Aussie Exile

Steve Stacey

Steve Stacey

The Big Interview Gareth Collins quizzes ex-Reds stalwart Steve Stacey

Background: Born in Bristol in 1944, Steve Stacey was a versatile defender who played for Wrexham between 1966 and 1968. Now living in Perth, Western Australia, Red Passion catches up with the man who never forgets a name...

You made your Wrexham debut on 26 February 1966 against Southport. Can you remember much about the day?
'Bill Harvey who was the Bristol City coach at the time drove me up to Wrexham on the Friday afternoon and we stayed overnight at the hotel at the junction of the main street and the Oswestry Road. The name slips me at the moment. The Wrexham team had gone to Southport that afternoon and Bill and I drove up on the Saturday an hour or so before kick-off. The thing I noticed was that it appeared to be a relatively young side. The game ended 2-2 and it was a cold afternoon. I remember that late in the day I touched a goal-bound header over the bar but the ref ruled that my hand was behind the crossbar and hence the ball was out of play. I did think that it was great to be back to first-team football and was of course excited about it all. Sammy Mac offered me a cigarette in the dressing room after the gameI Used to smoke then and Bill Harvey just looked at me. How things have changed! Bill met a scout from Sheffield Wednesday after the game who may have been checking out some of the Wrexham youngsters.'

Wrexham's manager at the time was Jack Rowley. What was he like to work under?
'Jack Rowley was a likeable chap and made me feel very welcome. The players respected him immensely. Bristol City were a bit tardy in settling my benefit monies, like several months, and when Jack just happened to overhear my discussion with one of the players, he wanted to know what the story was. I told him. He took me into the office and spoke in no uncertain terms to the Bristol City secretary. Wow. I got the money within a day or two. Jack and his sidekick Ken Roberts rarely took training, leaving this to Jack Jones. As a result there was little tactical work that went on that year. Ken Roberts in my book didn't have as much grasp of the game as Jack or most of the players. Jack was an inspiration when he spoke and had he stayed I think things would have improved immensely. I was quite surprised when he quit and went to Bradford. In retrospect we had a very ordinary team that first year. Jack told us after one game - at this stage we had started to pull clear of the last league spot in the 4th Division - that if we avoided re-election he would throw the biggest party Wrexham had ever seen. At this stage we had lost only once in seven games. Jack's promise consigned us to one win in the next nine, assuring us of bottom spot.'

What was the Racecourse Ground like in those days?
'It was basic. The dressing rooms were OK but it wasn't in any sense a modern ground nor did it have any modern facilities. It looked better at night! There was a very noticeable slope from the dressing rooms towards the open end. The open end when it was full was quite a buzz, usually a sea of red and white and quite impressive and stimulating when we had a good crowd. The other thing I remember is that down the bottom at the shed end there was a fair old drop from the pitch to the crowd and I remember in one game chasing a lost cause. I couldn't stop and ended up dropping over the wall into the crowd!'

How did you rate the Wrexham team that you played in, and which of your teammates did you rate as good footballers?
'I thought the team was a good one but lacked a spark that was difficult to get a handle on. I think it was in midfield given that the back four - Ingle, Powell, Mielczarek and Stacey - was in my book pretty good. Kinsey, Smith and Arfon Griffiths made and scored plenty of goals but we tended to bog down a bit in the middle. Sometimes we went for it when we should have battened the hatches and knocked over a few people. I think the lack of a class midfielder cost us promotion in '66-7. I'm basing my judgment too on the fact that I would always have played Arfon Griffiths wide upfront on the right where in my opinion he was always more effective. If we had got the midfield right, I believe we would have given the 3rd Division a shake but that would have meant holding on to myself, Dave Powell and Ray Mielczarek and that's another long, long story.'

What are your main memories as a Wrexham player?
'Some of my main memories are unprintable! Wrexham was like a big family in those days. We played hard and had a lot of fun. Team spirit carried us a long way. There weren't any clichés. It's difficult to express in words because one felt so at home. From my own point of view I was happy, my wife was happy, the kids were happy, and getting up and training and playing for the club was a real pleasure. We also had lots of friends outside of the club so all in all what we needed to do was to win promotion, and that we couldn't do it was my biggest regret.'

What are your most memorable personal footballing moments?
'My most memorable personal moments? There are a few. Signing pro shortly after my 17th birthday with my mate Tony Ford on the same day. The reporter said who's who to Fred Ford, the manager at Bristol City. Fred said Tony Ford's the white one! A goal on my debut for Bristol City against Merthyr Tydfil from outside right of all places in the Welsh Cup. My league debut for Wrexham, signing for Ipswich and my debut against Liverpool. The Welsh Cup final against Cardiff. The best goal I ever got - versus Brentford at the Racecourse. Really, as a pro, every week is the next biggest buzz of your life. Every time you walk out on the park and hear the crowd - off you go again. To define a moment is really difficult because there were so many.'