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.
It’s easy to understand why managers are often wary of so-called “luxury players”. They fear spending all week working on defensive shape, only to lose 1-0 to a goal which could have been avoided if the Number 10 had tracked his man instead of waiting for his more limited team mates to win the ball and return it to him.
The best managers can see past that, understand that the “luxury” label is unfair, or figure out a workable compromise, because that ability to create something out of nothing is incredibly rare. That’s why Wrexham fans look back on the 2015-16 season as a lost opportunity. We had a player who could do everything, and chose to let him go.
He only made 26 league starts for us, but Dom Vose is undoubtedly a cult hero at Wrexham. If you can come up with a more gifted player we’ve had in the National League, I’m highly impressed. Vose was sumptuously skillful, had a broad passing range and, most crucially, knew how to finish.
When Gary Mills brought him to Wrexham in the Summer of 2015 it was immediately apparent we’d recruited a special player. A Summer friendly at Bangor, in which he tormented the City right back with a series of magnificent changes of direction, tricks and dribbles, was an early sign of what was to come, as was the typically quiet, modest interview after the game.
Like Glen Little, here was a player whose hypnotic brilliance compelled his team mates to collaborate with him.
When the games turned serious, Vose showed he was no pre-season show pony. His debut ended prematurely as he was withdrawn half way through the second half at Bromley, but to be fair to him a number of Wrexham players played poorly in a 3-1 defeat; at least Vose provided the assist for Wes York’s opener.
Three days later, he made his home debut and we got to see what he was about. At the break we were trailing to an inexperienced Torquay side, but Vose inspired a terrific second half fight-back, scoring an equaliser and providing an assist as we won 3-1.
His goal (not only his first for Wrexham, but also his first since he last scored for Welling – against Wrexham!) was a perfect introduction to his art. He accelerated the move by dropping inside into space and speeding a pass wide to York. When the winger’s cross came in it took a deflection and fell to Vose. They say the best play sport like they have more time than everybody else: Vose assessed the awkward bounce of the ball and took three small backward steps to allow for the perfect alignment of conditions, before cutely steering the ball through an onrushing defender’s legs and past the keeper. Cool as you like.
Seven minutes later he showcased more of his game in setting up Connor Jennings;’ equaliser. He didn’t just play the final pass though: he orchestrated the movement of the ball forwards from a defensive position to the final flourish. Torquay had forced Wrexham back into their own half with a couple of long balls, and Vose first ended the pressure, keeping an errant Sean Newton header in and knocking the ball off an opponent for a throw.
In the following seconds two important characteristics of Wrexham’s play in the coming months are obvious. Firstly, Vose has an insatiable appetite for the ball. He demands it from Newton as the thrower weighs up his options, and makes himself an attractive target with little accelerations to gain some space. Secondly, you can clearly see the development of a pattern among Wrexham’s players. They really want to get the ball to Vose, to interact, exchange passes and create space for him. Like Glen Little, here was a player whose hypnotic brilliance compelled his team mates to collaborate with him.
Newton obliges, and Vose dinks a nicely weighted ball up the pitch which a defender can only put out for a throw 30 yards higher up. The same dance is performed as last time, as Vose creates space and receives the ball from Newton, but this time he’s in a position to do some damage. He cuts inside, past his marker, carefully protecting the ball by keeping it on his right foot with his body between it and his opponent, before squaring for Connor Jennings to lash home a fine shot. Again, his calmness and patience on the ball is everything, as he waits until Jennings’ marker takes a step away from his man to assist Vose’s marker, then slides in a perfect pass to a team mate in space.
It was the home crowd’s first chance to enjoy Vose’s characteristic style of play. Used on the left of attack in a 4-3-3, he would drift inside onto his right foot, sometimes embarking on a shuffling dribble, protecting the ball with his body, making sudden 45 degree changes of course. Always playing with his head up, he was constantly scanning for passing and shooting opportunities and, although he was clearly a touch player, he was also strong and solidly-built. He relished receiving the ball to feet in tight areas, using his strength to back in and hold his man off, before rolling him to tee up a sight of goal.
