On January 4, 1992 lowly Wrexham, who were marooned at the bottom of English football’s fourth tier, caused one of the greatest shocks in FA Cup history when they dumped reigning champions Arsenal out of the competition.
But this most famous of cup surprises might never have happened if Aldershot Town had not become the first Football League club since Accrington Stanley to go out of business in 1991 as it would have been Wrexham relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference since they had finished bottom of the Fourth Division; but The Shots’ expulsion gave them a reprieve.
Officially the worst team in the land, few fancied their chances when they were drawn against last season’s title winners Arsenal at the Racecourse Ground; but the Welsh side went on to achieve one of the biggest scalps of all time in a game which is still talked about today.
It wasn’t just on the pitch that Wrexham were struggling and uncertainty hung precariously over the club due to a number of financial difficulties, so when the draw was made and they faced second-placed Arsenal – who had lost only one in the league the previous campaign – many saw it as nothing more than a big payday for the club.
And things looked to be going to plan when Arsenal dominated proceedings in the early stages of the game and could have been out of sight before Alan Smith eventually put them ahead just before half-time after some fine skills from Paul Merson.
But as the old saying goes, football is a game of two halves and this game was certainly no exception as the home side came roaring out of the traps after the break and embarked on one of the most thrilling turnarounds ever seen.
Former Manchester United and Chelsea star Mickey Thomas began the revival when he rifled home a thunderous free-kick to send the 12,000 fans inside The Racecourse Ground crazy, as all thoughts now turned to a money-spinning replay at Arsenal’s old home Highbury.
But a replay wasn’t called for as by now the home side were pouring forward and saw their chance to put the tie to bed once and for all and snatched a second just two minutes later when 20-year-old top scorer Steve Watkin hooked the ball home to make it 2-1 with five minutes left and at the final whistle fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate this remarkable feat with their heroes.
“I got quite a few goals in my career, but the one against Arsenal is the only one people remember, but I don’t mind that,” said Watkin, who went on to work for a recruitment firm some years after his heroics, when remembering his strike. “After that I just remember all the fans spilling onto the pitch and the utter chaos in the dressing room which was packed with journalists and cameras.”
Wrexham eventually went out of the FA Cup at the very next stage following a draw away at West Ham which saw them earn another money-spinning replay that they ultimately lost 1-0. As for Arsenal they bounced back in classic fashion to win the following season’s final against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.
But their humiliation on January 4, 1992 didn’t end with the stunning defeat by the team four leagues below them. On the way back to London that night their team bus broke down on the M1 and the players had to wait on the hard shoulder while a replacement was despatched to cap a thoroughly miserable day all round for The Gunners.
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