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On this day: Remembering when Wrexham stunned Arsenal in FA Cup thriller

It is 4.47pm on the fourth of January 1991 and a 37-year-old midfielder known as much for his off-the-field antics than for his impish touch is lining up a free-kick from range.

In net is David Seaman, already well established as England’s keeper and in possession of one of the most famous moustaches in the country. In the wall stands a coterie of defenders who are a byword for stoic excellence: Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. The previous season this formidable rear-guard had conceded only 18 goals in the league as Arsenal easily romped to the title over and above an iconic Liverpool side. They had lost just the once throughout.

If the Gunners were imperious and in their pomp on this chilly, fated afternoon then Wrexham were unquestionably on their uppers. In May they had finished rock bottom of the league pyramid and only survived due to a technicality that saw the introduction of the play-offs and ergo the league structure expanded. They were presently rock bottom again.

This then was a peculiar tie that even the FA Cup third round wasn’t overly familiar with; a true David v Goliath clash that took the aristocrats residing at the very top of the top flight to the scruffy home of the strongest team in England: the one holding up all four divisions.

Indeed so vast was the chasm between the sides that the commentator remarked on Alan Smith’s opener in the 44th minute that blushes had been spared, the insinuation being that it was rather embarrassing for the visitors to take so long to break the deadlock. And given that nine of the starters for the Dragons that day were graduated YTS trainees he had a point too.

But back to the action. Mickey Thomas is only moments away from being called a ‘magic little man’ by the BBC’s Tony Gubba. He has a word with the ref to confirm that the set-piece is direct. He fusses with his face and long curled mane as a packed Racecourse Ground desperately wills for something special to occur. They have seen some amazing sights in this magic little ground down the years but always with Wales. Always with Wales.

He steps up. He arrows one straight and true. It is a free-kick of such a calibre that it would elicit applause on a training pitch. Here there is only bedlam; exorcised disbelief from a lifetime’s worth of disappointment.

On looking back now it is unnerving to recall that the best was still to come with Steve Watkin sliding home a sensational winner with just minutes remaining. It came so soon after Thomas’ thunderbolt that some were still reeling from it, still finding their way back to friends on the terraces.

It was though – and will always be – about that free-kick. Struck from a magic little man in a magical cup.

This weekend sees the third round throw regimented order out of the window once again and pit the very biggest against the small and struggling. And it is hoped that another upset can take place; another tectonic plate to shift.

Because the memories last forever and enrich us all. They are memories that are the best of us. They are the best of football.

Article title: On this day: Remembering when Wrexham stunned Arsenal in FA Cup thriller

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