Wrexham pay a visit to the Millennium Stadium on Sunday for the LDV Trophy Final against Southend, and for Wrexham’s Juan Ugarte this will be his second visit to the stadium this season.
His last visit was as a spectator at the League Cup Final – sitting next to his old schoolfriend Xabi Alonso.
Alonso had been unable to play that day due to a broken ankle – ironically broken by Frank Lampard in Liverpool’s clash with Chelsea earlier in the season.
For both Ugarte and Alonso, it was both memorable and disappointing. Ugarte says, "It was a strange afternoon. Memorable because it was our first experience of the Millennium Stadium and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Disappointing, because Xabi was deeply upset not to be playing – and, of course, Liverpool lost the game."
The two players were impressed by the Millennium Stadium that day: "We sat side by side in the ground and looked around to see the fantastic sight of packed stands. The noise 74,000 people made was tremendous. Even Xabi, who knows about big, passionate crowds at Anfield, was hugely impressed."
It was then that Ugarte felt he needed to console his old friend: "It hit home to him at that point that he was missing out on a really big occasion. But I told him at the time that he will have plenty more opportunities to play in a major final with Liverpool. I wasn’t just saying that. Xabi is a great player and I’ve no doubts he will be involved in another special occasion with Liverpool soon."
Alonso made a big step toward returning to first-team action on Wednesday night, playing at Wrexham’s ground – the Racecourse Ground, the venue for all Liverpool’s reserve games this season.
Ugarte says that it was thanks to Xabi that he’s getting the chance to play in the Millennium Stadium tomorrow. He said: "I’m slightly older than Xabi, but we were at school together and played youth football together back in Spain for an amateur club called Antiguo’ko. I was offered an apprentice-ship at Real Sociedad and Xabi followed me there, although he went for a big fee."
Ugarte went on: "Xabi and I played in Real’s reserves, but it was quite obvious he was destined for higher things than me and he went on to play regularly in La Liga and for Spain."
Ugarte found himself unwanted then in Spain, and was looking for a new club: "I was released last summer and another friend, who was playing in England for Dorchester, invited me over for a trial. But it was when I met up with Xabi again that my league chance came about."
He recalls: "We got together at Stamford Bridge when Liverpool played at Chelsea last October and Xabi asked his agent to try and find me a Football League club. The next thing I knew was that Rick Parry, Liverpool’s chief executive, had arranged a trial for me at Wrexham. Since then, I’ve not looked back. And I’m sure Xabi will be rooting for me tomorrow."
With all Liverpool’s existing links to Wrexham, and with them being the closest of the two finalists to Anfield, it’s quite likely that many Liverpool fans will also be rooting for Wrexham tomorrow.