeting in October of the same year, when in addition to athletic competitions, donkey and pony racing were re-introduced to The Racecourse.  The ‘Autumn Sports’ meeting became a popular annual event, with vendors erecting tents, stalls, shooting galleries and flying boats, attracting very large crowds, but without the trouble that had marred the earlier horse race meetings. In response to this success, The Racecourse Ground was upgraded in time for The Autumn Sports meeting in September 1869, with new fencing and railings installed, specifically to take account of the athletic events. Cycle racing was also introduced for the first time, although the turf quickly churned up, and so a cinder cycle track was added later.  At this point, The Racecourse consisted of three fields, separated by hedges, but in 1870 the hedges were taken down to give more space for military exercises and training, and removable railings were installed, thereby making the football, cricket and athletics area distinct from the rest of the course. Autumn Sports meetings continued to be staged at The Racecourse Ground until 1914.

Football, however, became a major sport in its own right, and for Wrexham Football Club, the third oldest professional football club in the World, the rest ‘as they say’ is history.

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