If you’d have told me at the turn of the year Wrexham would avoid impending doom to the sixth tier of the English League pyramid due to a global pandemic, and the club captain would spend his summer delivering pizzas then I probably would have told you to lay off the hallucinogens.
Let’s face it, scientists and likely conspiracy theorists aside, nobody saw what was coming when Covid-19 (no, not one of Gary Mills’s lesser-known signings) decided to try and end the world. For many melodramatic anuses their own worlds imploded when the football was brought to an abrupt end.
Strangely, I’ve quite enjoyed the breather from the relentless regular season, especially one which started shit and became progressively shittier. The once prodigal son Bryan Hughes came and went without almost a fuck given, sad considering his legendary status as a Reds player.
Then the return of the fella with his tail between his legs hardly inspired an already aghast fan-base, as the beleaguered Board went for the safety blanket option instead of going bold. Yes, I am still on about title-winning Andy Morrison. He must have some tactical nous if he can disrupt the dominance of TNS by playing hoof-ball, if you believe what you hear to be true.
Anyway, now is not yet quite the time for recriminations. None of us can really truly analyse in-depth the fall-out of such a gash campaign when it never reached a natural conclusion. I’ll sum it up like the closing remarks of a headteacher’s school report: ‘Wrex promised so much but, as has been the case in his early years at this level he has faded away, become disruptive and come perilously close to being excluded for lacking effort and application.’
Football over. Sports over. Non-essential shops closed (in Wales anyway). An eye-watering worldwide body count that has had a profound sadness on us all. All of it compounded by mixed messages from blathering BoJo and his blag brigade.
But, through adversity comes strength. Whilst nothing can compare to those NHS angels spending more and more time away for their families in order to save lives, it is the small gestures which can also make a big difference.
When the Football Season ended prematurely the Fat Boar Season began in earnest (see what I did there!?).
Lockdown is the closest most of us will come to doing a bit of bird — we’re deprived of most of our liberty, we count down the days loved ones can visit and embrace us and our chances of bickering with those we are confined to limited spaces with increases.
For the classic metaphorical file in a cake in order to hatch an escape plan, see Pearson’s Pizzas.
Fat Boar owner Rich Watkin and Shaun Pearson are cut from the same cloth and epitomise what us Wrexham-ites are all about. They’ve grafted for their success, continue to strive to be the best they can be every day and do it without losing any shred of the humility they exude.
I remember when diehard Reds fan Rich first told me of his plans to open a classy establishment. He mentioned it as we sat in a boozer on a cold, miserable midweek jaunt to watch Wrexham at Halifax. He said it quietly but confidently, like he was in no doubt his plans would soon come to fruition.
Fast foward X amount of years and here he is with a growing portfolio of go-to, must visit local venues tucked under his belt. Both Fat Boar venues walk the line perfectly between earthy, rustic pub feel and stylish, welcoming restaurant without the risk of the pretentiousness and snobbery experienced at other local hostelries (“cough…Pant-yr-Ochain!..cough, cough..”).
And amidst all of the chaos and confusion of Coronavirus, a master-stroke. With Mrs Pearson already on the books as waiting-on staff Rich had already laid the foundations to bring the captain (no, not that one) into the fold.
Furloughed along with everyone else at the greatest football club on Earth, Shaun wasted no time in answering Rich’s call.
I can imagine the phone conversation:
Rich: “Shaun, it’s Rich.
Shaun: “Hiya mate. Everything okay?
Rich: “Yeah not bad pal. Listen, we are looking at doing a take-out service and was wondering how you were fixed?
Shaun: “ You know me mate, happy to get involved and help whenever I can.
Rich: “Lovely. Would you be up for maybe doing some deliveries? I’m pretty sure some of those ordering would be made up to see you at their door!
Shaun:”Of course. Just let me know when so I can fit it in around Clarise and the kids, and training obviously!”
Rich: “Will do mate. Top man.”
The seeds were sown for the club captain of Wrexham Association Football Club to enhance his already glowing reputation as a modern day great and pillar of society, and that would have been the last thing on his mind.
Loyalty is rare in football these days and whilst Shaun has only been at the club for just over three years, it is a long spell in the current climate where players leave with the ink still wet on their contracts.
Some people will scoff at him being branded a club legend — they will point to the fact he has won nothing in his time with us (Player of the Season gong aside), although it has not been for the want of trying.
All Wrexham fans ask of those fortunate to pull on the famous red shirt is hard work, commitment and endeavour. He has all three qualities plus so much more in abundance. He immerses himself in the community, is an inspiration to so many young fans, and he continues to be a beacon of hope for a club currently on its knees in the National League dirt.
I, like so many others, could scarcely believe it when Shaun arrived at my door, food delivery in his medical-gloved hands, grinning from ear to ear in shorts and t-shirt. Obviously you wouldn’t get David Silva or Jordan Henderson, as nice guys as they appear to be, rocking up in their own much flasher cars at your door clutching a few plastic bags containing the filthiest of filthy food. Their pay packets match their global and celebrity status and, as such, they would be mobbed by fans desperate for a selfie with a millionaire they feel they have some sort of connection with.
Shaun Pearson might not be getting his hands on a Premier League(or even the National League) title anytime soon but he is still a celebrity to you, me, us. The connection is genuine, the bridge between us and our players is always there to walk across unlike the divide the further up the league pyramid you go.
He, along with the likes of Les Evans (RIP), Geraint Parry, Joey Jones is synonymous with Wrexham AFC.
I tried to play it cool when he first dropped off my food…I failed the second time, donning the cut-out mask made by the Fat Boar for Shaun Pearson Appreciation Day last year and answered the door to him wearing it.
He laughed, I took it off and we chatted briefly like old school friends who happened to bump into one another. Surreal stuff. Just as I was about to demolish my burrito my girlfriend said I had been fawning at the sight of the skipper on my driveway observing social distancing.
It has proved to be good publicity for both the Boar and the club, with Shaun’s moonlighting attracting the attentions of both Talksport and BBC Wales Sport.
Like any good man-manager Rich Watkin eased the pressure on his star attraction by enlisting the services of Luke Young, Bootlegger and the Beast (not a z-list version of Beauty and the Beast) to appease the hungry hordes feverishly working their way through the Fat Boar on Tour menu.
Blossoming entrepreneur Rich will be playing the long game, his eye perhaps on a much bigger prize. Some have half-joked about him landing a powerful role at the football club in the future.
His dad Alan stood down as a club director in 2017 after six years. In that time he helped develop the Racecourse Community Foundation and assisting in the adoption of notable health and safety responsibilities following the stadium take-over.
When Rich spelt out his vision in that Halifax boozer he saw it through to a resounding success.
The Fat Boar Wrexham is one of the only places around to start or end a classy night out without the need to head elsewhere — it’s got everything you want unless you are after sticky floors, uneven pool tables and a bunk-up with the lass who has been giving you the glass eye from the end of the Long Pull bar all night.
Hopefully in years to come The Cae Ras will have the same jewel in the crown feel to it, especially if future successful consortium owner Watkin has his way.
And you can guarantee the food will be amongst the best in the Football League then too (yes we will surely be amongst the elite 92 then).
Half-time halloumi fries washed down with a bottle of Bootlegger Flamethrower super-pilsner (5.6% abv) anyone?