2020 eh. Depressing, strange, horrible, surreal. And I’m not talking about Covid-19.
Wrexham embark on a 13th season in non-league tomorrow when they host Boreham Wood at a fan-less Racecourse. Depressing.
The match-day squad will be barely recognisable from the one which was held to a goalless draw by Easteigh in our last competitive game on home soil back in March.
Instead of rolling up to the ground at 14:50hrs we will be gathered in our socially-distanced masses in pubs, and/or settling on the sofa with our spouse as the game gets the live-streaming treatment straight to our TVs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Strange.
We can’t be there in person, wearing our new replica shirts and affording the new faces at the club a warm welcome, but we can count ourselves fortunate that we have done our utmost to tackle Coronavirus head on and are still here to see our glory. There are many of us who were affected directly or otherwise by this awful disease. We’ve lost fans, friends, family. Horrible.
And there is bound to be pre-game and half-time talk in the pubs the length and breadth of the town, from the Turf to the Fat Boar about THE takeover.
Wrexham are a fan’s vote away from becoming the richest club in the English football league pyramid outside of the Premier League, if the math on the street is right, all thanks to ‘Ryan and Rob lah’. Surreal.
So, in the immortal words of Blind Date host Cilla Black, “here’s our Graham (Tim) with a quick reminder” on how Wrexham are on the cusp of something special just seven months after staring into the abyss.
Only a global pandemic that has caused untold death and misery could save Wrexham from plummeting towards relegation.
And whilst the drop was not a certainty, our chances of escaping it looked slim to none back in March.
Wrexham were awful, embarrassing, useless. But the writing was on the wall this time 12 months ago.
The signs were ominous. We were 14 league games into the campaign and had won just three. Four if you count (I don’t) the penalty shoot-out win over Ayr in that surreal Tunnocks Cup thing. We lost six and drew the other five.
Whilst we are oblivious to any form of sustained success, us die-hards certainly were not accustomed to sailing so close to the National League North wind before Hallowe’en had even come around.
But there were frights and video nasties aplenty as Wrexham lurched from one disaster to another — a win-less October in the league followed by a solitary triumph in seven November outings in all competitions, Bromley downed by that glorious (when are they never?!) Luke Young howitzer.
And whilst a thousand of us headed to Ibrox that same month to enjoy brief respite from our league worries, the thought of impending doom rarely strayed too far from the front of our minds.
A few seasons ago it would have been inconceivable that a club of Wrexham’s eroding stature would be struggling to stay up in a division we’ve nested in for far too long.
But as many have quite rightly pointed out, Wrexham are no longer regarded first and foremost as an ex-Football League club striving to regain that status, but a well-established Conference club that appear to be condemned to the fifth tier forever.
Even at the turn of this year I was desperately trying to convince myself that Wrexham would get out of trouble and avoid the dreaded drop. It was based on blind hope. I mean, we had only managed successive league wins twice that season — hardly the sort of consistent runs that drag you out and clear of the mire.
Dean Keates, appointed a year ago for his second spell in charge didn’t drag his charges kicking and screaming out of the doldrums, to where previous incumbent Bryan Hughes had inexplicably took them.
Who knows whether we would have beaten the drop had the season not been ended in March.
And who knows whether Wrexham retaining their place in the National League had any bearing on the events of a closed season like no other.
Captain marvel Shaun Pearson delivered Fat Boar takeaways to people’s doors whilst also holding down some night shifts in Tesco to make ends meet and to off-set the boredom of furlough.
Player of the (curtailed) Season Luke Young also helped out whilst there were a few cameo appearances from Mark ‘Beast’ Creighton and a Dug from near The ‘Sheaf, who has more than a quarter of a million Twitter followers hanging on his every bevvied word.
The gaffer Keates, was delivering goods of another kind. For all his detractors, Keates certainly knows his way around the transfer market. But in order to find gold you have to pan through and dispense with the shit.
Lawlor, Wright, Summerfield, Barnum-Bobb, Oswell, Tharme, McIntosh, Hooper, Sargent, Thorn and Szczepaniak (initially) were put out to pastures new; only Carrington, Rutherford and Dibble signed new deals with Jennings and Keillor-Dunn heading to Stockport County and Oldham Athletic respectively.
Not all outwardly shit, I hasten to add, but many of the above collectively played their part in an atrocious season that may have ended in disaster. And let’s face it, we all know most of those players will reignite their careers at their new clubs.
Bobby Grant was loaned out to the Latics and won’t play for us again; whilst his nearest contender for the most underwhelming performer of the season, Devonte Redmond has already vowed to show his worth this season after admitting it didn’t quite go to plan for him last time out.
The players Keates enlisted over the summer are impressive and seem to have gelled pretty quickly in the pre-season games.
From watching the media team highlights of those warm-up matches, it is pretty tough to guage just how good we can be this year.
Tomorrow’s long-awaited and, dare I say hotly-anticipated season opener against Boreham Wood will give us a fascinating insight.
Have we rid the soft-underbelly of last season? Do we finally have a plan B, even a C if the initial game-plan gets torn up? Will a filled-out Jake Bickerstaff be the surprise answer to our goal-scoring puzzle? Will Roadrunner Anthony Jeffrey remember to put on the brakes when he reaches the byline? Will Fiacre Kelleher (below) be Pearson’s long-term successor as club captain?
So many questions and more, but we will watch with interest as they answer themselves over the course of a season which could again be memorable, but for all the right reasons.
We are almost guaranteed to have at least two people Stateside tuning in to the live-stream, although they will be tucking into their mid-morning Cheerios/salmon bagels as the Reds kick-off.
The excitement has simmered a little since it was revealed last month that Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and ‘the other guy’ Rob McElhenney were planning to bid for Wrexham Association Football Club.
The thought of Spencer Harris speaking to them on Zoom from his home in Coedpoeth still makes me chuckle, especially if he borrowed his opening gambit from Bootlegger: “Alright laaads”. Maybe that sealed the deal, who knows.
So, in a year where we have escaped relegation and assembled a potentially promotion-winning squad, attracted the Hollywood gaze of a Marvel anti-hero with deep pockets, and filled the pubs of Wrexham and its surrounding villages to watch the lads kick-off before a flag-laden paddock in a cavernous Cae Ras, almost anything is possible between now and the end of May 2021.
Buckle up. It is going to be a bumpy but brilliant ride.