FA YOUTH CUP | Racecourse set for historic Wrexham AFC vs Sheffield FC clash

Macclesfield Town
Posted:Wed 16 Oct 2019

While it will be all eyes on the future stars in the FA Youth Cup 3rd Qualifying Round, the draw has thrown up a fixture packed with historical significance at the Racecourse too.

The oldest international football stadium in the world will host the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC, against Wrexham – the oldest football club in Wales.

Sheffield FC were founded on October 24, 1857 – nearly 162 years ago. The Dragons, meanwhile, played their first game almost exactly seven years later on October 22, 1864.

With a shared history of just a fraction short of 317 years, Wrexham AFC vs Sheffield FC is also therefore the oldest possible international club fixture.

While there are older football clubs in the English football system, including Sheffield’s long-standing rivals, Hallam FC, as well as Bradford Park Avenue, Notts County and Stoke City, Wrexham are the oldest based outside of England.

Wrexham are three years older than Queen’s Park, of Scotland – the next oldest non-English club. Older sporting establishments exist in the football world – 1860 Munich’s name being a clue as to their reformation date – but the German team were initially a gymnastics and fitness club, and did not play football until 1899.

Furthermore, the venue could not be more fitting. Wrexham’s long-standing home first hosted an international football match – Wales’ first ever home game – in 1877. This year’s match against Trinidad & Tobago was the 94th at the stadium, across a span of 142 years.

The world’s first

Sheffield FC, nicknamed The Club, were founded in 1857 by two members of the Sheffield Cricket Club, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest.

Though more akin to football than the game’s early origins – ‘folk football’ being the modern name for the violent, village vs village, hundreds-per-side matches, played up hill and down dale in the 14th and 15th centuries – Sheffield FC still played a version of the game barely recognisable to our current sport.

Tony Collins, one of the leading historians of football’s origins, quotes various “Sheffield Rules”, which include the scoring of a ‘rouge’, effectively a touchdown behind or wide of the goal from a shot off target. [1]

There was no specification as to the number of players per team, while other rules included a ‘fair catch’ – similar to the ‘mark’ in Aussie Rules or rugby union – and throw-ins being awarded to the first team to touch the ball after it went out of play.

Nevertheless, Sheffield FC – having first joined the Football Assocation in 1863 – adopted the national governing body’s rules in 1878.

They remained an amateur club, however, and the introduction of professionalism saw a gulf open up between themselves and football’s top echelons.

They did win the FA Amateur Cup in 1904, however, and were FA Vase runners-up in 1977.

Sheffield FC have stood the test of time too – celebrating their 150th year in 2007 with a match against Inter Milan at Bramall Lane. Incidentally, Sheffield FC had played Hallam FC in Bramall Lane’s first football match in 1862, meaning the stadium’s football origins are earlier than the Racecourse, but it did not host its first international until 1883.

The modern-day Sheffield FC actually play outside the city, however – having called Dronfield its home since 2001. The senior team play in the Northern Premier League Division One South East, at level eight of the English Football Pyramid.

Wales’ oldest

Wrexham AFC were originally believed to have been formed in 1873 until evidence was uncovered in an archived copy of The Wrexham Advertiser placing the club’s founding year in 1864.

Like Sheffield FC, the club can place its origins to a cricket club looking for sport in the winter months – in Wrexham’s case, the Denbighshire County Cricket Club.

Edward Manners, the cricket club’s secretary, was the initiator and the club’s first ever game took place at the Racecourse – or ‘The Denbigh County Cricket Ground’ – on October 22, 1864 against the Prince of Wales Fire Brigade.

Again like Sheffield, the first matches were not fully akin to modern football – the inaugural match was set to be 15-a-side but was eventually ten-a-side instead.

The Wrexham Weekly Advertiser dated October 29, 1864, reported: “On Saturday last a foot ball match was played on the ground at the Turf Tavern, between ten of the Prince of Wales Fire Brigade and ten of the club, which resulted in an easy victory for the fire brigade, they winning the two first goals out of three.”

Wrexham won the inaugural Welsh Cup in 1878 – beating Druids in the final at Acton Park – but did not play regular league football until they joined The Combination in 1890.

Barring a brief – and successful – move to the Welsh League for financial reasons between 1894-1896, Wrexham remained in the The Combination until election to the Birmingham and District League in 1905.

The Robins were then elected to the Football League in 1921 and stayed there until 2008 – peaking with four seasons in Division Two between 1978 and 1982.

Wrexham have won the Welsh Cup a record 23 times, as well as triumphing in the Football League Trophy in 2005 and FA Trophy in 2013.

The club have also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Now playing in the National League, Wrexham celebrated their 150th year in 2014 – just two years after the discovery of the club’s official date of formation.

