The Dragons of Wrexham are preparing for a National League play-offs challenge an Eastleigh club inspired by World War Two Spitfires – and comedian Benny Hill.
Manager Bryan Hughes and his team play Eastleigh FC in a one-off play-off quarter-final at the Racecourse this evening (Thursday) with the winners travelling to Salford City on Sunday.
Eastleigh is a town midway between Southampton and Winchester in Hampshire with a population of almost 30,000.
The football club were without an official nickname until 2005 when fans chose ‘Spitfires’ in tribute the fighter planes which were built in Southampton and were Eastleigh Aerodrome, now Southampton Airport.
Hill, who became a huge television hit in Britain and America, started his working life in Eastleigh as a milkman at Hanns Dairy in Factory Road.
He carried out his work on a horse-drawn milk-float which inspired him to write and perform his hit record, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) – which reached number one in 1971.
The song lyrics were based around the streets of Eastleigh.
Now Wrexham, who finished fourth in Vanarama National League, will play the Spitfires in front of a big Racecourse attendance in their quest to take a major step towards promotion.
The game is live on BT Sport, kick-off 7pm.
Wrexham have are in the play-offs for the first time in six years and they have earned four wins from their last five matches.
They also completed a League double against Eastleigh, winning 3-1 in Hampshire and 2-0 at home.
Manager Hughes has talked about the play-offs clash with Eastleigh, saying: “It’s a really big night for the club at a critical stage of the season.
“I’m proud to have helped take the club back into a promotion position. We must make the most of this opportunity and go as far as we can.
“I would ask the fans to turn up the volume and help make Thursday a fantastic night.”
Defender Kieran Kennedy, aged 25, was a National League title winner last season, but says clinching promotion via the play-offs would be more special.
“It would probably eclipse last season,” said Kennedy.
“The play-offs are a bit more edgy and you are a bit more nervous.
“With a big club like Wrexham, it would be class to see them getting back to where they belong.”
“I have never had a play-off campaign in my career.
”We know that we have games ahead of us before we can even start to think about Wembley.
“But it is every kid’s dream to become a footballer and play at Wembley so it is always in the back of everybody’s mind.
“But we need to make sure we are focussed on the games before that.”
Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens was set the target of a top 10 finish when he took over from Andy Hessenthaler in November.
He has exceeded expectations, having led Eastleigh to seventh, and said: “Wrexham have the best home record in our league, but over the course of the last 30 games we’ve earned around the same points as them so it’s going to be pretty even.
“They’ve been playing with a front three. Stuart Beavon, who I was with at Wycombe, is dangerous if he plays and they have Bobby Grant and Chris Holroyd either side, both good players, plus Jason Oswell who scored last week.
“At the back they have Shaun Pearson, their captain, and a lot of their success is built on being solid. Their defence is solid, they play with a good shape – and have good fans as well.”
The Dragons already boast the biggest National League attendance of the season – 8,283 for Boxing Day’s 5-1 slaying of Salford – and another bumper gate is expected tomorrow.
Eastleigh’s team have travelled to North Wales today and return after the final whistle rather have an overnight stop. They are making the 400 miles round trip by coach.
Eastleigh, whose squad includes former Newport County player Chris Zebroski, have a full-strength squad, while Wrexham are still without Manny Smith.
Strevens believes in his Spitfires, saying: “The players won’t be overawed.
“If we go there and play as well as we can, we can silence Wrexham fans.”
Vanarama National League play-off eliminators (all live on BT Sport)
Wednesday, May 1: AFC Fylde 3 Harrogate Town 1
Thursday, May 2: Match B, Wrexham v Eastleigh (7pm)
Saturday, May 4: Solihull Moors v Match A winners (12.30pm)
Sunday, May 5: Salford City v Match B winners (3.30pm)
Wrexham v Eastleigh
Venue: My Racecourse, Wrexham (7pm)
Tickets range from £1-£31
Wrexham supporters can buy tickets in advance ONLINE