Through George Best, Jeff Astle, Kerry Dixon and Barry Fry, Dunstable Town have long been a club intertwined with some famous names. One of the Blues’ summer signings has a similar top-level link to yesteryear, though young striker Chris Wreh is set on making a route in the game that is all his own.
The Wreh name instantly evokes 1990s nostalgia, laced with fond flashbacks to acrobatic goal celebrations amidst double-winning delight for an Arsenal team who had arrived in style under Arsène Wenger. In learning about young Chris Wreh, it is hard not to raise a smile and want to mention his father, Christopher, and we will later on. As with so many who are following in a well-known parent’s footsteps by playing the game, though, there is natural desire to be recognised for what they do and what they are all about.
So what is the story of this Chris Wreh? Well, before he even started playing, football had already stipulated the ‘where’ of much of his formative years.
“I was born in New York,” Chris explains. “I was only there for a year or two and then my family moved to France, because my dad was playing in France (for AS Monaco).
“So I was in France for another two or three years, and then my dad moved to Arsenal, so we moved to London. So I’m English; I was just born in America.”
Chris is 21 years old, a child of the 90s but admittedly too young to have much recollection, if any, of an era so fondly remembered by football lovers on these shores and much further afield. It was at the beginning of the current decade that his own footballing meander started taking shape.
“At youth level, I started out at Northampton Town, and then I went to Arsenal for about a year. Then after that, Stony Stratford, Barton Rovers, (AFC) Rushden (& Diamonds), Buckingham Town, and now Dunstable (Town).
“I was at Buckingham Town last season. It went really well; we had a good spell where we went a couple of months unbeaten.”
Part of a Buckingham side that won half of its league games to finish 7th in the United Counties League Division One, Chris topped 15 goals playing in a deeper role and will be taking his ever-developing attributes to the Evo-Stik League South Division One Central this season. Having bagged a hat-trick in Dunstable Town’s 4-3 win over Crawley Green while on trial earlier this month, his signing with the club was officially announced soon after.
The goal-getting has continued for Chris, with further efforts coming in a 1-1 draw against Enfield Borough and in last Saturday’s 4-1 win over Harefield United. While still at a young age, he feels a sense of realisation that it is now time to kick on to that often-referred-to ‘next level.’
In joining the Bedfordshire outfit, he comes to a club where there is very evidently a potential pathway to greater heights, as seen recently with defender Peter Kioso and midfielder Andrew Osei-Bonsu’s moves to Hartlepool United and Northern Irish side Larne, respectively. Those summer switches meant that both players turn professional having joined Dunstable last autumn after leaving the academy set-up at Milton Keynes Dons.
Nurturing and promoting young talent is not just a handy slogan at the club, and central to that is manager Tony McCool. Chris feels that both club and coach fit exactly where he is at and what he needs at present.
“From the sort of conversations we’ve had, I think he’s a very good manager; he’s very tactical and he sets standards of how he wants things to be run. He’s very professional in that manner.
“I almost feel like he’s a professional manager already, with the way he is, and again, in giving youngsters a chance. The majority of the team is probably under 23 or 24, and in most non-league teams, you don’t get that.
“A couple of my friends play for Dunstable, and played for them last year as well. They have a lot of good things to say about the manager; playing a lot of youngsters and giving them the opportunity to grow up.
“I thought I’d go and give it a go.”
Having grown up in nearby Luton, McCool was with Luton Town as a youngster, before starting as a coach in his early-20s. His vast experience includes coaching academy football with Luton, QPR and Norwich City, and the former MK Dons and Bradford City scout took over last summer at Dunstable, having played for the club in the past.
McCool, who has ex-QPR striker Kevin Gallen coaching alongside him, had no playing budget last season as the club bid to restabilise and clear debt. Even a level lower this time around, the Blues have a ‘lower-end’ budget for the division, but emphasis has been placed on sustainability.
The manager has spoken of wanting to take young players who have been at pro clubs and give them a chance at this level. Chris fits into that criteria and his new gaffer is enthused by what he might be able to do this coming season.
“Our staff knew about Chris and we felt that he had reached a point where it was the right time to give him the opportunity to step up. He showed a real enthusiasm to get his head down, work hard and learn, and that fits perfectly with us.
“He’s made a good start in pre-season and we of course will help him develop in his time with us so that he can maximise his potential. We will review his progress along with all the players a third into the season.
“Between now and then, he will be working hard on his development holistically in line with the detailed plan we set out for him. This is what we do at this football club; you can’t be sustainable just throwing money at players, and personally, I don’t think that helps them maximise their potential.”
In addition to McCool’s tutelage, Chris of course also has an invaluable resource to tap into, should he need it. Like his dad, he has time at Arsenal, Buckingham Town and Northampton Town on his CV to date, though he says he has only played alongside Wreh Sr. in Powerleague 5-a-side!
Starting the 1998 FA Cup final against Newcastle United at Wembley, Chris’ dad made some pivotal scoring contributions to Arsenal’s league and cup double that year, and he enjoys an undoubted spot in Premier League folklore. Despite that, Chris says his father is not one to constantly recount his playing days.
“When I ask him questions he’ll talk about it, but if I don’t mention it then he doesn’t really speak about it. He’s pretty humble about stuff like that, so you wouldn’t know unless you sat down in a room with him and talked about it.
“The only thing he does is give me advice on my game; how to improve, certain things that he would have done. Just trying to give me that sort of guidance to be the best I can.”
And did he ever teach him those goal celebration somersaults? Can he still do them?!
“No, he never taught me, and he thinks he can still do it, but I don’t think he can!”
Chris also explains where his dad’s post-playing endeavours have taken him to at present.
“He’s coaching the Under-20s for Liberia’s national team. A lot of the old players have gone back and they’re trying to develop the football in Liberia, so he’s coaching.
“He’s been there a year now, coaching and trying to get the Under-20 team up to standard.”
It is all there to be written in Chris’ own career, but aside from progressing in his club football, does the prospect of one day representing Liberia, who competed in the 1996 and 2002 Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, appeal to him?
“It’s something that’s there, at the end of the day. It’s up to me to obviously get there.
“I feel like I’m at the right kind of team to develop and the main thing for me is to try to keep performing and scoring, then one day in the future, that could happen.”
Rest assured that playing is not just a hobby to Chris, or a welcome way to blow off some steam outside of work and other commitments. When asked about the aforementioned recent examples of Peter Kioso and Andrew Osei-Bonsu acting as further inspiration, he confirms that he carries a huge desire to achieve a noteworthy future for himself in the game.
“Oh 100 percent. It’s something that would be a dream come true and it’s something that is all within my control, if you know what I mean.
“Obviously, I’ve got to perform, I’ve got to stay as fit as I possibly can and have the right hunger and desire to do so. Peter and Andrew, for example, are the sort of players who stuck by it and didn’t give up, and now they’re seeing the benefits of it.
“I’d love to do exactly the same.”
His new side are looking to hit the ground running after relegation last season from the Evo-Stik League Southern Premier, and Chris joins the likes of Marius Patru, Hassan Abdinur, Alex Taylor and Connor Perlmutter as new arrivals at Creasey Park. If the hard work and goals continue sparking in tandem for Chris then the bigger rewards will surely begin moving into sight.
In the meantime, he is feeling in the groove as he bids to make some serious strides over the coming campaign.
“I’m feeling good. I’ve got about five weeks left, so obviously it’s about working hard until the beginning of the season.
“Now it’s just trying to step up and be the main man and score as many goals as possible.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes