Hope Springs Eternal: how a pre-season jaunt to Shire and Mancunia backwaters may have awoken the dozing Dragon.
Thanks to Olly Murs and UB40 joining the privileged ranks of Stereophonics and, more distantly Motörhead and Twisted Sister as some of the musicians to have graced the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham were forced into a second successive UK pre-season tour with the odd Algarve date thrown in for good measure.
Lex via Cefn via Loulé via Stafford via Warrington via Nantwich via Altrincham via Chorley, to be precise.
When we host Macclesfield Town on Saturday 15 long weeks will have passed since our final home game, a meek 1-0 surrender to the Daggers.
Our enforced time away from the original and true home of Welsh football, coupled with an exciting off-season overhaul of the squad has simply whetted the appetite for our TENTH season in this godforsaken league.
Reds fans turned up in their droves to get their first glimpse of this new and improved Wrexham squad at Lex.
Goals from Paul Rutherford, second year scholar Niall Freeman and Leo Smith secured a solid opening win.
However, attentions often turned to other players on show. The unconventional targetman known only as ‘trialist B’ hit the post and had a shot cleared off the line.
The other game being played was Spot the Boden — our imminent next signing Scott was perched next to the dugout watching on.
Onwards to Plas Vegas — Cefn Druids’ The Rock (minus Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage) and their luscious 3G pitch were up next.
Another huge turnout ensured the biggest crowd on record since Druids swapped Plaskynaston Lane for the Rock thanks to Tesco — 1,854.
Fans climbed up onto the banks and the exposed jagged terrain to watch the Reds take the lead through Trialist B’s sublime left-footed rocket.
A late James Jennings header and injury-time spot-kick from young defender Ben Barratt eased the Reds to a 1-3 triumph.
More importantly, he who shall only be named by the club as Trialist B had been outed on social media before the game as 23-year-old Frenchman Gime Touré.
Job done and it was time for a four day trip to Portugal where Loulétano DC lay in wait.
We again ran out 1-2 deserved winners in the heat thanks to Ntumba Massanka’s cool leveller and Leo Smith’s great, late headed winner.
Oh, and the swimming pool lifeguard kit was debuted. In all honesty, it’s a really tidy shirt — I cannot recall us ever having a yellow shirt with a red-only trim. Wrexham Yellow has traditionally been accompanied by green, discounting the recent flourescent custard and blue Adidas strip. And those dreamy blood red shorts? Bespoke design for the club as confirmed by Mike from Macron Store Wrexham.
Four days later and a suitably tanned Wrexham squad swapped the sunshine for Stafford.
Scott Boden arced a shot over the Rangers keeper to give Wrexham the lead after 42 seconds, prompting Lee Fowler to confidently tweet that we need look no further than our fair-haired forward as the 20-goal-a-season striker we’ve lacked for so long.
Five minutes later Shaun Pearson sneezed on Dan West who hit the deck like he’d just been tasered in the arse cheek. The penalty was converted by some chap with a double-barrelled surname which sounds suspiciously like a upmarket department store in London’s Piccadilly.
A smart winning finish from James Jennings owed much to the patience and panache of assister Leo Smith as Wrexham marched stiocly to secure win number 4/4.
The signing of midfield enforcer Akil Wright is announced prior to the trip to Warrington Town.
He’s likened by a fan on Twitter as an octopus — “tentacles everywhere”, presumably referring to his ability to swamp an enemy from all angles before making the ball stick to him. Well, something like that.
Chris Holroyd’s patience finally pays off with the opening goal in rugby league heartland before another Boden strike is enough to see off the spirited Yellows 1-2, the third successive result by this margin.
But for the first time since putting last season’s squad through the shredder Keates was not a happy bunny after a disjointed display.
Nevertheless, his ire is short-lived as he acquires signing no.13 — Halifax skipper Kevin Roberts.
Not content with leading the Shaymen back to promotion to the Conference at the first attempt the former Chester City right-back is eying another promotion triumph.
As for Gime… Keates was unsure, stating he does some things well and other things not so well and cited the culture shock as a possible factor.
There are no room for passengers on Keates’ promotion express train but the unpredictable Frenchman could be a useful wildcard.
Nantwich Town’s decade-old Weaver Stadium awaited the boys next.
Things don’t quite go according to plan. Despite making the early running Wrexham fall behind. Marx is pick-pocketed with ease and Jordan Davies curls the ball past Dibble.
Wright, Carrington and Gime are wasteful. The Dabbers held firm to maintain their unbeaten pre-season. Hundreds of Reds fans stream for the exits disappointed.
Gime’s last meaningful act in a Reds shirt was to pull a shot wide of the post when through on goal — he’s told he can look elsewhere the day before the Altrincham game. Macclesfield Town snap him up. Au Revoir Gime. J’adore.
The penultimate pre-season venture was at Moss Lane.
Goals from Marcus Kelly and Holroyd ensure the wobble at the Weaver was exactly that.
Captain Shaun Pearson gave us all a scare by limping off…but he was all smiles in the dressing room afterwards.
