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Date: 25/05/14

A Marathon And A Sprint

The football season of 1978/79 had been a tricky one to negotiate.

A long spell of cold weather had meant that Brymbo Steelworks FC had scarcely been able to play a game from early December to late February. This was in large part due to the fact that the club didn't have its own ground to play on. The old Cricket Field ('The Crick') had been obliterated in 1975 to enable the steelworks to expand very substantially southwards, and left the club having to find alternative venues. Having played at Solway Banks, Southsea and on the grounds of Yale Sixth Form College, a semi-permanent home was found at Plas Coch on the north-western outskirts of Wrexham.

This, however, was a council-owned facility and so was dependent upon the capability of Wrexham Maelor Borough Council (as it then was) to keep it fettled up. This they did to the best of their abilities and resources, but the weather was so spiteful that winter that it prevented any use of Plas Coch for nearly three months.

What that meant was that, in a thirty-game season in the old Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division One, Brymbo Steelworks FC were left with ten games - a full third of the league campaign - to play with scarcely a fortnight to go before the extended conference date of May 26, by which time the league season had to be completed come hell, high water, fires, floods or tidal waves. When you also consider that that fortnight excluded the Sundays (when our league never played) and the Thursdays (which were seldom used, except for League Cup finals), it meant that those ten games had to be played in as many available days with a total of only four days off in between.

It would have been a tall order anyway, but we were challenging for the league title, something we hadn't won for about seven years; a long time to wait for a club which had dominated the league in the second half of the sixties.

Our rivals for the championship were Cefn Albion, a club which had only got into the top division for the first time two or three years before, but which had built up a reputation for being a determined force, and one which was especially intimidating on their home ground at Church Field, Rhosymedre, where the drunks would emerge from the nearby pub at chucking-out time on a Saturday afternoon to add their own sheen of menace to the proceedings. We regarded the club rather loftily as being artless young upstarts who had nevertheless displaced our previous chief rivals Denbigh Town as The Team To Watch Out For.

Cefn Albion had completed their fixtures more or less on time for the original conference date, and stood twenty points clear of Brymbo, with the Steelmen (as we were always called in the local rag, if nowhere else) still having those ten games to make up (two points for a win it was then, remember). It was going to be what they now call (I'm afraid) 'A Big Ask'.

But the one thing that Brymbo always had on their side was stamina. The first team was a mix of wise old stagers and young legs, and had been moulded by the player-coach Gareth Powell into a determined, combative and skilful unit. It was to need all of those characteristics in the second half of May 1979.

Somehow, often by the skin of their teeth, they won game after game, playing four games a week to make up the backlog. So it came to Saturday May 26, 1979. The last game of the season, at Plas Coch, against Llangollen.

Llangollen were hardly a pushover. Games against them were always competitive (in the best sense) and frequently highly entertaining to watch, and so every last ounce of remaining grit would be needed. And the lads weren't found wanting. They were 2-0 up at half time and went on to win 4-1 with two goals from Tony 'Rabber' Pearce and one each from Alistair (Ali) Jones and the player-coach himself.

The final whistle came and I think we all - spectators almost as much as the players - had left everything we had on the grass of Plas Coch. A marathon which had started in the middle of the previous August had ended in a nerve-wracking sprint, but the finishing line had been crossed, and crossed in style. Those few of us supporters who had stayed committed to the club and had followed it from temporary home to temporary home over the previous four years wandered over the field of the final triumph in a drained daze, whilst being treated to the sight of Gareth Powell being seized upon by his team-mates and launched joyfully (or as an act of delicious revenge) into the small, grubby, weed-choked pond which stood nearby (which is why he looks damper than everyone else on the photograph below, which comes from the Wrexham Leader of the following Friday).

Thirty five years have passed on, as have at least two of the people in the photograph. Plas Coch playing fields are no more, having long since been converted into that most emptily malign of modern developments, the 'Retail Park'. Brymbo Steelworks FC, having moved into their new ground just a few dozen yards down from The Crick the following August, went on to have a second Golden Age which almost - but not quite - equalled the club's achievements of the late sixties. Its successor club still plays there now.

To anyone beyond the locality, the events I have described are of little or no consequence. Trivial, even, in The Great Scheme Of Things. But they mattered immensely to those who were most deeply involved, they gave a sense of identity, community and achievement to them. For those reasons alone, they deserve to be commemorated - even if only on an unregarded website - whilst there are still those of us around who can tell the story.

Photograph of a football team with a trophy