Wrexham at night, magic under the lights

Stok Racecourse
The Racecourse is the world’s oldest international football stadium which is still in use, having first staged a Wales game in 1877

As dusk falls in Wrexham, the sun peaks through the hazy lilac skies behind the Racecourse; a storied old football club cast under a new light.

Having laid dormant in the non-league wilderness for 15 years, Wrexham have risen from their slumber under Hollywood owners; their return to the Football League a tale told to the world.

And on Tuesday evening, as the night draws in, that glare burns brighter again as the club’s new floodlights flicker into action.

There is something special about night games, a unique magic about sport under the lights. From the anticipation of the walk to the ground to the sights and sounds of a stadium under the cover of darkness, these matches just hit different.

Wrexham expects. The city has celebrated promotion and welcomed the return of league football, and now it wants to see its club win a game at this level for the first time since 2008.

The Turf expects too. This pub, adjacent to the Racecourse, is a shrine to Wrexham.

There is memorabilia everywhere, there are pictures of manager Phil Parkinson and striker Paul Mullin behind the bar, the staff wear replica shirts and one even sports a Wrexham badge sticker on his head.

One wall is adorned with references to historic fixtures, such as the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final against Anderlecht, as well as other, more playful suggestions of Hartlepool v Deadpool.

On a night like this, the place is abuzz. Inside and outside the pub, around 180 years old, there is excitable chatter from supporters, and equally excitable signing from a group of deaf fans.

Walk into the Turf in the past couple of years and you’re likely to hear the occasional American accent as well as the local twang. Thanks to the Welcome to Wrexham documentary, this pub is a tourist attraction these days.

The same is true of the club and the stadium, sold out again this evening for the League Two match against Walsall.

Wrexham players celebrate their third goal during Tuesday's 4-2 win over Walsall
Wrexham players celebrate their third goal during Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Walsall

The noise is thrilling. The Tech End bounces as fans roar in unison in front of a mural of owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Two and a half years later, it still doesn’t quite feel real.

This is the kind of game you live for as a supporter: high-octane football and a fervent atmosphere, entertainment that means something and pulls you in.

You cannot take your eyes off a game played at this pace, with chances at both ends, full-blooded tackles and six goals.

Why did two global film stars buy a lower-league football club? Watch a game like this, football at its intoxicating best, and it gives you a good idea why. It’s compelling, it’s maddening, it’s addictive.

You can see why new audiences have bought into this madness. Wrexham raised eyebrows when they went to the United States on their pre-season tour to play the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United this summer, but it made more sense when you saw the thousands of Wrexham shirts in North Carolina and California.

Now those converts are travelling to the source of their newfound passion.

Once the mayhem of the Walsall game has subsided and the majority of the sell-out crowd have left their seats, a few spectators stay behind to take in what they’ve just witnessed.

A young American couple, both wearing Wrexham shirts, pose for a photo together, taken by an older local fan who smiles to himself as he holds the phone aloft, struggling to believe that his club is now famous worldwide.

Not long after they have left, once the groundsmen have tended to the pitch and the matchday staff have made their way home, the floodlights slowly turn off.

The Racecourse is cloaked in the dark of the night, fading to black, ready to do it all again on Saturday.

You might also like...