Even a gold medal can’t guarantee a golden ticket at Wrexham these days.
Gareth Evans, who won gold for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the men’s weightlifting, watched his first game at the Racecourse Ground in 1994.
The Olympian — he competed for Great Britain at London 2012 — is such an avid fan that moments after standing atop the podium on Australia’s Gold Coast proudly sporting his new medal, he quickly donned a Wrexham team shirt to conduct a round of interviews with the world’s media.
A year later, he joined captain Shaun Pearson for the club’s official kit launch.
Gareth retired from the sport in January last year. In theory, this should have brought plenty of opportunities for the 37-year-old to watch his beloved team. The reality, however, has been rather different.
“It’s become so hard to get tickets,” the Anglesey-based fan tells The Athletic. “Not so long ago, I could just drive down or get the train and pay on the day. That was perfect with training, competition and so on meaning I couldn’t go every week.
“Now, obviously, things have changed. I retired last year and things were just starting to hot up ticket wise. I managed to get to seven games last season and I got a ticket for MK Dons (on the opening day).
“But it’s a lottery. I’m there on the internet when the tickets go on sale to members. I’ll get on 25 minutes before but be something like 300th in the queue when it opens. With some having linked accounts to buy tickets for mates, I often miss out because the tickets go like hotcakes.”
“It has been frustrating because, as a fan, I want to go to every game. But, at the same time, I am glad we have a full stadium every week and everyone is talking about the club.
“I’d much rather have that than what was the case previously, when the only time we got a mention was because we might go out of business.”
Gareth is far from alone in finding it hard to get a ticket for home games. With the capacity of the newly sponsored SToK Cae Ras set at a little over 10,200, demand is always going to outstrip supply — as underlined by the ‘sold out’ signs going up within minutes of tickets going on sale this season.
Supporters are effectively scrambling for around 700 tickets on a game-by-game basis due to a sizeable chunk already being taken by season ticket holders (capped at 7,000) and the away allocation (1,165), as under EFL rules the visiting club is entitled to 2,000 tickets or ten per cent of a capacity under 20,000.
Then there are the 100 tickets set aside for Racecourse Live, a laudable scheme that allows fans in for free who might not otherwise get the chance to watch the team.
Another batch of around 150 tickets go to the designated ‘Quiet Zone’. This was brought in to help families with autism and other issues, the last block of seats at the Kop end of the Mold Road Stand boasting easy access, a double doorway entrance to avoid having to use the turnstiles and stewards with sensory training.
Finally, there are the seats set aside for sponsors and their guests, plus hospitality, and a new initiative for the 2023-24 campaign that means 75 tickets are reserved for international supporters. Any of this latter allocation unsold a week before the match in question are then put on sale to UK members.
Sheri Hofling lives in Colorado. Along with husband Giuliano, she secured precious tickets for the opening two home games against MK Dons and Wigan Athletic in the Carabao Cup after flying in for a short break, the couple having previously been in Los Angeles for the second leg of the club’s USA tour.
“It had only just been launched so it was a bit nerve-wracking,” she says. “But the process was relatively smooth. The biggest challenge was waking up in the middle of the night for when they went on sale. But if you’re willing to fly to Wales, waking up in the middle of the night to get tickets is a relatively small sacrifice.
“A handful of locals on social media still complain about internationals getting any tickets at all, but we’re just easy targets. The new system is the only way to ensure locals continue to be prioritised, while still embracing the new global fan base required to truly grow the club and benefit the town.”
The international allocation goes on sale four weeks before a match, something that Sheri believes should be looked at to help bring down the cost of a trip from overseas.
“It is possible to plan a trip across the world with just four weeks notice,” she says. “But it’s difficult and more expensive. Several months would be a lot more feasible for the average person, especially if you’re trying to include the match within a larger itinerary.”
Last season, there was the scope for more tickets being available due to many National League clubs having small away followings that could catered for in the 460-seat lower tier area to the side of the tunnel in the main stand. This freed up the tier behind for home fans.
In the EFL, however, most, if not all, of the 23 visiting teams are expected to take the full allocation across both tiers with Walsall following previous visitors MK Dons and Wigan in selling out for Tuesday’s 4-2 home win.
To try and help alleviate this, Wrexham have introduced a ticket exchange for 2023-24, whereby season ticket holders unable to attend a fixture can put their seat on sale via the club.
Really, though, only the building of the new 5,500 capacity Kop stand — due to be completed in time for the start of next season — will improve matters.
“It can be frustrating,” says Commonwealth gold medal winner Gareth. “I wanted to get a season ticket a couple of years ago. But, as an athlete, I had to do jobs around training so by the time I’d paid the bills, I didn’t have the money there and then to get one.
“This season, when I had the money ready to go, none were available as everyone had renewed from last season. I’m sure there’s loads like me in the same position but there’s not a lot the club can do until the stand is built.”