On Monday evening members of the WST gathered at the Lager Club for the latest members meeting.
The first half of the meeting being taken up with a special guest and the second being for Trust business.
A Goal scoring Legend
Our Special Guest, Club President (and honourable Trust member) Dixie McNeil began the meeting by answering questions posed by Trust chairman Peter Jones.
“Legend” is an oft misused word in sport. But a man who scored 239 goals in 542 games including 54 for Wrexham in our best ever side, is as deserving as any of that title. Add to that the fact that Dixie later managed the club and it’s difficult to think of anyone who knows better what our club means to its fans and to the community of North Wales.
Dixie began by expressing his heartfelt thanks to the fans for supporting his recent appointment as Club President. He was deeply honoured and promised to do his utmost to represent the Club to the best of his abilities during his term of office.
Dixie explained that his career began in his native Leicestershire when he signed for First Division Leicester City and had to give up his engineering apprenticeship to do so. The pay rise from £2.7s.6d a week to £25 being too good to turn down! Despite featuring regularly for the reserves he never broke into the Foxes first team and so began his nomadic life as a pro footballer when, in 1966, he signed for Exeter City to make his debut against, you’ve guessed it, Wrexham at the Racecourse. It was in Devon that he first showed the prolific goal scoring skills that were to become the hallmark of his career. But, despite ending up as top scorer, he was released at the end of the season!
Somewhat disillusioned, Dixie returned to work at the steelworks and played part time for Corby before Northampton Town tempted him back to full time football. Just in time to take part in a remarkable FA Cup tie when Northampton were pitted against European champions- Manchester United. As was to become normal for Dixie, he netted in that game but unfortunately a certain George Best scored six in an 8-2 United win! Dixie recalled being told to mark Bobby Charlton- surely one of the most difficult assignments any player could have been given!
Dixie’s travels continued when he signed for Lincoln City in 1972 and was managed by future England manager Graham Taylor who later said of him “Like all great goal scorers he had no nerves when the ball came to him in the box, he wanted to score and if by any chance he didn’t, it never effected his belief that he would score from the next opportunity- which he usually did” – a description which anyone lucky enough to see him in a Wrexham shirt would instantly recognise.
It was at Hereford United (having narrowly avoided a transfer to Chester City!) that Dixie’s reputation as a really special goal scorer was established. He scored 85 goals between 1974 – 1977; he won the Golden Boot as the top scorer in all four divisions (twice) and fired Hereford into what is now the Championship. It was clear that Dixie has a great relationship with manager John Sillett which was to prove influential in his eventual transfer to Wrexham in 1977. Tight finances at Edgar Street meant that Dixie had to be sold, and despite other clubs being interested, Sillett advised him to sign for Wrexham as they were “by far the best team in the league”.
Dixie described his first drive into Wrexham and his approach to the Racecourse which made him wonder what he had let himself in for! His doubts were soon dispelled when he saw the “new” Yale Stand and saw the calibre of his teammates who he said were clearly more “skilful and attack minded” than any squad he had previously been part of -which “was a strikers dream”. The rest is history as Dixie’s goals propelled the Robins to the Third Division Championship as well as many memorable cup runs (he scored in 11 successive FA Cup ties). Dixie described the importance of having a strong spine to a side with Dai Davies “bullying” the back four into a great defensive unit with Welsh international John Roberts at its heart. Football is, he said, “about confidence and momentum and that side feared no one”.
Dixie said that of all the players he played with -he rated Mickey Thomas as the best. He was “quick, tricky, with a great engine although all of that side were special”. When asked why the team didn’t progress as much as predicted in the higher league he thought that the cup runs “took their toll” although at the time they were great, none better than scoring at Nottingham Forest to beat the reigning European champions.
Relegation back to the third tier of English football meant that the higher wage earners had to be released. Dixie described refusing to return to Hereford as player manager but did go back for a short time as a player travelling from Wrexham. Dixie said that “players should be part of the community and live in the town where they played” and he soon decided to retire from professional football as Wrexham was now his home (but not before another near miss as Chester were again enquiring after him!).
Unable to hang up his boots completely, Dixie’s love of the game saw him turn out for Chirk AAA for whom he scored in a Welsh Cup game against Wrexham. The fortunes of the Club were on a downward spiral on and off the field though and after Bobby Roberts left as manager, Dixie decided to apply for the job. “Everyone thinks they can be a manager don’t they?” he said as he described being told at the interview that the club was “skint”! Having been given the job he was to find out how true that was as there just him, George Showell, and the cleaning lady!
There were still memorable times ahead though including winning the Welsh Club and, as a League Four team, playing in Europe -including the never to be forgotten tie in 1986 against Spanish giants Real Zaragoza. Dixie recalled the Club Directors imploring the payers not to get hammered in the first leg so that a decent crowd would turn out for the return at the Racecourse. A goalless draw in Spain ensured one of the great European nights at Wrexham. Real sneaked through on away goals after a 2v2 draw before a crowd of 14,000. “The fact that they brought a £2million striker off the bench said it all!” The play off final defat to Orient was one of the worst feelings in his career- a feeling which was to return earlier this year!
Club finances were to worsen still further, his best players had to be sold and Dixie described how an away match at Maidstone was to prove his last. Promised an overnight stay which never materialised; the squad travelled by cars to Crewe, by train to Euston with an underground trip and another train to Maidstone finally succumbing to a 2 nil defeat before making the return trek home. This proved to be a final straw and, despite his new contract, Dixie called time on his managerial career at the Racecourse.