The following Saturday he served up more of the same. He had to wait until added time to get his goal, but he took it typically calmly. A penalty, he waited for the keeper to commit, using a late hop to address the ball. The keeper didn’t flinch, though, which can leave a penalty taker in a sticky situation: a late decision on where to put it often leads to an inaccurate finish.
The keeper guessed the right way too, but Vose’s penalty was perfectly placed in the bottom left corner.
The momentum built at Kidderminster, where an impressive 3-1 win, with Vose again impressive, put us in third place with a visit from Vose’s old club Welling to come. On paper it looked like an ideal chance to keep pushing on, but Welling dug in and Wrexham lost their fluency. Wrexham’s best chance had been created by Vose: a corner which picked out James Grey unmarked six yards out, but the striker badly mistimed his header. There was little else to report.
As the game entered the last minute, there was no score. Javan Vidal hit a long ball forwards which Grey flicked on. Adam Smith did well to shepherd the ball to Vose and he hit a first time strike into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to win the game. He was off balance, but made sure his right foot went through the ball cleanly, before spinning away in delirious celebration.
Haifax at home was next, and again Vose ran the show. He knitted play together during the build-up for the first goal before scoring a magnificent second. It was another illustration of how his team mates wanted to play with him: as he drifts up and down the left looking for space, Jennings and Adriano Moke are looking for him. The first time he receives the ball, in midfield surrounded by opponents, he is passive, and just pops it back first time. It’s almost as if he’s lulling his marker into a false sense of security, because when the ball comes to him seconds later in similar circumstances, he suddenly explodes, bursts inside his man and surges to the edge of the box, taking three defenders out of the game in the process, before firing home from the edge of the box.
Second in the table with five consecutive wins under our belt, things looked to be going well, but a tally of one point from two tough away games at Lincoln and Cheltenham seemed to sow the seeds of doubt in Gary Mills’ mind, starting a shift away from possession-based football to a more direct approach. This would be a process which would have massive consequences for a ball-player like Vose.
The best times were still to come, though. An exquisite Vose free kick left Blaine Hudson with no option but to head into the Altrincham net, and an identical set piece earned a penalty in the cross-border derby, as Hudson was denied a goal by a push in the back. Vose stepped up and scored, of course.
That match at the Deva told us a lot about Vose, and is useful evidence in the argument against the odd notion that he was somehow not fully committed to the cause. We fell behind, but within a minute Vose was dribbling past defenders and drilling a 20-yard shot which was denied by a good save.
When we fell 3-1 down in the second half, Vose pinged a superb pass, splitting the defence wide open, to allow Jennings to score a goal which was disallowed by a tight offside call.
The 3-2 defeat pushed Mills further towards the decision to change the nature of his team, and Vose would be the main casualty. Yet he’d stood up to be counted in the derby, and alongside Jennings did the most to haul the side back into the game.
He might not have been the archetype of the snarling, combative derby braveheart, but what is bravery? Diving into a tackle, or demanding the ball when things are difficult, and the scrutiny oppressive? Winning a massive header or backing yourself to play the high-risk pass which will lead to fury if you get it wrong, but will change a game if it works?
Still, Vose would pay a price. Subbed off just over an hour into the next match, a 2-2 draw against Tranmere, he was then dropped for the first time for an away defeat at Dover.
That match saw Mills suddenly switch to 3 at the back, and it went badly. Vose would return in midweek at home to Guiseley and show once again that he was a man who would stand up when the team needed him.
Without a win in 5, this home match against a newly promoted side struggling to come to terms with the higher level of football looked like a perfect chance to get back on track. The first half suggested it was going to be a train wreck.
Wrexham went behind to the softest of breakaway goals and stuttered horribly, but then Vose intervened.
