Unsung hero: Paul Whitfield

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I was lucky enough to be gifted a matchworn shirt by Paul Whitfield recently.

You know, Whits, the former Wrexham AFC goalkeeper.

You know, surely! No? Okay, maybe not.

A fair share of decent custodians have adorned the no.1 shirt for the Reds — from Dai Davies to Andy Marriott, Ben Foster to current incumbent Rob Lainton.

The last line of defence is one of the most exposed and scrutinised positions on the pitch. For all the noteworthy goalkeepers of yesteryear there have also been plenty of God-awful ones — Mark Walton and Xavi Valero had all the stopping prowess of a those crepe paper targets aboard the battle cars in the finalé of Takeshi’s Castle.

Somewhere in between the great and the gash were the nearly men.

Whitfield is one of those. Hardly a Wrexham AFC household name but the St Asaph native played a small, albeit significant part in our last taste of promotion success, a mere SEVENTEEN YEARS ago.

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His first start was a baptism of fire — almost 18 years ago to the day a spotty, pre-granny shaggin’ Wayne Rooney enjoyed a double salvo, coming off the bench to add to Kevin Campbell’s strike as Everton coasted to a Coca-Cola Cup triumph. The 16-year-old put his first ever senior Everton goal through the legs of Whitfield!

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Four days later Whitfield replaced Andy Dibble after 76 minutes in a 2-2 draw at Cambridge United.

He replaced Dibble again later that month, this time in the 6th minute as the Reds secured a 2-1 win at Huddersfield Town.

He then enjoyed a starting place in the next 10 games — a 2-0 defeat to Lincoln City; a 1-1 draw at York and a 1-0 win at Southend Utd; 3-2 win vs Bournemouth; edged out Leigh RMI 4-3 AET in the FA Trophy; a 0-2 FA Cup reversal to Darlington; 3-0 victory at Bristol Rovers; goalless draw at home to Hull City; followed up a 2-0 FA Trophy loss at Carlisle United with a 2-1 league win over the same opposition.

That was the end of his contribution that season as Kristian Rogers (pictured below celebrating promotion) took over between the sticks for the next game, which resulted in a 0-2 home defeat to Kidderminster Harriers.

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Whitfield’s contribution in those league starts was crucual to our promotion success that season — he helped Wrexham accrue 18 points from a possible 27. Not too shabby at all.

The following season in League Two Whitfield had to wait until October, 13 games in, to start — a 4-1 FL Trophy win over Morecambe.

He featured in a 2-1 league defeat at Barnsley before starting the 5-4 Trophy defeat at Stockport County.

Andy Dibble made way for Whitfield after just 17 minutes at London Road after the then 39-year-old broke his arm. Whitfield shipped all six goals in a 6-1 thumping to Peterborough United in March 2004.

Northern Irishman Mike Ingham arrived at the club and played the remaining 11 games of the season as first choice stopper.

Whitfield, despite being tipped for the top by Dibble had departed the Cae Ras by the following campaign.

So, whilst injury blighted his Wrexham career and restricted him to 18 first team appearances (I think!), Whitfield’s impact on the Reds team was short but oh so sweet.

He also played in and helped us win the FAW Cup.

He went onto ply his trade for several Welsh Premier League clubs and is now coaching the goalkeepers at Llandudno.

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