Striker Steve makes all the headlines in Europe!


STEVE MASSEY will always have a chapter to write in the proud history of Wrexham Football Club.

And the former Reds forward, who has scored more European Cup Winners’ Cup goals than anyone in a Wrexham shirt, raves about it in his autobiography.

Massey’s memoir contains fond memories of his time in the city and he will be back at the racecourse on November 26 to sign copies of his book, Where’s My Towel?.

And here are excerpts from Chapter 19… European Nights.

“Financially, I have had to accept a drop in salary. However, this was done for purely football reasons. I’ve never reached the top two divisions of English football, but the prospect of playing in the European Cup Winners’ Cup made my mouth water.

Two years earlier, when I was part of Hull City’s promotion squad, Wrexham had made headlines with a magic piece of giant killing when he beat Porto on away goals.

After qualifying again after a replay of the Welsh Cup final at Kidderminster, Dixie McNeil used to sell me the club with European Nights.

The racetrack was impressive. Although one side of the site was cordoned off, there were two relatively new grandstands and a huge home terrace, the Town End or Kop.

The latter was a tall, imposing bank with red and white barriers. It felt like a real soccer field. There were even special smaller lamps on the floodlights that were only used for international matches and those European nights.

Dixie walked us to the car. I rolled down the driver’s window and he stuck his head in. “Well then give us a call when you’ve made up your mind.” Just then a passing bird dropped a full load right onto Dixie McNeil’s head. Shocked and embarrassed, he jumped back.

We found a bungalow called Mousehall in Caergwrle, one of three villages huddled together at the foot of a mountain, the others being Abermorddu and the delightfully named Hope.

News spread quickly through the villages and one of the teachers at the local school, Abermorddu Primary, who was a staunch Wrexham fan, found out that a player had moved to the area. He asked me if I would host some coaching sessions at school, which I was more than happy to do. A photographer snapped me – in my Wrexham track suit – throwing a ball to this little boy (Kingsley Hughes) who was leading him.

A few months ago, this “little boy” – now of course a grown man – contacted me via Facebook. “Do you remember this picture? I’m the one leading the ball. I remember coming to your house. I have supported Wrexham ever since and my father has been a regular supporter for over 70 years. He died two years ago and his ashes are scattered on the racecourse lawn.”

That was good news. I texted him back saying I remember his father fondly and that it was great to hear that Kingsley is keeping his father’s memories alive. A perfect example of the positive side of social media.

Wrexham had a decent squad of players, certainly one capable of fighting for promotion. In addition, many of them had already become acquainted with European football in that 1984/85 season.

There was a good mix of youth and experience: Dominican-born skipper Joe Cooke, a veteran striker-turned-central-back and an imposing man mountain; six-foot-tall center forward Jim Steel, a talisman still fondly remembered by Dragons fans for scoring crucial goals in two European Cup games; Goalscorer midfielder Steve Charles who played until he was 40 and had a degree in mathematics and sports science.

Barry Horne, the Porto hero with his last-minute goal, someone who traded a PhD course at Liverpool and non-league football with Rhyl for an opportunity to play professionally. He would captain Wales and win an FA Cup final with Everton.

As for Dixie, he was a great motivator and his man management was top notch. There was a lack of funds at the club, but European campaigns were always seen as positive: a financial bonus for the club; an overseas adventure for the players and fans.

Wrexham would finish ninth in my first year at the track.

Then, while the league season ended with a tinge of regret that we hadn’t converted some of those draws into victories, it was those European Nights that lit up the campaign.

This would be Wrexham’s sixth season in European Cup Winners Cup football. The first round draw had given us a tie with part-time player Zurrieq, who lives on Malta, an island 80km south of Sicily.

On the afternoon of the day before the game, half a dozen of us were sitting in a cafe when a young man appeared out of nowhere, stood over us at our table and said: ‘You’re the Wrexham players, aren’t you? ? Are you looking forward to tomorrow’s game?” We assumed he was just a local supporter. In his hands he carried what appeared to be a box of tissues.

He put it on the table. “Just one favor from your boys tomorrow, please. We don’t have many chances to play these games. Could you take it easy?” He pointed to the box and said there were some goodies in there for us. Neither of us looked inside. I assumed it was money but who knows?

Barry Horne immediately addressed the situation and clarified, “We’re here to win, mate!”

Going into the match I had yet to score a goal in Wrexham colors and had received some good-natured heckling from my team-mates about it. “Remember what the back of a net looks like, Mass?”

When we scored our first goal that night I was like a monkey and we ended up winning 3-0. The Maltese players were clearly in awe of us when they played a team from the ‘English’ Football League.

After scoring my first goal, I was hungry for more. Two weeks later I scored twice in the second leg on the track as we won 4-0.

If Zurrieq was a gentle introduction to European football for me, the prospect of playing our second-round opponents Real Zaragoza took things to a new level. At that time they were a top Spanish club. They qualified for the ECWC by beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. In the opening round of the Cup Winners Cup tournament, they defeated Roma after a penalty shootout.

There were no expectations on our shoulders, just excitement at the opportunity. While we were flying to Spain, several busloads of Wrexham fans set off on a marathon bus trip from North Wales to Aragon. Among them was my brother Stuart. My biggest fan – Dad – missed my two away games in Europe. He had no passport and had never traveled abroad or even flown on an airplane.

On the evening itself, La Romareda was packed with more than 27,000 fans. As in many Spanish stadiums, the dressing rooms were underground and we had to go through these seemingly endless underground tunnels before finally arriving at the bottom of a set of stairs that you climbed to reach the pitch. Looking up you could see the light, already hear the sound. As I climbed up, I thought, “You’ve arrived! European football!”

As we went upstairs, certain black and white images came to mind: grainy shots of George Best climbing the steps of an iconic European stadium, possibly Benfica. The camera followed him up and out onto the pitch, amid the din of a packed stadium. That felt like Steve Massey’s “Georgie Best” moment.

In any case, we weren’t overwhelmed on the pitch.

Zaragoza fans, wanting to express their dismay, displayed thousands of white handkerchiefs. In Spanish football, this gesture symbolizes deep emotions.

Ahead of the second leg, I was interviewed by local newspaper The Leader and asked what I think our fans could expect. I promised readers the boys would be up for it and playfully implied there would be “fireworks”. In my defense, the game took place on November 5th.

Because one side of the site was cordoned off, 14,550 crowded the racetrack that night. I have no idea how the goal line stayed 0-0 until the end of regular time. Zaragoza goalkeeper Antoni Cedrun made several great saves, particularly against the great Jim Steel who was in top form that night.

The extra time brought an unbelievable swinging spectacle. Zaragoza broke one of our attacks in the 98th minute and scored through Patricio Nazario ‘Pato’ Yáñez Candia, a loan Chile international who had come on as a late substitute minutes earlier.

However, we hit back less than five minutes later when I hit home an instinctive batter (on the packed Kop end) after a ball deflected at my feet. When I got that equalizer, I would have been in the crowd without safety fences. I would probably still walk now.

Within two minutes, the momentum changed again as “Pato” casually scored his second goal.

Still, we refused to lie down and I was involved in our second equalizer, first with a heel, then a left-footed hook cross. Steve Buxton equalized. He was a part-time player, coming straight from work to the pitch. The stuff of dreams.

Unfortunately, that was it with the goals. 0-0; 2-2… We were eliminated on away goals.

When I think back to my time in North Wales, it’s that first year that I look back on fondly.

Eight of my 17 goals have come in cup games, four in ECWC, still a Wrexham European record!”


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