The ability to produce something out of nothing is a precious one, and here was Vose doing exactly that. In the midst of a grim team performance he received the ball on the wing, came inside and, hanging onto the ball for a ludicrous amount of time, waited until the correct moment to burst through and score.
His one-man rescue mission appeared complete when he pounced on an error in the box and put us ahead just before the break. We failed to capitalize on his good work though; a nasty habit of conceding silly goals meant the game ended 3-3.
Next up was another switch to three at the back for a trip to Woking, and Vose enjoyed himself playing centrally behind two strikers, teeing up Jennings’ winner with a couple of sumptuous reverse passes.
The best was yet to come. Switched back to the left he got things going with a dribble and cross that left Wes York with a tap-in against Barrow, and then came the ultimate expression of his work.
Gateshead at home.
The game was goalless at half time. There was no sign for the poor visitors of the landslide to come.
Vose pulled the strings for the first goal, and swung in the corner for Blaine Hudson to score the second.
He was just warming up.
The gift that kept on giving, he was about to give Adriano Moke the cheapest assist of his career, Youtube a viral video and Wrexham fans one of our most wonderful memories.
Receiving a short free kick from Moke in midfield, he zig-zagged his way almost casually through the hapless Gateshead defence. There are six serious attempts to rob him of the ball, and none of them succeed, or even impede his progress. Eventually he gets into the box, turns a final defender inside-out and slides the ball past Sam Russell, an ex-Wrexham keeper whose redoubtable shot-stopping ability is powerless in the face of Vose’s mesmerising, inexorable progress.
Vose didn’t stop there. He added a fourth with a fine strike from the edge of the area, a showcase for his technical proficiency as he nailed the ball as it skidded awkwardly across him at an unhelpful height. After what he’d done earlier, though, the goal has almost been forgotten.
The magic kept coming: an assist for the winner at Aldershot was followed by another glorious day to be a Wrexham fan. If you’re going to start a derby at Tranmere wearing red gloves, you’d better deliver. After a beguiling 4th minute cross with his left foot to give Wes York an easy finish, Vose’s fashion decisions were off the agenda.
Vose chipped in with another typical goal to put us two ahead, cutting inside from the left and curling the ball home. Sublime, but strangely predictable. The remarkable truth about Vose’s half-season with us is that he made such wondrous moments seem easy; made us expect that sort of genius every week.
The difficult thing to understand is that, blessed with a match winner like that, we were already a long way into the process that would see us get rid of him. It’s hard to believe, but 6 games after the Tranmere match he’d play his last game for Wrexham; two months after the destruction of Gateshead he was surplus to requirements.
If he’d been poached by a team in the Football League, it would have been totally logical, but no. As our style of play moved away from passing to launching long balls for on-loan target man Mark Beck, Vose’s brand of wizardry was deemed an unnecessary luxury.
Vose didn’t look to leave, or want to. However, he was swiftly marginalized. Even with his time on the pitch being limited, he still kept contributing: a glorious free kick into the top corner against Woking was followed by an assist against Lincoln, but it would prove to be his last appearance for Wrexham. Two games as an unused substitute and a call out of the blue from the manager meant he was suddenly heading for Scunthorpe.
Traditionalists in football often view players like Vose with distrust. Certainly, the game’s long history is littered with players who flattered to deceive. Yet Vose was different: didn’t flatter, he delivered.
Despite leaving half way through the season, he still got to double figures in both goals and assists. To put that into context, only 7 other Wrexham players have managed ten or more assists in a season since we dropped into the National League, and they all had a full season to achieve the feat!
So Vose, the so-called luxury player who was actually a rare necessity, moved on, and Wrexham slid down. It was a bitter, utterly unnecessary way for a glorious relationship to end, but at least we’ll always have Gateshead.
REMEMBER TO LISTEN TO OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DOM VOSE TOMORROW ON DRAGONHEART