Keates was happy with the reaction against an Alty team who are tipped for promotion back to the broken-promised land of the Blue Square Premier/Skrill/Vanarama top flight.
And finally it was a trip north of Wigan to Chorley.
At aptly-named Victory Park the Reds could have made it seven wins from eight thanks to Boden’s first-half strike, his third goal for us. However, a fabulous free-kick leveller and saved Massanka penalty late on ensured a first draw with seven won and one lost.
So, who impressed in pre-season and who has work to do?
Dunn: first choice and will benefit from Michael Oakes being involved with the coaching team again. Goes about his business efficiently and is rather vocal.
Dibble: had one notable shaky moment at Druids but is imposing. If he’s inherited any of his dad’s ability then we have a more than capable custodian on our hands.
Hurst: our very own Cantona-Barton — shoots from the hip and tells it how it is. No filter. His attitude has been called into question by fans at some of his previous clubs (we are his 15th and he is only 25!) but for all his cheeky chappy demeanour Hurst can be a commanding, versatile defender who is not afraid to enjoy a foray deep into opposition territory. He is a character and one who will no doubt get up the noses of opposing players. Oh, and he totally loves Wrexham fans.
Emmanuel Smith: Athlete. Consummate professional. Another captain without the armband. A calm and composed leader at the back.
Pearson: proud captain, humble off the pitch and hassling on it. The former Grimsby Town hero has moved to the area and has already shown his quality in abundance. Injured at Alty but has he regenerated the injured tissue enough like the Terminator to ensure he is fit for Saturday? He wasn’t risked at Chorley but should be back in the starting XI for when it matters.
Jennings: unwanted by Cheltenham Jenno is back near his Manchester base and seems to be enjoying his football again. Like his brother Connor, James will be a consistent performer and offers a wicked delivery.
Rutherford: survived Keates’s brutal but necessary cull and has a point to prove. Looked dangerous on select occasions last season but looks to have upped his game and tempo.
Carrington: Mr Dependable and currently our longest-serving player. Gives everything to the cause and pre-season has been no exception. Could find himself further upfield after the arrival of Kevin Roberts.
Wedgbury: Snapchat takeover king who looked like an extra from Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas whilst out in Portugal — SO58 bucket hat, shades and that hirstute face. Mean presence in the middle of the park and could pitch in with a few goals. His creative absence was felt in the Nantwich defeat.
Kelly: direct, fast and tricky. Great close control with the ball. Hallmarks of being our most dangerous player for the task ahead. Very well spoken.
Holroyd: Finally found his aim with the opener at Warrington after going close many times in the preceeding games. Missed Nantwich game but weighed in with another goal at Altrincham.
Touré: Hit the post in the first game. Scored in the second. Faded and bade farewell after the Nantwich loss. The stuff of legend and WST quiz questions in years to come. Now at Macclesfield.
Wright: colossal presence in midfield. Breaks things up nicely but the loan signing needs to work on his finishing after he shanked an easy effort wide in East Cheshire to level the scores.
Leo Smith: On flames. Busy, an eye for goal and prepared to take risks in the right areas of the pitch. If he takes this form into the season Wrexham will do well to retain his services.
Boden: After a destabilising time north of the border at Inverness the dry-witted Yorkshireman seems determined to kickstart his career with us. Given his chronic lack of game time in the past year Boden has shown some encouraging signs. Already considers Wrexham to be home.
Massanka: powerful targetman who gives us the more direct option if needed. His goal on the Algarve was proof of this. Huge upper body strength to hold up the and bring Holroyd and Boden into play. Had penalty saved at Chorley.
Mackreth: rapid from a stationary position the Scouser offers width with decent delivery. Might be easily brushed off the ball if caught…but that’s a big if. His performance data shows he is three times faster than any other player at the club.
Marx: has been caught out a few times but the kid has potential and doesn’t shy away from his errors. Needs to up his concentration levels to challenge Pearson and Smith for a place in the heart of the defence. He could not ask for a better pair to learn from.
Second Year Scholars: Doug Tharme Danny Stephens, Ben Barratt and Niall Freeman all showed up well with the latter two players finding the net.
Brandon Burrows was thrown on late at Nantwich. His wavy hair is mid-90s glory.
Keates has stated he has no qualms in using the youngsters should injuries bite midway through the season.
So, the time is upon us. There is an underlying feeling of ‘if not now then when?’ as we look ahead to the season with justifiable confidence. for the first time since that ‘so close, yet so far’ 98 point campaign.
Our squad is not the biggest but the size of the characters throughout it is immense.
We have a young and hungry team under the tutelage of a young and hungry manager. As one they are ambitious.
They will make mistakes and some games will be lost. But they need our unwavering support.
Fans are being bussed in from along the coast on Saturday. Make them feel welcome, new faces or old.
If this team are going to set the bar high then let us do the same in the stands. Clap, cheer, sing. Reserve the jeers for our opponents and any negative comments for the pub.
Feel good about the part you, I, we are going to play in what could finally be the season we’ve waited a decade for.
Up The Town.