The Gresford Memorial match is a special day at home for Wrexham. Mark Griffiths reiterates the working-class nature of Wrexham and its history as a mining town. The game commemorates the Gresford Colliery Disaster in 1934. In the silence of commemoration of lives lost before the memorial match, Wayne Jones explains that many who lost their lives that day had switched shifts in order to see a Wrexham game. The disaster had lasting effects on the town.
Alan Jones and his wife Margaret, chairs of the Gresford Colliery disaster memorial, explain the history to local school kids. Historical footage and witness accounts accompany the narration. An ignition of gas caused a major explosion and caused the remainder of the mine to collapse. Ruby McBurney, a child of one of the victims, speaks. She explains that her father’s body was not recovered. She wishes the company had done more to retrieve them.
Rob is in town
Rob McElhenney visits with Alan and reveals his family connection to mining. In the earlier days of the Industrial Revolution, working-class towns had little access to work and recreation. It’s part of what stoked the fires of passion for football. The work paid the equivalent of 115 USD per week. The large company that controlled labor for the mine was fined extremely little. Nobody was able to hold them accountable.
At the memorial for the disaster, Alan explains the use of these two giant wheels at the old colliery. Essentially, they helped run the cable that lowered the men into the half-mile-deep mine. Rob shares the plan for one of these wheels, half buried in the ground. It’s to be transported, restored, and displayed in a memorial statue outside the Racecourse stadium. Alan shares his joy and believes the town will feel the same.
Rob expounds upon the universality of tragedies like these, and their ability to ultimately unite people. An old song that is still sung in Welsh football contains the line “Yma o hyd” which translates to “We’re still here.” Despite the fact that the mines were shut down in the 80s, whole towns don’t change identity quite so easily. The history of miners is part of the “DNA” of Wrexham.
Rob and Ryan reiterate that the core of the working-class family remains the heart and soul of Wrexham. They see it as their duty to honor that in everything they do as owners of the football club. The episode ends with a montage of goals, old photos, and people all over Wrexham singing a gorgeous rendition of the aforementioned song in Welsh.
The Episode Review
In a nutshell, this episode is fairly strong in the retelling of a major event in Wrexham’s history. It’s an important event not only to the community but to the conceit of the show itself. It’s so important, in fact, that it feels late in the game for this episode. It makes telling this part of the story feel a little tacked on, arguably even a little disingenuous. At the end of the day, though, it’s clear that this show isn’t about pandering.
“Gresford” leans heavily on stock footage to recount the history of the tragedy. It leans hard into the documentary side of this show, with the Ken Burns’ effect running rampant early. The old film footage itself is well kept, perhaps even well restored. The interview footage from the subsequent decades lends an engaging medium to a time-obscured disaster. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of the way tragedies have a way of becoming part of the places they happen. It’s nice that this show helped tell their story.
Not the best touch
Having the connection between low-paying, blue-collar work and love for sports explained in a formal interview setting feels off-putting. This is especially true considering the suggested negligence of the disaster from the “ultra-rich.” Rob himself contrasts the issue of defogging the camera lens in their car to the burdensome life of a miner in the 1930s. “They wouldn’t have to worry about defogging a lens to shoot their bullshit Hollywood documentary.” While he’s being facetious, it’s good to know he likely felt the need to jump ahead of a negative takeaway. It helps to know that the Wrexham community has been very accepting of Rob in particular.
There’s a brilliant editing decision in this episode. The entire teaching about the Gresford mining disaster takes place before the game, during the moment of silence. It’s a simple idea, but it does wonders for the vignette approach of this season. However, the short-run times seem to have a net negative effect on episodes like these. The final montage carried extra weight because of the gorgeous song. Hearing a stadium full of people sing along to anything tends to be awe-inspiring.