Wrexham: the home of Welsh football

As well as being the home of Wales’ oldest football club, Wrexham was also where the Football Association of Wales was founded.

Consequently, the national team’s first ever home game was played at the Racecourse against Scotland in 1877 – a 2-0 defeat – and Wrexham’s Mold Road home is consequently recognised by the Guinness World Records as the oldest football ground to still host international matches.

March’s 1-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago was the 94th Wales’ home game played at the Cae Ras – making it Wales’ most-used home venue too.

As its name suggests, the founding purpose of Wrexham’s Racecourse was horse and pony racing. The first horse race at the venue was held on September 29, 1807 – won by Lord Stamford on board Belinda.

Horse racing continued at the venue until 1857, while pony racing continued until the early years of the 20th century. The Turf Tavern was originally constructed beside the winner’s enclosure in the 1830s.

Wrexham Cricket Club used the Racecourse in the summer months, before being amalgamated into the Denbighshire County Cricket Club in 1864 – servicemen from the Denbighshire Cavalry and Denbighshire Rifle Volunteers, who used the Racecourse for training, races, parades and drill practice, formed the majority of the club.

At the end of that season, at an annual dinner at the Turf, secretary Edward Manners proposed the formation of a football team and the Racecourse hosted its inaugural football match – Wrexham’s first – on October 22, 1864.

Athletics and bike racing were also among the early sports played at the ground , while Wrexham moved away for two seasons from 1881 to 1883 when the Cricket Club increased the rent.

More recently, Super League arrived at the Racecourse when the Crusaders moved north in 2010 for the second of their three years’ in rugby league’s premier northern hemisphere competition.

The North Wales Crusaders, who succeeded them, also played at the Racecourse between 2012 and 2016.

Wrexham were handed a year’s notice to evict the ground in July 2004 – made public in September of that year – by chairman Alex Hamilton. It triggered a long-running legal case, which was eventually resolved in March 2006 when the high court ruled Hamilton had improperly transferred ownership of the ground to his company Damens Ltd.

Ownership eventually passed to Glyndwr University in 2011, before the football club signed a 99-year lease in May 2016.

The Turf still stands on its original sight – now in the shadow of the Hays Travel Stand on Mold Road. The stand is the newest, having been built in 1999.

On the opposite touchline is the Bkoncepts Stand, formerly the Yale, which houses the club shop, offices, boardroom, changing rooms, directors box, press seating and dug-outs.

The most iconic end of the Racecourse, the terraced Kop, was first built in 1952 on the Crispin Lane side of the ground or ‘Town End’. It was once the largest all-standing terrace in the Football League but is not currently in use due to safety reasons. Plans for a new 5,000-seat stand were revealed in July.

Finally, the Glyndwr University Stand – commonly known as the Tech End – sits behind the opposite goal with a capacity of 2,800.

Among the many records set at the Racecourse, one of the most recent was set by a player who featured in the previous Youth Cup tie. Youth team left-back Cian Williams became the youngest Wrexham player to appear for the senior team at the Cae Ras when he appeared as a substitute against Ayr United in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup third round. He has been away on international duty with Wales Under-17s, however.

FA Youth Cup 2019-20 3rd Qualifying Round: Wrexham AFC vs Sheffield FC

Back to the present day, and Wrexham and Sheffield FC are bidding for a place in the main draw of the FA Youth Cup when they meet in the Third Qualifying Round on Wednesday (October 16).

Wrexham last qualified for the main draw in 2017-18, when they were beaten in the second round by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

The Dragons set up the tie against Sheffield FC by beating Solihull Moors 5-2 in the second qualifying round.

Having both made their first-team debuts in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup earlier this season, Bobby Beaumont and Max Cleworth headed the Young Dragons into an early 2-0 lead.

Calum Huxley added a third just before half-time and doubled his tally after the break, before substitute Lewis Parry added the fifth. Two late Solihull goals made the scoreline a little more respectable for the visitors.

Sheffield FC’s run to this stage has been more remarkable, however.

Starting their journey in the preliminary round, they beat Rossington Main 7-1 and then beat Stocksbridge Park Steels 4-2.

Most recently, Alex Wonham scored five times as Sheffield FC saw off Eccleshill with another seven goals – Jack Hackford and Max Rhodes adding the others in a 7-0 win.

Like Wrexham, Sheffield have already gone one step further than last season, when they crashed out with a 6-1 defeat to Chesterfield in the second qualifying round.

The FA Youth Cup Third Qualifying Round tie takes place on Wednesday (October 16) and kicks off at 7.30pm. The tie must decided on the night, so extra time and penalties will be played in the event of a draw.

Entry costs £3 for adults and £1 for under-18s, with entry via the Centenary Club.

[1] Tony Collins (2015) Early Football and the Emergence of Modern Soccer, c. 1840–1880, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 32:9, 1127-1142

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