Llewellyn the Great
We already know most of the stories from that historic afternoon 15 years ago today (April 10).
Every single member of Denis Smith’s squad played their part in the LDV Vans Trophy final success, a romantic, everlasting chapter in an unravelling tale of woe as Wrexham would eventually tumble into League Two after a points deduction for entering administration.
The away-from-home goal-scoring prowess of Juan Ugarte that season is the stuff of legend. He would eventually break Southend’s stoic resistance with the opening goal in extra time of the final.
On-loan Stoke City goalkeeper Ben Foster got his ‘shop window’ moment in front of Fergie Senior that would ultimately propel him to the top of the game.
We know all about the local lads who played their part — Mark Jones, Steve Roberts and Danny Williams. Flint’s Craig Morgan was rock-steady. Fergie Jnr was a chip off the knighted old block who proudly watched from the stands — he is one of the greatest captains to ever skipper the club and was a midfield maestro despite his advancing playing years. Just watch his second and decisive goal in the final — only really savvy players have that level of anticipation.
Whilst the likes of Foster, Ugarte and Fergie enjoyed the lion’s share of the glory there is another key player who should get the plaudits he perhaps didn’t quite receive at the time.
Chris Llewellyn became an integral part of Denis Smith’s team and was hugely instrumental in helping Wrexham navigate their way to the showpiece final in Cardiff.
In the six games en route to the Welsh capital he scored three goals and chipped in with a few assists for good measure. Equaliser, provider, provider, winner, winner.
Llewellyn may have been the Steve Watkin to Ugarte’s Gary Bennett but, unlike the latter goal-scoring legend was something of a coup for Wrexham when he signed for the Reds in 2003.
Brian Flynn courted the former Norwich City youth product for Swansea City as a clutch of clubs expressed an interest following his contract being cancelled at Carrow Road.
And despite the lure of his hometown club calling Llewellyn chose to head north and sign a two-year deal with the Reds, largely because Wrexham were in the hunt for an immediate return to the Second Division (now League One) whilst league rivals Swans were battling to avoid relegation to Division Three(now League Two).
Wrexham managed to go up (we’ve not been promoted since!) with Hartlepool United and champions Rushden & Diamonds whilst Swansea stayed up by a point. Wrexham were also the division’s highest scorers that season with 84 goals, 11 more than Rushden managed.
“If I’m really honest I probably wanted to sign for Swansea but the lure of playing in a higher league was the main pushing point in my decision to go to Wrexham", said Chris.
“I just couldn’t go from a Championship club in Norwich to one which risked going down, which was the case with Swansea at the time. It was a difficult, difficult decision and whilst a part of me thinks about what could have been I don’t really have any regrets.
“Besides, if I had signed for Swansea they probably wouldn’t have eventually reached the Premier League!
“I loved my time at Wrexham. I gave my all for the shirt. Winning the LDV Vans Trophy is the second best highlight of my career, the first will always be scoring for Wales against Liechtenstein at Wrexham (Wales won 4–0 with Llewellyn’s Wrexham team-mates Mark Jones and Steve Evans also featuring).
“That was another factor in me coming back to Wales — I felt I would have more of a chance to pick up more Wales caps.”
Sit back and relax as Chris and I take you through the six triumphant Tuesday nights that led to that glorious Sunday afternoon.
September 28, 2004: Notts County 2 Wrexham 3
Denis Smith’s reds headed to Meadow Lane off the back of successive home defeats to Sheffield’s sworn enemies — 2–3 to United and 0–3 to Wednesday.
However, the first round of the Trophy proved to be a welcome distraction as Hector Sam’s 87th minute winner earned Wrexham a 2–3 victory. Shaun Pejic opened the scoring but the visitors trailed 2–1 with 19 minutes left. Llewellyn levelled matters after a fortuitous rebound off his head before the smiling Trinidadian assassin had the final say after playing a one-two with Llewellyn.
CL: “That is the only game I can’t really remember much about. It was just another game near the start of the season, everyone was finding their feet and nobody was thinking about getting to that final at such an early stage of the competition.”
November 2, 2004: Wrexham 2 Stockport County 0
Denis Lawrence and Danny Williams struck in each half respectively as Wrexham made it seven unbeaten in all competitions.
Wrexham were buoyed by new signing Ugarte, snapped up on non-contract terms just the previous day.
The Hatters dominated the second-half but Ugarte climbed off the bench to play a pivotal role in the deciding goal. He forced Cutler into a save and from the resulting corner Williams ghosted in at the far post to seal it for the hosts.
CL: “I think it was quite a comfortable game really in terms of a cup match. We could have won by more. Juan had been training with us for a few weeks and it was good for him to get involved and make his debut for the club.
“Juan and I pretty much struck up a good understanding straight away. We complimented each other quite well in the sense that I wasn’t your typical number 9 — I wanted to come deep, go wide and wherever I wanted really whilst you always knew Juan would be in and around the box.”
November 30, 2004: Chester 0 Wrexham 1
Juan was the man once again as former Real Sociedad hit-man Ugarte struck the only goal of the game after 19 minutes at the Deva. It was put on a plate for him by Llewellyn as Wrexham put their cross-border rivals, managed by Ian Rush, to the sword.
