Shrewsbury Town fan and author Andrew Preshous recounts his experiences of Shrewsbury Town vs Wrexham.
In this neck of the woods, other derbies are available. Shrewsbury Town’s current League One local foe is Port Vale. Until their demotion to League Two in 2019, it was Walsall. Our last league clash with Hereford in the A49 Classico was just over 10 years ago. We’ve even had some decent recent ding dongs in the cup with Wolves, just up the M54. Yet, something’s been missing from the fierce football rivalry calendar since 2008. For many Salopians, Town v Wrexham is the top dog of local derbies and as this fixture has not been contested for over 15 years, it’s a vintage that we’re all looking forward to uncorking and savouring.
The last league meeting between the two clubs on 13th April 2008 was the first between the two at Shrewsbury’s new stadium. The previous season’s fixture, also played in April (postponed from its original September date), was the final encounter between the two rivals at The Gay Meadow and saw Wrexham gain a vital 1-0 win, which helped them narrowly preserve their league status. A year later, the Sunday game kicked off at 12:00 and this time, the team from Shropshire scored three without reply. That must have been especially painful for the Welsh club and their fans as two games later, they were consigned to the conference. Five years earlier in 2003, Wrexham had enjoyed gloating rights as their 2-1 victory was a significant dent in Town’s own battle for Nationwide Division Three survival, which ultimately ended in failure. The non-league experience for each club was very different: The Red Dragons got bogged down in conference hell for years, finally emerging in a dramatic Hollywood ending; The Shrews bounced back to the league after just one season, via a comparatively low-key, playoff penalties victory, more Hanwood than Hollywood.
The inaugural league meeting between the two clubs took place in Division Three (North) in 1950 (the teams had met in the FA Cup five years earlier) but they didn’t play each other again until 1960. It was the 1970s when these cross-border skirmishes became a much more regular Division Three fixture, occurring twice a year, apart from 1974/75 when Shrewsbury had been relegated and in 1978/79 when Wrexham had been promoted. My first experience of this derby in February 1977 was a typically high-octane affair with Shrewsbury winning 3-2 in front of 10,487 at a noisy Gay Meadow. In my teenage match report, I noted that ‘Brian Hornsby scored with a brilliant lob goal and Wrexham’s Bobby Shinton was magnificent.’ In this era, clashes in the Welsh Cup turned up the heat even more and that same season, Town thumped their rivals 4-1 in a semi-final replay before going on to beat Cardiff City in the final – you’re welcome, Wrexham! Two years later I was at The Racecourse Ground for the first leg of the final when Steve Biggins’ early goal was cancelled out by a cracking Steve Fox equaliser. Back at the Meadow, Paul Maguire notched the winner, which coming a week after securing the Third Division title, capped off Shrewsbury Town’s incredible ‘Spirit of ’79’ season.
The Welsh Cup provided many wonderful opportunities for Shrewsbury to play less well-known teams from around The Principality including Abercynon Athletic, Cefn Albion and Llanfairpwll (David Moyes scoring the winner in that one in 1987). Sadly, Town were never allowed to represent Wales in the European Cup Winners Cup (whyever not?!) and have to be content with the honour of being the English team to have won the trophy the most times (six). Wrexham’s triumphs surpass that total having won the competition more than anyone (23), and the Welsh winners were allowed to represent their country in Europe (fair play). This they often did in distinguished fashion, beating FC Zurich in 1972 and reaching the quarter-final in 1976, losing valiantly to eventual champions, Anderlecht. There was another amazing European result, which we’ll come back to…...
That trip to The Racecourse in 1979 hadn’t been my first visit - I’d enjoyed some brilliant times there previously, cheering on Wales (against Austria) with 27,000 Welsh supporters in a European Championship qualifier in 1975, cheering on England (against Wales) in a friendly (celebrating the centenary of the Welsh FA) in 1976, cheering on Scotland (against Wales) in a Home International in 1977, when a decision was taken to close the buffet bar on the train from Shrewsbury, as the Tartan Army were already well pished. In 1978, not long after my first ever STFC away day to the ground (0-0), I even cheered on Wrexham (ok, I was young and impressionable!) in an FA Cup 6th round tie when they were unlucky to go out after a five-goal thriller with Arsenal. Dixie McNeil and Graham Whittle scored for the home team, Malcolm ‘Supermac’ Macdonald, Alan Sunderland and Willie Young netted for the Gunners. Yes, fond memories of The Racecourse. In 1992, Wrexham got their revenge over the London club in a famous giant-killing that included a scorching free kick from captain Mickey Thomas (who had also played in Shrewsbury colours for a season). Salop too have a fine haul of FA Cup shock victories, having beaten Man City (1979), Ipswich (1982 and 1984), Everton (2003) and even matching Liverpool before losing the replay at Anfield (2020).
Back in the league, normal rivalry was resumed at the second tier in 1979/80 when Town met these old adversaries in their debut season at this rarefied level. The first of these contests took place in October with Wrexham sitting in 3rd place in the table, daring to dream of promotion to Division One. With former Evertonians, keeper Dai Davies and full-back Terry Darracott, Welsh international John Roberts, dangermen McNeil and Fox up top and managed by club legend Arfon Griffiths (scorer of that Welsh winner against Austria in ‘75), Wrexham were some side back then. But on that day, the reds were no match for the team in blue and amber with Town’s own club legend, player-manager Graham Turner inspiring his charges and striker Biggins upstaging his more illustrious (and prolific) counterpart with a hat-trick in a 3-1 triumph before a boisterous crowd of 11,007. Another Town hero, Jake King (two-goal star in the glorious Division Three title-clincher against Exeter, captain and later manager), didn’t play in this game but appeared in the return at The Racecourse when Town completed the double over their neighbours. And, as Wrexham fans will know full well, King later also etched his place in Wrexham folklore in October 1984 by scoring twice away at FC Porto as they lost 4-3 to the Portuguese giants but edged through on the away goals rule (Barry Horne got the third). Former Town defensive stalwart, Jack Keay, also wore a red shirt on that famous night. It was certainly a sensational upset… but it should perhaps be mentioned that Wrexham hadn’t actually won the previous season’s Welsh Cup competition and only progressed because their vanquishers on that occasion were English, that’s right, those foes just across the Severn, Shrewsbury Town FC.
Our two clubs first played each other competitively in an FA Cup tie in 1945. Since then, there have been 53 league and cup games (not including the Welsh Cup here). Wrexham have the upper hand, in the FA Cup going through in two of the three ties. Overall though, the head-to-head record couldn’t be more finely balanced: each team has won 21 times with 11 games drawn so surely it’s Town’s turn to win in the cup this time. All to play for.
Welcome back to Shrewsbury, Wrexham. We’ve missed you.
If you enjoyed this article, why not check out Andrew’s book, ‘Come On You Blues: Recollections of Shrewsbury Town’s First Season in Division Two’ (Pitch Publishing).