Headhunted by John Sillett, Dixie described being assistant manager at Coventry then in the top tier. What was plain to see was his love for our club, to the extent that winning or losing at Coventry “just didn’t mean the same” to him. Further spells in charge of Flint Town and Caernarvon (including defeating Swansea City away in the Welsh Cup) saw the final curtain fall on his managerial career before spending the next 25 years providing expert analysis on Radio Wales. Dixie said he was “only really interested in Wrexham” and recently attended the Man U v Liverpool cup tie but nothing compared to watching the Dragons!
In reply to questions from the floor, Dixie said that his greatest goal was one he scored in a pre-season friendly at Kilmarnock especially as he had spent the first half in the bar having been told he wasn’t playing! When it became clear that he was winding up Killies fan Don Bircham, Dixie confirmed that it was actually the famous goal he scored on the half volley at a packed St James Park in the FA Cup.
The meeting gave a very warm round of applause to Dixie whose love for the Club and the area was plain to see.
Twelve Trust Board members were in attendance (including our four Club Directors) as well as CEO Don Bircham to take questions from the floor and those emailed in advance to the Secretary Alan Fox.
The following summarises the discussions but is not intended to be a verbatim record.
Questions were asked about development of the ground. The University had appointed consultant and former Burnley player Paul Fletcher to advise them and he had met with Board members some time ago. Nothing more had been heard and there was nothing else to report. Finance Director Mark Williams confirmed that the Club did have “first refusal” on the ground should Glyndwr decide to sell at market value.
Mention was made of a recent report on higher education in North East Wales and how it might impact on Glyndwr. Board member Spencer Harris confirmed that he had read the lengthy report which had recommended a partnership between Glyndwr and Coleg Cambria over the next 18 months or so and we would keep a close eye on developments.
Questions were raised about the Club Budget and the income generated by the FA Trophy success. Don Bircham clarified that the amount was some £400,000 which had been used to prop up our running costs and that a competitive budget had again been set for the current season. We were at the “next level of budget” below the “Luton/Forest Green level” and if based on budgets alone “we should have won all our games so far with the possible exception of the Cambridge match”. DB said that we had “kept the business as lean as we can” and praised the work of the office staff and the commercial manager who all “did the work of two people”. No one else claimed anything and he gave a “categorical assurance that every penny goes to the “two Andys- Morrell and Davies”. The Club was run more transparently than ever before apart from the commercially sensitive playing budget/transfer fees. DB confirmed that we have spent exactly the same at this stage of the season as we did last season on player wages.
The question was asked what percentage of the playing budget would be cut if we had not received the “football fortune” last season. Mark replied that there were hundreds of variables which made this question impossible to answer.
A question was asked about the level of Trust reserves. They presently stood at some £214,000.
Questions had been raised about the life vice presidency of Nev Dickens. The Board explained that prior to taking over the Club there was no policy for appointing the Club President or VPs. A policy had since been drafted and approved at the AGM which had resulted in Dixie’s appointment but, so far, no VPs had been appointed under it. However there were a number of existing life VPs appointed at various times before the fans bought the Club. They had been written to and Malcolm Davies, Dave Griffiths, Dave Bennett and Nev Dickens had confirmed their wish to continue with that title which, under our new policy, carried no rights or privileges. No reply had been received from John Marek.
The Board explained, and apologised, for existing problems with the administration of membership. In short, the membership had seen a rapid (and welcome) rise from several hundred to over 3000 in a relatively short space of time. Despite the gallant efforts of our volunteers we recognised that our systems had struggled to cope. We were looking at alternative systems including a joint season ticket/membership card and a common renewal date for everyone. We were hampered in some cases by incomplete details being provided and recorded on the database.
Questions were raised about ticket prices and the Leader discounts. Mark Williams explained that we were targeting families and young people who were the future of the Club. The Leader offer didn’t apply to all matches just Saturday 3 pm kick offs. Season ticket prices had risen but this was inevitable if we wanted to remain competitive and we compared well with other Clubs. Prices for wheelchair users were down.
The Board confirmed that a small number of people had joined before the Season Ticket discount only to cancel their standing order once in receipt of the ticket. This was regrettable and those who had done so had effectively short changed their fellow supporters. This would be looked at next year.
Away travel prices had been mentioned. Away travel is still the same price as last season on the majority of trips this season. Of the 17 games we have had four have gone up in price which is due to the distances involved. They are Gateshead, Dartford, Braintree, Woking. For an example the cost of the coach to Dartford has gone up £230 from last season.
A member asked whether the Club planned to go part time. The answer was a categorical no.
A member asked whether we could have signed Chris Maxwell. Don answered that we possibly could have but the manager would have had three keepers and less money for outfield players.
A member asked why we can’t seem to attract players. DB replied that this wasn’t actually true and players were generally disinterested in who owned a club as long as they got paid.
A member asked about progress on the Andy Slinger’s branding project. Spencer replied that Andy had made presentations to both Boards and had come up with some interesting findings. An example was the idea that we represented “half a nation” and how we could use that to spread our appeal throughout North and Mid Wales. This was work in progress as were discussions with Arriva Trains.
Peter Jones mentioned the outstanding vacancy for a co-opted Trust Board member to lead on Media and Publicity (including the soon to be restarted programme on Calon FM). There had been some expressions of interest but it wasn’t too late to apply.
Pete also reminded members that next year the Club will celebrate 150 years since its formation. A committee was in place, including Pete and Dixie McNeil, to organise a series of special events and consisted of various groups including the Council, the Racecourse Foundation and the Museum. More will be revealed in due course.
WST Independent Secretary