THE LEADER is celebrating its 50th birthday and Wrexham and Wales legend Mickey Thomas has been there every kick of the way.

Thomas, only 19 at the time, was establishing himself as a first team regular in John Neal’s super Seventies side, in 1973, when the Evening Leader first hit the streets.

The newspaper was first published on October 29 with the back page lead featuring captain Eddie May’s red card in a 2-2 draw at home to Blackburn Rovers.

Thomas came off the bench in front of 6,569 fans at The Racecourse to replace Billy Ashcroft that day - one of 349 appearances he made during two spells with his beloved Reds.

“The Leader’s always been great to me,” said Thomas. “I’ve been on the back page, the front page and the middle pages over the years.

“I’ve got loads of pictures, newspaper cuttings and articles taken from The Leader at home and I’ve always had a great relationship with the reporters who followed the club like Ron Chaloner, Dave Lovett and yourself.

“The local newspaper is important to football clubs and when I started playing it was the only way fans could find out about what was happening at The Racecourse.

“There was no on-line websites, no social media so fans would grab a copy of the paper for all the news.”

Thomas, who will celebrate his 70th birthday next July, has been as box office as Wrexham’s new Hollywood owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds during his long association with the North Wales club he first joined along with his life-long pal Joey Jones back in 1970.

He played in Wrexham’s first ever European Cup Winners Cup clash in Zurich in 1972, won promotion in Arfon Griffiths’ sensational 1977/78 Division Three title-winning side and made the club £350,000 after his big money move to Manchester United.

The best - some would say - was to come as Thomas returned to The Racecourse in 1991 and scored THAT free-kick to put Wrexham on their way to the most famous giant-killing the FA Cup has ever seen in January 1992.

“Did you know that I scored a free kick against Arsenal that day?” joked Thomas, who was still ribbing Gunners’ fans during a visit to one of a whole host of his former clubs, Chelsea, last Sunday.

Thomas hit the headlines for all the right reasons after Wrexham, who finished bottom of the entire Football League the season before, stunned George Graham’s league champions.

His successful battle to beat aesophagus cancer was his greatest off-the-field achievement but being jailed for his involvement in a counterfeit currency scam also saw Thomas front page news again.

“The Leader has been there every step of the way, through good times and bad,” added Thomas.

“Those were great days in the Seventies. John Neal took a gamble to bring in youngsters like me, Joey Jones, Dave Smallman and Billy Ashcroft but the club made good money out of us too.

“John Neal was a great manager - Wrexham’s greatest in my opinion - while Arfon Griffiths led us to promotion in 1978 when we were Wrexham’s greatest ever team.

“There have been so many great games over the years. My favourite one was a 3-2 win at Tottenham in the League Cup in 1976. They had Pat Jennings, Glenn Hoddle and they’d just stuffed someone 8-0 in the last round. And I scored two that night at White Hart Lane!”

The great games kept coming in Thomas’ second spell with Wrexham.

“We had Arsenal, promotion under Flynnie,” added Thomas. “And now look at the club. It’s great to see them doing so well with the new owners breathing new life into the club and the town.

“But it’s not always been like that after relegation to the Conference.

“A lot of people gave up on Wrexham but fans kept going and The Leader didn’t stop their coverage, and I remember Rich Williams saying he only missed a handful of games during the 15 years in the non-league era.

“In a period when most of the town’s industries have fallen by the wayside, The Leader’s still there and let’s hope it will still be there following the Reds’ fortunes in 50 years’ time.”