IN an otherwise forgettable domestic campaign at the Racecourse, the evening of November 14, 2006, provided one moment for Wrexham fans to cherish.
When Mark Jones joined Steve Evans and Chris Llewellyn on the field against Liechtenstein, it was the first time since the 1970s that the club provided three players for the Wales first team.
A considerable achievement for an outfit which flirted for so long with relegation from the Football League.
However, the young midfielder’s full international bow was just of equal significance to the Dragons’ youth academy.
Jones’ substitute appearance ensured the academy had been represented at every level of the national set up, from the Under-15s through to Toshack’s side, during the 2006/07 season.
The fortunes of Steve Cooper’s youth set up this term have been a far cry from that of the senior teams.
Most notably, in what academy director Cooper describes as a major coup for the League Two club, U15 ace Kai Edwards claimed the Welsh Sportsman of the Year gong for his age group.
It would seem that if the next Ryan Giggs is a North Walian, his path will cross Wrexham’s at some stage in his career.
Cooper certainly hopes so.
“In terms of players going on playing for Wales, we were extremely productive last year,” he said.
“Not only did we have four or five of our boys playing at U15 and U16, we also had boys at U17, U19 and U21 level. And, of course, we had Mark Jones breakthrough into the first team.
“We actually had a player representing Wales at every single level. At U15, we had Kai Edwards win Welsh sportsman of the year, which is a massive coup for us. We have high hopes for Kai. He is coming in full time from July
“We do have English players in, as well. But it is a little bit sweeter when they are Welsh, because we work closely with the schools in Wrexham and Flintshire.
“We are also looking to set up development centres in the likes of Aberystwyth and Holyhead.
“It is a massive catchment area for us. Although players can go and play for the likes of Chester and Tranmere, Liverpool and Everton, really they shouldn’t be going there without us knowing.
“So we have just appointed a full-time recruitment officer, Stewart Webber, whose main objective is to box off north Wales. If we can get Welsh boys in, then there is no reason why we can’t go on and keep developing players for the national squad.
“We want to make sure that all of the best players in North Wales end up at Wrexham.”
As the only professional club in the region, Wrexham are certainly well placed to achieve that aim.
The League Two outfit, however, often faces the task of fending off the unwanted attentions of Premiership sides, who covet their best youngsters.
Cooper, though, is adamant that Wrexham’s youth set up can provide as good a footballing education as any of the elite of the English game.
“We are lucky that we have chairmen in Neville Dickens and Geoff Moss, who firmly believe in developing a youth department and have given us a good base to go and do that,” added Cooper.
“We are losing boys but the message is that when clubs do come in for us, we don’t want them to go. We don’t particularly need the money, because at that level it is not big money. We would rather keep them, as we can give them as good a football education here.
“The beauty of our club is that when the boys get a bit older, we keep the education going.
“That is where Joey Jones comes in. It can be a grey area, that period between being a youth and a pro, and it can be a difficult time. But Joey is always there to nurture them and help them along the way before they do become established.”
One advantage Cooper believes the Dragons can offer which their more illustrious rivals cannot, is the prospect of first-team football early in a career.
He points to the example of 18-year-old Matty Done, who made 38 appearances for Wrexham last season.
“We have got a scheme in place which is as good as any in the country.
“What is important now is that we get the right players in. We don’t do anything different to the big boys. In fact, we do more because we don’t have everything on a plate.
“We often have clubs coming to look at our boys and try to take them away, but fortunately they know that if you do well at Wrexham, you will get a chance to play for the first team.
“Where would you rather be playing at 17 or 18 – in a stadium or on an academy pitch? I know which I’d pick.
“I think Matty Done played more games last season than any other 18-year-old in the League.”
Unquestionably, Wrexham’s youth system is working. Yet, there is a belief that the burden of uncovering the next generation of North Walian stars falls too heavily on the club.
Cooper is hopeful that the appointment of Osian Roberts as FAW technical director can help improve the Welsh Premier academies, which, he feels, would have a favourable impact on the standard of players in the region.
Said Cooper: “More should be done in North Wales. Thankfully, now that Roberts has been appointed as technical director, it will be. You can’t just rely on Wrexham.
“I think the FAW are looking at improving the academies in the League of Wales.
“We could work with them then and play games against them. Ultimately, that would help to develop the best players in Wales.”
l NEXT WEEK: Brian Flynn’s Welsh revolution.