This piece originally appeared as a letter in the local paper 'The Leader' and on Wrexham Blog.
Wrexham FC may not be the most glamourous football club in the world, and the fifth tier of the English pyramid certainly isn’t the highest standard of football.
Yet the importance of the club, and crucially the club’s home – the Racecourse Ground – to the town of Wrexham and the North Wales region cannot be emphasised enough.
In the past few decades, Wrexham has lost its heavy industry; its pits, its quarries, its steelworks. We have lost, too, our breweries and our world famous Wrexham Lager Beer Company. To many, from Wrexham and beyond, our industry was a huge part of our identity, and its passing has been keenly felt. The Racecourse, however, remains standing, and has become more important than ever as a symbol of our distinctive local identity.
Perhaps to others, used to Sky Sports and modern ‘elite’ stadia such as the Emirates Stadium, Old Trafford, and the new Wembley, the Racecourse may seem humble; with its terraces, its mix-and-match stands, its faded and weather-beaten seats and aged turnstiles. Yet the Racecourse is of huge historical and contemporary importance. The Racecourse is the oldest international stadium in the world, having hosted both Wrexham and Wales games since 1877. The inaugural international fixture at the Racecourse was a 0-2 defeat to Scotland.
The ground has played host to genuine greats of the game; players such as Stanley Matthews, Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Socrates, and Ryan Giggs. On the Racecourse pitch, Wales have beaten more noted footballing nations such as Spain and England; and Wrexham, a club with a reputation for slaying giants, have beaten the likes of Porto and Arsenal on the hallowed turf.
The stadium is renowned across the British Isles and beyond as an authentic and genuine theatre of the game; it is cherished not just by supporters of Wrexham and Wales, but also by football enthusiasts the world over.
Unfortunately, the stadium also sits on prime town-centre real estate, which has made the club and its land a target for property developers. In 2002, Alex Hamilton took control of the football club, and immediately transferred ownership of the Racecourse from the club to a separate company, Crucialmove, making the club tenants in their own stadium in the process. Hamilton then raised the rent to a prohibitively high level, and changed the terms of the lease to allow a 12-month notice of eviction.
Two years later, Hamilton – having saddled the club with debt as he sought to create a financially unstable situation at the club – served notice of eviction, and many feared that this historic stadium was on its knees. Hamilton’s intention, having asset-stripped the club, was to sell the land for property development, which would have pocketed himself millions but would have meant the end not just for ground but also for the football team.
The supporters of Wrexham FC organised, orchestrating an outstanding campaign to raise the profile of the situation at Wrexham and to shine a light on the dealings of Alex Hamilton. This resulted in thousands marching on countless protests, and a media campaign of epic proportions, but befitting of a stadium as venerable and as significant as the Racecourse.
A ferocious legal battle followed, along with a nationwide campaign of support in solidarity with Wrexham fans. In late 2005, a ruling by judge Alistair Norris in the high court provided a historic rebuke to property speculation in football: the judge ruled that “A fiduciary position in the club has been misused for the benefit of those interested in the exploitation of its property assets.” The ground was returned to the club.
Fast-forward to today, and ownership of the club has changed hands several times since the era of Alexander Hamilton. However, to ensure that the Racecourse is not the target of asset-strippers and ruthless property developers in the future, the online community of Red Passion – the primary website and forum for Wrexham supporters – has launched a petition calling upon Wrexham Council to safeguard the Racecourse by including it within the Local Development Plan.
The petition asks that the councillors ensure that the Racecourse is clearly identified in the Local Development Plan as an area that is protected and reserved for leisure activities, and specifically in its role as the primary sporting arena in North Wales.
Describing the aim of the petition, a Red Passion spokesperson said “By including and thereby protecting the Racecourse within the Local Development Plan, fans will be eternally grateful to the council for safeguarding the stadium, should a rogue property developer attempt to purchase the club or stadium in the future. With this in mind, the online Wrexham fans community ask that Wrexham County Borough Council’s Planning Policy Committee agree on the inclusion of the Racecourse Stadium in the Local Development Plan (LDP) for the years 2006-2021.”
The petition has already received a phenomenal amount of support in only a couple of months. A Red Passion spokesman went onto say, “We have been overwhelmed by the response so far. Signatories to the petition include not only many residents of Wrexham County Borough and supporters of Wrexham FC, but supporters from clubs across the UK and the world. We have support from fans of our greatest rivals, such as Chester, Tranmere, and Shrewsbury, and supporters of clubs as diverse as FC United of Manchester, Wimbledon, Brighton, Cardiff, Swansea, Porto, Valencia, Roma, Manchester United, Celtic, and Vålerenga.
Included in the signatories are individuals such as Stephen Birch, currently serving in Afghanistan, Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, and former players, such as ex-Wrexham, Chelsea and Wales goalkeeping great, and current Manchester City coach, Eddie Niedzwiecki. This illustrates the diversity of support for the petition, and those names sit proudly alongside over 8000 others at the time of writing, with messages of solidarity pouring in from the United States, Malaysia, and Thailand, and of course from across Wales and the UK.
The support that the Red Passion community has received thus far from across the footballing world demonstrates the affection in which the Racecourse is held.
Safeguarding the Racecourse Stadium is not only good for sporting and cultural events, it is also important for the local economy. A spokesman for the Red Passion group of fans said “The North Wales Economic Forum has identified the Stadium as the regional venue for events such as international football, rugby and other team events. This theory is borne out by the stadium currently being used as one of only four venues in Wales for the junior World Cup Rugby tournament, and the only venue in North Wales. The North Wales Economic Forum has adopted the North Wales sports strategy, which singles out the Racecourse Ground for this purpose. The Welsh Assembly Minister for Sport, Culture and the Welsh Language accepted this document formally as the basis for Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) policy development relating to North Wales and sport and physical activity. We are of the view to secure the ground through the Local Development Plan is therefore in line with national policy.“
We ask for anybody who cares about the game, the town, the region, or about heritage and the preservation of local, civic, community identities, to sign the petition in solidarity with Red Passion, with Wrexham fans, and with supporters of clubs throughout the world, to ensure that the Racecourse is protected, so that future generations can cherish this historic ground as much as we do.