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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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