Twenty years ago in January, Wrexham AFC managed one of the great FA Cup surprises of all time. They had finished the previous season at the bottom of the Football League and had only been spared relegation to the Football Conference on account of the League expanding its size, while their Third Round opponents in that competition, Arsenal, had ended the previous season as the champions of England. On a cold January Saturday afternoon at The Racecourse Ground, Alan Smith gave Arsenal the lead but, in an extraordinary final ten minutes, Mickey Thomas brought the home side level with a free-kick before Steve Watkins swept the ball over the goal-line to send the champions out of the competition.
Wrexham have had success in the FA Cup since that day – they reached the quarter-finals of the competition in 1997, before losing to Chesterfield – but of late such days must have started to feel a long way away. Yesterday afternoon, however, the club had the perfect end to a perfect week. With the take-over of the club having been finally secured during the week, the team, which had stayed top of the Blue Square Premier thanks to a narrow win against Darlington during the week, travelled to League One club Brentford for their FA Cup Second Round match yesterday afternoon and won by a single, first-half goal from Jamie Tolley to get themselves back into the Third Round of the competition again.
The odds were always going to be against the club drawing one of the biggest clubs. There are, after all, sixty-four clubs in the bag at the beginning of the draw, and fellow Blue Square Premier club Tamworth got the luckiest of all with a trip to Goodison Park to play Everton, following their win against Gateshead yesterday afternoon. For Wrexham AFC, the draw looked, on the surface, to be a little more mundane – a trip to the south coast to play Brighton & Hove Albion in what will be the first FA Cup match to be played at the brand new Amex Community Stadium at Falmer. It’s not a match that will likely attract live television coverage, but the financial rewards for getting to this stage of the competition are clear enough.
The club has already been guaranteed a share of the gate receipts from their two matches against Cambridge United and their match at Brentford yesterday, and they can expect more from their trip to Falmer. On top of this, the prize money for reaching the Third Round of the competition is £27,000 and more money will be on offer for the winners of the next match – although it hasn’t been confirmed how much for this year, the winners of last year’s FA Cup Third Round matches received £67,500 each. As such, it seems likely that the club will make at somewhere between £100,000 and £200,000, even if we assume that Brighton will be too strong for their team in the next round of the competition. Should they get a replay, then that match would surely be a contender for live television coverage and a win would multiply their earnings again.
Of course, being more accurate about such earnings will not be clear until the ticketing arrangements for the match have been sorted out and it is possible – if not likely – that Brighton & Hove Albion will reduce prices in order to get closer to having a full house for a match that might not sell out otherwise. There is also a little history between the two clubs. It was Brighton supporters that led the Fans United day at The Racecourse Ground in November of 2004, when Wrexham were prone thanks to the involvement of two of the attempted asset-strippers previously involved at their club, Alex Hamilton and Mark Guterman. We’ll have more on that in the build-up to the Third Round of the competition.
“Romance”, perhaps, is for those that can afford it. The Wrexham Supporters Trust has taken over the ownership of a club that has a vast financial shortfall to fill. As such, the abstract has to make way for considerably the more prosaic matter of the ongoing financial well-being of the club. Unlike the case of Exeter City – who were rescued from extinction in 2005 by an FA Cup run that culminated in two FA Cup Third Round matches against Manchester United – the club’s future will not be secured by dint of this draw alone. It is worth remembering, however, that the amounts of money required to keep a club such as Wrexham alive are attainable, and if the club ends up having made, say, £200,000 or £300,000 from a run in the FA Cup, then this will make the task that the new owners face that little bit easier. It may not be Manchester United or Liverpool but it’s something, and every little helps if Wrexham AFC if to get its place in the Football League back.
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