EVERY manager is always on the lookout for a target man – the old-fashioned big number nine.

And in the 1980s, Jim Steel was a wanted man. So much so that cash-strapped Wrexham splashed out £10,000 for him in 1984 before Tranmere made the Dumfries-born striker their record buy at the time in a £50,000 swoop three years later.

He was a fans’ favourite at both clubs although it did take Wrexham more than a year to finally sign him on a full-time basis.

“I remember going to Wrexham on loan and did reasonably well,” said Steel, who wasn’t getting a chance in Joe Royle’s Oldham side at the time.

He scored six times in nine games for the Reds, but boss Bobby Roberts couldn’t turn the loan deal into a permanent one. Instead, Steel left for Port Vale.

“I think they signed me for two and six,” joked Steel, who was eventually back at The Racecourse in January 1984.

Steel scored 51 more goals in 164 appearances for the Reds as they tried desperately to work their way back up the Football League ladder.

But Wrexham did make their mark in Europe with Steel playing his part in one of the biggest shocks European football has ever seen.

“I really enjoyed my time at Wrexham,” recalled Steel. “The club had no money but there were good young players coming through like Barry Horne – and do you remember that winning goal against Porto?”

Steel had scored the only goal of the game in the first leg win over the Portuguese Cup winners.

Wrexham had lost the Welsh Cup final to Shrewsbury the season before but qualified because The Shrews were from the wrong side of the border.

Despite winning that first leg, Wrexham weren’t given a chance of success in the return match.

“We were 3-0 down after 30 minutes!” said Steel. “Bobby Roberts had gone there to defend and it obviously didn’t work.

“He put Dave Gregory on and we got back in the game. Jake King scored two and then Barry got the winner.

“It was a wonderful night – as was the experience in the second leg when we played at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.

“Just to be there was amazing. We lost both games but we were in the bottom league and playing Roma!”

Steel also remembers Wrexham’s next European excursion, this time under Dixie McNeil.

“We were playing in Malta against Zurrieq and won 3-0 and the game was played in 120 degree temperatures,” added Steel, whose contract was up at the end of that season.

One of the clubs keen on Steel after his performances against Zaragoza were Deportivo La Coruna and he actually went on loan there at the end of Wrexham’s season.

Wrexham were convinced Steel was on his way after boss McNeil turned down his striker’s £50-a-week extra pay rise.

“We let him go on loan thinking it could increase our asking price but in the end we couldn’t offer him what he wanted and he signed for Tranmere,” said McNeil.

Rovers boss Johnny King dangled a £50,000 carrot to the Reds’ board and they snapped it up, much to the annoyance of Wrexham supporters.

While Steel’s European excursions lit up his Wrexham career, the big striker played a massive part in Rovers’ rise up the Football League.

“Jimmy Harvey, who had been on loan at Wrexham, had gone to Rovers and he convinced me to sign,” added Steel.

“They were 90th out of 92 teams in the Football League but Jimmy said: ‘This is not a bad little club.’

“So I signed and we had some great success with the club keeping hold of its promising youngsters and I hit up a good partnership with Iain Muir up front – although he scored a lot more than me.

“Johnny King was Bill Shankly in a way so it was natural for him to compare Muir and I with Toshack and Keegan.

“He was always talking about him and there was a picture of Shanks on his office wall.

“That’s the way football was at the time. You looked for a little mobile player to feed off a tall striker.”

Rovers won promotion as Fourth Division runners-up in 1988/89 and lost in the Division Three play-off final a year later, but at least Steel scored the winner in a Football League Trophy final win at Wembley a week later.

Twelve months later, Steel played his part in getting Tranmere into the old Second Division before retiring from the game, aged just 32.

“I was having problems with my knee and thought it was the right time to quit and start a new career,” added Steel, who left to join Mersey Police.