In our near-160 year history, many remarkable players and characters have been associated with the club. Some of their stories will always be remembered; other tales naturally fade as time passes. Let’s look back at some of those incredible characters whose lives became intertwined with our club.
If it’s a character you want, then there’s few better examples than Steve Fox.
Fox arrived in Wrexham during our first season in the second tier, possibly to maintain our eccentricity quota! We’d lost Mickey Thomas earlier in the campaign, and while Fox wasn’t a direct replacement, he certainly brought more than his fair share of flair on the wings.
Fox arrived at the end of December 1978 with Welsh international David Giles as we spent the cash Manchester United gave us for Thomas. It was hardly ideal timing for them: after a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat at Preston in which they both made their debuts, and Fox won a penalty which John Lyons converted, a spectacularly bad winter meant we didn’t play again in the league for another two months.
The FA Cup must go on though, and five weeks after the Preston game, the duo found themselves thrust into a dramatic trio of FA Cup ties in treacherous conditions.
After multiple postponements, we finally hosted Stockport County in the Third Round of the competition. The Hatters gave us a rough ride, and two minutes after the break we went 2-1 down, but Fox and Giles then ran riot in their first home match for us, and we ended up winning 6-2.
Our reward was an away tie at White Hart Lane, and once again Fox was prominent, contributing an assist as we managed a 2-2 draw.
The replay was a memorable affair. Chris Jones gave Spurs an early lead, but 8 minutes from time Gareth Davis scored to take the game into extra time. Dixie McNeil put us ahead and, with 20 minutes left, Fox was replaced by Mel Sutton as Wrexham looked to protect the lead.
It didn’t work: Jones struck two more to complete his hat trick and Wrexham succumbed to a 3-2 defeat.
Fox continued to excite when the league season resumed, and the tales of his and Giles’ comical escapades around town suggest it was probably for the best that football returned to keep them occupied!
Fox was, by all accounts, a somewhat unorthodox guest at The Wynnstay at the start of his time in Wrexham, and after moving into digs he continued to be a lively tenant. Remind me to tell you the story about the outboard motor some day!
Fox was an edge of the seat winger. He’d have off days where he was anonymous, but when he sparked he could be thrilling.
His most memorable moment in the first season came in our final home game, the first leg of the Welsh Cup final against Shrewsbury.
Fox’s long range shots, and there were many of them, tended to end up closer to the tea stall on the Kop than the net. We were notoriously shot-shy that season, though, and at least he was stepping up and taking some responsibility by having a go. Eventually one would go in, and then it would all be worthwhile.
The Shrews were a strong team, freshly promoted under Graham Turner as champions of the Third Division, and were good value for a 1-0 lead after half an hour.
The ball fell to him in a central position a good thirty yards out just as he was losing his balance. However, somehow he managed, as he fell backwards, to retain control of his strike as he swiped his right foot at the ball. It whistled past the startled keeper and soared viciously into the roof of the net. The tie was alive again.
There was no fairy tale ending – we lost 2-1 on aggregate – but Fox had capped his first season at the club by rising to the occasion spectacularly.
Fox would be a virtual ever present for the next three seasons, spanning our time in the Second Division.
His first full season at the club saw him really show what he was about. While the programme became fixated on his love of a new car (he was apparently onto his 7th of the year by the end of September!), Fox was firing on the pitch.
He scored a screamer in the 3-2 European Cup Winners Cup win against Magdeburg, starred in the 6-0 FA Cup win over Charlton, and featured as we put 2 goals past Everton at Goodison Park in the FA Cup. Admittedly, they scored 5, but let’s focus on the positive!
He featured in the running for the player of the season trophy, and the following campaign he would win the award, once again showing a flair for performing in the most important of games.
Most memorably, a scoring sequence in cup ties saw him score against Wimbledon in the FA Cup, and then hit two in a 3-1 victory over Cardiff. His first, a typical beauty, was celebrated in extravagant style, as Fox leapt onto the fence of the packed Kop, shaking his fist joyously at the delirious fans. The resulting photograph is one of the iconic images of Wrexham AFC’s history.
Fox followed that up by putting Wrexham ahead in an FA Cup tie at Wolves with a rare header, but the First Division side struck three times in the last twenty minutes to end our cup run.
He began the next season by turning up with a comically loud orange hairstyle, a consequence of an attempt at home dying by his wife which went spectacularly wrong, and not a nod to his hero, David Bowie. Still, somehow it fitted in with his larger-than-life personality, and it was no surprise that when the now-defunct Wrexham Express decided to illustrate their weekly advert in the match day programme with a rather dubious cartoon of a player, they chose Fox!
However, his form was poor at the start of the campaign, and he was happy to express his exasperation in public. He wasn’t helped by the fact that new manager Mel Sutton had seen the likes of Dai Davies, Les Cartwright and Alan Dwyer depart, while legendary captain Gareth Davies was laid low by the injury which would ultimately end his career and playmaker Ian Arkwright could only manage 4 appearances that season after badly breaking a leg.
As Wrexham limped their way to relegation, Fox found his form again, ripping in a magnificent cross for Steve Buxton to score in a 3-1 win over Cardiff which ended a run of ten games in which we won just once and failed to score in 6.
He then played his part in one of the greatest upsets in Wrexham’s history. We trailled Brian Clough’s European giants Nottingham Forest at the County Ground with less than half an hour left, but Fox swept in the set piece which allowed Steve Dowman to equalise, and after Mick Vinter put us ahead, Fox’s perfect cross allowed Dixie McNeil to wrap up a 3-1 win.
Fox was switched into attack as the season entered the final stretch, and he responded with his only goal of the season, a late, spectacular long range strike at Grimsby (below) which earned a valuable point. Regardless of his position, he just didn’t do tap-ins!
Fox’s improving form coincided with a sudden upturn in results. Having suffered an awful run of seven consecutive defeats in mid-season, relegation looked certain, but suddenly The Robins embarked on their longest unbeaten run of the season, Fox’s goal extending the run to 8 games, and it looked like the drop had been averted as we entered the last 5 games on a run of just one loss in 12.
Sadly, the strain of catching up after another harsh winter led to an end of season collapse. Four games later we were only 1 point better off, and relegation was confirmed with a game left.
It was the first season which rewarded a win with three points, and Sutton, who lost his job at the end of the campaign, admitted in his programme notes for the first game of the season that he was “slightly apprehensive” about the change. How prescient he was: if the old 2 points for a win system had remained, Wrexham would have leap-frogged Cardiff and Bolton to avoid relegation.
Having said that, just two more points would have saved us anyway. In that context, the 11 points we dropped in the run-in appear particularly costly.
Fox stuck with the club after relegation to Division Three in 1983, but the financial problems which would characterise the decade for Wrexham had already had a massive effect on the club, and would lead to Fox’s departure.
He played in the first 8 games of the season before picking up a knee injury against Plymouth. As the financial crisis deepened, Wrexham had to drastically cut costs, and in the space of a couple of weeks Dixie McNeil, Joey Jones and Fox were all sold.
Fox went to Port Vale on a free transfer to get his wages off our books, with a 50% sell-on clause. He could have gone to Newcastle, but they wanted him on trial for a month instead and Vale’s wage offer made his mind up.
Fox’s departure was a reluctant one, made inevitable by the financial meltdown of the club. He would make 177 appearances for Wrexham, but his personality and ability to thrill a crowd meant more than mere numbers.
Arfon Griffiths, the man who brought Fox to North Wales, said he was the most talented winger he’d seen play for the club. Surely there could be no greater compliment.