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Wrexham AFC Rises At The Racecourse Grounds: Part 2

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Wrexham Association Football Club (AFC) currently has 1.4 million TikTok followers, 1 million Instagram followers, 546 thousand Twitter (or X?) followers, 285 thousand Facebook followers, and 101 thousand YouTube subscribers. It accrued the majority of these followers after Rob MchElhenney and Ryan Reynolds took ownership of the club in November 2020. But Wrexham AFC has been around decades longer than social media and the town of Wrexham centuries before that. 

Wrexham And Its Racecourse

Wrexham is a city located in North East Wales. While it gained city status just last year,  its founding occurred prior to 1100 A.D. The grounds that would later host Wrexham’s football club first gained popularity as a racecourse. Horse racing events date back to the early 1600s in the town. 

A new course was constructed in 1739, which led to a major annual event called “The Wrexham Races.” The venue was redeveloped various times over the next century, but its time as a racecourse was coming to an end. 

Graphic Courtesy Will Gatchel

The landowner spent a lot of money on upgrades over the years. Some included a public house called “The Turf Tavern” (the oldest one at a sports stadium in the world), an upscaled version of the former called “The Grandstand,” a cricket pitch on the course, and stone-based stands for onlookers. 

However, The Wrexham Races were growing more known for their drunkenness and disorder rather than the races themselves. So, the owner ended them in 1857

No More Races. What Now?

The local community was splintered into different sides. Breweries and other businesses pushed to reinstate the races against opposition from the church. This back-and-forth debate led to the birth of the “United Volunteer Services Club” in 1863. So, what was the organization’s purpose (don’t worry, we’re getting to the football part, you’ll see)? To provide athletic sports for the town of Wrexham. Unfortunately, the newly founded club had no place to hold any sporting activities. 

Fortunately, two members of the organization, Charles Edward Kershaw and Evan Morris, were also part of The Wrexham Cricket Club. And that cricket club just so happened to play at the Racecourse. The two were instrumental in helping the United Volunteer Services Club use the infamous venue through their cricket connection.

Photo Courtesy Wrexham AFC

A Speech Brings Football To Wrexham 

As the cricket season wrapped up in 1864, the club held an end-of-season dinner. The story of Wrexham AFC could have gone a million ways. Morris could have caught the rugby bug, and that would be that — Wrexham ARC (Association Rugby Club) instead of AFC. Or a different cricket member could have advocated to host a variety of sports instead of focusing on a singular one. 

But none of that happened; instead, the cricket club chairman, Edward Manners, happened.

On Oct. 4, 1864, in The Turf Tavern, the chairman made a speech that would ultimately lead to the birth of Wrexham AFC, still standing over 150 years later. 

“There is one thing, gentlemen. I wish to name the great want of amusement in this town in winter time. It is my intention to purchase a football in the course of this week, and I shall expect a good many down to the field next Saturday,” Manners reportedly announced. “It was only yesterday I called upon the Mayor, and he said he should like to see an athletic club established in Wrexham. If we have athletic sports and cannot obtain a room suitable for holding them in, we can have them on the green.”

Photo Courtesy Wiki Wrexham AFC

Wrexham Football and Athletic Club was founded soon after and lost its first match by a score of two to one at the Racecourse Ground on Oct. 22, 1864. Only a few years later, the site would host an international match between Scotland and Wales on March 5, 1877, making it the oldest international football ground still in use. Wrexham AFC, Wales’ oldest and the world’s third-oldest professional football club, was officially on the path to eventual TikTok and United Airlines sponsorships. 

During the club’s early years, Morris, none other than former member of the Cricket Club and United Volunteer Services Club, served as president. He never caught the rugby bug. 

Next up: Wrexham AFC through the decades and how fans purchased the club in 2012 on the brink of collapse.

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