I lay claim to starting the following chant (to the tune of Dean Martin’s classic ‘Volare’) there and then: “Ugarte, whoh oh oh oh, Ugarte, whoh oh oh oh, he came from Sociedad, he made the Chester sad”. Witty eh…
CL: “I remember that game well as Chester were being managed by Ian Rush and Mark Aizelwood. Mark was my manager when I captained the Wales U16s team, so it was nice to catch up with him again.
“It was a lively game played in a good atmosphere. We took loads of fans there and I remember there was a bit of nastiness between both sets of supporters!
“As for the goal, Fergie played me down the right and I just rolled it across the floor for Juan who finished it well.”
January 25, 2005: Hereford United 1 Wrexham 2
Daniel Carey-Bertram gave the Bulls the lead at their shit-hole Edgar Street ground but Ugarte headed in the equaliser within 60 seconds. Absolute poacher. Llewellyn struck the winner with 15 minutes remaining as Wrexham marched into the two-legged Northern area final.
CL: “I can’t recall too much about this other than we were wearing an all black kit! (see grainy pic above) There were a lot of bodies in the box, the ball came in and I was falling back a little bit. It ended up being the perfect height for me to hit a left-foot volley into the net.
“It was similar to other games in that it was just another game. It was only until the Oldham game when we thought ‘hang on a minute, we’ve got a chance to get to Cardiff here’.
February 15, 2005: Oldham Athletic 3 Wrexham 5 (Northern Section final, first leg)
Where do you start with this one…I’ve never seen so many glum faces at the end of game we had won quite convincingly. Why? Probably because we were leading 1–5 before Wrexham ‘did a Wrexham’ and let the Lancashire side back into it when they looked dead and buried.
Scott Vernon struck to halve Wrexham’s slender 1–2 half time lead, carved out via goals from Ugarte and Mark Jones.
Whatever Smith said to his troops in the Boundary Park dressing room had a stunning effect as we took the game by the scruff of the neck — Ugarte (55, 62) registering his hat-trick either side of a pin-point Darren Ferguson free-kick(58). We were in dreamland. Never mind one foot firmly in the final — we had a two-footed Joey Jones shin-breaker firmly ensconced in the Millennium Stadium turf.
That was until, however 41-year-old David Eyres (76) and Vernon (pen, 83) again set up a nervy second leg at the Cae Ras.
CL: “It was a great game for the neutral fans but not so good if you were a Wrexham fan! We played really well for 70 minutes and could have scored twice as many goals. But Oldham looked a threat every time they went forward too.
“At 1–5 we switched off but 3–5 was still a good result. If you’d have said before the match we would win that game 0–2 you would have taken it and everyone would have been buzzing. Essentially it was the same thing. Them getting a few goals back tarnished it a little bit and there was a tinge of disappointment in the dressing room after the game, but we still had a two-goal advantage to take back to the Racecourse.
“At 1–5 the job was done. At 3–5 if they scored first in the second leg then it would have been game on.”
March 8, 2005: Wrexham 1 Oldham Athletic 0 (2nd leg — Wrexham won 6–3 on aggregate)
Despite almost letting an unassailable lead slip in the first leg, enough damage had been done to book Wrexham a place in the final.
We went into the game off the back of THAT extraordinary 4–6 win at Hartlepool United when Ugarte bagged five, no less.
Oldham’s mission was pretty much over when central defender Guy Branston received his marching orders for twatting Carlos Edwards off the ball. Five minutes later and Llewellyn got the only goal of the game to get the party started as the majority of the 5,814 crowd — a then competition best attendance at the Racecourse — flooded onto the pitch at the final whistle.
Llewellyn limped off at the death but he exited knowing Wrexham would contest their first major final since their Welsh Cup triumph a decade earlier.
CL: “We went out there and started playing the game as if it was nil-nil. It is a dodgy situation when you start trying to predict what is going to happen or try and play a certain way.
“It was a tight game but the longer it went on the more confident we were of getting over the line.
“I don’t know how my goal went in to be honest with you. I’ve hit it pretty tamely from the edge of the box and it has somehow squirmed under their keeper. At that point we knew we were in the final as there was no way Oldham were going to score four goals in ten minutes.”
Four days later Wrexham again beat Oldham at home by the same scoreline as Hector Sam’s 90th minute winner ensured there would be no swift exacting of revenge by the Latics.
In the run up to the final we lost 4–2 at Swindon Town, were beaten 1–2 at home to AFC Bournemouth and drew 2–2 at Barnsley.
As for the final…you know all about that. Goalless, extra time — Ugarte, Fergie, ecstasy.
CL: “We had a couple of nights down in Cardiff before the game. All the talk was about Southend United. They were top of the league below us, Freddie Eastwood was scoring plenty of goals for them. But our team was better than theirs and i couldn’t understand why they were being tipped as favourites to win.
“We had one of the best defenders in our league in big Dennis Lawrence; we had the best young goalkeeper in Ben Foster; Fergie was the best midfielder by a mile; Carlos was the best winger and Juan always had a goal in him.
“The 10 point deduction meant the club was in a false position. One moment there was talk of us reaching the playoffs and the next minute we were in the relegation zone.
“The final was a chance to show everyone what we were about. There was a siege mentality in the squad and no disrespect to Southend but we were better than them. We knew if we went out and did a professional job then we would win.
“We wanted to do it for ourselves, the gaffer, the staff and the fans. We wanted to go out there and do ourselves justice. We did that. It was a proud moment to be a part of and I’m sure it will be remembered for a very long time.”